Using VR to communicate 3D design

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Inspired by recent visits to Retail Design Expo, VR World Congress and the increased popularity of Virtual Reality (VR), we’ve started to explore the possibilities using low cost VR devices such as Google Cardboard.  Armed with a 3D model of a recently designed office interior we set out to answer the question: Can panoramic images generated from 3D software be used to better communicate 3D design within virtual environments?

Using VR to communicate 3D design

To test this theory our first step was to create a panoramic image from a 3ds Max scene by rendering out a Spherical Panorama then converting it into a Photosphere that could be interpreted by a panoramic viewer. We found a useful tutorial posted by PanoTwins that enabled us to create a photosphere panel within Photoshop.

Example of an office interior photosphere with interactive controllers

Once we had produced a single panoramic image we set about viewing it on one of the many VR apps available on iTunes/ Google Play etc. We trialled several of these however to be compatible with Google Cardboard we found that the app needed to have both panoramic image and panoramic video compatibility. For the iphone 5c Mobile VR Station tested well as the image could be transferred to the phone using file sharing through the app, loaded into the viewer through the document browser and the playback mode could be easily adjusted.

To enhance the experience we then turned to panorama creation software to enable us to build an interactive VR. We were able to use embedded xml code to add hotspots to link panoramic images together and build in features such as VR controllers, clickable splash screens, floor plans, static images, web links and video playback.

Interactive VR Example: Oakwood Office Interior 1

Interactive VR Example: Oakwood Office Interior 2

The generation of this interactive VR has enabled us to successfully bring our office interior concepts to life. The technique, albeit limited to static 360 degree viewing with pan and zoom functionality, serves well as a basic walk-around tool. We are confident that this could offer that additional level of interactivity without having to commit to the expense of a full VR walkthrough solution.

Our top tips for designing interactive VR:

  • In 3ds Max, optimise the camera position. We quickly discovered that the most suitable view for a 360 degree image was not necessarily in the same position for a still.
  • Create effective panoramic imagery by determining the correct aspect ratio, resolution and compatible tile format so that photospheres are compressed correctly when translating to xml data. 
  • Plan the user journey. Initial planning enabled us to create a fully immersive tour, dictating which views to render and which aspects of the design required more focus. Use tour creation software to add hotspots and strategically positioned icons to aid navigation.
  • Online VR versus Offline VR. Devices can be used through an online browser but for successful viewing a good WI-FI connection is required (remembering to turn off the sleep/ screen saver function on your phone!). Downloadable offline files can be created as part of a build but need to be accessed using a third party viewer.
  • Full functionally is currently restricted to web browsers so when translating to Google Cardboard all features except hotspots are removed.

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