The Drax Files Radio Hour: giving it the HiFi!

radio-hourOne of the big use-cases is going to be kids maybe doing an extra, like instead of doing their homework in the normal way in the evening, they go on-line where they join a study group where they join a teacher..

So opens segment #75 of the with some thoughts from Philip Rosedale, co-founder of Second Life, and more particularly now the CEO of start-up virtual worlds company, High Fidelity.

At just over 89 minutes in length, this is a special show, exploring High Fidelity from the inside, so to speak, complete with conversations with Mr. Rosedale, Ryan Karpf (HiFi’s co-founder and ex-Linden), Chris Collins and Ozan Serim, while David Rowe (perhaps more familiarly known to SL users as Strachan Ofarrel creator of the Oculus Rift compatible CtrlAltStudio viewer), who has been working with the HiFi team, becoming a guest host for the segment.

Since its founding, High Fidelity has made remarkable strides in developing its next generation, open-source virtual world environment, both technically and financially. Since April 2013, the company has undergone three rounds of funding, attracting around US $16 million, most of which has come from True Ventures, Google Ventures and, most recently, Paul Allan’s Vulcan Capital (which also participated in the October 2014 US $542 million investment round for Magic Leap). In addition, HiFi has attracted a number of high-profile advisers, including VR veteran Tony Parisi and, most recently, professors Ken Perlin and Jeremy Bailenson.

As well as Philip Rosedale, Drax talks with Chris Collins (l), Ryan Kampf and Ozan Serim from high Fidelity
As well as Philip Rosedale, Drax talks with Chris Collins (l), Ryan Karpf and Ozan Serim from high Fidelity

The interviews themselves are quite wide-ranging. With Dave Rowe, (known in HiFi as CtrlAltDavid) the open-source nature of the platform is explored, from the ability to download and run your owner HiFi server (aka “Stack Manager“) and client (aka “Interface“), through to the concept of the worklist, which allows contributors to bid for work on offer and get paid based on results.In Dave’s case, this has led him to working on various aspects of the platform such as integrating Leap Motion capabilities to improving eye tracking within HiFi’s avatars, so they track the movements of other avatars, just as our own eyes track other people’s facial and other movements as they interact with us.

In terms of general looks, the avatars – which have in the past been critiqued for being “cartoony” (despite it is still very early days for HiFi) –  are still very much under development. In particular, Ozan Serim has been working to raise –  and no pun intended here – the overall fidelity of the avatars in terms of looks and capabilities. He’s well-placed to do so, being an ex-Pixar animator.

One of the problems here is that the more real in appearance and capabilities they get, the closer the avatars come to the Uncanny Valley, which has led HiFi and Ozan to look at a number of avatar styles, from those which are very human in appearance through to those that are more “cartoonish” in looks.

A 2014 video showing Ozan’s work in improving the rigging around a more “realistic” HiFi avatar to more actually reflect mouth forms and facial movement when singing. High Fidelity now use Faceshift for real-time facial expression capture, rigging and animation, using either 3D or standard webcams

In discussing the Uncanny Valley, and particularly people’s reactions to avatars that are somewhat less-than-real (and we can include SL avatars in this, given their inability to naturally reflect facial expressions), Ozan raises the interesting question of whether people who critique the look of such avatars actually want to have a “realistic” looking avatar, or whether it is more a case of people wanting an avatar look that is appealing to their aesthetics which they can they identify with.

This is and interesting train of thought, as it is certainly true that – limitations of the avatar skeleton aside – most of us in Second Life are probably more driven to develop our avatars to a point where they have a personal aesthetic appeal, rather than in wanted them to be specifically “more realistic”.

Currently, HiFi is leaning towards a somewhat stylised avatar as seen in Team Fortress 2, which is allowing them to develop a natural-looking avatar look that doesn’t come too close to the Uncanny Valley. They use Adobe Maximo as their avatar creation tool, which Ozan views as a capable workflow package, but which may have some creative limitations. However, as an open-source environment, HiFi does offer the potential for someone to script in “in-world” character modelling tools, or at least to offer upload capabilities for avatar model generated in tools such as Blender. Avatars can also, if wanted, by uploaded as a complete package with all required / defined animations, such as walks, etc, included.

Chris Collins has very much become the voice of High Fidelity on You Tube, producing a wide range of videos demonstrating features of the platform, together with short tutorial pieces. The video above is one of his, demonstrating how to code interactive 3D content, using the Planky game as an example

While Ozan and his team work on avatar animations and rigging using real-time capture, Ryan Karpf reveals that by default, an avatar’s facial expressions are driven via the audio more than by direct capture: the mouth movement, for example, comprises 3 positions based on the audio, while a rising of voice or tone can result in the avatar’s eyebrows rising and falling. Ryan also touches on the Uncanny Valley issue of people’s increasingly discomfiture the closer avatars become to looking “photo-realistic”.

In talking to Chris Collins, an ex-Linden Lab alumni who headed the former SL Enterprise division, who now wears a number of hats at HiFi, Drax discusses how HiFi deals with the ever-changing face of the emerging VR hardware market, where headsets, input, tracking, and so on, is in something of a state of flux. Chris points out that while open-source, HiFi does have a set of strict coding standards and licensing, and offer external libraries to help support third-party SDK integration.

One of the powerful elements of High Fidelity is the ability you to have full agency over your environment, if you so wish; using the Stack Manager, you can create your own server / world / space, and control who might access it.  The scripting tools similarly allow users to download and tweak elements – such as walking animations, a basic avatar appearance, etc., quickly and easily.

Continue reading “The Drax Files Radio Hour: giving it the HiFi!”

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Undone in Second Life

Udone - Berg Gallery
Undone – Berg Gallery

Opening on Sunday, July 5th at Kate Bergdorf’s Berg by Nordan Art gallery, located overhead of her home region, Nordan om Jorden, is an exhibition of images by Harbor Galaxy.

Running through July, August and September, the exhibition is called Undone, which is described as, “An examination of the physical loosening of restraints:  collapse, contemplation, release, surrender.” On display are nine nude studies of the female form, the majority either seated or reclined, set against minimal backgrounds which serve to drawn one’s eyes directly to the figure on display – and I do use the term “display” deliberately here. While most of the poses are natural enough, it is clear that they have been carefully set in order to emphasise the various aspects of the exhibit’s subtitle: collapse, contemplation, release, etc.

Not that there is anything wrong with the images being so poised in their execution – that is after all the case for any life study. Here, however, the posing draws us deeper into each image, encouraged to consider just what it is being contemplated or what the collapse signifies and so on. Some of the pieces also seem to have a subtle, layered context as well, offering more than one potential interpretation, which becomes clearer as one re-examines them.

Undone - Berg Gallery
Undone – Berg Gallery

The artist behind Harbor says of her work:

Through Harbor and the creative possibilities of SL, I have been able to explore my own creative impulses and give form to the pictures that have been swirling around in my head for years now.

I do want to add that I see my pieces as a collaborative work, dependent upon the countless creative energies of others like myself here in SL  and I am grateful and in awe of those energies.

Quite who or what the creative energies are isn’t entirely clear, which is a little regretful. Does the reference mean the models featured in the pieces? Comments and support from others? The influence other artists may have had on Harbor’s work? All of the above? It’s an enigmatic and intriguing statement; just as this is an intriguing and intimate exhibition.

Undone - Berg Gallery
Undone – Berg Gallery

Nudes may not be to everyone’s liking, but this is an exhibit worth seeing, one very well suited to the warm intimacy of Kate’s gallery space. As noted above, it will be running through July – September.

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Rituals, mountain ascents, mermaids and druids in Second Life

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated below.

Sunday, July 5th, 13:30: Tea-time at Baker Street

Caledonia Skytower, Kaydon Oconnell and Corwyn Allen continue reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, originally published in 1894, and which brings together twelve (or eleven in US editions of the volume) adventures featuring Holmes and Watson, as originally published in The Strand Magazine. This week: The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, first published in 1893.

From The Adventure of The Musgrave Ritual, an illustration by Sidney Paget, 1893.
From The Adventure of The Musgrave Ritual, an illustration by Sidney Paget, 1893.

“There are cases enough here, Watson,” said he, looking at me with mischievous eyes. “I think that if you knew all that I had in this box you would ask me to pull some out instead of putting others in.”

“These are the records of your early work, then?” I asked. “I have often wished that I had notes of those cases.”

“Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.” He lifted bundle after bundle in a tender, caressing sort of way. “They are not all successes, Watson,” said he. “But there are some pretty little problems among them. Here’s the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife. And here — ah, now, this really is something a little recherche.”

Thus Holmes introduces Watson to one of the cases his took on before the two became friends, one involving an old acquaintance from Holmes’ university days, Reginald Musgrave, a vanished butler and maid and the mysterious Musgrave Ritual.

Monday July 6th, 19:00: The Martian Ascent

Martian ascentElinor Caiman Sands is a UK science fiction author who is fully aware of Second Life – so much so, that earlier in 2015, she had her own stand at the Second Life Science Fiction Convention. She’s been published in Cosmos Online, the T. Gene Davis Speculative Blog and in the Strange Bedfellows Anthology of Political Science Fiction. Now listeners have the opportunity to become acquainted with one of her short stories, the Martian Ascent, first published in October 2014.

Humans are on Mars; three of them struggle to become the first to scale mighty Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system, covering an area the size of Arizona. But they have to contend with more than just the hostile conditions of the planet. Their climb becomes haunted by eerie noises, and they begin to wonder if they are going mad. Does the mountain hold secrets they never imagined? Will they ever make it to the top?

Join Gyro Muggins to discover more.

Tuesday July 7th, “Summer” According to Saki

With Caledonia Skytower.

Wednesday July 8th: 19:00: The Tail of Emily Windsnap Part 4

Faerie Maven-Pralou reads from Liz Kesseler’s series about a young girl who, having always lived on a boat but having been kept away from the water by her mother, finally gets to have swimming lessons. With them comes a remarkable discovery that leads her into another world…

Thursday July 9th

18:45: About Seanchais

A seanchai (sometimes also written as Shanachaie in English) is a traditional Irish storyteller / historian, as Shandon Loring explains as he delves into the tradition.

19:00: The Druid by Frank Delaney

The DruidHe has been described as “the most eloquent man in the world”. In a career spanning three decades, BBC host and Booker Prize Judge Frank Delaney has interviewed more the 3,500 of the world’s most important writers.  He’s also an author in his own right, earning top prizes and best-seller status in a wide variety of formats.

His latest project is collectively called The Storytellers, and presents a series of short stories that follow the tradition of the seanchai: providing a crisp, concise tales of the world, and which also include his own notes on the history and craft of storytelling and the creation of myths.

Shandon Loring reads The Druid,  the first in the Storytellers series and a story from “Long, long ago, when the pigs ate the apples off the trees and the birds flew upside down,” and which features a Druid full of cunning and false magic, determined to win the hand of a beautiful girl.

Saturday July 11th, 12:00 Noon: Senachai Kitely Star Wars Saturday

With Shandon Loring and Caledonia Skytower, in Spaceworld (grid.kitely.com:8002/Inis Eirc).

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Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for June / July is the The Xerces Society, at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programmes.

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