Bryn Oh’s Hand in Sansar

Bryn Oh, Hand – Sansar

Three years ago, in December 2016, Bryn Oh unveiled Hand, a full-region installation offering visitors an immersive experience mixing art and storytelling with a touch of mystery and discovery. I visited that installation on the occasion of its opening – see Bryn’s Hand in Second Life – so I was delighted to learn via a Tweet from fellow traveller Wurfi that Bryn has opened Hand within Sansar.

The original Hand was an interactive experience, utilising many of Second Life’s capabilities, notably the use of a HUD as a guide tool and storytelling device. Sansar currently lacks any real ability to provide an HUD-like capability, but this doesn’t lessen the impact of Hand in Sansar. Instead of the HUD, this installation make use of dynamic objects within the installation to tell the story, notably in the form of the principal character in the story, Flit – or Flutter, as she is also known.

Bryn Oh, Hand – Sansar

I won’t dwell on the story in great depth, given I did so in my original piece on Hand, but I will repeat something I noted in that article:

This journey takes us through a strange, broken urban setting with decaying, collapsing buildings; a place where adults are almost (but not entirely) absent, apparently leaving their children to fend for themselves …  Walking through the streets and buildings I seemed to come across nods to dystopian sci-fi: a hint of Soyent Green here, a reference to rampant consumerism there. While Flit and the other children brought to mind shades of And The Children Shall Lead, minus the space alien angle.

Bryn Oh’s Hand in Second Life, December 2016

Bryn On, Hand – Sansar

What is particularly impressive with this build – which Bryn has specifically built around the use of VR headsets to gain a full sense of immersion that the original in Second Life perhaps couldn’t achieve – is the richness of colour, sound and sense of presence, the latter being fully appreciable even when visiting in Desktop mode as I did.

This edition of Hand, as Bryn notes in her blog, has been made possible through the support of the Ontario Arts Council, an organisation that has – to the benefit of us all – long supported Bryn’s work. In that post, Bryn also muses on art within virtual spaces, and how the capabilities of VR headsets coupled with creative environments like Sansar can help to bring a new artistic movement to the attention of a wider audience:

We had the Cubists, Impressionists, Surrealists, Modernists and I see our movement as the Immersivists. I have believed in this idea a long time but now with virtual reality headsets such as Vive or Oculus, the immersion is less fragile. You don’t look at a computer screen and beyond its borders see a bill that needs to be paid or your cell phone rings… instead you are in the world I have created and firmly there. Unlike painting where you stand from a distance and look at a static scene or cinema where you are told a story as a passive observer, virtual reality artwork can offer the ability to be an active participant in the art.

– Bryn Oh

Bryn Oh, Hand – Sansar

Hand is proof of this. Within it, we can not only follow Flutter’s story, but we can look elsewhere. Spaces that can only be hinted at in a painting or seen as a passing background in a film can be turned to and explored. Of course, this has always been the case with Second Life, but the personal immediacy of VR does take this personal involvement within a an installation like this adds a further layer to the narrative within it.

As captivating as the original – Desktop users note that some free-camming might be advised – Hand remains as an engrossing story in Sansar as it did in Second Life.

Bryn Oh, Hand – Sansar

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Celebrating Apollo 11 in Second Life and Sansar

Recalling Apollo 11 in Sansar and Second Life – the Apollo Museum in Sansar

July 16th 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on its historic voyage to the Moon which saw Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. set foot on the lunar surface on July 20th, while Michael Collins orbited some 11 km (69 mi) overhead.

I’m re-tracing the flight of Apollo 11 in my Space Sunday articles – part 1, published to coincide with the launch of Apollo 11 is available now, and part 2, covering the Moon landing and the return to Earth will follow on the weekend of the landing. But you can also celebrate the audacious achievement of Apollo 11 in-world in both Second Life and Sansar (and, I’m sure, in other virtual worlds as well – but I am focusing on SL and Sansar here, as it is in these worlds that I spend my time nowadays).

Second Life

Note: there are likely to be more Apollo 11 celebrations than recorded here. These are simply two I’ve enjoyed visiting.

International Spaceflight Museum

Where better to immerse yourself in all things space than the International Spaceflight Museum? Covering two regions, and with the likes of NASA’s (slightly ageing) Jet Propulsion Laboratory region adjoining or close by, the ISM allows you to take a walk through the history of international space-faring achievements, see the massive launch vehicles, re-visit missions both crewed and automated, travel the solar system, and take a glimpse of things to come.

ISM features several elements related to the Project Apollo and its precursor Project Gemini programme; for example, in the shadow of the Rocket Ring sit models of an Apollo Lunar Module (also known as the Lunar Excursion Module or LEM) and the combined Command and Service Modules (the former the capsule in which most of the Apollo crews flew to the Moon and in which all returned to Earth, the latter the power and propulsion system for the Command Module). These include cutaway schematics and other information.

Commemorating Apollo 11 at the ISM

However, located on the ISM’s Spaceport Bravo region, and in the lee of the mighty Saturn V lunch vehicle that carried every crewed Apollo lunar mission on its way to the Moon, is a display dedicated to Apollo 11 (as also seen at the SL16B celebrations in June 2019). It features a combined model of the Command and Service Module and a model of the Command Module itself that allows visitors a peek inside.

Close the this display is a model of the LRV – the Lunar Roving Vehicle, or “Moon buggy”. While this did not fly to the Moon until the Apollo J-class missions (15 through 17), it still stands as a reminder of the technical abilities of the Apollo programme.

While it didn’t fly to the Moon until Apollo 15, the Lunar Roving Vehicle played an important role in humanity’s first foray to the Moon

And if you want to get a feel for how truly massive the Saturn V rocket really was, then hop up onto the Mobile Launcher behind the Apollo 11 display.

Sitting atop a crawler / transporter the Mobile Launcher comprises the massive slate-grey launch platform base and the massive Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) that included all of the service arms required to support the rocket (nine in all) with fuel, power, and direct access. The most famous of these arms lay close to the top of the tower as it stood in attendance beside a Saturn V. This arm held the White Room – the room where the astronauts, assisted by pad technicians, boarded their Apollo Command Module. Sadly, the White Room doesn’t form a part of the ISM’s Saturn V Launcher model – but you can climb the stairs all the way up to the swing arm on which it sat, and in doing so gain an appreciation for the size of the rocket next to it.

Headline Apollo Exhibit

Headline Apollo  is a pop-up exhibition by Diamond Marchant taking place at the Beckridge Gallery curated by Emerald Marchant in Bellisseria. It takes as its theme a look at Apollo 11 from the perspective of a north Texas newspaper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram. In doing so, it offers a unique perspective on the mission – which was as we know, managed out of the Manned Spacecraft Centre (later renamed the Johnson Space Centre), located further south, near the Texas state capital, Houston.

Beckridge Gallery: Headline Apollo

Given the size of the Bellisseria Homes, they make for a cosy gallery space, but this actually makes Headline Apollo more of an intimate visit. A guide note card is available both at the entrance to the galley and in the foyer (and which includes copies of some of the images seen in the exhibition). The exhibition itself is broadly split in two: to the left of the entrance foyer the launch and the flight to the Moon, to the right, the surface mission and return to Earth.

What makes this exhibition engaging is that Apollo 11 and the Apollo lunar missions as a whole, tend to be remembered in a way that frame them on their own. There might be some ruminations on major events of the time – such as the Vietnam War -, but by-and-large they are presented in something of a bubble. Headline Apollo, however, with its reproductions of front pages and columns from the Fort Worth Star Telegram frames the story of the mission alongside that of daily life in Forth Worth and America as a whole.

For example, sitting alongside the reports of Apollo 11 are those of a more infamous event that took place in 1969, one that would become known as the Chappaquiddick incident, which involved the death of a young woman in a car driven by Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother of John F. Kennedy, who had started America on its journey to the Moon in 1961.

Beckridge Gallery: Headline Apollo

This story, and the more local ones appearing on the reproduced pages of the newspaper put the Apollo 11 mission is something of a different perspective. We’re reminded that for all its faults and weaknesses, humankind can raise itself up, seek to achieve something better, and the bravery of just three men in a tin can can unite us all in a hope for a better tomorrow.

Complete with archival NASA photos an cover pieces from the likes of Time and Life magazines, Headline Apollo offers a departure from the more usual Apollo retrospectives and will be open to visitors through until July 28th, 2019.

Sansar

Sansar may be anathema to some Second Life users, but if you have the hardware to enjoy it – and remember you can with a suitable PC and without the need for a VR headset – then frankly, there is no better way within a publicly accessible virtual world to celebrate Apollo 11 and the entire Apollo lunar endeavour than by visiting the Apollo Museum ant Tranquillity Base.

The Apollo Museum

The Apollo Museum remains one of the highlights of Sansar (if first wrote about it back in 2017). Developed by Sansar Studios, Loot Interactive and NASA, it reproduces the main hall of the Apollo/Saturn V Centre at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, to offer visitors a fully interactive guide to the Apollo programme.

The Apollo Museum: Apollo Lunar Module (r) and Saturn V

Here you can walk the length of a Apollo Saturn V launch vehicle, from the exhaust bells of its five mighty F-1 engines to the tip of the Launch Abort System tower. Along the way, and set out on  time-line, you can re-trace the journey of Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins from the launch of Apollo 11 through to its splashdown 8 days later.

This is done by walking up the left side of the Saturn V, where exquisite models (the Earth and Moon not being to scale admittedly) and photos mark the significant stages of the the mission as they unfolded, culminating in Apollo 11’s arrival at the Moon and Armstrong and Aldrin’s descent to the Moon’s surface. The story then resumes on the other side of the Saturn V’s nose, with the two men ascending back to orbit to link-up with Collins in the Command and Service Module, before charting the trio’s return to Earth and splashdown.

The Apollo Museum: the little models re-creating the flight of Apollo 11, these showing the TDE phase of the mission, when Michael Collins manually flew the Command and Service Module to dock with and extract the Lunar Module from the S-IVB upper stage of the Saturn V

With interactive disks available that play audio relevant audio recordings from the mission, it’s a marvellous way to understand the mission, even if I do have a small quibble with the Lunar Module’s legs being shown unfolded during the flight to the Moon (this was actually only the case with Apollo 13, when the LM was being used as a lifeboat).

Beyond this, on the upper sections of the gallery, are sections devoted to all of the Apollo crewed flights, from the tragedy of Apollo 1 through the triumph of Apollo 11 to the near-disaster of Apollo 13, and thence to the the sounding bell of Apollo 17. These also include interactive panels that will play audio when an avatar stands on them, and are bracketed by a complete model of an Apollo Lunar Module (also referred to as the Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM) and a model of the Apollo 13 Command and Service Module showing the damaged and exposed part of the latter after it had been crippled by an explosion within a liquid oxygen tank.

The Apollo Museum

From a large disk under the Saturn V’s Launch Abort System tower, visitors can jump to Tranquillity Base, the landing area for Apollo 11.

Tranquillity Base

Also by Sansar Studios / Loot Interactive and NASA, Tranquillity Base reproduces the Apollo 11 Lunar Module as it sat on the Moon whilst Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface. This is a more static display when compared to the Apollo Museum, dominated by the Lunar Module and an overhead display which, when correctly aligned, provides insight into the surface equipment placed out on the lunar surface around the LM.

Visiting the individual elements will trigger playback of audio elements relevant to the science packages, whilst closer to the LM Armstrong’s famous statement on setting foot on the Moon’s surface can be heard.

Tranquillity Base: showing the Apollo 11 lunar Module Eagle in the background. In the middle of the picture is the Laser Ranging Retroreflector (LRRR), designed to gain accurate measurements of the Earth-Moon distance by reflecting lasers shot at it from Earth, and on the right, Passive Seismic Experiment Package designed to record “moonquakes”

And if you want to know how small the Earth looks from the surface of the Moon, be sure to tilt your camera up and around.

In Conclusion

As noted above, there are doubtless numerous other Apollo 11 celebrations – be they exhibits, parties or something else – across SL and other virtual worlds. But these are the ones I wanted to start here during this historic week. I hope you’ll take the time to drop-in and visits them.

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Pfaffenthal 1867 – from Second Life to Sansar

Fort Thüngen, part of the Pfaffenthal 1867 estate

In July 2015, I wrote at length about Pfaffenthal 1867, a 5-region role-play environment and historical project accurately recreating the City of Luxembourg, circa 1867, and founded by Second Life resident Hauptmann Weydert (Weydert), also known as Pit Vinandy in the physical world.

At the time of my 2015 article, Weydert / Pit and his team were very much focused on the immersive opportunities presented by their environment. Thanks to the fledging work Linden Lab carried out in trying to bring Oculus Rift compatibility to Second Life, Pfaffenthal 1867 was at that time featured as an exhibit hosted by the Luxembourg City History Museum, which gave visitors the opportunity to visit and explore the virtual recreation of Luxembourg using the Oculus Rift or via desktop.

Pfaffenthal 1867, July 2015

In this, the exhibition was part of a broader outreach by the group, with Pit also hosting workshops on virtual environments involving the general public and schools, in association with the Fortress Museum in Luxembourg and the Luxembourg National Museum of History and Art.

I mention all of this because at the start of November, 2018, I dropped into a new experience in Sansar. Called  simply 1867, it is the work of Pit and his team, working under the VR Creative banner, presenting both the next step in Pfaffenthal 1867’s development and an opportunity to renew and further the work in presenting immersive, educational historical recreations to the public.

It’s an ambitious project – possibly the most ambitious experience yet attempted on Sansar. The aim  is to make full use of Sansar’s massive 4km on a side virtual space and offer a fully immersive historical environment for both social and educational use, with high-resolution topographical maps being used to build-out the experience in stages.

1867 in Sansar – a work in progress

Despite being in the early stages of development – many of the buildings that have been placed are little more than blocks awaiting surface detail (or complete replacement) – 1867 is already being promoted to the people of Luxembourg.

Since the start of November, for example, the project has been the focus of a series of weekday sessions at the Forum Geesseknäppchen, a campus occupied by a number of academic institutions in Luxembourg City. As reported by one of the city’s daily newspapers, the Lëtzebuerger Journal, the sessions are intended to encourage local interest in, and potential involvement with, the project, and will continue through until December 14th, 2018.

“We clearly see this as a collaborative project that is about to gradually create this world of 1867,” Vinandy emphasises. Therefore, he expects a strong participation as soon as the project is publicly available. In addition, he hopes for a lively participation of home owners and companies who want to see their part of the city represented.

Virtual Time Travel, Lëtzebuerger Journal, November 2nd, 2018

1867 in Sansar – a work in progress

In this, 1867 doesn’t sound that different from the public outreach undertaken with Pfaffenthal 1867, however, the opportunity to present richer, more immersive educational opportunities as well as a social VR experience is very much the driving force behind the Sansar development, again as the  Lëtzebuerger Journal notes:

Vinandy sees particular interest for students, students and historians who can fully immerse themselves in the past “For example, we want to specifically invite teaching staff to take their school classes on a journey through time,” he says.

Virtual Time Travel, Lëtzebuerger Journal, November 2nd, 2018

1867 in Sansar – a work in progress

In order to focus on the project – and as revealed by Jo Yardley in a tweet while I was working on an earlier draft of this article (one pending an opportunity to chat directly with Pit about both 1867 in Sansar and the wider work of VR Creative) – Pfaffenthal 1867 is to be shut down in its entirety from Monday, November 26th, 2018.

This news has been greeted with some surprise, given that Sansar itself has yet to gain lot of capabilities needed for it to become a more rounded immersive experience – such as richly interactive non-player characters or working forms of transport such as trains, horses that can be ridden and boats, all of which would certainly enrich a setting like 1867.  However, these will come in time, and it is going to take time to properly build-out 1867. As such, I doubt the lack of such capabilities or the lack of period clothing are really issues for the project’s development – although the lack of them could initially discourage Second Life users who have engaged in Pfaffenthal 1867 from dipping more than a toe into Sansar and 1867.

What might be of greater concern is how well such a vast setting loads at the client end as it starts to be fleshed-out to the level of detail found in Pfaffenthal 1867 in Second Life. With some quite modest experiences in Sansar already being quite hefty in download size and load time, something on the scale of 4km on a side could prove to be a significant challenge unless Linden Lab have some clever means of more pro-active steaming and loading / caching still to come.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on Flickr
Pfaffenthal 1867, July 2015

But, time will tell on that. In the meantime, if you have enjoyed previous visits to Pfaffenthal 1867 and would like to say farewell before it vanishes, can do so between now and Monday, November 26th, 2018. For those in the Second Life 1867 group, and who missed the in-world announcement, there will be a farewell party on Saturday, November 24th, starting at 10:00 SLT, at Café Neuen.

I’ll also hopefully have more on the 1867 project in Sansar as the work progresses, including the outcome of that conversation with Pit.

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No Spectators 2: a return to SAAM in Sansar

No Spectators 2: The Temple by David Best

In July, I wrote about the opening of a Sansar experience celebrating No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an exhibition of art created for the annual Burning Man experiment in community and art held in the Black Rock Desert of north-west Nevada. The experience is a reproduction of a physical world exhibition of the same name, hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) at their Renwick Gallery in Washington DC between (effectively) April 2018 and January 2019 as a part of an overall effort by Intel and SAAM to digitise many of the museum’s 157 million objects and present them through the virtual medium as transformative and engaging educational / cultural experiences.

After the publishing of that review, Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios, indicated to me via Twitter that the experience would be expanded over time, and on Monday, September 24th, the official Sansar Twitter account announced the Second Floor of the No spectators experience has now opened to public visits.

No Spectators 2: The Temple by David Best

The centrepiece of the new exhibition is a reproduction of the interior of the 2018 Temple, as designed from laser cut wood by artists David Best. It is an intricate, beautiful design, the original – as are all Temple builds at Burning Man – put to the torch at the 2018 Burning Man event.

David Best is actually responsible for the designs of around half the Temple built at Burning Man, having created the very first in 2000, working with Jack Haye. At the time, Best had been attending Burning Man for about three years, and wanted to present a piece of art. He was also working with a group of young artists who would be attending that same year. One of these young artists was Michael Hefflin, a 28-year-old motorbike enthusiast who was killed not long before the event, and that first temple became something of a memorial to him and to others.

We built this thing and it became obvious that we were building a tribute to Michael. And as we were making it 100 people came by and added the names of people they’d lost. Then we put some diesel on it and burned it.

– David Best, speaking to The Guardian, February 2015

In 2001, Best was asked by the event’s organisers to build another Temple, and given the Black Rock “city” of the festival had just about everything else except a place of meditation, and he took up the offer, and built upon the what had happened in 2000.

I thought, ‘What would I dedicate a temple to?’ Not having any religion – and not being very fond of religion – I thought how in some faiths you can’t be buried in a cemetery if you’ve committed suicide. So since Burning Man welcomes so many things, the most sacred place, in the centre of the temple, should be in honour of those who’ve lost someone to suicide. By the end of the week 500 people had put names in the centre and 10,000 had put names elsewhere in the temple, the names of people they’d lost.

– David Best, speaking to The Guardian, February 2015

In keeping with this, the interior of the piece in No Spectators faithfully reproduces the names and messages left during the 2018 Burning Man festival. Even when visiting the experience in third person desktop mode, these notes, left on Post It sheet, postcards, scrawled on the wood, give an almost tangible emotional depth to the design. So much so that I had another of those rare (for me) moments when I wished I had a VR headset of my own to experience the full immersiveness of the setting while reading them.

No Spectators 2: Hybycozo by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu

Also in the new exhibit area are reproductions of Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone (Hybycozo for short) models from Burning Man 2014 and 2015. Designed by Yelena Filipchuk and  Serge Beaulieu. Rather than having something to do with Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, Vogons or the destruction of the Earth, these large structures are, in the artists’ words:

A series of large-scale polyhedral installations and artworks that investigate geometry through light, shadow, and perception. The project is inspired by the intersection of math, science, technology, geometry, material, and light.

– Yelena Flipchu and Serge Beaulieu on Hybycozo

However, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that Adams and his classic radio series and books / records (and the spin-off TV series and film) didn’t have some influence the project’s title…

Next to the Hybycozo display is a hall featuring four Gamelatron Bidadari. Again seen at the 2018 Burning Man, these were actually a recreation of  2013 set of instruments created by Aron Taylor Kuffner. Each features 10 Trompong kettle gongs, 12 Reyong kettle gongs, Klentong, Kempli, 4 hanging gongs, 2 ceng-ceng and 4 Kopyak from Bali and Java, all fitted with mechanical mallets on 4 powder-coated and hand-gilded steel mounts. They are genuine musical instruments, designed to be played, and the versions in Sansar are animated, producing a range of chimes in keeping with their physical world counterparts.

No Spectators 2: Stymen Lumen by FoldHaus Art Collective

The final hall of the exhibition area features three Strumen Lumen, large-scale Origami mushrooms that morph into different shapes when activated by visitors, designed by the FoldHaus Art Collective. Animating them is achieved by touching or clicking on the circular buttons on the floor by each of the Strumen.

As well as having a dedicated experience URL, the upper floor of No Spectators can be reached from the lower floor by wither touching the teleport sign at the foot of the stairs in the entrance hall, or by just walking up the stairs (which will also activate a transfer between the two experiences. Similarly, a transfer to the lower floor can be activated by touching a sign at the top of the stairs, or by starting to walk down them.

I’d personally like to see a little more thought given to the way this material is presented in order to become fully engaged throughout. Much of the art at Burning Man is both mechanical / interactive and / or carries a story with it – as with the Temple builds. As such, it would add to the sense of engagement being able to hear the story of the Temple build, perhaps in David Best’s own words, or to here a complere loop of music Aron Taylor Kuffner has composed / played on the Gamelatron Bidadari.

That said, there is enough in this extension to make No Spectators worthy of further visits, and I hope the Lab / SAAM will resume tours of the experiences in the future. Certainly, it was enough to encourage me t see how video filming works in Sansar, using both of the main exhibition spaces, and the “outdoors” area.

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More Star Trek in Sansar: the Roddenberry Nexus

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus – click any image for full size

In May 2018, Linden lab via their design team of Sansar Studios launched a collaboration with Roddenberry Entertainment, run by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. It saw the opening of a new experience, The Bridge of the USS Enterprise (read here for more) and came with a promise of “more to come”, probably around the time of the Star Trek Las Vegas 2018 convention (Auguest 1st through 5th, 2018). Well, in keeping with that promise, on Wednesday, August 1st, Linden Lab and Roddenberry Entertainment unveiled the next step in their Sansar collaboration.

The Roddenberry Nexus is billed as “the final frontier of fan engagement. Experience the legacy of Roddenberry in a whole new way – never-before-seen props, costumes, and so much more.” And it is a beautiful build; albeit one perhaps a little light (for the time being) on the kind of detail Trek fans like myself might like to see.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: The experience is fairly complex, starting at the spawn point, bottom right, proceeding through the lower exhibition space, thence via corridor to a teleporting “turbo elevator” to the upper three galleries, which are linked by a central lift platform

The spawn point for the experience is very mindful of the cabin designs seen in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP), complete with corner lighting column. Here one can listen to an introduction to the Nexus from Rod Roddenberry before passing through the waiting door into a ship’s corridor.

This leads to the first display room, which, other than the couch at the far end is a little suggestive of the engineering space found in the Enterprise-D of Next Generation fame. It i dominated by a model of the McQuarrie concept for a radically altered USS Enterprise design, which is seated on what could otherwise be taken to be representative of Geordi La Forge’s engineering table.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: personal memorabilia from the lives of Gene and Majel Roddenberry, reproduced in Sansar

This was the design (seen at the top of this article) being considered for one of the potential returns of Star Trek following the 1969 cancellation of what was to become known as a The Original Series (TOS). This design is perhaps most readily associated with the unproduced TV series, Star Trek: Phase II, however, as the text accompanying the model notes, originally, the design was put forward for a Star Trek film, Planet of the Titans, which was pushed to one side in 1977 in favour of the new TV series concept. While both film and series were ultimately never made, as every Trek fan will know, and as the text again confirms, the design did make two on-screen appearances in Star Trek; The Next Generation, and formed the inspiration for the Crossfield class of vessel seen in the latest incarnation of TV-based Trek, Star Trek Discovery.

Also to be found on this level are some wonderful miniatures representing props from the original series and Trek’s first big screen outing. There are also models more personal to the life of the Roddenberrys: a reproduction of the Kaypro wordprocessor model used by Gene Roddenberry after he gave up on the typewriter (a computer perhaps made most famous by science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke), a copy of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s personalised car license plate, and a model of the infamous IDIC Medallion.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: recalling the 1973 Star Trek animated TV series

Beyond this, on the additional levels, reached by teleport and a working elevator, can be found more in the way of reproductions of various Trek uniforms, together with artwork from (again) ST:TMP in the form of storyboard sequences, and also from one of the more overlooked aspects of the franchise – the 1973 animated series. Additional displays along the corridors complete the initial content, while communications panels spaced throughout the experience provide audio information from a range of hosts, all of whom have ties to, or worked on, the various Trek incarnations.

In terms of the individual series and films, the Nexus is perhaps a little light: The Motion Picture gets fair coverage, but the other films – outside of things like uniforms and insignia – are almost entirely absent. However, Trek is a big subject, and much of the latter history is more than likely fairly familiar to most Trek fans, so this can perhaps be forgiven, particularly as the Nexus will be expanded over time. The infamous Kelvin Universe and Star Trek Discovery are present, albeit in a most subtle manner (check the insignia display along one corridor). It’s also probably not unfair to say that trying to cover everything  – even leaving aside 52 years of history being voluminous – is likely made more difficult by the complex web of rights involved in Trek (CBS holding the television rights, Paramount retaining the big screen rights and so on).

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: prop from The motion Picture (l), the original TV pilot of The Cage (c) and The Original Series (Klingon disruptor, r)

Those attending  STLV 2018  have the opportunity to visit the Nexus in VR – and possibly wind an Oculus headset and “Roddenberry Goodies” in a raffle. There weren’t too many people availing themselves of the experience during my three visits – but then, I’m across the Atlantic and half a continent away from Las Vegas, so it’s unlikely my visits coincided with times when I was in the experience (05:00 and 07:00 Las Vegas time on my 2nd and 3rd visits).

As a means to attract an audience, approaches like this – offering something unusual and with a guaranteed niche audience – is a subtle way of increasing people’s awareness of Sansar, if not a guarantee of obtaining extended growth in terms of active engagement. Certainly, if it is emphasised the Nexus and The Bridge of the USS Enterprise can both be accessed from PC systems without the need for VR and the Nexus is to be grown in scope, it might encourage some of those visiting by way of STLV to keep an eye on Sansar for the future. That said, I am a little surprised that while the spawn point offers a teleport to the Hollywood Art Museum, there doesn’t appear to be an opportunity for people to hop over to The Bridge of the USS Enterprise.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: reproductions of storyboard art from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Given the niche nature of Trek fandom in the global scheme of things, the fact that Linden Lab have struck up a working relationship with Roddenberry Entertainment led me to wonder how many Trek fans might be at the Lab. It was a question, alongside one concerning future plans for the Nexus, that I was able to put to Jason Gholston, who heads-up the Lab’s Sansar Studios.

Yes… Many Trek fans at Linden. Sansar Studios’ Torley loves Star Trek! This is just the beginning. We should see the Roddenberry Nexus expand in time! So many fantastic stories to tell and artefacts to share.

– Jason Gholston, head of Sansar Studios, on support at the Lab for Star Trek and future Nexus plans

So why not pull out your communicators / tap your combadges and beam over to the Nexus!

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Sansar

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

Monday, July 23rd saw the launch of the latest joint venture Sansar experience developed by Linden Lab’s Sansar Studios and Intel, who this time are working with The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) to present No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an intriguing experience that helps demonstrate the potential of VR in bringing art and culture from the physical world to those not readily in a position to visit them first-hand.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is also the title of a physical world exhibition at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, that runs through until January 21st, 2019 and which serves as the inspiration for the Sansar experience.

As the name implies, the exhibition is a celebration of art from Burning Man, the annual experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles, held in the Black Rock Desert of north-west Nevada (and which will be very familiar to many Second Life users). The Sansar experience offers a faithful reproduction of the exhibition in a space modelled directly on the interior of the Renwick Gallery itself.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Tin Pan Dragon by Duane Flatmo

The physical world exhibition is a collaboration between SAAM, through its Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Nora Atkinson, and the Burning Man Project, the non-profit organisation responsible for producing the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City, and takes its name from a saying common among those who attend the Playa the area in which Burning Man is held.

“‘No Spectators’ is a long-standing saying on Playa. You are encouraged to fully participate. It’s all about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of Burning Man are radical participation and radical inclusivity, meaning that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience.”

– Nora Atkinson, Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Nora Atkinson has also been instrumental in bringing the exhibition to Sansar. The Smithsonian has a mission to reach a billion people globally with its art, and VR is one of the means the museum has identified as allowing them to achieve that goal – although the idea to use Sansar as a medium originated with Intel.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, with the version at the Renwick inset

Over the course of the last year, the technology giant has been building a relationship with Linden Lab and Sansar. In January 2018 for example, Intel’s entire Consumer Electronics Show (CES) booth was reproduced within Sansar, together with a walk-through model of the Intel 8th generation CPU core. Nor was that all, Intel introduced the Sansar Ready Player One experience, Aech’s Garage (and reviewed here) to the world through CES, featuring it and Sansar in a keynote address at CES given by Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich.

Nor has that been all, Sansar later went on tour (so to speak) with Intel, turning up at places like the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Sansar has again be on demonstration under the hashtag of #FutureofStorytelling, which has been strongly associated with VR.

Intel has also worked in the past the the Smithsonian, producing Beyond the Walls, a room-sized VR experience, developed for the HTC Vive system. It reproduced a garden that American writer Henry Adams, created, featuring a sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in memory of his late wife, Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams. That experience was so successful, Intel sought to work with the Smithsonian again, and the Renwick exhibition and Sansar came across as a perfect match.

We had an idea that VR would be a compelling medium to take people to places they haven’t gone to, or will never go to, and produce really meaningful experiences.

– Raj Puran, Intel’s Director of Business Development

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Evotrope by Richard Wilks with Michael Conn and Victor Rodarte. The archway to the left is the teleport to the Playa experience

Within Sansar, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is home to reproductions of some of the iconic pieces from the Renwick’s physical world exhibition, including the towering Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane, and the beautifully intricate Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti. The latter has been especially reproduced by the artists for the Smithsonian exhibition, given the original was actually burned at Burning Man.

The startling thing with all of the pieces on display is the level of detail within them. Within VR / first person, it is akin to getting right up close and personal with the “real thing” on a 1:1 scale that is truly unlike many other art environments. Get right in close to Truth is Beauty, for example, and the extraordinary intricacy of the original’s design is revealed.

Currently, the Sansar team, working with the Smithsonian and Intel, have reproduced the ground floor exhibition spaces at the Renwick – the first floor halls are part of a project to be unveiled soon. Intel have also produced a video (below) which intriguingly shows a holographic approach to displaying some of the art: an open space where avatars can select and rez additional works. I’m uncertain if this is meant to be part of the actual Sansar experience, the pieces seen in the video are actually displayed in the “Playa” – an “outdoor” space reached by passing through an arch (and experience teleporter) at the back of the ground-floor exhibition halls – perhaps it’ll appear in the future.

As noted above, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is part of an extensive project between Intel and the Smithsonian to digitise more of the museum’s 157 million objects and present them through the virtual medium as transformative and engaging educational / cultural experiences – although it’s not at this time clear how extensive Sansar’s role will be within this broader project.

As a part of the work, Intel has indicated that Beyond the Walls will be re-released in 2018, featuring the art of Saint-Gaudens, together with that of sculptor Hiram Powers, painter Frederic Edwin Church and contemporary media artist Alex Prager.

The Playa is an outdoor exhibit annexed to No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. This is a little more of a disappointment, coming over as a haphazard display without any real context for the Burning Man Playa. Given the Renwick’s own exhibition spills over into outside spaces, it would perhaps have been nice to see this experience reflect that. But perhaps there is more to come here as well; or perhaps it is simply a holding space for art to be added to the next phase of the No Spectators experience …

As someone who has a passion for real and virtual art, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing how experiences like this ground within Sansar as the capabilities of the platform continue to be built out and allow for more imaginative ways by which visitors to such exhibits can interact with, and learn about, the art they present.

With Sansar, we hope not only to make the museum experience more accessible, but to also empower people to curate experiences of their own and share their unique perspectives with the world. We’re thrilled to be supporting this transformation of art and education, and we’re excited to find forward-thinking partners in Intel and the Smithsonian.

– Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios

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