Update: Phototools is fully integrated into Firestorm.
Not long after joining Second Life, William Weaver, known in-world as Paperwork Resident, became interested in both SL photography and machinima. While he quickly realised the viewer has a huge capability for making both, he found that even in a TPV like Firestorm, many of the controls remain spread across multiple floaters and tabs and buried within the debug settings, making it hard to use the viewer to its fullest potential for in-world picture production without a lot of frustrating shuffling of floaters and tabs.
His solution was to develop Phototools, a menu system for Firestorm that pulls together all the various settings and options within the viewer that a photographer or machinima maker is liable to need during a shoot. With Phototools, it is possible to quickly and relatively easily set-up the viewer to produce stunning visual images in a one-stop pass using a dedicated floater; allowing some stunning results to be had without the need for any post-processing through Photoshop or similar tools.
Phototools has been around now for a while, available from Williams, blog, Paperwork Shows, and has been gaining popularity among Firestorm users. However, William has been working on preparing it for full integration into the viewer, and as a part of this work, he has made a number of changes to it which have just been released as version 0.94.
Essentially, Phototools replaces several of Firestorm’s default floaters with updated versions. In the original release, these included a replacement camera floater, which presented a wealth of additional camera and mouse / joystick options. However, as it was also relatively large and cumbersome, William has reverted to using the original camera floater in the new release, with the additional controls incorporated into the main Phototools floater. For those who have been using the earlier version of Phototools, the new release includes an .XML file for the original Firestorm default camera floater.
The Phototools Floater
The main floater replaced by Phototools is the Firestorm Quick Preferences floater. For those who find this a very handy tool to have at your fingertips, it is not entirely lost: most of the options it contains are still available in its replacement, which I like to call the Phototools floater. This comprises six tabs: WL – for Windlight settings Light – for lighting and shadows; DoF/Glow – for depth of field and glow effects; Gen – for setting Draw Distance, terrain detail, avatar counts, etc; and Cam – for camera and mouse options.
Anyone familiar with Firestorm’s Preferences tabs will immediately recognise many of the options presented within the Phototools floater; others may not be so instantly recognisable, as they’ve been pulled from the debug settings. This is where the power of Phototools lay: not in providing new options or functions, but in making those already present in the viewer a lot easier to access and use from a single reference-point with the minimum of fuss and without taking up huge amounts of screen space (and having a heavy impact on frame rates).
The first tab in the floater is for Windlight settings and this includes options to open the Windlight water and sky presets floaters (which can also still be accessed via World-> Environment Editor ->Sky Presets / Water Presets). Both of these floaters have been extensively re-worked to make them much more compact and screen-friendly when compared to the default versions found in most viewers.
Taken together, the Phototools floater and revised sky and water presets floaters present all the options needed to manipulate the environment, as seen through your viewer, in three panels which are compact enough not to overwhelm the screen; a major benefit when trying to set-up lighting, etc., for a specific shoot or film sequence and you need to see the impact of changes on your world-view as you adjust lighting and other effects to achieve a specific result.
How it all Came About
I recently caught up with William with a view to finding out more about Phototools and the future holds for them. I started by asking him how he got started on the road of developing them.
“When I first started in SL I was using it to write,” he explained. “I would role-play and write chapters in a story from the events of the role-play. While doing this, I started taking some pictures and I noticed SL has a great deal of potential for very good image making.”
He also noticed that a lot of people relied on external post-processing to achieve their finished results, “While I appreciate people who are good with Photoshop and after effects, I enjoy working with the limits of the viewer.” This started him thinking about how the capabilities within the viewer could be presented in a more user-friendly and accessible manner. At the same time, and while also involved in the role-play, William got to make his first SL machinima, which brought him up against additional problems.