Art Spotlight: Tilt Brush Head (Painted in VR)

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In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.

Hey everyone! My name is Bryan Lindsey. I am a mobile app developer by day, and game developer/VR enthusiast/occasional artist by night. As far as 3D tools, the main modelling tool I use is Blender (I’m a big fan of open source projects). I also use Unity pretty frequently for game development. You can find some of the games (and other apps) I have made here on the Google Play Store. In addition, I was also fortunate enough to be able to get my hands on an HTC Vive, and I’m currently enjoying tons of virtual reality experiences.

My head portrait work was done in Tilt Brush, a VR drawing/painting tool made by Google. When I first started using Tilt Brush, I expected it in some ways to feel like a 3D modelling tool like Blender. Oddly enough, in practice, it ended up feeling a lot more like drawing with pencil and paper, something which I used to do a lot. In other ways, it also felt a bit like sculpting, in that you can move around your work, examine it from all angles, and “carve” out fine details using the Vive’s extremely precise hand controllers.

Because of its similarity to pencil and paper drawing, I wanted to challenge myself to make something that I love drawing in 2D, but in 3D using Tilt Brush. Growing up, my favorite things to draw were portraits and figure drawings (particularly comic book superheroes).

For my portrait piece, I initially wasn’t really sure where to start in this new 3D world, so I decided to do what I would do with pencil and paper: start by blocking out the rough shapes. This was a little more difficult in 3D because of the dynamic perspective, so I decided to start with blocking out the side and front perspectives to get a good overall idea of the shape. Since I was working with a basically symmetrical subject, I used the mirror functionality of Tilt Brush to save some time and effort. I highly recommend using this feature for symmetrical work.

I then marked up the approximate vertical placement of the eyes (about halfway from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin), nose (about halfway from the eyes to the bottom of the chin), and mouth (around halfway from the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin) on the front perspective. Using these points of reference, I approximated the location of these features in 3D space.

Blocking out the basic shapes

Blocking out the basic shapes

From there, it was mostly just a matter of filling in the details. I realize that makes it sound rather simple, but it actually takes a lot of practice to be able to do it well. It’s hard to describe exactly my process as it is largely a matter of intuition and trying out what “feels” right (which often involves a lot of trial and error).

As I make more progress on the details, I often erase the guide lines I drew at the start. This helps remove some of the clutter so can better refine details. (Those lines also no longer show up when your sketch is “replayed” when you load it back up).

And for vanity, you should always include a very large signature in your piece! 😉


Throughout the process, there were a few things I learned about working in Tilt Brush:

  1. Tilt Brush is surprisingly different than regular 3D modelling software. Like I said before, in many ways it almost has more in common with traditional drawing. The biggest example of this might be that you can’t just move your brush strokes around like you can vertices in a mesh. If you mess up, you have to erase and redraw.
  2. Scale is important. This may seem pretty obvious, but it is more important than you might think. My first attempt at a portrait was WAY too big, and this presented a few problems. First, I couldn’t reach the top of the head to finish making hair. Secondly, it was hard to get an overall idea of what my drawing looked like because it took up most of the relatively small space I had to walk around in (Tilt Brush now has a teleport function that would potentially help with this part).
I can't reach!

I can’t reach!

  1. Creative tools like Tilt Brush are absolutely amazing in VR. I could probably try to describe the experience to you, but I firmly believe you have to try it for yourself.

That last point is is really important. I’ve seen examples of game engines like Unity and Unreal integrating VR support into their editors. After using Tilt Brush, I am beginning to see how invaluable this will be. And I absolutely can’t wait until modelling/sculpting tools like Blender to add VR support!

But this point also has a bit of a downside as well. While it is really cool to be able to create something in VR and walk around it and have it feel like it is really there, the effect is a bit lost on anyone who wants to see that work but can’t view it in VR.


While I knew I could share snapshots, I wanted to show off the real depth of my portrait. Luckily, Tilt Brush has export functionality, and I was able to convert my work into a common 3D format. As for getting my work out there for others to see it, I knew that Sketchfab was an excellent way to share 3D. Better yet, I had recently discovered that Sketchfab had VR support using viewers like the Google Cardboard, so I knew this was how I wanted to share my work. I’m also excited to see the release of a Sketchfab app for the HTC Vive to even further show off people’s artwork the way it should truly be seen! Keep up the great work, Sketchfab devs!

I think Tilt Brush is a fantastic tool, especially for sketches like this. It is great for quickly testing an idea and getting an idea of proportions, depth, and scale. While I’m still working out a good way to make clean, “finished” pieces in Tilt Brush, my plan is to take sketches like this from Tilt Brush and import them into Blender to use as a foundation for a more traditional 3D model. If I do, I’ll make sure to share them on Sketchfab for you guys to see!

Thanks Bryan!

About the author

Bart Veldhuizen

Head of Community at Sketchfab. 3D Scanning enthusiast and Blenderhead. Running BlenderNation in my spare time.

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  • CHRIS Shay says:

    Great work!
    I can see where Tiltbrush would serve comic artists (who might otherwise limp along with Poser, etc.) as they tweak their work for 2D export.
    Certainly for bg work in 3d animation, it should (eventually) be terrific.
    But right now most of the drawings I’ve seen aren’t very detailed. Instead, they look simplistic and candy-colored, or somewhere between neon signage and Power Animator…
    Hopefully, we’ll get a Photoshop (or Z-Brush) plugin… Until then, the art may be limited to the current crop of vaguely Giacometti-style wireframe sculptures.
    Is my initial impression correct that a chief advantage of this process might be it’s fast when rough modeling?

    • Bryan says:

      Thanks for taking the time to check out my work!

      Yeah, TiltBrush definitely has a particular style to it, which does sort of limit the amount of detail you can get. It is also rather different drawing something in 3D space without anything to lean on or real haptic feedback. I think this adds somewhat to the lack of precision.

      However, I think it is also a tool largely aimed at general VR users with relatively little artistic experience, and it does a great job at that. It does allow for more experienced artists to create some really cool things, but definitely within a certain style.

      I doubt it will ever be quite like Photoshop or Z-brush. There is another tool for the Vive call “Kodon” that is aiming more for this type of work, but I think it is being made by a fairly small dev shop, so it probably won’t be quite as robust as those tools (at least not at first).

      And to your last question, TiltBrush is definitely a great tool to quickly sketch out ideas and play with different shapes, brushes, colors, etc. in a very intuitive way. As far as actual modeling, it can be good to rough out a shape that you then use it in a proper modelling tool as a guide. I’m not sure the actual TiltBrush model itself is good for much other than a guide (at least not the way I’ve been using it).

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