Interview: Tilt Brush creator Patrick Hackett on developing the Vive's "killer app"

Google's Tilt Brush is the kind of application that's so immediately enjoyable that it feels like its creation was inevitable. Just a minute or two playing around with it on the HTC Vive is enough to have most people saying, "Oh....of course!" It's something that's a lot easier to experience for yourself than it is to describe.

Tilt Brush is, essentially, MS Paint for the virtual reality age. Using the Vive's room-scale VR and motion controllers, you paint in 3D space with one hand while your other hand works as your palette, tool box, and menu. You can paint with an enormous variety of exotic materials (including neon light, animated fire, or streams of rainbows) and then save, share, and remix your creations and those of others. 

Tilt Brush comes packaged with the Vive, and has already been called by some the Vive's killer app. It's what you should put on for someone trying VR for the first time, or someone who isn't a traditional gamer, to sell them on the VR experience.

I recently had a chance to send some questions to Patrick Hackett, one of the creators of Tilt Brush, about the development of the app and its reception so far. 

GameCrate: How did you come up with the idea for Tilt Brush?

Patrick Hackett: Tilt Brush was one of many prototypes that Drew Skillman and I built while we were working independently as our previous company, Skillman & Hackett. The idea for a creation app was not something we set out to make, it just happened that an early AR chess prototype of ours contained the right few elements that gave us a glimpse of what painting in virtual reality could feel like. We embraced the idea and put together a mockup in a few weeks that generated a lot of interest, so we decided to work full time on the project.

GC: What was your vision for Tilt Brush?

PH: The vision for Tilt Brush has evolved as we've worked on it. When we started, we wanted to explore every nook of creation in VR.  As we moved toward real production on Tilt Brush, however, we narrowed the scope and broadened the appeal. We really want Tilt Brush to be easily accessible, quick to understand, and a lot of fun to use.

GC: What VR development experience did you have going into the creation of Tilt Brush?

PH: Drew Skillman and I had been tinkering with VR ever since he got his Oculus DK1 Kickstarter in the mail.  Even back then, it was special to us, and we knew we wanted to work with VR.

GC: How big was the team that worked on Tilt Brush?

PH: The Tilt Brush team was originally just Drew and myself, but when we joined Google, we got support to grow it in to the product it is now.

GC: How did you come to be working for Google? And what do you do there when you aren’t working on Tilt Brush?

PH: Drew and I joined Google just over a year ago after speaking with them about collaboration.  We wanted to grow Tilt Brush and they loved the product, so it was a great fit. And Tilt Brush is our life at Google-- we're trying to make it the best product we can, so there's no time for anything else!  :)

GC: Do you consider Tilt Brush finished? Can we expect additional content for it?

PH: No way Tilt Brush isn't finished. The content creation space for virtual reality is still very much unexplored and we intend to keep prototyping, listening to feedback from the community, and adding features that fit Tilt Brush.

GC: What feedback have you gotten from the art community regarding Tilt Brush?

PH: We've had a lot of different types of artists try Tilt Brush and overall the reaction has been positive. It's been interesting to see how different styles translate inside Tilt Brush. How an animator might use it, or a sculptor, or a street artist, for example. Everyone has suggestions for features, though, so that just means we need to get back to work.

GC: Have you given any thought to ways for people to translate their creations from the digital to the physical world? How about translating Tilt Brush files to other 3D modeling programs?

PH: It's a commonly requested feature and something we've put a good deal of thought in to. We're definitely looking in to that functionality and will have more to announce very soon.

GC: What are your personal favorite virtual reality games or apps?

PH: Oh, there's a lot. I love anything to do with creation, like Fantastic Contraption, and I love stealth action, so Budget Cuts is a favorite. I would have to say that my favorite VR experience as of right now is probably Birdly, though. I could spend hours flying around cities. It's so relaxing.

GC: Any hints as to what’s coming next from Google with virtual reality?

PH: Wait and see!!  :)

Tilt Brush is available now for the HTC Vive. 

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