Saturday, February 21, 2009


Posted by Alpha Auer

You wander along the long bowels of a caterpillar like structure to gain access to the head, a spherical chamber, to witness the cycle of a hurricane!

Yes, I would most definitely urge the visitor to zoom out and look at this huge creature, with (at least to me) very obvious biological references, arduously crawling along a bumpy terrain, to become aware of this extraordinary convergence of the micro cosmos and the macro cosmos in the piece which Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield have currently on show at NMC Campus West. A caterpillar of clouds, of weather - a storm caterpillar... Inside, the progression of a hurricane displayed as sound and video/image sequences, revolving in a time cycle; and outside, a sad old "cloud creepy crawly"... For me this utterly bizarre juxtaposition is what sets this piece in a class apart, lifts it from the mere recording of a natural phenomenon to a state of creative endeavor. I need to have these quirky associations, this element of the unexpected - the surreal (for lack of a better word here) - present in creative output, for things to really start working for me, for them to stick in my imagination.

So, yes, I did like StormEye very much indeed. But even with the wonderful combination of the concepts above, were the piece not well worked out in it's details, it would have suffered a loss of effectiveness, which it obviously hasn't. That said, there are still a few things which I would like to mention however, when it comes to the nitty gritty of realization:

One of them is the time cycle: The most effective parts of this are during the height of the storm, the downpour. Studies show that around 85% of the effort of ensuring that a state of psychological immersion in virtual environments is achieved, is spent in implementing convincing sound systems rather than those of visuality. Apparently it is our ears that immerse us and not our eyes. And indeed, at StormEye too, the effect of immersion into the climate, the storm reaches its apogee during the downpour, during which, of course, sound levels become vastly pronounced. I wish these parts of the cycle lasted much longer than they currently do. It seems that at the moment the time cycle is distributed fairly equally, I would have much prefered it to have been strongly biased towards the storm rather than the lovely blue skies...

Yet another thing I noticed goes to texturing: Now, I am talking entirely through my hat here, since I am not at all familiar with the usage of video sequences in Second Life® and what the appended limitations might be in this regard. For all I know, there is no way of way of using alpha transparency in video textures. I do know that alpha enabled videos can be created by rendering quicktime video as a PNG sequence. Whether these can be imported into SL, I have absolutely no idea. But, if this is at all possible, it would seem to me that the weather videos could use some seamless blending and also variance, which I think could be achieved by layering prims on which the textures take advantage of alpha transparency, on top of each other rather than just only side by side. A mere detail this, really - but one which may make a deal of difference nonetheless...

And finally, one more tiny gripe - but possibly the most relevant one: Animations! Now, this is also partially due to how I, Alpha, tend to simper around with the current animation overrider that I have. I have been meaning to rework this for the longest time now; but when I was in there, clutching Bryn Oh's gorgeous umbrella as if it were a mere parasol - pretty much as if I was a nice little Edwardian lady out for a sunny Sunday afternoon's stroll - while all hell, in terms of weather inclemency, was breaking loose around me, the whole issue of tailor made animations befitting a particular milieu/occasion in immersive environments became most painfully apparent. I would thus urge Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield to place an animation overrider with appropriate animations into the umbrella and require visitors to wear it while they are there.

There seem to have been a great many people involved in the realization of StormEye and I will simply refer you to the notecard given inworld at the location of the piece for a listing of these:

"Thanks go out to Alexandar Vargas for supplying the workspace in which we created the piece, AM Radio for helping to secure that workspace and for loaning us the big window, and Tayzia Abattoir & Larry Pixel of the New Media Consortium for providing the venue for the public showing of the work. Also, Vlad Bjornson helped me plumb the mysterious depths of sculpty creation in zBrush and Lynne Heller/Nar Duell's observations were most valuable. Thanks also go to Bryn Oh for making the steampunk umbrella at the last minute, and Dizzy Banjo who suggested a better method of media playback.

The storm sound effects samples served by The Freesound Project, and were produced by When you are done getting wet here, visit the Aho Museum below us by using the transporter near the archway. This installation is covered by a Creative Commons license. Details may be found on the website listed above.

More information may be had at

Please post your photos to the StormEye Flickr group

You can teleport to StormEye directly from here.


Douglas Story said...

Thanks for the kind words, Alpha. In your post you referenced the contrast between the interior and exterior view...I designed the shape of this beast purely with an eye towards how it would look from the inside, and I just let the shape of the exterior follow along from that. When that turned out to be rather interesting (especially with the video rolling over it,) Des and I started thinking about placing it in the landscape over which it currently rests.

You're not the first person to request, "More storm, please!" But when I was editing the video, I found that the sections of footage I had of the storm did not loop as well as the peaceful segments, which I had slowed down and repeated. The repeated stormy bits were too obviously seen as 'the same video twice.' This bothered me, so I decided to err on the side of brevity.

The umbrella was a last minute addition, and the very busy Bryn was kind enough to take time to make that 150 prim umbrella for us, and the animation was the best we could come up with on short notice. The dainty position you mention doesn't offend me; I like the contrast between that and the violence of the storm. What does bother me is how the umbrella moves about as one walks, rather than staying in position. We might change that...

Your comment about the research of the effects of audio in heightening the feeling of immersion is very interesting, and I couldn't agree more. I admire those who do this well in SL builds, like Dizzy Banjo. I labored over the sound effects bed in the StormEye, and conciously made the birdsong at the beginning at a low level to, I mean 'encourage' the viewer to turn up the volume on their computer. Then when the storm hits....wham!

The sfx used in the piece were downloaded from under a Creative Commons license, and were recorded by some fellow in Australia off of his front porch! In some of the original clips one can hear parrots and such rather close by - I edited around these parts because they were distracting - but it was very atmospheric.

It's been great fun putting this piece together. Onward!