Designed in virtual reality and then realized in bronze

The British artist Jonathan Yeo first made his name with a portrait of the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and then went on to produce numerous other paintings of celebrities and creatives that could be described as society portraiture.

He is one of four artists in the exhibition who has made new works with the virtual reality (VR) platform HTC Vive and the software programs that can be used with it to make art.

For the last 18 months, Jonathan’s been experimenting with various innovative technologies related to image making, including virtual reality and advanced 3D scanning. Through a partnership with Google Arts and Culture, Yeo has been collaborating with Google’s engineers on their Tilt Brush software, which lets users paint in a 3D space using virtual reality technology.

Yeo also worked with leading optical company OTOY, whose pioneering technology is used by leading visual effects studios in Hollywood including George Lucas and Warner Bros. Using their advanced LightStage scanner, a highly detailed 3D scan of Yeo was created and then imported into Google’s Tilt Brush software.

In a ‘virtual life room’, Yeo was able to create a virtual self-portrait based on this digital scan. With the help of Google’s VR lab in San Francisco, Yeo’s virtual creation was 3D printed from the Tilt Brush software. It was then cast into bronze by Pangolin Editions, one of the world’s leading sculpture foundries in Gloucestershire, enabling his virtual brushstrokes to be captured in 3D and then realized in sculpture.

New possibilities for artists

“I am not a sculptor, so you get a sense by looking at the work that it must have been made in a different way – a sense of movement and energy and light.” It is the very definition of new media: “It’s only in the last few months – weeks even – that it has been possible to extract and repurpose the VR files in this way.”

“Using virtual reality, I could explore sculpting using the skills developed in my painting practice and within my own studio environment”, Yeo writes in the Google blog. “What’s really exciting is how the final bronze structure precisely captures the free, expressive movements that were previously only possible in paintings. The result is a hybrid of painting and virtual creation, and could open up a world of possibilities for other artists to experiment and take this new medium much further.”

The sculpture will be shown as part of the exhibition “From Life” of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which opens on December 11th. HTC cooperates with the art institution and allows visitors to try different VR experiences with HTC Vive.