Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reach smeech... Second Life won't cut it with Nielsen yet, but it is POWERFUL in other ways

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

I was Twittering just now, and up came a twitter from a favorite follow of mine, Chimera Cosmos (aka @LDinSTL_Chimera), that read: "Yes! RT @metaMeerkat: inSL: @cybergrrloh says if one does not talk Second Life® when talking socialmedia, one misses an opportunity for REACH."

While I didn't attend @cybergrrloh's presentation - and I'm sure she provided many compelling ideas - I don't think for a nanosecond that Second Life is a tool worthy of consideration for advertising and marketing, not even exponentially... yet. However, I do believe in the power of the platform. Let me give you an excellent and very recent example:

DB Bailey (aka David Denton, AIA, in Real Life) is an architect in both worlds. I've blogged about his very virtual, very Not Possible IRL buildings many times here.

DB Bailey in front of a building he created for Stanford University

Not long ago, DB teleported me to a shopping mall he had created in Second Life. Given that I focus primarily on quality content in virtual worlds that would Not be Possible in Real Life, this was unusual, but it turned out to be a worthwhile trip. It seems that DB had been working with a potential Egyptian client, and the two had gone back and forth for two years... but DB had not been able to secure that client's buy-in on the project. One day, out of frustration or a creative burst... who knows, DB logged into Second Life and recreated his proposed shopping mall down to the plants. "I'm surprised how fast I did it," he shared with me.

Photo courtesy of The Arch Network

What happened next will underscore the point I am trying to make. The virtual platform of Second Life - where user-created content is possible - is mostly untapped and extremely powerful: DB showed the virtual and three-dimensional shopping mall to his client, and within three days he was on his way to Egypt to work on the Real Life project. He's there now. You can read about it here.

My Twitter handle is: @Bettinatizzy

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Heads up: Ariel Brearly's lush imagery soaring

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

I've been watching Brit Ariel Brearly's Flickr stream for many months and with growing affection, but something has happened in the last three or four weeks that has catapulted her photography onto an entirely new level of exotic, sumptuous inventiveness.

By working snapshots taken in Second Life® with Photoshop and coupling them with the odd texture gathered here and there, this sometimes cyborg, sometimes elf is producing story-telling imagery that is rich with symbolism and visual metaphors. Feast your eyes on this selection of photographs she's posted just in the past month and see if you agree.  

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Burst of Conversation: AM Radio’s "The Red and the Wild"

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Avatar AM Radio unveiled The Red and the Wild to the public yesterday. It is the first such art installation at the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts, a hybrid art and design studio at Ball State University funded by the Lilly Endowment. AM is a narrative artist who uses prims, Second Life®’s basic in-world creation tools, to paint moody settings that are awash in nostalgia for a time when objects of wood and metal were shaped and crafted in a workshop or barn, and not in some faraway factory in Taiwan. A keen observer of nature, his Plein Air scenes are hyper-real, and always unmistakably American… the wheat fields of Illinois near his current home, and the vast expanses of the Northeast. Those who know, however, realize that there are surreal secrets and surprises tucked away in every AM Radio build.  


It seems like forever ago; it seems like only yesterday. Matthew Kiddomen, then a member of our working group (NPIRL) and someone who left the grid for good soon after, sent me an IM some 20 months ago inviting me to come at once. “You must see this. It’s incredible,” he said.

I Set a Stack of Books by AM Radio

It was up in the sky above the IBM sandbox… a wheat field, an old rusty train, a table set with an odd assortment of objects including a violin, some grapes, and a sketch book. Also a quaint garage, an old fashioned gasoline pump, and a shadowbox recreation of Jacques-Louis David's painting The Death of Marat. There, too, was the creator of all this, a rather surprised but nevertheless congenial and very tall gentleman by the name of AM Radio, sporting a long black coat and top hat.

He had bits of straw about him and the air of a chimney sweep. Within five minutes there were many of us there. I recall that I teleported Pavig Lok and Orhalla Zander, among others. We peppered this man with questions and he answered them all quite obligingly. Yes, he’d created this about a year ago. Yes, it had been up in the sky all that time and no, he owned no land.

Today, even if you are only a minor explorer in Second Life, odds are good that you have ventured onto at least one installation created by AM Radio. You probably own a set of sticks that he has given you. Perhaps you also have one of his dragonflies.  


Engine, by AM Radio

Edges, by AM Radio

AM and I spent an hour conversing on Saturday, looking back at all that has transpired, and how it has influenced his thinking behind the creation of his newest: The Red and the Wild.  

So much has happened to you in the past couple of years. 

AM Radio: Huge learning experience. Often people will see me and say, "Oh, you're a person." And I have gotten used to it, but AM Radio really sort of became a brand. People think it’s a bunch of people building. So I have learned a lot, you know, managing that. It really is a careful process. So there is the learning aspect, but really in the last couple years I think the most important thing, the most meaningful thing for me has been the idea that we can participate in these virtual world activities, and have a real impact on the real world… and sometimes it is only vaguely related. Showing up at a concert in Second Life, and someone in Africa gets a cow.

Not long after he rezzed The Far Away at Dreamworld, AM Radio began to sell plots of wheat to benefit Heifer International with 100% of the proceeds. Heifer is an organization that works to end hunger and poverty by providing livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of people who struggle daily for dependable sources of food and income. It is best known for allowing people to "purchase" cows ($500US a piece) and other livestock. Today and just 20 months later, the sales of AM’s wheat have raised enough to buy a REAL herd of cows: $7,300 or nearly 15 cows.

Is there any way to know how your fundraising efforts have specifically benefited anyone?

AM Radio: Not specifically, not like the Adopt-a-Child programs you see on late night television. We like the cow metaphor Heifer uses. You know that $500 US is equal to a cow, or $120 a goat, but even then it’s impossible to say. Even if you knew you bought an actual cow because that cow’s milk is bought by other people in that town, trade occurs and neighbors converse, enemies begin to see advantages to understanding their neighbor. It's exponential.

Saturday was World Malaria Day. I recall that you did some fundraising for nets. Have you continued that effort?

AM Radio: - In 2008 I sold an off-road vehicle and the Lindens from those sales went to Nothingbutnets. That's a great program. Literally one net potentially saves one, or even two lives. For just $10 USD? I mean… come on, how better to spend ten bucks? Two Big Mac meals, or a teenager in Africa has anti-malaria nets at night to sleep in.

Is that vehicle still for sale?

AM Radio: That vehicle is not. You know, that was another thing I learned. Growth can be unpredictable. I had a very kind sim owner offer three sims, plus Princeton, and NMC and everything got complex really quickly, so I went back to my roots with the charity work, focusing on Heifer.

Sometimes it is best to keep the message as simple as possible, is it not?

AM Radio: Yes, exactly. Splitting off was requiring management at levels I am not ready for yet. I need help!

He went on to create The Quiet for Princeton University and Husk for the New Media Consortium (NMC). Then came The Refuge and the Expansion for just one week, a sim-wide version of the wheat field, and today that same installation is three sims large, under the patronage of art collector Alexandar Vargas. Since then, AM has conjured two other acclaimed simsBeneath the Tree that Died for the University of Kentucky and Waiting for You.

Time-lapse machinima by AM Radio: "This is about 200 minutes of time lapse captured with FRAPS. A visitor with a powerful face-light visits about half way into filming and briefly lights up the center." Music is Artemis

If people wanted to help you, what could they do?

AM Radio: Right now, the easiest thing to do is get the word out. Often people apologize to me, especially at music events hosted on the sims. They say, sorry, “I can't donate right now.” And I totally hear that. But one of the great things about Second Life is that participation alone adds to the momentum. Showing up and being excited inspires those who do have the ability to donate.

How has your view of art in a virtual scenario changed in the past two years?

AM Radio: That Virtual Worlds is a valid art medium. It went from “Oh, this is neat.” To, “Wow,  something is happening here,” to “Wow, it's in the New York Times.”

Is this a confirmation? Or did you believe it was less than that before? And how about how you approach your art? Has that changed in any way?

AM Radio: I don't think I thought any less of the medium. I think I paused more on the perception of Second Life by its own users and the Real Life public, and yes, (it) absolutely changed my art process. I think in my Real Life art, I have always been drawn to organic subjects. The fields, the trees, but there was a frustration, having been born in the mid-seventies, and really growing up in a very plasticized and prepackaged, processed world... sunlight, for our generation, is something seen through Plexiglass windows, and my art is a reaction against that. It's looking for more… for the organic. So it was an attempt to tear down the fakery, all that plastic in impossible colors, and awful rugs, and terrible media, like television, but in Second Life, there's almost an acceptance that much of this generation has already been living virtual. Everything is controlled, and marketed, from the music to food, to the computers the cool kids use. And now, here I am in a virtual world, trying to create the organic. I think it is still a search, but almost feels like…(pause) …a responsibility.

The wearable HUD at The Red and the Wild plays a tone and guides your camera to a specific angle when you touch a specific number - Photographs courtesy of Newdoll Nikolaidis

AM Radio: You know my critics like to peck that I am too close to (Andrew) Wyeth, but why not? Why can't we bring that here? Why can't we make sure we don't forget where we are, that this is all those plasticized windows filtering our sunlight.

I can't help but think... you and I both spend so much time in world. How has all this changed your own sense of place? The ability to create your own environment and live in it, and share it?

AM Radio: Let me be careful how I answer that. I don't want to dissuade criticism of my work... but my work is deeply personal. What you see is so much a part of me; these are symbols of my life and events, and my emotions. Yates said “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...” My sense of space here, I suppose, has become a more elastic version of real life. You know I can place out what I want and I can share things, but people can visit and bring their own emotional baggage, and see what they want, and expand my own understanding of my own memories. It's like having hundreds of people analyzing your dreams and posting their thoughts about them on Flickr... thousands of them.

You mean... that they can affect your own understanding of your creations?

AM Radio: Yes. Some artists…

…prefer not to read the reviews of their works, for whatever reasons. I take it this is not the case with you. How much of what you read/hear/discuss about your work are you absorbing? Is it malleable? Vulnerable?

AM Radio: I think I try to read as much as I can. I think I often do go off on tangents on builds, and I sometimes forget about the bigger picture and mission of Second Life. It's easy when you have access to a sim to just cover the sky when Windlight isn't really jiving with what I am trying to do, but I still find myself challenged by this specific limitation to not be able to easily share settings. What I did was try to make a build that allowed you to easily remove my tinting. You can lower your draw distance a bit and return to the default sky, for example, and also it is a tinting, so the Windlight bleeds through, allowing for the user to work with their list of presets in ways they haven't seen them work before.

sensations by Thea Denja - Taken at "The Red and the Wild"

Your works, all of them, seem to hearken to days - we can only speculate - of your childhood. What we do know is that most people don't live like that anymore. The train that was rusty in The Far Away is new and more of a concept at The Red and the Wild. Are we entering a new era?

AM Radio: Maybe more toy-like at The Red and The Wild. The new sim is inspired by elements of my boyhood. The house itself figured centrally in my life. The other houses I have built were more abstract memories of houses. This one is nearly accurate. In fact, it is odd to see people walking on its porch and not feel like they're trespassing somehow.

AM Radio's train at The Red and the Wild 

What age were you?

AM Radio: Oh, I must have been about ten.

Does the red abstract burst have a name? Care to explain it?

AM Radio: The sim has the same name (The Red and the Wild). I had been fooling with prims in an abstract way. I had started doing that way back; you might remember the boxes on The Far Away: The Way the Air moves.

The Way the Air Moves, by AM Radio

I think abstraction fails in a vacuum. I think an abstract painting looks far more interesting when a lady wearing a Packers jacket is fumbling through a museum looking at them, wondering if she should know more.

The Speckles in Your Iris, by AM Radio

AM Radio: There is a dialog between the abstract and the real that occurs in any abstract art, and I have had a really difficult time accepting abstract art in virtual worlds because that dialog is often missing. I think (that dialog... that ether for a relationship) most often works when the artist interrupts the abstraction with some inclusion of the avatar... with most avatars based on a very real human form. So, I have been really leery about using Abstraction in Second Life. I use it a lot in Real Life in my collage work. You can find some of those real life works on the new sim. 

AM Radio: I had been thinking about these large shapes and not really understanding how I might get away with using them, and be able to explain myself to an art critic, or press, and I was really kind of at a dead end with it, but a friend from Atlanta, a very talented music, film, and 3d artist, sent some music he had been working on. One of the tracks included samples from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. At one point in the movie, and in Capote's Novella, Holly, the main character describes her anxieties and her fears as “the mean reds,” and immediately I thought of this large shape, these looming things in our lives that seem to want to tear us down. At the same time, these looming things, these anxieties, inspire us to become who we are, how we behave, how we react to things, how we present our avatar, how we define our virtual spaces.

In fact, in the movie, Holly has created an entire virtual world for herself. Her escape is the commoditized world where money defines what's real, and I thought “Wow, this is really relevant to virtual worlds.” Later in the movie and in the novella, Holly says... "But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll just end up looking at the sky," and suddenly my thoughts on injecting abstract shapes made sense.

I had the courage to say that this abstraction means something, that here is a symbol of something, that we have these abstract parts of ourselves, these fears, these wild things we try to bury, and without them, we don't become who we are. The Red and the Wild really is a comment on that relationship that abstraction and realism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they rely on one another to even exist. In the end Holly, of course, realizes she's living in a self constructed world, and immediately begins to redefine it.

Teleport to The Red and the Wild directly from here

AM Radio's project, "The Space Between Those Trees," is a finalist for the Linden Prize, which will be awarded to one Second Life Resident or team with $10,000 USD for "an innovative inworld project that improves the way people work, learn and communicate in their daily lives outside of the virtual world."

Is Linden Lab's proposed content rating system in trouble before it begins?

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Miss Tateru Nino still has not been able to find two people who can agree on Linden Lab's proposed definitions of PG and Mature for Second Life® content, according to her just-published post on Massively regarding the anticipated rating system.

One point that came up in conversation with her last week is that, and this is a direct quote: "The G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings were established for rating motion pictures and may only be used in connection with motion pictures that have been rated by CARA" (See Section 1A). Tateru asked, "In theory, PG sims should be marked PG®? I mean, if we're following trademark rules and all..."

"That's why things like games in the USA don't use the same codes," added Tateru.

Could Linden Lab's proposed rating system be stepping on an even bigger entity's toes?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Artists consider Adult Content ratings in Second Life, and I reach my own conclusions

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Let me first say that I understand Linden Lab's motivations for rating (see "Upcoming Changes for Adult Content and sections of the Second Life® grid. In fact, about three months ago, I decided to rate my own sim PG in support of my desire to make it newbie friendly. Newbies already have a lot to deal with when they arrive, and rezzing next to a couple that's copulating in the woods (I still don't get why people do this in very public spaces, but eh) is, in my view, too much of a test, not that I enjoy coming upon these situations myself.

However, I do prefer environments that provide for the greatest level of individual freedoms within a framework of accountability, and I always worry when any entity takes it upon itself to tighten controls over what is right and wrong. I do believe that Linden Lab will rue the day it ever decided to walk this lawsuit-happy path. Notwithstanding special viewers and other automated processes, they are going to devote copious amounts of precious time and resources in arbitration.

Tateru Nino over at Massively is still working on her coverage of this story. "I can't find three people in SL that can all agree on what's allowable in a PG sim," she told me. She shared a few more very fascinating insights in a Not Possible IRL group IM immediately following the announcement, so I'm especially looking forward to her post, which may come as soon as tomorrow.

I was immediately curious to hear what people in Second Life's art community opined on this topic so I did a quick roundup.

New media superstar Gazira Babeli was busy making some interesting changes to how the Odyssey sim will appear on the map when we spoke (we'll have to wait for the next system refresh to see it). Gaz and I agree that this is going to consume a great deal of Linden Lab's time and resources. "That means decadence. Resources lost in details always result in decadence," she said.

Artist and lead creator of many of the grid's most popular sims, including the Greenies, Pavig Lok: Part of me says "about time" and part of me says "best option available" and part of me says "dammit the unicorns and fae have gone from our world, curse you loss of innocence!"

Artist and founder of Second Life's art-critique mecca Brooklyn is Watching, Jay Newt, responded to my email this way:

"It's a really interesting question. It seems to me a little like the movie rating system, and I like the movie system, because it is voluntary. There is the category "unrated" and you know that that means: "who the hell knows what it is going to be." I wish they would make these categories for SL content voluntary in that way so you could advertise your content as fitting into one of those categories or you could elect not to participate in that particular categorization scheme and then people would know that they are just taking their chances coming to your sim.

I also think that SL artists will likely get upset over this because of what they think will happen as a result and the truth is that none us of us knows what will happen as a result. It could be that most places will list themselves as "adult" just to have the freedom to do what they want, even if they aren't about sex or violence, and there will be no stigma attached to that label...

We're all jumping ship from SL as soon as there's a large enough community on some un-regulated open source distributed server system anyway, right? :)"

Hyperformalist and producer/director of ZeroG SkyDancers DanCoyote Antonelli offered an intriguing perspective: "If any company leans on the US legal system in their Terms of Service and are protected by US laws, they should also follow through and support the right to free speech provided for in the US Constitution. Want to be protected by US law? Then provide US rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Leading fashion designer and artist, Eshi Otawara: "If the concern is children, this still will not stop them from entering Second Life and pursuing their curiosities. It's the responsibility of the parent to supervise their child. As far as adult content being 'offensive' to adults, I am sorry to say- there is far more of both natural and less natural human activity that offends a lot of us on a more profound level then adult content ever can. But in those cases it is socially acceptable so those who don't agree must conform or keep quiet in the least.

"For me, this is just another step that Linden Lab, unfortunately, must make - to protect the company from the people whose state of mind is so unfortunately fragile they cannot handle functions of their own bodies and who are indoctrinated into false pretensions that assuming what is commonly and unfortunately for human kind referred to as 'purity' vs. embracing the human nature provided to them at birth by whatever/whom ever one chooses to put faith towards makes them somehow more in control of anything. For the rest of us, there are always contentedness, laughter and hope Darwin takes care of it in the long run."

Finally, artist and co-founder of Arthole, the often-controversial arts center that will surely be affected by these new rules because it sits on the mainland, Nebulosus Severine, wrote back a very thoughtful response.

"As you know, I have some very strong opinions on the upcoming changes in SL that would restrict a lot of so-called Adult content. The way LL is handling it is still so unclear to me, and I keep going back and forth from optimism to pessimism.

I don't have to worry about all aspects of this new policy. I am already payment verified, so my presence in SL won't be limited; that is at least some relief to me.

However, I have already taken preliminary steps in considering what will have to be done with Arthole. Arahan and I will be talking soon to figure out what to do. I know he and I both agree that we must have absolute creative freedom to address any subject matter with our art. As we frequently choose controversial topics, I think the safest bet would be to move Arthole to an Adult piece of land.

However, this will limit the access of several friends who, although adults, are not age-verified (for their own personal reasons), and wouldn't be able to come visit Arthole, if it does end up on Adult land. That is really frustrating and heartbreaking.

Not to mention that I have had the same piece of land in Kress for nearly 4 years. I suppose a move isn't that big of a deal, but it's still an inconvenience to say the least.

When it comes right down to it, I believe that LL is censoring SL. I've read their arguments to the contrary, and I don't trust their supposed reasoning. And with their proposed definitions of what "Adult" is, it seems as though they'd have an easier time making a new PG continent and keeping THAT all together. The Mature rating is effectively useless, too. Why not divide the grid geographically into "Adult" and "All Ages" and keep it simple?

Seriously... "illicit drug use" will be considered "adult"? I have never been to a live concert in SL that did NOT have an avatar (or three, or ten) smoking on a prim joint or tripping on scripted 'shrooms.

Anyway, I could go on and on. My bottom line is that I distrust and despise ANYTHING that would seek to restrict freedom of expression. I consider censorship to be one of the biggest violations of human rights. I know LL is a private company, but the more that censorship is imposed on people in any community, the more people start to just accept it as a fact of life, and THAT is dangerous," concluded Nebulosus.


"Why not divide the grid geographically into 'Adult' and 'All Ages' and keep it simple?" suggests Nebulosus. This sounds appealing, smart and effective doesn't it? And cost and resource thin, right? Oh, wait! Isn't that what is already in place? Which leads me to conclude...

Why change a system that just needs to be implemented properly?

Is this just busy work that will result in the same-ole same-ole put in place just to hush some fundamentalist and ultra conservative groups, at the great expense of art facilities like Arthole?

See also: What will happen to art?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"SL is killing me" redux - A new video by Lyric Lundquist

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

If machinima is undergoing a Renaissance, and I believe it is, then Lyric Lundquist would be the one who is leading us into new glory days. In just a matter of weeks she has won my admiration and affection for her intellect and blistering narrative power... painting - with her moving images and rhythms - moments that make us vibrate. It is one thing to make art - which she does - and to excite our sense of wonder (check!), but she hones in on what matters to us and frames it so eloquently, that I feel understood by her. I have never spoken with Lyric, but today she brought tears to my eyes.

It hasn't been a week since I blogged "SL is killing me," but response has been high, both in-world and via comments to this blog. Still, nothing could have prepared me for this.

She writes: "it's not that -i- necessarily feel like i've hit a wall, but some of my closest friends in SL recently have (maybe you know who you are?). so it was more about me acting out what they might be feeling, and how it saddens me when people that i connect with go "awol" because of SL burnout."

Hit the HQ button!

sim >> poetik velvets [particles in bryn oh's exhibition by colemarie soliel, sim build by hern worsley, steam room by jojoruno runo, flickering box by selavy oh, poetik idea by nur moo and juju dollinger.]
avatars >> lyric lundquist and story takakura
song >> yonderboi - before you snap

7:30pm Update: While I try to read New World Notes every day, I somehow missed Hamlet Au's full blown "Mixed Reality Profile" and interview with Lyric.

What will happen to art?

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Linden Lab posted "Upcoming Changes for Adult Content" tonight and not surprisingly, the virtual world they govern is exploding in conversation and worries about it.

The issue is actually not new to Second Life® or to art, even.

In September 2007, artist Cheen Pitney had to move the bathing nude statue he had created to a mature sim within Burning Life, Second Life's answer to Burning Man. The statue had been censored.

What will the new rules mean to art on the grid? How many artists will have to move their works from the mainland? Will Cheen's bathing beauties be okay on a PG sim that houses an art museum, for example, or will they be relegated to Mature sims or... horrors... ADULT?

Where will Linden Lab draw the line about clothing and skins? Xiamara Ugajin's skin "Black Bird" was created first and foremost as a work of art. Where on the grid will this be okay?

What will happen to art?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Alien Factory

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Once in a blue moon (heh!) I just grind my heels in the ground and quit blogging for a bit. When I do, I get downright stubborn about it and nothing can compel me to post a thing on this blog for days or even weeks. It's my way of staying sane, I guess.

I was in this mode just about a month ago when, on a whim, I whipped up a little machinima to share the fun of a new avatar-generating gizmo that Madcow Cosmos had come up with, with a little help from his friends Tezcatlipoca Bisiani (scripts) and Lorin Tone (sounds). I happened upon my vid just now as I was browsing through friends' works and thought "what the heck," so I'm posting it here for posterity. Y'all have probably seen it already and that's okay. You can just watch it again! Oh, and you can get your own alien avatar for free here, at Alien Isles of course.

And if alien avatars aren't your thing, you can head on over to the Museum of Robots where Madcow and his pals have created a variation on the same theme: Yep, you guessed it, a Robot Factory and also free. Teleport directly from here.

I've also been meaning to tell you that Madcow's got a new blog, too. So there you have it. You've been war..told.

Vanfarel Kupfer - R.I.P.

I've just learned that Vanfarel Kupfer, a french artist who's work I admired, was killed in a car accident last week. Vanfarel described himself as "createur de textures Alpha."

Our deepest condolences go out to all his friends and families in both his lives, pixelated and real.

Dark, hairy, scary: The photography of Fingers Scintilla

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Fingers Scintilla (aka Tristan Graham) - rez: January 11, 2007, lives in England and earns his daily bread as an industrial photographer focusing on buildings.

..."also take photos of a lot of old buildings so they can be remembered once there are gone... or for people who want to get them listed so they can never be knocked down," he told me.

NOT so in Second Life® where "apart from photographs of myself and my son, all of my images are manipulations of avatar photographs," he added.

"in second life®... i used to look at plain backdrops and shoot in a studio... but its so resticting and to me a little boring... so i started to go on location... that way it can work both ways... u can get the idea and go look for the location... or just stumble across somewhere and an idea just pops into your head..... if i want a certain look... i often design and make my own sets.. so i can get exactly what i want... its takes alot of time.. but the end results are great... im also lucky enough to know alot of designers... clothes makings.. etc.. to help me with my visions."

"as for the process of my photos... well....i have the image in my head... but im like someone thats free hand drawing.. i dont use a set process.. i think that will look good.. no wait thats better.. no wait.. lol.. i got it... i work on many many things.. im very hard to please... and can change my photo so many times its unreal... my main aim.. is to find a place.. or a world... thats inbetween sl and rl..."

"as for people that insire me... well there are so many... i have and read so many books.. on design.. photography..drawing etc... also my mother.. is an art teacher at a university in England .. so that has helped me alot....i like alot of filmakers graphic designers.. but no really inspire me to do what i do.. i want to do my own thing.. for my work to stand on its own... weather i acieve this is a matter of peoples own opinions and tastes

i like my work to be many styles.. i like to scare.. to make people laugh... to look beautiful... so make people think... i dont like to stick to a certain style... i like to change all the time.. to abapt and make my ideas come to life..."

Here's what you missed... Kazuhiro Aridian's avatars

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

A highlight of Saturday's activities was the NPIRL Koinup Safari featuring a presentation by Kazuhiro Aridian on avatar creations. The sim filled with photographers, machinimators and creators even before the event began, so here's an overview of what transpired there for those who were unable to attend.

Photography by Bark Aabye

Kazuhiro is an artisan who spends several months painstakingly creating one avatar at a time. We learned that Kaz's perfect avatars are no accident.

Kaz won't sell me this graphics card-killer avatar no matter how much I beg. Kaz??

They begin with fantastical illustrations coupled with back stories birthed in Kazuhiro's dreams, followed by hundreds of textures, animations, and sculpted prims in Maya, all meticulously detailed.

Photograph by Eves Rodenberger

Chenin Anabuki of Avatrian sent us this excellent video featuring difficult-to-capture highlights of the presentation, including several of Kaz's earliest never-on-the-market avatars and glimpses of the AO's, sans prims, lest you imagine that anything Kaz does is tossed together.

Hit the HQ button!

You can add your own photographs from the session to the NPIRL Koinup Safari group, and visit Kazuhiro's shop by teleporting directly from here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mechanoid Biology and Almacan

Posted by Alpha Auer

Japanese artist Kazuhiko Nakamura, aka. Almacan, displays his extraordinary paintings created with Photoshop and the 3D software "Shade" at the Mechanical Mirage Art Gallery. It may be that what Almacan presents us with strangely coincides with my current obsession with the biological in artwork, but I am utterly bowled over with Almacan...


Writing on his painting "Metamorphosis", Almacan says that he became engrossed in the 3D rendering of the worlds depicted in 16th century’s painter Archimboldo’s pictures. "His pictures were expressed with illusionism, a technique in which human faces are drawn by the combination of various objects. I began to want to create on a new illusionism by adopting a motif he had not used, by seeking an original image. I envisaged the scenes from the novel “The Metamorphosis“ by Kafka, which I’d read when I was 16 years old. Even now I have a distinct memory of its absurd story in which a human creature is transformed into an insect.I thought that this story’s theme would match Archimboldo’s painting style. This work is a fusion of the two worlds produced by Archimboldo and Kafka, and homage to them.

First I looked for insects in photo books and the Internet, with the intention of forming a human face from them. I became confused by the astonishing configurations of insects and the diverseness of their textures, and was not able to summarize my image successfully. However, the theme of this work is not realism, but illusionism. I changed my way of thinking and consequently chose to design an original insect based on human face parts. Next, I mixed this imaginary insect with a real one, with the purpose of adding vagueness to the border between reality and fantasy."

Almacan seems to confine his interest in biology/entomology to this one painting, "Metamorphosis" alone; saying that his primary interests are surrealism, cyberpunk, 19th century machine designs and armor. However, I see his obsession related to biology in almost all of the work presented on his website. A minute examination of biological form is translated into a hybrid visual language utilized in the creation of some truly bizarre mechanoid/biological systems which transform themselves into a human representation, a portrait.

Shell in the Darkness


In his 1996 book Abstracting Craft, Malcolm McCullough discusses the emergence of a new kind of craft centered within the computer environment, thanks to which "after two centuries of separation the conception and execution of (everyday) objects are once again in the same hands". I am an artist/designer working solely in the digital realm but who received her formal training during the pre-computer era. So, I have inevitably given much thought to digital craft and how it differentiates itself from its analog counterpart. Computer generated imagery, the computer image work for me has many correlations with subconscious processes, with collage and assemblage in the sense that the early surrealists used them. In fact, now that I am thinking about it I even wrote a paper which I subsequently turned into an illustrated flip book: While many who regard the computer as yet another "tool", will definitely not agree with me on this, I assert that the computer as an environment has fundamentally affected how we conceptualize as well as implement creative output. It is the utter freedom of the unlimited choices and sub-choices, the unlimited undo's, the unlimited combinations and iterations from the initial piece, all achieved within hours, if not indeed minutes, which for me bring about a profusion of ideas and combinations of ideas which is simply do not recall having had in the bad old days of pen and paper.

And Almacan's amazing paintings are making me consider this all over again...

Yes, of course the likes of Archimboldo created bewilderingly complex portraits, and Vanitas paintings. But, is there not something else going on here regardless of these precedents? A freedom of combination not to so easily to be found in the analog realm? A freedom from the very fear of error? Culminating in the visualization of the strangest fantasies? And yes, I also know that when in the wrong hands, computer generated painting can bring about the most horrifyingly trite and facile results. But, in the hands of Almacan, this for me is the pure magic of the subconscious mind set free through pixels.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Kazuhiro Aridian's dreamed creatures - Tomorrow's featured NPIRL-Koinup Safari

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Tomorrow, April 18th at 10:30am SLT, and awaiting on the other side of your teleport (directly from here) will be Kazuhiro Aridian in a newly created environment that simply begs to be photographed.

The delicate, leafy and aquatic Seadryke avatar, worn by its creator, Kazuhiro Aridian

I've seen Kazuhiro turn a sandbox into a stadium with hordes of people simply standing there, jaws dropping to the floor, watching Kaz make some of the most complex, ferocious or vulnerable (and animated and flawlessly realized) avatars on the grid, including the much celebrated and feared Dravyn and the gentle Seadryke.

Now, get a behind-the-scenes look at what's involved, as well as the evolution of Kazuhiro's non-human avatars. Meet the artist and get a peek at new creations, as well as a fantastical new virtual space. Lots to photograph. We'll begin by teleporting here.

Once a month, NPIRL and Pierluigi Casolari's (aka Koinup Burt in SL) Koinup - an inclusive social networking site for all Virtual Worlds that permits storage and sharing of imagery: photography, Machinima, and "storyboards" - are offering the NPIRL Safaris - with many of Second Life's best content creators, exposing the participants to new sims, new content, and new ideas that are leaving the old world behind and breaching the future.

Among the Virtual Worlds you'll find images of on Koinup: Second Life®, World of Warcraft, Lively, The Sims, IMVU, vSide, Kaneva, There, and more.

The Not Possible IRL (NPIRL) and Impossible IRL (ImpIRL) groups are dedicated to identifying and sharing well conceived and realized content creation in Virtual Worlds which would not be possible in Real Life: architecture, landscaping, art, animations, fashion, particle effects, building tools and scripts... show me, I'll show you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"SL is killing me"

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

One of Second Life®’s greatest creators wrote me an IM a few days ago - out of the blue - that read simply “SL is killing me.”

I knew exactly what this person meant. Whatever you do in Second Life, whether you are creating or building community, if you do it with passion and long enough, you are bound to feel consumed by your own creation at some point.

Bloggers will know what I’m talking about. It’s 1am and your blogpost isn’t anywhere near ready and you promised whoever you are writing about that you’ll have it up in time for the opening of their installation or event.

Artists, architects, scripters, builders… often find themselves working against impossible deadlines to have something ready for a show, but the dog needs a walk, the pantry is empty, and your sister’s birthday is tomorrow. Worse yet, the curator hasn’t set the land permissions right, your client keeps crashing, and your Real Life client is expecting that paper in 8 hours.

Is it a midlife crisis? If we abdicate, will we have missed the opportunity of a lifetime?

About a year ago, I shared my feelings of burnout and my inability to satisfy everyone’s expectations with my virtual sister Tayzia Abattoir. My own little success had become a monster that was eating me alive. Tay, who rezzed in 2005 and has seen many friends go and also die, gave me two sage pieces of advice:

* Set yourself to "busy" most of the time (particularly good advice if you lead a very public life).

* Don’t “quit.” Just leave if you have to for a month or two. Second Life will still be here when you come back. Tayzia was right.

A few more thoughts:

* Go to edit > preferences > communication and set your IMs to go to email. Encourage people to communicate with you via email so that you can handle their requests or information at your own pace.

* Give yourself a break and realize that you don’t have to answer every IM as if it is a house on fire. Think of it simply as if someone is adding a file to your in-box.

* State your preferences and limitations everywhere possible: in your profile, your notecards, your profile picks, your blog, and all your social networking sites. Then, if people choose to ignore them, it’s their own damn fault. You can’t please everyone all the time.

* On his blog, ArminasX Saiman wrote about his fatigue and an unexpected resurrection when he shared the story of how a simple animation and his willingness to surrender to it RESET his view on things. Surrender to the fun again.

Speaking for myself, I need to find ways to cut myself more slack and reset my own Second Life. I need to stay focused on the big things and stop letting the many distractions steal my energy and love for what I do. As for my friend who wrote to say that SL was killing them? I shared Tayzia’s advice but added one more thought. “If it really is killing you, it’s not worth it. You deserve better.”

I also have to admit that I need all the advice I can get in this regard. Balance is something I'm not good at. How have you rebuilt the fire of your passion? How do you cope?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New answers and more questions regarding the upcoming virtual world Blue Mars

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

I learned considerably more about Blue Mars last night, which is not named after the science fiction classic by Kim Stanley Robinson, despite the fact that its founder, Henk Rogers, is a big sci-fi fan.


By the time he left his secure job where he’d been managing business development for the division, nearly 28 million units of Microsoft’s X-Box 360 had sold worldwide in just over three years. The global economy was imploding, and still Jim Sink packed his belongings in rainy Redmond, WA and hopped on a flight to Honolulu where he would become vice president of business development for Avatar Reality, the company that has been developing Blue Mars since December of 2006.

There, he joined interactive game luminaries Henk Rogers (creator of Tetris, Blue Lava Wireless and founder of the Blue Planet Foundation, among other things), Kazuyui Hashimoto (formerly vice president of technology at Electronic Arts) and 21 others, all working at breakneck-speed towards the Beta launch this June of a new virtual world.

Until recently, not much has been known about Blue Mars except that it will be significantly different from both Second Life® and OpenSim in that it will be powered by the bleeding-edge game engine CryEngine 2 that boasts unparalleled and nearly photorealistic graphics, and that end-users will not be able to create content in-world.

Many Second Life die-hards consider this last point to be a deal-breaker since user creativity is at the very core of Second Life’s raison d'être.

More information became available last week regarding the free-to-play and free-to-download “massively multiplayer virtual world”:

* The world was built for Vista-based machines.

* The company is confident that many thousands of users will be able to simultaneously log into a single “city.” If a particular server gets so popular that it reaches its limit and performance begins to suffer, they can “shard” the server. (More on this later)

* Software Development Kits (SDK) are available for download to registered developers for free so that they could begin creating Blue Mars-compatible content offline. Both the development kit and the preview editor are WYSIWYG.

* Despite rumors to the contrary and in regards to performance, the company stated that most 3D cards on the market today will be able to run Blue Mars, and that even ATI 4850 cards that go for about $120 after rebates can “deliver a strong performance.”

* There is no geographic continuity between places in Blue Mars. Each place or city is a node in the Blue Mars network. Each place is usually around 2x2k. Places can link to one another but you can't fly across a contiguous space above a certain size. When you move from place to place, there is a loading screen.

* “Easy to program” artificial intelligence will be offered to developers who are interested in having conversational NPCs (non-player characters/bots). Avatar-Reality has created an AI gateway to allow third parties to link to their own AI servers. They hope to catalyze the development of game AI by “providing a platform for people to integrate their AIs in an affordable high fidelity real time online environment.”

* The Blue Mars Dollar (pegged to a fixed rate against the US dollar) is a single integrated currency system that “lets developers easily and securely charge for items and subscriptions.” End users can buy packs of currency through the Blue Mars client or through a web site. They can use a credit card, Paypal, or retail Paybycash cards to buy Blue Mars currency. There are no refunds on Blue Mars currency and end users can't cash out. However, if you are registered as a developer or vendor with Avatar Reality, you can charge Blue Mars dollars for goods and services and get paid in US dollars or your local equivalent currency through Paypal.

* Gambling will not be allowed.


I spoke at length with Jim Sink last night.

Your business model is that of providing a platform to developers so that they can turn around and create their own Cities, RP games, or sublease land to others. What about government? What are your Terms of Service? Will each developer rule his or her fiefdom? Will each developer be responsible for newbie education in that environment?

We’re still working out the ToS, but yes, developers will control and set content rules for their regions. There are two ways that developers can get started: they can manage their own City/game server in the Blue Mars network or they may choose to sub-lease land from an existing City developer, which could be a City block, for example. Avatar Reality charges a setup fee and monthly fees to keep your place online, but rather than set our fees based on land size, we charge based on concurrent user capacity (CCU.) It works like the minutes plan on a mobile phone. Our promotional pricing is available under NDA and our public pricing will be available later in the summer.

In August 2008, Avatar-Reality announced that Virtual Space Entertainment, Inc. (VSE), led by the much celebrated artist and concept designer Syd Mead for films such as Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron had become a third-party developer.

Will users have access to voice at launch?

No. We’re working on that and realize that it is important. When rolling out a complicated platform like this, we need to first make sure that it is stable and secure.

I understand that Blue Mars was built for Vista based machines. I’m working off of Windows XP. Will I be able to run it? And what about Mac users?

Yes, no problem for XP, but Cryengine doesn't run on OS X, so no support for Macs. Boot Camp works if you want to dual boot, and server-side rendering services like Online should help expand our market to netbooks and Macs.

What about integrating the web to your world, such as HTML access? Any unique offerings in that area as compared to Second Life?

We can’t render HTML pages natively, but there are multiple ways to work with the web. You can display Flash-based content and the data can go in both directions, so you can update a page out world with content that is going on in-world and vice-versa. When people want to draw from a database, in other virtual worlds it has to go through the hosting service. In Blue Mars, the client can connect directly to the data source and doesn’t have to go through our servers. For example, a movie that is screening in-world is not streamed by Blue Mars; that movie is pointed to an external server. Video will be handled using Scaleform, a flash compatible middleware package that we use for all our UI.

What about scripted objects? What language will you use? Can developers introduce their own scripts?

Yes. LUA-based scripting and our own Casual Games API to give developers a head start.

You say that Blue Mars will be scalable for thousands of simultaneous users per region, and that you have the option to shard a server if it gets too popular. Please describe, in lay terms, what “sharding the server” means?

If it got to the point where 10,000 simultaneous users got to be too much for that region - and we won’t know until we get there - we will probably want to mirror that region (make a duplicate of the region).

How easily will people be able to rejoin their friends if a region gets sharded? What if people are having sex or giving a presentation, teaching a class, or waiting for a purchased item to be delivered? Will they be separated from their friends? And while we are on the topic, will you allow sex in Blue Mars?

We haven’t decided yet on the sex question. As for sharding, it wouldn’t work like that. The developer could instance the entire server and call it “New Honolulu.” You would add that server to a list of several Honolulus. We would never split it and take half the users one way and half the other way. We will also integrate messaging tools so you can join your friends in the different shards of the single server.

We’ve heard about developers, RP gamers, and shoppers from you, but are you also targeting business?

Businesses tend to be excited about Blue Mars for a few reasons. A lot of people in real estate have all these terabytes that are stuck on their hard drives. Instead of creating a new way to build 3D assets, we’ve created import tools. Using a CAD program, they can bring those terabytes into Blue Mars with very little effort and then show off model homes and model communities in an interactive environment. As for advertisers, much depends on building a critical mass of active users.

How about educators?

We will be providing a safe and controlled environment with deep scripting and monitoring support that will give developers the ability to test and track actions and choices made in their region.

You tout robust security and content management. How will you protect developers? Content theft is a significant issue in Second Life and OpenSim.

Anyone who would say you never have to worry about content theft doesn’t know about history. What you do is build methods for the eventuality of dealing with it. Everything is encrypted in our world, and we’ve made it very difficult for people to reverse engineer the system. Say you create a new dress that you want to offer at your store. Every item, when it is uploaded into the system, gets a unique registration stamp and a time stamp. Even if someone just copied an item “visually,” the original creator can submit their code and comparing it against the time stamp, we can determine if it is in violation of the system.

Will there be an approval system for each piece of content before it can make it into the system?

No approval process.

What, in your view, is the special allure for Second Life content creators, assuming of course that they are already competent with the Blue Mars-compatible software and not just working with prims? Will they have to cozy up to the game developers to adhere to their planned environments? Let’s say you make a living creating furniture in Second Life. How might this translate to Blue Mars?

By the end of this week, there will be two editors that Blue Mars provides: A full-development environment that is completely free, though we are limiting the number of people we’re offering it to at this time. We are also releasing a streamlined sort of “sandbox” that would be ideal for a furniture creator. They can take the model that they created in 3ds Max or Maya, for instance, import it into the sandbox editor, and see exactly what it will look like in Blue Mars.

From the get out, the platform has been created with an ear to content creators and artists. “Why can’t we just continue to use the tools we normally use? I don’t want my stuff copied.” They want a reliable system to monetize their work and a universal payment system. Most digital content creators don’t work in prims. They didn’t want to create proprietary content with creation tools like prims or have to relearn how to create content.

After June, we will be providing templatized shops. Developers will sub-divide land and sublease it. Create a space, fill it with your furniture and offer things for sale. Most people will want to set up shops somewhere that is popular. We will probably be offering a limited number of sub-divided parcels to give to developers and operate a test “Demo” City in the beginning where we can roll out new features and offer a limited number of spaces in that city for people to experiment.

Will you have a web-based sales model like Second Life’s Xstreet?

Not at this time.

What about artists? How will they benefit from creating sculptures, for example?

If it is just a matter of a public space where they can share their work, they can lease the space from a City developer and put their content directly into that City. They deliver their data file to the City director and it will be up to the City developer to determine how frequently the content updates will take place, which will not be as frequent as they are in Second Life (real-time). Some might do it every day, while others might update every two weeks. Each city is condensed into a pack file that includes all the geometry and textures. The file they deliver comes in a single pack.

I realized then that we were thinking about two entirely different things. Jim talked about a coming Art Competition that will launch on April 20th. He spoke of fashion, furniture and other practical items that might be exhibited - in addition to paintings, sculpture and particles - with each participating artist receiving a 3m x 3m x 3m exhibition space in a shared virtual gallery to display their work. I described how the mixed-realities Brooklyn is Watching gallery/art-critique space in Second Life had begun with a small land parcel, thinking that all of the art would be rezzed directly on the ground, only to learn that the artists would ingeniously go underground or have their art pieces begin at ground-level and soar as far up as 3,500m in the sky. I told him about ZeroG SkyDancers and how the choreographed dancers wear cascading costumes that are many times larger in size than the avatars wearing them as they move about the sky. (More on art later).

Oh, you won’t be able to fly for the most part.

Won’t be able to fly!?

If a developer wants it, their avatars will be able to fly, but the standard locomotion is not flying. You can get into a vehicle and fly but the framework for people to locomote isn’t flying.

So each developer would have to introduce the animations and fiddle with the physics? What about teleporting?

Teleporting is a balancing act for us. Teleportation to any place at any time is a mistake for a developer. It reduces the potential for the social fabric of a place. You don’t want to make people walk everywhere though. If I want to get from point A to B there are several options beyond walking or running. If I need to move two kilometers away, it is silly to have to wait for a bus. If you have a home, you will be able get there. People will experiment with a lot of different methods.

What news have you for musicians?

People will be excited to use Blue Mars for music, a place for self-expression and community. You want to be able to create events that will draw a crowd and not have the appeal of the event be diminished by the crowd itself. The Blue Mars platform scales to support thousands of simultaneous users per region, so if you are spinning music or creating a place for people to congregate, this won’t be a concern.

Will real-time jams between musicians from all over the world be possible?

They will.

Any advantages for virtual architects?

CAD will be importable, but of course, the further you are away from 3ds Max and Maya, the more steps you will have to take. Keep in mind that you don’t need the plumbing geometry for a real-time rendering. The bottleneck isn’t the polyganol count, but the textures that are the problem. The rendering will be perfectly accurate.

I understand that you will have real-time analyses of player activity. How will marketers be able to use this excellent information?

Each City developer will set some policies. We’re not sure yet how the implementation will run out but we do know this: If it happens in world, it can be tracked and reported on in real time. How many people sat down in Toyota’s new car, for instance, along with any demographic information the users are willing to share.

That raises a number of questions regarding user privacy. Can we assume that you will protect each user’s personal information?


Speaking of demographics, what about men playing as women, or folks who prefer not to be gender-specific? How will that play out?

It will be a matter of how they registered. We aren’t going to verify gender.

What about alts (alternative accounts)? Will you allow that?

We haven’t decided yet.

Will developers be able to limit what users can take from their City to another, or what can be introduced to their City?

You can limit what can be introduced. If you are Sony Pictures and creating a virtual Monaco and it is a black tie-only space, when a user gets there, the system can prompt that user to let them know that this is a black tie-only area and provide information about the only costumes that will be available in that region. You don’t want people running around in Speedos in your James Bond world.


UPDATE: Soon as you're done here, you might want to skedaddle over to Dusan Writer's blog where he has an interesting discussion going and his initial analysis on Blue Mars... plus he called me a Goddess! Well, he can't be right all the time. :)