Google's Tilt Brush

by Katherine Hall, Staff writer

In a previous Art of Technology article, we covered how social media is changing the way people consume art—and communicate with museums on a daily basis. Today, we’ll go beyond single perspective images and videos and look at larger technological advances creating new ways for people to interact with and explore art collections online.

While Google is known and loved for their everyday, workhorse tools like Search, Gmail and Google Maps, their Cultural Institute is taking the company’s powerful technology and specializing it to revolutionize the presence of arts and culture on the internet. The Cultural Institute is a separate, not-for-profit initiative that aims to “bring the world’s cultural heritage online” by offering two, free tools that help museums digitize their collections. The first tool is the Art Camera, a state of the art system that captures high resolution images of paintings. Though nothing can replace the experience of viewing a work of art in person, the Art Camera is extremely useful for remotely studying painting details, even down to the brushstroke level. The Institute’s other product, Museum View, pairs with Art Camera to offer an integrated virtual museum-going experience. Museum View is a specialized 360° version of Google Map’s Street View that allows users to explore a museum as if they were walking through it step by step. While Art Camera captures the minute details of paintings, Museum View provides a larger, more holistic lens through which to view the collections. The opportunity to see entire galleries in Museum View allows artwork to be seen in its curatorial context, in dialogue with other pieces of similar subject, time period, movement, or medium. Cultural Institute’s combination of tools gives users the unprecedented ability to jump seamlessly from collection views to close up details of art works, just like they would if they were actually in a museum.

Google's Cultural Institute's Museum View

The next technology is a different (and even more prevalent) implementation of a similar idea. 360° videos are now popping up all over social media site, Facebook. Similar to the Google Cultural Institute’s Museum View, the videos are shot with a special apparatus that captures a full 360° spherical view. The interface encourages viewers to actively engage with the videos to discover different perspectives and hidden angles. It is also particularly well suited to mobile as users can explore the video by tilting and moving their phone rather than having to click and drag to see different views. The more intuitive mobile movements are likely why Facebook has become one of the leading platforms for 360° videos, since thirty percent of Facebook users access the social media site solely through their phones. 360° videos present a unique and novel way to virtually experience events and they have been used to capture a wide variety of occasions, from golf tournaments to Fashion Week runway shows. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s page posted a 360° video of their new branch, the Met Breuer, showcasing the landmark architecture of the building. The video features several interior and exterior views of the space, including an excellent sweeping shot over the entryway. Though many videos are shot from a static position, one benefit of Facebook’s 360° videos over Museum View is that since they are videos, the viewer can experience moving through a space fluidly, without having to click every time they want to advance to a new position. The capabilities of 360° videos make them particularly well suited to showcasing architecture, as it is hard to capture the feel of three dimensional spaces in static images, and fine, detail level zoom capabilities are less important.

Virtual realty, one of the most buzzed about new technologies of the year, is even better suited to displaying architecture and museum spaces. It takes the 360° views offered by Facebook’s videos and Google’s Museum View off of the screen and into an immersive three dimensional experience inside the headsets. It will be thrilling to see how Virtual Reality is further applied to the museum-going experience. In the mean time, it is already changing the way that art is created. Another product from Google, the Tilt Brush, is an application for the HTC Vive virtual reality set. It allows artists to step in to a blank-canvas of space and create three-dimensional “paintings” or “sculptures.” Tilt Brush utilizes the HTC Vive’s handsets, with one acting as a brush to apply color with and the other acting as a palette that offers a full range of customizable colors and unique textures (everything from ink to snow and smoke) to choose from. Additionally, Users can move around and through their creations viewing them from all angles thanks to the room-scale Virtual Reality technology. The Tilt Brush also allows artists to share their creations as either immersive Virtual Reality experiences or as tiny GIFs.

We can only guess at how technology will continue to evolve and influence our daily lives, but if one thing is certain is that art will continue to be at the forefront of new innovations.

Google's Tilt Brush