A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Zac Arato, an old acquaintance, at Enviz who enquired about whether I would be willing to submit my Garden Loft scene for an experiment. 

The scene is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. It is inspired by an existing location that came pretty close to becoming my home. I fell in love with the space after visiting it a long time ago. And when it became clear that I wouldn’t be moving in, I decided to model it, modify it, and to turn it into my dream loft. 

That story, and the idea that you can appropriate a space by re-creating and enhancing it in 3D, became the inspiration behind a series of handheld sequences of me walking through the place.

Of course, it wasn’t really me doing the walking. I had tracked the camera using a phone while stumbling through my (much more humble) actual apartment and applied the data to a camera in the scene. The sequence was rendered in Vantage to speed things up.

Long story short. When Zac got in touch, I had no idea that just a few days later, I’d be able to wander around the space myself–almost literally speaking.

After Zac and his colleagues had worked their magic on my scene, he asked me to install the Enviz app on my Quest headset and gave me a code that unlocked a new demo scene in the app.

A short download time later, I found myself in the middle of the Garden Loft. Not in a blocky, low-poly, version of it but in the actual V-Ray scene, with its glorious morning sunlight and realistic materials, all moving at more than 70 FPS. 

I was actually walking in it this time. Feeling the space and the volume in a visceral way that is hard to convey into words. It is one thing to design and model a space down to the tiniest details to make it as realistic as possible. It is an entirely different thing altogether to be able to move inside of it.

Now Enviz isn’t just about VR. They convert 3D scenes into real-time environments on a number of platforms, including web, tablets and mobiles. They’re geared mainly at CGI pros who want to bring their high-end 3D scenes into real-time without compromising on fidelity. 

I checked the iPad version of the scene and it worked extremely smoothly (this is where the stills in this story come from). That said, seeing the scene in VR is what really got me.

Whenever you model a realistic environment, it is hard to escape the impression that you’re working on a scale model. When it lives on a computer screen, even such a large apartment is reduced to a miniature. By transporting it into VR, it actually becomes its real-world equivalent. The only missing dimension is the ability to touch it. 

What makes this possible is the fact that Zac and his team use V-Ray (or whatever offline renderer the scene was designed for) to bake the light and materials into the real-time scene, which massively increases the realism while reducing the computing time when moving around the finished VR environment.

While the geometry of the VR scene is simplified somewhat, the difference with the original is hard to notice unless you get extremely close to the model. This is the closest I’ve come to exploring a ray-traced environment completely in real time.

Working this way comes with some tradeoffs, of course. The biggest one is that glossy reflections aren’t present in the scene. Only sharp reflections are there, but they appear to be screen-based, which can break the magic in some instances. That said, it took me a long time wandering around the place before realizing this. Adding reflections would no doubt be glorious, but you don’t really notice them if they aren’t there. 

And obviously, as with any pre-baked scene, you can’t move furniture around or alter the lighting. Again, these would be great to have at some point, but if I had to choose, I’d take photorealism over the ability to slide a chair across the living room any day. 

As I understand it, Enviz is at its best when working with visualizers who want a simple way to get from a realistic interior or exterior visualization to a real-time environment, with high quality and a degree of interactivity. If that’s your space, you should definitely investigate it. It will blow your mind.

EDIT: Enviz has done an in-depth write-up describing how they handled the scene. Check it out here.