Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Thrill and Terror of New Frontiers

Oregon Trail in VR

I've had an exciting and terrifying few months.  After a 10 year career in computer animated films, my recent pivot into real-time VR has brought me days when it feels like I'm starting over.  And as scary as that may sound, it's exactly what I was looking for.

I've previously mentioned that my main reason for leaving Pixar was that I was running out of frontier, and I've been lucky enough to find my new Oregon Trail in VR story telling.  But there are sometimes when the journey feels like it could be as treacherous as the computer game... playing as the farmer (a little primer for the youngins: The Oregon Trail (Video Game) wikipedia article).

I've had to start thinking of render times as a matter of milliseconds instead of hours;  I've had to develop content without the creature comforts of Presto (Pixar's state of the art and proprietary animation tool);  I've had to bite the bullet and become a Windows Visual Studio developer after a long run of developing on Unix and OSX.  Oh how I miss clang, zsh and /usr/local, but thank goodness for Cygwin.  I've had to flex a lot more of my technical art muscles.  Specialization vanishes in the vacuum of a small team.

And I've realized something that's helped me get over the shear terror of it all.  We're all starting out in this wild west together.  Yes it would be nice if I had more Windows development experience, or if I had been using Unreal Engine instead of RenderMan for the last 10 years.   I'm glad to find that my experience in computer animation translates to game engines in more ways than expected, and that development on a new platform can be a skill learned quickly with some reading and practice.  But any technical weakness I need to overcome pales in comparison to the fact that everything we know about story telling in film and games will need to be rediscovered in VR.

Now I still feel more like a city slicker than a cowboy, but no matter our background, we're all walking towards unknowns.  And if we recognize we're all going to have to step out of our comfort zones and ford the river together, we can shed our anxiety and enjoy the journey...  as long as we don't get dysentery along the way.