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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Lab issues a further e-mail on EU GDPR and user privacy

On May 25th, 2018 the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. While an EU regulation, the GDPR not only applies to organisations located within the EU but it will also apply to organisations located outside of the EU if they offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU data subjects.

Earlier in May, the Lab issued a blog post providing an initial outline of their compliance with the GDPR, which covers both Second Life and Sansar. In that post they promised they would provide further details on how EU citizens can exercise their rights under the GDPR. On May 24th, they issued an e-mail summarising updates to their Privacy Policy. The e-mail reads in full:

We value our relationship with our community and your privacy.  We have updated our Privacy Policy to increase transparency and comply with the European Union data protection law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018. We encourage you to read our policies in full, but here are some highlights of what’s changed:

  • We provide additional details about the types of data that we collect, the ways in which we use it, and the measures we take to keep your data safe,
  • We added information about new choices and controls for users to manage their privacy, and
  • We added information about user’s rights regarding their privacy.

The updates to our policies will go into effect on May 25, 2018.  If you have questions, please contact us at privacy@lindenlab.com.

Thank you for being part of the Linden Lab community!

The Linden Lab Team

The specific sections of the Privacy Policy that have been updated are:

Obviously, you should read the privacy Policy in full, rather than just these sections. The above list is provided only as a guide.

Captain’s Log: on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in Sansar

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701 in Sansar

Tuesday, May 22nd saw the launch of a new  enterprise for Sansar, with the public opening of a model of one of the icons of the original Star Trek TV series: the Bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701.

The experience has been developed as a joint venture between Roddenberry Entertainment, run by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and Linden Lab through Sansar Studios.  It has been designed as a tie-in with the Mission Log Live podcasts / live streams hosted every Tuesday by Ken Ray and or John Champion, which cover all things Star Trek (and often beyond), with news, discussions, Q&A sessions, guests, and  so on.

The core rendering for the experience has been produced by OTOY, the creator of the OctaneRenderer. Some might be familiar with OTOY’s work on the opening title sequence of HBO’s stunning TV series Westworld. Given this pedigree, and having seen some of the publicity shot (as I covered here), I admit  – as a long-term Star Trek fan – to looking forward to seeing the experience first-hand.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise – a Sansar social space where people can watch weekly broadcasts of the Mission Log Live series, hosted by Ken Ray (seen on the viewscreen) and John Champion

Sadly, the official opening of the experience between 03:00 and 06:00 BST on the morning of Wednesday, May 23rd – FAR too late (or early!) for me. So it wasn’t until well after the event had finished that I was able to jump into the experience and have a look around.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise is, first and foremost, visually stunning. It is beautifully rendered, with almost everything a Trek fan would expect to see there and (for the most part) in the correct colours. Visitors arrive close to the turbo elevator doors at the back the the bridge; to the left is the Engineering station, Montgomery Scott’s usual station when on the bridge, and to the right, Uhura’s Communications with Spock’s science station just beyond it.

Of course, the Captain’s chair is there, sitting in the central well behind the helm / navigation console and facing the main viewscreen. A point of note here is that the show isn’t actually recorded  in the experience, but is intended as a place where fans of Star Trek and science fiction can drop into and watch the live stream broadcasts – or catch up with them after the fact – and enjoy the ambience of the Bridge. I understand that for the opening, around 25-30 people gathered in the experience – which must have been cosy, and Ken and John, the hosts of the show, dropped in after the fact.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise – “The engines cannae take it, Cap’n!” – Scotty’s bridge station

All of the detailing ia for the most part exquisite, although it is – aside from the viewscreen – a static rendering (at least in Desktop Mode with Sansar – I cannot speak to VR mode).

For the hardcore Trek fan there are perhaps one or two mission elements: the commissioning plaque is absent from the wall next to the turbo elevator doors; Spock’s station is lacking his “I see all through this box with a glowing slit” dohicky, for example. Also, the helm and navigation console also appears to have been taken from the game Star Trek: Bridge Crew, rather than conforming to the original TV series design and colours. It’s also interesting to see the upper sensor dome that sits above the bridge deck shown as a skylight with stars zipping by – something of a nod of the head towards the original Trek pilot episode The Cage, perhaps?

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise -“Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu. Ahead, warp factor one…”

It would be nice to see some interactive elements in the design – being able to touch Sulu’s console and see his weapons target / sensor relay unfold itself, for example, or to be able to “flick” switches on the ring consoles and see the images on the screen above them change – just to give visitors more of a sense of presence (not to mention the hoary old ability to sit on the chairs). However, these little niggles aside, for those who like / love / appreciate the original Star Trek TV series, the experience is a wonderfully nostalgic homage.

It’s a little disappointing that the first Mission Log to be broadcast with the opening of the experience didn’t show more in the way of images of the space to encourage interest among Trek fans watching the show – although it certainly was mentioned several times. However, this was somewhat made up for the broadcast including an interview with one of the incarnations of James T. Kirk himself, Vic Mignogna, the man behind the engaging web series Star Trek Continues, which picks up right where the original series left off at the end of its third season, and includes some unique follow-ups to some of the episodes from that series and well as featuring several special guest stars from the worlds of Star Trek.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise – “The engines cannae take it, Cap’n!” – Scotty’s bridge station

While Sansar and the Enterprise bridge aren’t visually featured in the show, it is interesting to hear some of the comments Ken and John make in passing about Sansar – particularly where their avatars are concerned. While casual in nature, they do perhaps reflect one of the more noticeable “limitations” with the platform that even casual users are noting: the “sameness” evident in Sansar avatars at the moment, born out of a current lack of broad customisation capabilities.

Overall, Bridge of the USS Enterprise is an interesting experiment on the idea of offering social environments in virtual spaces that are specific to audiences who might not otherwise have an interest in such environments. With the planned tie-in with the Overwatch League now apparently on hold (assuming it still goes ahead), Bridge of the USS Enterprise is Sansar’s sole “partnership” social space of this kind right now, so it’ll be interesting to see how it continues to be used.

The next Mission Long Live event will be on Tuesday, June 5th, as John and Ken will be taking a break on Tuesday, May 29th.

Additional Information

Drew Struzan Gallery and Studio to open in Sansar

Opening on Friday. March 23rd, 16:00: Drew Struzan Gallery and Studio at the Hollywood Art Museum

Drew Struzan is a giant in the fields of art and film. Over his 40-year career, his talent has graced more than 150 movie posters for some of cinema’s most memorable films – including Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Star Wars – and extends to book covers, album covers, and other fine art. And on Friday, March 23rd, his art will be available within Sansar as a part of the The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) project, established by Greg Aronowitz.

HWAM’s mission is to encourage artists in the digital medium to find fresh inspiration in the traditional arts of Hollywood’s past, through the preservation and education of art used in entertainment. Its first major exhibition, featuring reproductions of pieces – models, production drawings, props, merchandise from the Star Wars franchise films – which came ahead of the US opening of the latest film in the series Star Wars: The Last Jedi (read more about the Star Wars exhibition here).

Drew Struzan

The Drew Struzan Gallery and Studio marks HWAM’s second gallery space in Sansar, and presents visitors with a unique opportunity to view the work of one of the greatest illustrators of modern times, and to also get a peek inside his private studio.

Born in Oregon City, Oregon in 1947, Drew Struzan fell in love with art and drawing while a boy. “I didn’t go to movies, I didn’t watch TV,” he once recalled. “I didn’t have comic books. The closest I would ever come, is I would go to the library and get out art books and draw from the old masters. So I had an education and background in the masters of the art I liked to paint.”

A school Counsellor asked him about his interest in art and told him he had a choice between fine art or illustration, saying that as a fine artist he could paint what he wanted, but as an illustrator he could paint for money.

Struzan opted for the latter, later saying, “I was poor and hungry, and illustration was the shortest path to a slice of bread, as compared to a gallery showing.”

The 1977 Star Wars “Circus” poster, featuring Drew Struzan’s oil painting portraits of the film’s characters (1977)

From college, Struzan started his career not in film, but in music, creating the album covers art for artists like  Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind and Fire, Liberace and Alice Cooper.

In 1977 he was contacted by fellow artist Charles White III, who had been hired to produce a poster for the upcoming 1978 re-release of the original Star Wars film. Uncomfortable with portraiture, White asked Struzan for help, and between them they came up with a distinctive poster design, which became known as the “Circus” poster, depicting what appears to be a torn posted bill on a plywood construction site wall.

It was the start of an enduring relationship with top-flight movies. For the next 30+ years, Struzan would create some of the most iconic and memorable one-sheets for some of Hollywood’s biggest and highest grossing films and film franchises, including the Indiana Jones franchise, the Star Wars franchise, Blade Runner, the Police Academy series, Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Hellboy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and many, many more.

For the Sansar exhibition, Greg Aronowitz work closely with Struzan and members of Linden Lab’s Sansar Studios team led by Jason Gholston, to carefully and painstakingly reproduce Struzan’s art – including the “Circus” poster – within an immersive virtual setting. Many of the pieces have interactive elements associated with them: wall-mounted buttons can be pressed to hear audio relating to the pieces.

Also involved in the work is Kevin Cain, CEO of Insight Digital. This is the company that, working with the Lab’s Sansar Studios team, brought three real-world sites of antiquity in Egypt into Sansar, allowing people to visit and appreciate them in ways which cannot be shared in the physical world because the sites in question are not open to the public (read more about this project here).

A poster celebrating George Lucas and his filmmatic legacy, by Drew Struzan

For this project, Kevin Cain brought the same techniques used by Insight Digital to map ancient Egyptian tombs and monuments – laser scanning and photogrammetry to accurately reproduce Struzan’s own private studio and then upload it into Sansar as a place for people to visit.

The result is a stunning environment – gallery and Studio together – in which Struzan’s art and artistry can be fully appreciated, as a sneak previewed via livestream video by Deviant Art on Thursday, March 22nd revealed.

From left to right: Jason Gholston, Drew Struzan, Greg Aronowitz discuss the Drew Struzan Gallery in Sansar during a Deviant Art livestream event with host Matthew Holt. Credit: Deviant Art

The grand opening of the Drew Struzan Art Gallery and Studio in Sansar will take place between 16:00 and 20:00 PDT on Friday, March 23rd, and will comprise the following events:

  • 16:00-17:00: Greg Aronowitz and Drew Struzan reflect on their careers in film and Hollywood, and on Drew’s artistic legacy.
  • 17:00-18:00: an exclusive walk-through of Drew’s never-before-seen private studio, 3D-scanned into Sansar, and find out how the space came together from Insight Digital’s Kevin Cain and Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios.
  • 18:00-20:00 the grand opening party and a chance to tour the entire experience on your own or with friends.

To attend the gallery opening, go to the Drew Struzan Gallery & Studio – Grand Opening in the Events section of the Sansar client or on the web 15 minutes before the event is due to start and click the Join option.

And for those who want to know a little more about Drew Struzan, here’s the trailer for the 2013 documentary, Drew: The Man Behind The Poster.

 

Aech’s garage: a Sansar Ready Player One Experience

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage – click on any image for full size

Update, January 11th: following my enquiry concerning posting images of Aech’s Garage to the Lab, I received a reply from the Sansar community team, who also posted a  statement to the Sansar Discord channel, which I’m reproducing here, with the relevant comment highlighted for future reference by anyone positing images from Sansar:

We truly appreciate the ongoing support from the community, especially with all the excitement going on this week! We want to clarify that users are not discouraged from posting screenshots from any experience that is open to the public as long as there is no claim to exclusivity, early access, or other potentially misleading statements or claims that are untrue or could be construed as an official statement from Linden Lab or Sansar. We hope you all understand!

With this in mind, I’ve reposted the images in this article

Update: from the comments left by Ryan Schultz following this article, you can see there is something of a kerfuffle over whether or not images from the Aech’s Garage experience can be published. I have contacted Linden Lab on the matter, but have yet to receive a definitive reply one way or the other. To prevent further controversy, and while not having heard of any embargo myself, I have decided to remove the images in the post for the time being. 

Linden Lab recently unveiled two new experiences in Sansar, which I plan to look at in a broader piece on the platform later this week. However, one of them offers a particular attraction as a destination, so I’m leaping in with a look at it here as a part of my Exploring Sansar series.

Aech’s Garage is a joint collaboration between Linden Lab (via their Sansar Studios team), HTC, Intel, and Warner Brothers Entertainment to recreate the film set of Aech’s Garage from the upcoming Amblin Entertainment /  Village Roadshow Pictures film Ready Player One, the motion picture of Ernest Cline’s 2011 best seller.

In the novel and film, Aech (pronounced “H”) is best friend to Wade Watts, the novel’s protagonist – at least within OASIS, the two never having met face-to-face – who operates out of a basement location in the book. For the film, Aech’s base has been moved to a vast garage-cum-warehouse unit, and it is this space that has been recreated in Sansar with the formal title [HTC] Ready Player One – Aech’s Garage.

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage

For purists, the move might be seen as an annoyance and typical of Hollywood’s tinkering with adaptations for no readily apparent reason. From a visual perspective however – particularly if you are a film buff with a lean towards science fiction – the move is a treasure trove of sights. A long, comparatively narrow building, the garage is partially lit by a low Sun streaming in through the grime layered windows along one wall. This casts a good part of the experience into shadows which I suspect aren’t as quite as intrusive in VR mode as they can be when visiting in Desktop Mode. Klieg lights scattered around the building offer additional pools of light.

Entering via the Sansar Atlas spawns visitors at one of the building’s two ends, and from the start the level of detail is impressive. The lighting is very realistic, while the texturing and finish is superb. There are work bays, metal steps leading up to platforms and elevated work spaces, tools are scattered on work tops, bins, tyres and other detritus of an old working environment fill spaces and rise on tall racks standing against walls and windows. There even a bicycle is leaning against one wall – perhaps to offer someone a quick means to travel up the central aisle space of the building. Good use is also made of Sansar’s recently added audio materials: shoe heels click solidly on the cement floor, but footsteps ring hollowly as heels strike the metal steps when climbing up to or down from the raised platforms.

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage

But all this is just the apéritif, so to speak. The real feast lies in what can be found within this garage. Depending on which end of the building you spawn, you’ll find yourself either being watched by the Iron Giant from the 1999 film of the same name, or find yourself confronted by ED-209 from 1987’s Robocop – fortunately without its guns focusing on you with an ominous warning that you have 30 seconds to comply. The detail on both is superb, and the Iron Giant really gives a sense of scale. Split into two parts of upper body and head, with legs alongside, it is simply huge.

Nor are these the only models here. Sitting between them, down the sunlit side of the garage are a Mark 2 Viper from Battlestar Galactica (original and re-imagined), suspended from the roof alongside an Earth Defence Directorate fighter from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and a maintenance pod from the United States spacecraft Discovery One, featured in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage

Sitting under these, a little incongruously, is the prized 1961 Ferrari GT California Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) persuaded Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) to snag the keys for from his father in the 1986 teen movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. While across the central aisle is a mechanoid loader of a similar kind to those seen in the Alien movies, with a model of Eagle 5 from Spaceballs suspended overhead.

As noted, the visual aspects of this experience are superb, in Desktop mode it leaps out at you, and I’ve little doubt that in VR it will look stunning. What is especially interesting about it is that it is a tie to a forthcoming major motion picture, due to be released on March 30th, 2018, and perhaps marks the first attempt to use Sansar in one of the market spaces where it could have some traction: marketing and PR. It demonstrates a potentially low-cost way of generating public interest in films, etc., by allowing people to not only see trailers and teasers from the comfort of their own home via social media and the likes of YouTube, but to also offer them the opportunity to visit locations from blockbuster films ahead of their release.

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage

In this particular case, it is entirely fitting that a film which might help promote wider interest in VR is gaining some degree of added promotion from VR. I’m curious to see if Linden Lab / Warner Brothers / HTC plan to do more with the experience between now and the US theatrical release of the film at the end of March 2018, particularly given the way the début – through the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, courtesy of Intel – has been presented to the public at large.

Aceh’s Garage is without a doubt a powerful demonstration of Sansar’s potential, and a delight to visit. However, you plan to do so,  I’d perhaps suggest waiting until after CES 2018 closes on Friday, January 12th, 2018, as right now it is the subject Right now Aech’s Garage is tied to ongoing demonstrations of the HTC Vive at the show.While this is good for Sansar, it means that audio-wise there is a lot going on audio-wise within the experience, and it can get distracting with multiple overlapping conversations, even with Voice roll-off over distances. I frequently found myself getting caught between overlapping conversations and manually muting those I didn’t want to hear (including, I’d add, staff talking bugs and users over open microphones!).

Aech's Garage, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Garage

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