Virtual Reality Meets Lighting Design & Architecture.

Eric Berntsson on VR and the challenges and opportunities it presents for lighting designers - take it from one who knows!

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Virtual reality (or VR) has been around for a much longer time than many would think. You can find info about VR headsets dating back to the early 90s.
For most people it’s just a stupid mimic of “The Future”. The reason for this is that the majority of VR headsets that people try on are in general quite bad. You get dizzy, light headed or even nauseous.

However, if you ever have the opportunity to try one of the newer, higher quality beasts - one that is not an app on your smart phone; one that requires a monster of a computer to bring you all that eye-candy graphics and physics - stay in the queue.

The HTC-Vive is one of these headsets, and it’s the one I decided to buy for myself. The first time you try one of these high end headsets you realize how immersive they really are. You can walk around in the virtual space, pick up objects and look at them in detail.
You want to stand on the Empire State Building? No problem, “Google Earth VR” is out there and you can visit (or revisit) any part of the world.
You want to dive deep under water? Go ahead and try “TheBlu” and freak out when a whale swims next to you.

So that is all cool and fun stuff. But what about lighting design and architecture? Well... there is none. There are a lot of educational demos and experiences out there for medical, historic and biological purposes, but no architecture. So I decided to try to model up one of our projects at KSLD myself using Unity - a free development program. Add some textures, load it up in the headset and suddenly you stand in the middle of the project - in real life scale.

The lighting is a huge challenge by itself. linear lighting is not a standard thing you can just throw in a model and move around in real time when using Unity. A powerful computer like the one I own struggles when calculating these things and it took me a good while to get the lighting to look somewhat realistic.

With the problem of good looking lighting solved, I could create more models, try different environments like lobbies, bars and offices. I soon realized that I had quite a few models ready. I brought these in a demo to show the office along with a few invited designers, engineers, and decision-makers.
Putting the “First time in Virtual Reality” shock away, I got some really good feedback on the models and ideas of what to change and add.

One of the joys of owning the headset is to look at other peoples faces when they try out VR for the first time! The future seems to have found its way here after all.