Sunday, April 13, 2008

The one, the only, Sabine Stonebender

October 6, 2008 update: On July 16th, Sabine Stonebender's Zero Point and shop were inadvertently destroyed. Sabine has been hard at work rebuilding Zero Point and her permanent store is now open for business (teleport directly from here).

The extraordinary Sabine Stonebender. Photograph post-processing by KadeKlate Karson

In the constellation of artists within Second Life, she is royalty, and I have no doubt that art historians in the future will document her work in textbooks - or whatever the format might be - because Sabine has pioneered an entirely new approach - a movement in and of itself - and has thoughtfully laid down the foundation for many artists in virtual worlds to come.

So much has been written about her already, but we will never finish examining this woman's work. There is the SLART piece, Amalthea Blanc's review and video, the SL Cool story, and of course, the SL News coverage. Jurin Juran frequently features her work both at her Blackwater Gallery and on her blog.

April 14 update: In the interest of longevity and for the record, and because some new material came in - namely a couple of great pics of Sabine's Real Life art works, and quotes from both Torley Linden and DanCoyote Antonelli - I decided to republish with these additions.

To see the greatest concentration of her work, as well as her store, visit Zero Point (teleport directly from here).

I always feel like I am stealing a little beauty from the metaverse whenever I take Sabine Stonebender's (rez: 2/2/2005) time for one thing or another. I imagine that she might be mixing a new palette of those jewel colors and shiny things, and whipping all into a froth of exhuberant particles that dance around her whenever she appears.

So, I stole a little beauty from the metaverse... a few hours of this gifted content creator's time, and here is what I discovered.

What is your Real Life background and where are you located?

Sabine Stonebender: I am a studio artist by training with a BA of Fine Arts - Studio Arts - Jewelry and Metalsmithing. I got into the arts to be a professional at it. I'm in Texas, and graduated from the University of Houston in 1997.

Sabine's "Griffon" in Real Life

Jewelry and metalsmithing... doesn't sound very 3D - as in digital - to me. How on earth did you end up in Second Life?

Sabine Stonebender: More than you might think. Jewelry is very sculptural in nature. Digital graphics fascinated me ever since seeing the first pixel blocks of Pong. I learned to use Poser on my own, as a hobby, which led me to Second Life. When I ran a web hunt looking for ways to extend Poser, Second Life popped up due to its animation file connection.

What did you think when you got here and what was your reaction?

Sabine Stonebender: A bit puzzled, but I liked the fact that I could make things and keep them or even sell them. The first weeks were rather boring, though, as my comp barely could run Second Life. The public sandboxes were where it really got going.

Did you work alongside anyone interesting there?

Sabine Stonebender: I would meet all sorts of builders making wonderful stuff. Folks like Torley and Jesrad Seraph. One who really inspired me alot was Jessica Qin. She's an all-original and has a brilliant mind.

A very early photograph of Jessica Qin, who had this to say about Sabine: "The wonderful thing about Sabine is that she's always inventing and experimenting and innovating and attempting to do truly original things that no one else has done before. She's a true Original."

Unlike most creators of interactive art, you are also involved in creating a "journey" of sorts for the person experiencing it, via your tunnels, the roller coaster, and your transport systems.

Sabine Stonebender: I like to think of life as a journey with all that implies, so it seemed logical to bring that mentality here. We change as our travels broaden our experiences. It is my hope that, in some small way, I can change folks a little as they interact with my work.


Your work involves a great deal of scripting, which is so distant from Metalsmithing!

Sabine Stonebender: I use a lot of very simple scripts for much of what you see. Only the recent work has become script intensive.

What is Vomit Comet and how did that come to be? It is a Second Life classic and novel even to this day.

Sabine Stonebender: That was a toy I built back in 2005... one of my early big works, which was a real learning experience. It is now a means to really throw a viewer into the heart of the storm. That level at Zero Point is sensory overload, plain and simple.

Incidentally and per Wikipedia, Vomit Comet is a nickname for any airplane that briefly provides a nearly weightless environment in which to train astronauts, conduct research, and film motion pictures. In Sabine's case and in her words, Vomit Comet is "a rocket sled-type propulsion ride, and the chair fires up a sticky camera for a bit better view of what's going on." You can take that ride on the top level of Zero Point, ground zero for Sabine's showcase of her work.

Your colors! No other artist in Second Life even comes close to touching your intense and intensely beautiful palette. Tell me about your sense of color and how it evolved?

Sabine Stonebender: Part of it stems from my love of color in my Real Life work, as I am a stonecutter. I cut raw minerals into gems and bring out the color. A stone has a range of colors unlike many things in painting and graphics. Among the stones that I work with: Tigers Eye, labrodorite, opal, sodalite, obsidian. Stones have special fx built in. Tigers Eye is what they call "chatoyant," - the so called cat's eye effect.

Tigers Eye photograph by Photolitherland

Kinetic art at Zero Point

Obsidian, as photographed by Mila

I'd venture to say that sometimes Sabine improves on nature

This photograph of an opal taken by Chris Ralph .

Sabine's opalesque effects... "Opal is special as it is a spectrum and has amazing depths"

Sabine Stonebender: Labrodorite has its own unique effect to reflect light back as color. No two alike. The fractal effect is partly the surface and partly from the internal refraction. My first texture was labrodorite. This is a prime example of some of my fave colors.

Sabine painted a prim to demonstrate her labrodorite texture

Sabine Stonebender: Some of the colors I work with also came from ceramics. I nearly have a minor in that. I loved glazing.

I have heard jewelers wax eloquently about the forests that appear inside emeralds. Are all your colors inspired by nature?

Sabine Stonebender: Not all are natural. I also played with graphics programs and was drawn to the bold and brightest of the colors... things that nearly glowed. What really set me alight was back in old Second Life, we had light as a material. To hold a block of light was fascinating. In the edit menu, there are object material properties: wood, stone, metal, rubber, etc. Light used to be on that list.

Do you miss it? Now we have glow... is that a good replacement?

Sabine Stonebender: They replaced it with glow recently, so I don't miss it so much, but before glow, yes, I missed it. My horn was from that era. Much of that old content was broken.

An earlier version of Sabine's avatar

It was not lit for a while? How long ago did it disappear, more or less?

Sabine Stonebender: Yah, I had to settle for Fullbright. Must have been around the summer of 2006 when they broke the old lighting engine. We had a period of almost a year with no local lighting.

Have you made jewelry here?

Sabine Stonebender: I don't make jewelry in Second Life. I acquired a taste for large-scale sculpture. I have a 500lbs steel dragon in my Real Life backyard.

Hex, Sabine's dragon in Real Life, weighs 500lbs!

How soon after you rezzed did you begin to build large? Was it an epiphany of sorts?

Sabine Stonebender: Probably 6 months, as that's how long it took me to really get a clue. Second Life was small then, too. It was more of a slow progression. I'd learn a skill, build on it, and so forth.

Two builds, "Big Foot" and the "150 Ton Hammer," by Sabine dating back to the fall of 2005

What are the most important considerations, in your opinion, in creating an installation, and... is there a prim you like to reach for most when you start?

Sabine Stonebender: The primary consideration is "What does it make me feel?" And Function is what I use most. As a jeweler, form and function go hand-in-hand. Useable and beautiful... but in Second Life, I could also go for pure form.

Do you test how avatars interact with your art, and do you still work with Poser?

Sabine Stonebender: (smiles) I put my own work through the wringer with my avie. Poser, not as much. The current version is rather annoying to work in and I've little time for it.

Sabine Stonebender on her throne at Zero Point, as captured by NPIRL Flickrite, Luna Zolnir

Detail of one of the dragon heads from that throne

What tools do you use, software, etc.?

Sabine Stonebender: I'm an open source junkie. GIMP 2.4, Irfanview, Sculpty Paint, PloppSL, and any free graphics or modeling tool I can lay my paws on.

Any advice for people who are just getting started in this area?

Sabine Stonebender: Find forums, and do a lot of experimenting with the editing menus. I would poke at every filter, plugin, etc., just to know what it was. Nothing beats hands-on empirical know-how. Gimp was a trial by fire.

You are renown for your textures, and I am thrilled to own several of them... how much work is involved and did it hurt to put some of them up for sale?

Sabine Stonebender: It really varies. I use a lot of photo elements as well as pure digital rendering. Both can be slow or fast depending on the detail. As for sale, some I do hate to let go, but many I am eager to share, as I know they can be useful. I used to teach classes here.

Your particles are unlike any others in Second Life, and I especially enjoyed how you used them in the Godzilla build for Burning Life 2007, and in your teleporter. When you teleport from one place to another, you "arrive" in a storm of particles.

Godzirra! at Burning Life 2007

Sabine Stonebender: Oh, my flight tail. The default of me has the real tail. My particles use a lot of textures I make myself. One of the reasons they have a certain look is that I am a transparent texture junkie. Overlays are a wonderful use of Second Life. Layers are fascinating, especially in motion.

"Sabine Stonebender has attained mastery over animated textures. Seems simple enough: you drop a script in, and tweak a few parameters. But beyond this, when you assemble prims in various geometric alignments, you can create powerful, fluid sculptures which are a feast for your eyes, and bordering on optical illusions. Through Zero Point, a skyward installation not unlike The Crystal Maze, colors and motion run rampant, culminating in visual delights to be enjoyed by all visitors." - Torley Linden

"Eye Window" - An earlier work by Sabine

What considerations came into play in the creation of Zero Point?

Sabine Stonebender: One thing about Second Life that I've learned is that rails aren't really needed. We all fly. Many things we use in Real Life are bad user interface here. Thus the open format of the Sky Gallery.

What do you call that gorgeous red tower?

This photograph was taken in early February. The build has changed since then

Sabine Stonebender: Oooh lol, that's part of an experiment that's not open to the public yet. That zone is new and will be replaced soon with the final one. This is a proof of concept.

How soon do you expect to finish it? I wonder if I might publish the photos I've taken prior to your opening it up.

Sabine Stonebender: Sighs... when I can make the time, honestly. I don't mind. I get ripped off on concepts a lot, so there is little I can do other than present my current vision while it is current.

Want to talk about that?

Sabine Stonebender: Only insofar as we live in a cut-and-paste society now. Far easier to copy, than create new. Sometimes, some concepts will diverge, and some I've tossed to the wind, hoping they would be used.

DanCoyote Antonelli calls you a true original and considers you to be completely unique.

Sabine Stonebender: I do make a point of not being too derivative whenever possible. I am a student of art and art history, so I know when I am being a slave to it.

Do you collaborate at all?

Sabine Stonebender: Yes, DC (DanCoyote Antonelli) was one of my early collabs. I got him turned onto the notion of the cascade attachments, as the first ones were my work for the first ZeroG SkyDancer shows. I did the costumes. I liked his concept and tried to push it further in my own way. It was a lot of fun.

"I discovered Sabine's work in a sandbox. It was her immersive worm experience that you walked into the mouth and then went through the belly through to the other end. It was then I knew I had to befriend this person. I sent an IM and did just that. Sabine is a profound inspiration to me and a loyal and dedicated friend. Sabine is undoubtedly the genuine article, the real thing and a humble, helpful good natured, serious artist. She is my favorite artist in Second Life and personifies all the best aspects of the Second Life community. This is an amazing talent and we are lucky to have this person working in Second Life." - DanCoyote Antonelli

The textured megaprims worn by the dancers in this video by Gary Hazlitt are what Sabine calls "cascade" attachments

Anyone you'd like to collaborate with whom you haven't?

Sabine Stonebender: Mmms, that's a tough one. I've looked up to many folks but often due to how different their work was from my own. Seifert (Surface) was an early inspiration, but our methods are way too different. Seifert used scripts early on for prim manipulation, while I was never that good at them, so went for brute hand-built, sometimes with similar results, but not unlike many of Seifert's early creations.

Author's note: Since conducting this interview, Sabine collaborated in a build exercise with elros Tuominen.

Entrance to Zero Point

If you could bring one person in world who is not here today, to your knowledge, who would that be and why?

Sabine Stonebender: I admit, I'd like to meet folks like Boris Vallejo or Olivia de Berardinis, but I doubt they would find it here as fun as I do. They have fantasy worlds of their own.

This gold texture at Zero Point's Sky Gallery is extraordinary.

Sabine Stonebender: It is something of an anomaly. They never culled its size: 2048 x 1024... a rare high res texture.

How'd that happen? Just a bug?

Sabine Stonebender: Really don't know. Ask Linden Lab :3... but I'd rather it stayed high res.

Oh yes! We won't share with them (note to Linden Lab: Don't you touch it!). What about your avatar, and its evolution?

Sabine Stonebender: My face was made on my third day in Second Life. My Poser experience made that easy. I already knew UV mapping, but didn't finish the body till a year later, though. I hate seam fixing. Pure laziness, too.

The earliest version of Sabine's avatar

A question, mostly for my own edification? You don't use animations to walk and stand. I notice that a lot of oldbies don't. Why?

Sabine Stonebender: AO's, as a rule, are bandwidth hogs and the early ones were cumbersome and hugely laggy. I found them annoying. I do wear them on rare occasions, but never for long.

There is one default standing animation that drives me nuts. I imagine I'm a lag disaster and should trim that, since I wear so many huds.

Sabine Stonebender: (smiles) Oh, so am I, but that's my tail. It's also a multitool.

Sabine Stonebender: Blazer Neko tail -star call: Scanning for AGENTS within 96 meters. [13:45] Blazer Neko tail -star call: Scan: [1] Detected Bettina Tizzy (cb84betxa-60aa-4ba7-85c7-a9999c12345) at coordinates (107,67) at a distance of 2.38 meters and an altitude of 502.28 meters.

Very detailed...

Sabine Stonebender: It's far more than just a bell or a particle effect. A super scripter wrote the set that powers it: Karsten Rutelage, maker of the game Greedy Greedy and numerous other things. Only I have it.

Everything about you is one-of-a-kind.

Sabine Stonebender: Yes, I'm a unikitty. Sabine is an old idea, was more equine back then. I am very catlike in my personal habits, but I have a need to help folks and heal to some degree. Technically, Sabine is also both male and female, as I have a very dual nature.

Photograph post-processing by NPIRL Flickrite Suzanne Graves

Looking ahead, what would you like to see happen with art in virtual worlds?

Sabine Stonebender: I'd like to see digital work gain recognition as fine art, in its own right. One reason I try to be original is, if it can stand on its own, then the naysayers can't condemn it as software fabrications. Many consider it nothing more than filters and logarithmic effects.

Do you see a change in that direction lately?

Sabine Stonebender: Yes, many others here have taken up the same banner. DanCoyote Antonelli was one I preached of this to, and he has really pushed it far, and I do get preachy about it. I feel very strongly about that idea... that and the fact that art can and should involve the audience. Immersive art, in essence, becomes performance art, with the viewer performing a part.

The interaction requires a mind. Without the mind, it is static. While static art has its place, it rarely involves the viewer except as a distant observer. Second Life offers a dynamic that can't be replicated in Real Life. I want folks to ride art, climb into it, merge with it even. In many ways, builders here are what the magicians of old were proposed to be. We can bend the world to our will on so many levels. In Real Life, not even close.