A couple weeks ago, Nick Ladd, a third-year 3D Animation & CGI student, caught the attention of many at Dawson’s Artists in Bloom event with his Virtual Reality (VR) setup where he started and completed a VR painting in under two hours. The VR piece was the first of its kind in the fundraiser’s 21-year history.
With VR gaining presence in the art world, Ladd is steadily establishing himself as a specialist in the new form – even attracting the attention of various figures in major companies like Oculus Rift and Disney.
Although the concept of Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for decades now, it has really found tremendous growth in the past five years. We are seeing more and more reports of the increasingly popular medium extending to many fields: commercial, gaming, medicine, and even politics – among others.
One of those fields is the domain of art, in which VR painting is truly becoming a legitimate form, despite its growth and rise seemingly going unnoticed to the general population.
“The earliest people were doing [VR painting] as something available to everybody was about two or three years ago,” said Ladd. “It’s still very new and is still growing very fast.”
All his life, Ladd has been doing art. He already had a certain artistic ability in elementary school. However, it is in high school that he truly started taking it seriously.
“There was a girl I really wanted to impress in high school,” shared Nick. “That was really how I got into it [initially]. I never got her, but we’re still friends. We went to different schools; I went into Illustration [at Dawson], started doing art for real, and it just led me up to where I am now.”
Once he started taking art seriously, Ladd got into Dawson’s Illustration program. After finishing cegep, he went to Sheridan College to further his artistic studies. However, he didn’t complete his program there because “it was really expensive.” He returned to Dawson to study in 3D Animation & CGI and added new mediums to his artistic repertoire. VR was one of them.
“I wanted to jump into VR early so I could explore the new medium,” explained Ladd. “There are very few people working in VR right now so there’s a lot to discover and that excites me. It’s an all-new medium unlike anything else and it really combines the best of what I like from working in 2D with working in 3D.”
Ladd started doing VR painting around a year ago, catching the early wave of the young artform. In the past year, he has completed over 50 VR projects and has posted them on different online platforms like Twitter and Sketchfab. Because of his works, Ladd has built a considerable following in these communities, amassing nearly one thousand followers on Twitter and over 9000 – no pun intended – on Sketchfab.
His online presence has garnered a lot of attention in the VR and digital art scene. Many people from major technology and animation companies have gotten in contact with him because of his work.
“One of the projects I posted on Twitter – a site I barely used – blew up and got something like 5k views (editor’s note: it was actually closer to 122k view),” said Ladd. “A lot of those were retweets from people that worked at big companies like Microsoft, Oculus Rift, and Disney. I got a call from someone called Edward Saatchi. I didn’t who he was until I looked him up and saw that he worked with Facebook, at the Oculus Story Studio, but he called me basically to congratulate me and say that he was interested in what I was doing.”
Disney, on the other hand, contacted Ladd saying that they wanted him to give a talk at their studio in Burbank, California. “But it’s not that they’d fly me there,” said Ladd. “If I happen to be in California, they would love to have me give a talk. I would love to go but it would be pretty expensive.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR LADD?
Although Ladd is sure to have a bright future, his plans once he graduates Dawson are still uncertain to him. “A year ago, I would’ve said that I want to work for a 3D Animation studio, but that was before I started doing VR. There is not really a big VR industry, but my work seems to be very popular. I may try to pursue that as a route, but I’m not sure where to apply.”
As Ladd will continue to do VR painting, VR as a whole will surely continue to grow. To him, whether the new form will become a legitimate and accessible branch of art depends how it will be used. “If companies like Disney or Pixar start using [VR], then it will become more interesting for others to get into it.”