How Learning VR Development Is Deepening My Appreciation For Nature

Have you ever tried to replicate nature? Let me give away the ending, it’s extremely hard.

My grandma is an incredible painter. She used to tell me that she sees light and color differently because of her artistic eye. “What colors do you see on that tree?” she’d ask me. With an amateur eye, I’d respond “green.” After years of this training I knew better, responding with a few less obvious colors like purple and yellow. My mind was telling me “green,” as I was taught to think that. But my eyes told me a much more complex story.

The truth is that our brain simplifies everything for us. You’d think it was designed by Apple with such a seamless user experience. Some designers might agree that the most elegant designs are the simplest. For some reason we think simple is easy. Some of you know how hard it can really be. Like a perfectly simple line of copy.

What better way to understand nature, but to try replicating it?

My grandma mastered shapes, lighting, and color after years of training her eye through art. But what happens when you add a 3rd dimension? Not only do you worry about a visual frame of nature, but the movements and the feelings.

Welcome to virtual reality. An industry working to transport us to faraway places, and bring us closer to ourselves. If the latter use case seems intriguing but confusing, I’ll explain that further in a future post.

My first eye-opening assignment was building my first shader.

A shader is made up of code that changes the appearance of something in a game. Shaders are infamous in the developer world for being incredibly complex and difficult to write. They require knowledge of complex math and concepts. They’re oftentimes used to imitate things like skies, water, and grass. Luckily for me, Unity (a game creation software) has a new tool that allows you to create shaders with a visual builder. (For the developers reading this, I’m talking about Shader Graph). This tool does a lot of the complex calculations under the hood for me, although it is still quite difficult to create one from scratch conceptually.

So, what was my first shader for? Grass. When was that last time you admired the beauty and complexity of grass? It’s probably been a while. The shape is simple, complex, and random all in one. How incredible? The movement of grass is mesmerizing once you start seeing it.

Even randomness is difficult to replicate! Recently I was walking down the street and smiled as I noticed a gum stain. It was so perfectly random. Only a genius could think to place that there.

Next time you go outside, look closely. There’s a lot of simply complex beauty to admire. You may see more than green in the trees.

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