By James Paterson

15 December 2017 - 12:43

Animated pink and blue fruit floating against a grey background
'I reveal my making and learning process as I go on Twitter and Instagram. Typically, that opens the door to new work opportunities.' Photo ©

Marshmallow Laser Feast

James Paterson is a creative director and founder of Presstube.

How do you define animation?

Anything that moves but is not a video is animation. That includes computer-generated imagery, stop-motion and frame-by-frame.

I was inspired to get into this art form by the work of experimental animation legend Norman McLaren. His work was all about challenging the boundaries of what an animation could be, and has left me with a wide vision as my default. 

How does animation fit into the wider virtual reality industry?

Within virtual reality, almost everything is animation. So much of virtual reality is environments and characters generated from scratch. That leaves animation to do a lot of the hard work.

My background is in experimental animation, and I have several decades of 2D animation and coding experience. I am only a couple of years into exploring 3D and virtual reality, and the rigours of the wider industry are slowly revealing themselves to me. It is dazzling.

There are many different specialties and areas of expertise that go into making animation in virtual reality. Those include concept art and design, sculpting, modelling, rigging, animation, motion and performance capture, styling, lighting, programmatic arrangement, animation control systems and performance tuning. Performance tuning, or the improvement of system performance, is necessary because virtual reality needs very high frame rates or it makes the user feel sick.

Before working in virtual reality I did most of my work alone, or with one or two other collaborators. Now I coordinate all these areas of work to create high-quality immersive worlds. Collaboration is increasingly important.

Why did you choose virtual reality animation?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of our imaginations finding their way out of our minds and into concrete reality. Until virtual reality I pursued that interest by developing imagery with drawing, animation and code. For ages I have been waiting for virtual reality to mature so that I can create and hang out in imaginary worlds. And, even more importantly, make and use tools to create within these worlds where the laws of physics and normality do not apply.

Where do you find innovators and creative hubs in virtual reality animation, as well as an audience for your work?

I mainly find others on Instagram. I post my own stuff at @presstube, and re-post other people's work that I find inspiring at @presstubeloves.

When I find someone whose work resonates with me, I look to see who they are following and whose work they are getting excited about. Then I follow my nose to the next interesting person and do the same thing again. The amount of inspiring work is mind-boggling.

I make something that interests me and put it on Instagram. A few people see it and respond, then I communicate with those people and continue to make the work grow. The audience grows along with it naturally. Sometimes I find out that I am the only person who cares about that particular track of work and have to decide whether it is worthwhile to pursue for myself.

Another way to find new audiences is to identify people whose work you find inspiring, then find ways to help them or collaborate with them. Then you cross-pollinate your audiences.

What are the tools of your trade?

My hardware is a MacBook for coding, and a PC with Oculus Rift + Touch for virtual reality.

My software is Oculus Medium for sculpting in virtual reality. I also wrote my own frame-by-frame animation tool called Norman for playing with experimental hand-drawn animation in virtual reality. Norman is the animation tool that I have always wanted. I built it in JavaScript, it runs in a web browser and lets me animate naturally in 3D using virtual reality controllers. It is open source so others can use it.

How does a person build a reputation in the virtual reality animation industry? 

Start by making a lot of work and posting it online. There are so many online learning resources, it is just a matter of working hard and practicing until you are undeniably good in your chosen field. You will also have to earn a living by other means at the same time.

A lot of creative people are shy about self-promotion, but learning how to make self-promotion a part of our work is essential. When I am not working on a contract, I spend my time creating new personal projects and learning new things. I reveal my making and learning process as I go on Twitter and Instagram. Typically, that opens the door to new work opportunities.

How do you see the role of virtual reality in our lives a decade from now?

I think augmented reality and virtual reality are going to merge soon. Someone will create a pair of augmented reality glasses or contact lenses that will replace our phones. Virtual reality will just be a subset of augmented reality: augmented reality with the background dimmed. We will be in a world where a lot of our day-to-day technology use (what we are doing on our phones now) will happen spatially and directly on our field of vision. If we think we are hooked on our phones, we haven't seen anything yet. I am a bit afraid of how large the impact is going to be, but also excited about the creative possibilities.

You can see James Paterson's new project with Jeremy Felker called Presstube Kitbash.

James Paterson collaborated with Marshmallow Laser Feast on  A Colossal Wave!, a new installation celebrating Montreal’s 375th anniversary and Hull as the UK City of Culture 2017.

You can still experience the Hull City of Culture 2017 - Arts Tour, where the British Council is an international partner.   

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