The Feather team has told us about its Feather 3D Sketchbook app, discussed the vision behind the software, provided an overview of its features, and explained how they work with the community.
Yongkwan Kim (Kwan), Founder & CEO: My name is Yongkwan Kim, and I am the Founder and CEO of Sketchsoft Inc. I am here today with my team. I have a Ph.D. in industrial design and specialized in HCI (human-computer interaction) research. My area of focus was developing practical 3D sketching systems for product designers, which eventually led to the creation of Feather.
The Story of Feather
Yongkwan Kim (Kwan): "3D sketching" is an interaction technique that enables users to create digital 3D shape data with natural sketching input. It has been an active research area in computer graphics. Since 2015, I have developed 3D sketching software through several research projects, gaining global attention in academia and receiving the best paper award at the ACM CHI conference.
However, that was not the end of the story I had dreamed of. In 2020, I founded Sketchsoft to spread the 3D sketching interface I had worked on to creators around the world. After ten months of beta testing, our first product, Feather, was released on November 1st, 2022.
Our team consists of 16 interdisciplinary members, including developers, designers, researchers, and artists. We not only develop software but also use it to create artwork and digital 3D content under the concept of our team as a "user-maker." Using the tool we have created ourselves, we gain inspiration for our development process and can better resonate with potential users in various creative fields.
Feather is a 3D drawing app that allows users to create 3D artwork using 2D pen and touch input. We aim for Feather to be a kickstarter that helps people get their 3D ideas out at the first stage in every creative process. Our users come from a wide range of professions, including film, animation, gaming, art, product design, automotive engineering, fashion, and architecture.
The Tool's Features
Junwon Yang (Jun), Chief Designer: Feather’s main feature is drawing and erasing in 3D with a pen input. As everybody can imagine, the problem of creating 3D data with devices with only a 2D input, like tablets, is defining the depth where every stroke is. Feather solved this problem with a concept called “3D guide”. The first line the user draws at any angle gets extruded and makes a transparent surface. Users can immediately draw curve data on this surface.
Once users get used to this flow, they can draw almost any kind of curve in 3D with two strokes. We focused on making this process as seamless as possible so it can feel natural like sketching just with a pen and paper.
The curves created by this process are rendered as mesh data with their thickness. We call these “3D strokes” to distinguish the term from 3D curves. Each of the strokes is saved as point curve data consisting of the position and the normal vector of each point. This way, users can delete each stroke but also erase part of it, just like other 2D drawing tools.
A few more functions help users draw more easily, such as bending the 3D guide or making the strokes more neat. By bending the 3D guide, you can make more complex surfaces to draw on. Users can draw straight lines, circles, and cleaned-up strokes by holding the stroke they drew for a moment.
One of our original features is the "joystick" interface, which allows users to move, rotate, and rescale drawings in two and three dimensions. Users can use this interface by simply selecting the strokes to edit and controlling the panel on the right side. By dragging the grip in the center, the chosen strokes follow the grip’s movement. With the handles on the edge of the panel, users can stretch, shrink, and rotate the sketch. We designed this interface for a couple of reasons.
First of all, we didn’t want any interface to bother users to edit their creations while viewing them at the same time. So we came up with an idea to make something like a remote control. Especially we got inspired by both physical and graphical interfaces for games. Also, we wanted to make a compact & full functioning interface. Although moving, rotating, and rescaling are closely related, many tools provide these features separately for certain reasons. As Feather is more for devices that are compact and handy, we needed a different approach. We combined the remote control idea with control box interfaces from traditional 2D graphic editing tools by making handles that surround the joystick.
Everything created in Feather can be shared in several formats. They can be exported in images, videos, and of course in 3D model formats, OBJ and GLTF. We are having fun creating our own artwork and testing these models in tools and platforms like Blender and Sketchfab. Recently, we have been developing Blender add-ons for seamless workflow with Feather. These add-ons include imitating Feather’s rendering style and optimizing mesh data. We are looking forward to finding and sharing more connections between Feather and other tools.
The exported models can be 3D printed through a few steps of processing. In December 2022, we participated in the Seoul Design Festival as an exhibitor and displayed a series of 3D printing artworks called Skeleton of non-skeletal beings. To print these complex shapes that need support inside and outside the models, we used a 3D printer with PVA filament, which melts in water.
Hae Lin Lee (Jenny), Community Manager: It was our very first time introducing our product, Feather, at SIGGRAPH. We had an exhibition booth and also presented the app at Appy Hour. We were very excited to be at the world's biggest computer graphics conference to introduce Feather.
We opened a large exhibition booth featuring a live drawing show, a user stories exhibition, a corner to introduce how Feather can be used on other devices and blended with other software, and an experience zone where the audiences could try Feather themselves.
The area we have prepared for people to sit and watch the live drawing show has been packed throughout the three days of the exhibition. The giant screen caught people's interest through the live streaming, which showed how the app works in real-time.
Also, the user stories based on actual interviews with our users were the most authentic way to show how the app is used. One was about an interior designer using Feather for his sketches to communicate with his team and clients. Next was about a digital artist using Feather to sketch and create a 3D form for his concept art and using Nomad Sculpt (a 3D sculpting app on iPad) and Procreate together for finalizing, showing especially how to keep the whole process in a single iPad. Third was introducing an artist who has mostly been doing 2D paintings with traditional materials, and with Feather, she could expand her style in 3D.
By each link, you can read the full interview of our users published online.
Many people showed a significant interest in 3D sketching and the interface of how it works on a tablet and running based on the web. I especially remember that 3D character designers, storyboarders, shoe designers, educators, and architects talked with me a lot. It was a wonderful experience to talk with the people in the computer graphics field and talk about 3D sketching.
They indeed agreed with the point we wanted to solve. Although the outcome was in 3D, they always had to start with a 2D sketch, and there was nothing in between the gap from a 2D drawing to 3D modeling. We hoped our product could be something in between that could help the designers and artists get 3D data already prepared for communication from the early stages of the sketch.
The point that Feather could be used with other 3D software, importing OBJ files to draw on top of it or with it, and exporting the drawing in OBJ or GLTF files was also one of the key features that let the visitors imagine using Feather in their usual workflows.
Also, people appreciated that the product experience was much like drawing and sketching with a pen on the paper that everyone is used to. This was one of the most significant points they felt the product is intuitive and easy to learn.
Working With The Community
Hae Lin Lee (Jenny): As our team believes that it is very important to make the app with the people who use it, having the community to make the connection among the users and also with our team was very important.
Through the community, users can share their drawings and get help or share tips with each other. They can also give ideas for new features and discuss them, too. Our team is also open to sharing our thoughts or progress on the upcoming features.
We wanted to make various channels for the users to get help from us or express their thoughts so the users could also vote or send us their ideas through the support page or chat directly with us. The user's thoughts and ideas become a very precious inspiration for us to acknowledge in which situation and why the users need specific functions or what difficulties they are facing.
For example, we have collected voices from the users asking for importing images. However, we noticed that it had two different ways the users wanted images in the scene. One was to use an image as a reference floating on the screen separately (clipboard), and another was to have an image in the 3D scene (importing resources). After the update, users who asked for this update responded by sharing videos and images using the updated functions. You can see it if you join our community on Discord server.
It was our pleasure to interact with the users actively about the functions that are needed for them, update them, and see how they are using the new functions. We are always open to new feedback and ideas, so feel free to join our community and discuss 3D sketching with us!
Since our app could be used in different styles and ways depending on who uses it, we want to encourage interaction and communication between the users more. The potential and usage of the app are in the user's hands. The information and tips our team can show could be limited, and that is why we believe in the power of the community. It is always inspiring and surprising when the users show how they are using the app in their own ways.
Also, monthly online events are ongoing in the community. We provide example drawings and tips for each theme. We are trying different styles every month to give an idea of how to use Feather and what to draw. More online and offline events for our community are coming, so please stay tuned.
Everyone who is interested in Feather and using Feather is welcome to our Discord community. So don’t hesitate to join. Click and get invited now!
Kyuhyoung Hong (Kyu), Chief Engineer: So far, Feather's development has focused on features that allow users to start 3D sketching. These main features include sketching with a guide, bending the guide, organizing strokes with groups, and importing 2D & 3D files as references.
Our first priority based on these features is to strengthen and specialize the 3D drawing feature. We are planning to add more brushes, such as wide and flat, pressure-sensitive, and textured brushes, which let the users express their ideas more effectively. Also, we are testing out experimental ideas of different ways to draw the 3D guide to create more complex surfaces to draw on.
Second, we are thinking about scalability in terms of supporting more hardware and making Feather work with other 3D software. As Feather is built on the web, it has great potential to be used on various devices. Currently, we support PWA (Progressive Web App) and iPad, but we are planning to expand to Android applications and mobile devices. We are considering enhanced import and export functionality to facilitate an organic workflow pipeline between Feather and other 3D software.
We are also envisioning 3D sketching features for specific professional fields. Numerical and scale features for architects, and camera movement and animation for storyboard artists will be powerful ways to maximize the value of 3D sketching. Design iterations and templates for designers of all disciplines are also in our future plans.
Our team has been making Feather to help people express their imagination in 3D with a pen from the very start. Sketchsoft will continue developing and improving Feather based on the priority and roadmap. Stay tuned for future improvements of Feather.