Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lumiere Noir - The best teacher you never knew you had

If Second Life® has an aristocracy... meaning an elite group of people who act behind the scenes with an interest in benefiting the entire population, then Lumiere Noir is a true aristocrat. Yes, there are people who are perhaps better known... limelight-happy, if you will... but I've come to think that many of them reflect rather than generate light.

He didn't invent the tools, but Lumiere (who's name means "light" in French) has single-handedly taught thousands upon thousands of Second Life's residents (and probably you, dear Reader) how to build via his Ivory Tower of Prims (teleport directly from here).

A model of the first Ivory Tower of Prims above; and below, the actual Tower
The trouble with interviewing Lumiere Noir is that he is too good a conversationalist, and so our talks, which spread out over a number of days, strayed off to many unrelated and engrossing topics. To give you some idea, I have over 50 pages of logged conversations and notes! He is - at once - fascinating and fascinated with all worlds, both virtual and real, and well read, and curious as all get out.

Tell us about the man behind your avatar.
Lumiere Noir: I'm Vince Frost, I live in Plano, Texas, which is close to Dallas. I'm an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher at a high school in Plano. I teach 12th graders world literature, and I've done that for about 11 years now. My background is in art, but I discovered teaching after I graduated. I love teaching.

What is your favorite book to share with them?
Lumiere Noir: Pygmalion... I see them all as Eliza Doolittle! Their story is a little similar and language is what holds them back in this country, just as Eliza's accent holds her back, but I don't see myself as Henry Higgins! They are mostly Spanish speakers, from Central and South America, as well as a lot of Chinese. I specialize in the Chinese, and Mandarin is my second language. I mastered in art, and when I was about to graduate, I fell in with the Chinese community at my university. Through them, I got some connections, and went to Taiwan. I had planned to go for a year and learn the language and culture, and wound up staying almost four. I taught English to support myself and studied Chinese, and traveled a lot in Asia. This was between 1988 and 1991.

How did a man with this background end up in Second Life, on… Christmas eve! (Rez: 12/24/2003)
Lumiere Noir: I came here via The Sims Online, which I liked but it was so limited, and later What I loved about that world is that there was so much to explore, but most of it was made by the creators of There. One could create things but it was expensive. I hated being nickel-and-dimed to death... How do you say that in the U.K.? I made several things in There, mostly clothes… very eccentric things. Then I started hearing about this place. I tried Second Life in early Beta but I'm afraid to say I hated it. It was just so awkward, so I stayed in There until late 2003.

You were in Second Life earlier then?
Lumiere Noir: That was as a different avatar. SwenKong Wu I think... I can't remember the password :-) Probably no longer exists. (Note: It doesn’t). I was Swen_Wu_Kong in There, and Wu was available here at that time.

The Ivory Tower of Primitives today

How did the Ivory Tower of Prims come about?
Lumiere Noir: I love to make things, and I love to teach. Making the Tower was a natural thing for me as a teacher. I taught myself to build, and my first impulse was to turn around and teach it to others, but I quickly found that I didn't like teaching in-world very much.

So you created the tutorials instead! Have you held anniversary parties at the Tower?
Lumiere Noir: I have....I used to do a lot of things here. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I'm on to other projects at the moment. I tend to work on the Tower in the summers. It sort of lies fallow, except for maintenance work until the summer, and then I go through and add new things, and revise.

In an interview with Hamlet Au, back in June 2004, Lumiere described the Ivory Tower by saying, "[T]his is a user interface about a user interface. I like it when there are layers of reality and simulated reality that go in layers like this... I've interviewed a lot of master builders to get tips and tricks and experience and building methods that go beyond my own."

Lumiere Noir: It’s now pretty current, except it doesn't cover sculpties. That's okay with me on the whole because you have to learn about sculpties in conjunction with the 3D modeler you use and there's no way for me to cover all of them. Sculpties are a lot like scripting. It's best learned on the web. I can't cover Blender, Maya, Studio 3D Max and all the others :-)

Featuring a series of self-taught, self-paced lessons on how to build with prims, the Tower, is a lively place filled with newbies, doing what newbies do. Some are lost in concentration, while others are discovering gestures or editing their appearance.

It must take incredible patience to be Lumiere Noir. While standing at the Ivory Tower for about 20 minutes the other day, I was offered unsolicited, undiscussed friendship twice, and asked for help another three.

Earlier this month, Torley Linden made another one of his terrific videos, this time featuring a tour of the Ivory Tower of Prims and its sandbox.

Lumiere Noir: I got hooked on Second Life when I rezzed my first prim. Up until then I thought the world was interesting, but chaotic and a bit trashy. Then one day I accidentally rezzed a prim and I was amazed.

Lumiere Noir: Yes! I was trying to ride a motorcycle away, missed hitting “ride,” and hit “create” instead. Newbie me! I became so fascinated with that prim. I learned everything you can do with it. I think I still have it somewhere, but I did so many things with it, and began learning about scripting with it.

That same prim???
Lumiere Noir: Yes, for two weeks it was me and my prim! Not long after that I met Starax. We started about the same time, and we both worked in Morris, the greeting area at that time. We were friends and friendly rivals. We took very different directions over time, and don't talk as much as I'd like to, but he's one of my dearest friends here. He'll hate me for saying this, but under all that crust beats a heart of gold. The crust is there to protect it.

So you and Starax were working at Morris, and you were with this one poor prim…
Lumiere Noir: Yes, I saw all these crazy things he was doing, and I was learning and experimenting. He'd build something, and sometimes I'd build my own and he'd get mad because at that time mine was better. Except maybe he did his in an hour and I'd spend a couple of weeks on mine. But he's really the genius of this place!

I was playing with architecture, virtual of course. My style was always pretty weird. The thing that always distresses me about this place is that we have so much available to us to create with, but most people seem to make the same everyday airplanes, cars and buildings. I realize that a lot of that has to do with comfort level. We like what's familiar, but we can do so much more.

The first dome for the Tower

The second dome

Lumiere Noir: Back then land was very cheap and I got all the land I could in one of the last landgrabs. The Lindens used to release land for a $1L per m2. I don't think there were more than 20 or 30 sims when I first arrived and, oddly enough, that seemed large. (I) got most of Natoma over time, and started getting land in Noyo. Noyo was a busy sim because it had a telehub - back when we had to travel telehub to telehub - so I first built the library there.

Do you pay tier for this land that the Tower sits on?
Lumiere Noir: No, but I had the pleasure of paying a lot of money for a couple of years. The Lindens now sponsor it, and I'm very thankful for that.

As well they should! It would be a scandal otherwise.
Lumiere Noir: I've never asked for contributions. Most of the people that use the place are newbies. Word got out that I'd only ever had two supporters in the history of the Tower, about the time I put up the new Tower, maybe two years ago. They posted that on forums, and people started contributing a lot. A while after that the Lindens became sponsors. I gave over all my land here in Natoma and they left me in control of it.

How closely do you work with the Lindens? An official FIC, huh?
Lumiere Noir: Lol....screw the FIC and the anti FIC! I just do my work... hang out with close friends; I really don't care about the rest. Truthfully, (the Lindens) are like silent partners. I almost never hear a thing from them. I know they keep an eye on the place. I've got to tell you about my partner in crime here, Avi Arrow. She helps a ton with this place.

She never said a word about it! What is her role?
Lumiere Noir: I don't see how I could do what I do without her. Avi heads up the group Ivory Tower Dwellers, which she keeps running smoothly, and they help us keep watch over it. I mostly keep my nose down and make things. I have my own way of looking (after) them, but Avi keeps it together.

“Lumiere is a dear and trusted friend - my best friend in here, really. I've known Lumi for 23 months, yet much of what I know about him, I've been told by others (usually in the form of how much Lumi had influenced them). Lumi is a very innovative builder, primarily through his modular building exercises at the Ivory Tower. He has helped many residents who have gone on to do great things in here... from architectural building to making avatar attachments. His legacy in-world is one of being generous and tirelessly fun.” – Avi Arrow

The Ivory Tower is just one of the many projects that Lumiere has up his sleeve. There are his mostly extra-terrestial vehicles, which you can read about here and here, and his Planet Mongo, a Flash Gordon-inspired sim which we'll be talking about again soon... and his avatars...


Madame Maracas said...

I'm so glad to see this article!

My first visit to the Ivory Tower about 4 years ago (in an older avie) was a true Eureka! type moment. I saw that I could learn building and began to create very weird, interesting, sometimes eyeball ache-inducing structures, but love building to this day and am thankful to Lumiere Noir for his generosity of spirit and talent.

Any new resident that I meet, I strongly advise to head there first, as it's not only a building tutorial but it teaches the SL interface in a better way than anything else I've seen yet. Modular, go and your own pace, skip stuff one has already mastered, or even return to freshen up on basics or advanced skills. The Tower offers something for everyone and has for all this time. I love the build itself, too.

I"m glad the Lindens are sponsoring the land, so that finances won't be an impedance to the continued presence of this essential element of Second Life(tm).

Torley said...

I gotta chime in that I'm grateful for the institution (is that too formal?) that is the Ivory Tower. Hats off to Lumiere and the contributors who've kept it growing, as well as to everyone who's learned from it and have bettered their Second Life.