After last week’s tinkering with making an interactive digital world out of reality, this week I’ve had a bit of time looking at how to create 3D models that can be viewed using a Virtual Reality headset.

To start off, I’ve got three potential target VR environments. The cheapest is the Google Cardboard viewer, a very simple viewing device that you can get for a few quid on Amazon (or often given away free at railway station experiential marketing events it seems at the moment – I’ve picked up a couple at Waterloo Station in recent months).

The second is the Samsung GearVR, a bit like Cardboard, but with a modicum of image stabilization built in that makes for a much smoother experience.

The final is the top end HTC Vive. Whilst the other two viewers allow you to view a virtual world from a static point (viewing the world from inside a goldfish bowl, as LEF chum Lewis puts it), the Vive allows you to move around the real world to interact with the virtual through a combination of sensors and controllers. It’s very impressive stuff.

We also need something to create the virtual worlds. For this I picked the former Google-owned 3D modelling platform SketchUp. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, it’s free (or at least the basic version is); secondly it’s relatively easy to use and I’ve used it before and finally because the 3D Warehouse of free models available to use is phenomenal – I mean, where else could you find more than a dozen interpretations of Watford’s Vicarage Road Stadium?

So we have tools to create the models, and tools to view 3D worlds. All that’s necessary now is some sort of middle layer to stitch the two together. Simple? Well…

I started, it turns out, with the most complicated option. On the Vive system (and also on the Oculus Rift system coming out next month in the UK) there is an application from Valve called Destinations, which comes with a set of workshop tools. It’s very impressive:

But creating such immersive environments doesn’t come easily. You have to think about everything – the ground, the sky, lighting, physics.  A few hours spent tinkering gave me a strong impression about how much production is involved in creating high-end VR experiences. In comparison to the simple tools of SketchUp, Destinations Workshop tools were utterly overwhelming.

This wasn’t the rough and ready (yet quick and simple) experience I was after. So a new approach from a few searches on Google emerged:, a plugin for SketchUp from a company called Kubity. This was more like it.

Whilst nothing like the immersive power of Destinations, I could make it work in moments. Create a model in SketchUp, import a few objects from the 3D warehouse, save it, click on the qrVR export extension option, wait a few moments, and then view the thing on the qrVR viewer app. You can play with one of the simple models I created in your browser here:

The next step is to try a tool from IrisVR called Prospect – This promises to offer the simplicity of building models in SketchUp, but with the immersive experience of Vive. Unfortunately the Vive rig is in the office, so those experiments will have to wait…


One thought on “Further adventures in VR Land

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