Virtual Reality For Everyone: An Interview with Greg Garner from Panoform

Panoform is a virtual reality application that allows people to transform drawings into immersive, three-dimensional environments. All you need is pen, paper, a smartphone with Internet access and, ideally, a VR viewer, example a simple Google Cardboard viewer.

Panoform was created by a group called The Experience Design Lab (IX Lab) in NC State University College of Design. The group is a “cross disciplinary community, explores virtual and augmented experiences as a cultural practice.” The principal team involved in Panoform is Derek Ham,  Payod Panda and through them I was introduced to the new project lead for Panoform, Greg Garner.

Payod describes the motivation behind the creation of Panoform:

We created Panoform as a way to democratize VR creation, and to give people the ability to be creators, rather than just consumers of VR content.”

Greg Garner was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Panoform:

Greg, can you tell us a bit about your work with Panoform?

I am an educator, so my work with Panoform has been on the implementation side, working directly with students and teachers to create new spaces for learning and exploring. I’ve had the privilege to work alongside Payod Panda and Derek Ham, who created the tool and originally developed its use as a research tool as well as a way for students to be able to play with concepts that are often abstract such as translating a two-dimensional object or image into three dimensions. We’ve been able to work alongside pre-school, elementary, and middle school students and teachers in developing lesson plans, exploring new designs and creations, and creating “wow” moments when folks get to see their drawings in a whole new dimension.

What do you see in the future for Panoform?

This is a great question and something we’re actively exploring. Panoform’s roots are in research, which sets it apart from many other education technology applications. Because its development was initially funded by NC State University, it means to date we haven’t had to worry about profitability or even scale, which is wonderful, but also means we have to begin thinking about what long-term sustainability looks like for us. The virtual reality landscape is exciting and many other companies are flocking to create new experiences, so if Panoform is to continue, we need to continually push the boundaries of what’s possible as well as begin to think about the ongoing balance and symbiosis of research and practice. All of that to say, of course, that we’re wide open to new ideas and will be looking to the community of Panoform creators for what would be the most useful additions to the tool. One idea we’re already debating is the incorporation of a learning community where creators could share their designs. But we definitely want to make sure that what we offer adds value to our creators’ lives and isn’t just something that we think is cool.

Who should try Panoform?

Everyone! Panoform is meant to be usable and accessible for everyone from the youngest learners who are just beginning to explore shapes to experienced artists, designers, and architects who want a quick way to prototype an idea and “see” it in three dimensions. And, of course, everyone in between.

Future fun and games

To find out more about how Panoform might develop in future, Greg was also kind enough to answer some of the powerful questions that I heard asked by the kids using Panoform for the first time:

How does that work? It’s just paper!

If you think of how a map works, we started with a globe and then we tried to lay it out flat. If you notice the vertical and horizontal lines on the Panoform grid, you could think of them like longitude and latitude. That also helps explain why the VR image looks different/distorted compared to what was drawn on the paper! Because we’re essentially taking the flat “map” and stretching it back over the globe!

Could you draw the lines yourself? Would it still work?

Yes. And even better: you don’t need the lines at all! Try it with just a blank sheet of paper and see what happens…

Could you print it on bigger paper and do a giant one?

Absolutely! You’d have to stand a little further away to get a good picture of it before you upload, but it would still work!

Can we share our pictures? Where does it go?

The short answer here is “yes.” But this is something we’re looking at improving in the future. (We’d love to hear your ideas!) For now, try this: type in a personalized word or phrase into your address bar and then add and you’ll create your own personal community.

(Note to adults: you may want to edit this answer and give them an example space to post to, such as instead of having each student create their own. You can tell them it’s a special treat just for them!)

Can you make it into an animation or so that you can go into another room?

I LOVE this idea! We can’t right now, but I’m going to make a note of this and we’ll see what we can do…

Over to you: Making your drawing come to life

Whether you are a teacher, librarian, code club organizer or just want to mess around with your friends, kids or colleagues, Panoform is for you.  There are simple steps to transforming your drawing into a walk around world using Panoform.

  1.     Print out the grid onto paper from the Panoform website
  2.     Sketch anything on to the grid paper
  3.     Take a photograph of your drawing with a mobile device
  4.     Browse the online Panoform Tool on your device
  5.     Upload your drawing to the Panoform Tool
  6.     Tap the VR icon
  7.     Insert your phone into a VR viewer
  8.     Look around and exclaim at how cool it is to see your art all around you!

To learn more, read Angela Brown’s code club experiments “Panoform – Explore Your Own Sketches In Virtual Reality With Simple Materials”.

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