Virtual Arena

It was early in 2017 when our co-chieftain, Michael Schrock, surprised me and the rest of the office with a brand new toy. Impressively, he presented it to us wearing it completely blinded while managing to walk several feet down the aisle without totally injuring himself (don’t try this at home!).  This toy was none other than the Oculus VR headset I’ve been nagging and begging for a good while. I strongly felt this is the core tech lacking from UA’s arsenal and pushed for it relentlessly. Prior to, we’ve been producing quality renders and video tours, but there was still a layer of immersion not yet delivered by our firm.

The new tools of the trade
Maui – Up close and personal by Urban Arena
Virtual Reality Stereoscopic view

Right away we got to work converting a few projects to Virtual Reality. Our rendering engines made it easy for us to hit the ground running, however we quickly learned of limitations and system requirement hurdles. A lot of logistics were involved to present our project. There is a lot of back-end addressing that goes into Virtual Reality, it has to run smoothly – so a lot of “budget cuts” in 3D-geometry have to be made, efficient optimization is essential. Removing unnecessary 3D/animations here, going easy on the visual effects or over utilization of people and plants there. It’s a balancing act to deliver the most visually stunning, yet smooth running experience.

Virtual Anaheim

One highlight I will fondly remember is recreating a concept plaza for the City of Anaheim and being able to show them and witness their reactions. As I personally frequent that area to dine and hang out with friends, it has significant sentimental value to me, and to realize this vision come to life in the virtual space was surreal.

Google Cardboard viewing of the Orange County office

The next question was, “How do we get these experiences on the go?” How would we bring these immersive experiences to the client, rather than having them always come to the office and how could we break away from the Oculus limitations? What were the limitations of mobile VR? I then proceeded to research what else was available in the market. This in turn opened more windows of opportunity and knowledge base to more offerings that our firm.

Offerings such as Google Cardboard and its many VR apps allowed the possibility of real-world capturing, and the ability to view on your smartphone or tablet (headset optional). It was no longer just about 3D geometry, but rather real world photography and video. We would be able to capture our finished projects and take a “spin” back at home base. I was able to visit our Oakland office, right in the comfort of my Orange County desk. We now had the means to showcase both real-world and 3d space.

Augmented Reality is the next big thing.

So where do we go from here? The mixed reality tech is ever growing and expanding each passing day and we continue striving to keep up with the current trends. From researching the perfect action camera that allows real-world 360 presentations in 4K resolution to incorporating Unreal Engine to our 3D tours which allow interactive, dynamic and moving VR experiences with a photo realistic flare.  Last but not least, we hope to explore the untapped potential of Augmented Reality.

AR- A new design model for Architecture and Landscape

Augmented Reality is the technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. It was made for Architects and Civil Engineers. If you’ve seen the Pokemon-Go fad, you’ll have a general idea of the base capabilities on this technology. Microsoft takes it quite a few notches further with their Hololens, which they say will dramatically change the way Architects work. By projecting designs into the real world before they are even built.

Through constant brainstorms with the entire UA office we try to incorporate this new technology not only to our presentations but to our development pipeline. We too believe AR will be an integral tool to Architecture. Coupled with Virtual Reality, there is no vision we cannot conjure up and the possibilities are endless.

Echoing Michael’s mantra: “Have fun with it.”

We certainly are.

Thuan Ho
thuan@urbanarena.com

I’m a geek and doing 3D art and design is my passion. Around 2 ½ years ago, Urban Arena took a chance on me, a starving artist that didn’t even know how tall a curb was (it’s six inches btw). Over the past couple of years I grew to call UA my home, and have learned so very much about the Architecture & Landscape industry (my background is in Video Game Design). In turn I bring my knowledge of the interactive mediums and videography to the “urban landscape” (clever pun!). Most recently we’ve incorporated new elements to our firm which brings me great joy to touch upon.

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