Our Digital Selves: film festival nominee

via Monarch Film Festival

The Monarch Film Festival is an annual event held in Pacific Grove, California. It is intended to not only showcase the latest in International blockbuster achievements, but to also be a place where local filmmakers of any age can show their artistic vision on the big screen.

Among this year’s entrants in the Festival is Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is me, the documentary by Brenard “Draxtor Despres” Drax, the film focus on the work of Tom Boellstorff and Donna Z Davis (respectively Tom Bukowski and Tredi Felisimo in Second Life), who for three years were engaged in  studying the experiences of people with disabilities – visible and invisible – who are using immersive virtual spaces to represent themselves, possibly free of the shadow of any disability, engage with others and do things they may not be able to do in the physical world.

Released in May 2018, the film tells the story of 13 global citizens and their avatars as they transcend their various disabilities through artistic expression and making a home for themselves in the VR Metaverse – Second Life, Sansar and High Fidelity. You can read more about the film and Donna and Tom’s work in my articles: Our Digital Selves: living within a virtualised world (2018) and Exploring disability, new cultures and self in a virtual realm (2016).

As a part of this year’s Monarch Film Festival, Our Digital Selves is in the running for Best Documentary. As such, the film will be shown on Friday, December 7th, 2018: 5:35 PM, Pacific Time, And those wishing to attend in person can purchase tickets view the link at the start of this paragraph. For those who cannot see the film at the festival, it can be seen via Draxtor’s You Tube channel, and I’ve embedded it below as a reminder – if you’ve not see it before, now it your chance to catch up with a truly remarkable documentary.

The other nominees for Best Documentary at the festival are:

  • Moksha, by Jennifer Killian, a film that follows three Nepali women who have dedicated themselves to spreading the joy that mountain biking can give to women across the Himalayas.
  • Up to Snuff by  Mark Maxey, following the life of American musician and composer W.G. Snuffy Walden.
  • Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? by Zachary Stauffer, recording the efforts of Nicole Van Dorn to discover what actually happened in the helicopter accident that killed her husband, Lt. Wes Van Dorn.
  • Rodents  of Unusual Size by Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer, tracing the work of fisherman Thomas Gonzales as he faces the threat of hordes of monstrous 20 pound swamp rats that are eating up the coastal wetlands that protects Thomas and his town of Delacroix Island from hurricanes.

Congratulations to Drax and all involved in Our Digital Lives, and wishing them all the best for the film festival.

Related Links

With thanks to Eliot for the heads-up.

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Lab to open-source Linden Realms code for creators

The re-vamped Linden Realms and rock monsters. Credit: Linden Lab

During the Content Creation User Group meeting on Thursday, November 29th, Oz Linden announced that Linden Lab will be open-sourcing the code used within the Linden Realms game to content / experience creators.

The aim of the move is to make the code available to (Premium) users wishing to build interactive experiences / games within Second Life, so they might study it, re-purpose elements from it, and even critique it.

The release, when it is made, will be of the latest iteration of Linden Realms, which was updated in October 2018 to provide a completely new look and offer a broader range of game elements. It is also supported by end-user documentation on how to play the game, which might also be useful to experience creators in generating their own supporting end-user games.

Making content like this available to a wider audience is something that has been requested on numerous occasions during Content Creation meetings. The move also fits into the broader pattern of the Lab involving creators and users in the development of capabilities within Second Life – as Vir Linden noted during the meeting when Oz made his announcement. Given that the code is to be open-sourced, it means that updates and improvements to it – or new capabilities / options added to it – could be contributed back to Linden Lab, and thus to others building experience-based games.

Part of the re-vamped Linden Realms. Credit: Linden Lab

The move is also potentially in keeping the Lab’s hope to increase the Second Life user-base. Games are an obvious means of attracting new users to a platform, and providing the means for creators to develop and run more comprehensive games using mechanisms that both work and which can potentially be extended and enhanced. Coupled with the means to bring users directly into said games – such as by the new user API and / or Second Life Place Pages (although the latter do perhaps require further enhancements themselves to be more practical) – they might come to assist in attracting new users. Time will tell on that.

It’s not clear   exactly when the code will be made available; as Oz linden noted, it requires careful checking to avoid the risk of code that could be exploited to the detriment of Second Life. Hopefully, there will be an official blog post when the code is made available to all.

LEA announces restructure

On Thursday, November 29th, 2018, the serving committee of the Linden Endowment for the Arts gave notices that the LEA will be undergoing restructuring, which will include – for the initial part of 2019 – the closure of the 20 Artist In Residence (AIR) regions currently held by the LEA (LEA 10 through 29).

The core part of the announcement reads as follows:

Come January 1st 2019, the Linden Endowment for the Arts, known as the LEA, will be temporarily closing its Artists in Residence regions (LEA 10 – 29) to allow for a major restructuring.

Over the last seven years, these regions have been open for artists who apply to build their dreams, each for a six month grant. We have seen many great installations here – and some that have attracted controversy.

The nine Core regions (which include the Theatre, the Sandbox and Photohunt) will remain for the present, and short-term grants will still be available in these regions for community-inspired arts projects.

Discussions between the present Committee and Linden Lab about the future form of the LEA are ongoing, but it is anticipated that there will be a new organising committee when the AiR regions re-open.

KÖMA – LEA 22, November 2018 – read here for more

While it is undeniable the LEA has done a huge amount of good for art and artists in Second Life, particularly those who would not otherwise be able to amount large-scale events, it has also not been without its own controversy and for – in some circles – gaining a reputation for being something of a “star chamber” in terms of the committee’s method of operation.

For example, in 2013, just 18 months after the LEA was formed under the tenure of Mark Kingdon as the Lab’s CEO, the former Community Manager, Mark Viale, was forced to step-in after public concerns and reported irregularities with how the LEA was being run. That resulted in the formation of the LEA Committee bylaws. Intended to offer transparency, the bylaws perhaps resulted in the opposite by allowing what were effectively closed-door meetings, few of which generated public transcripts or notes. The bylaws themselves became in part a subject of controversy in 2015, when they were quietly removed from the LEA website when the committee of the time was challenged under them, after a committee member griefed an art gallery (for the record, the bylaws can still be seen via  the Wayback machine).

Second Life 1999 / 2017 – The Story – LEA 25, 2017 – read more here

Given this, some might feel reviewing and revitalising the LEA is something that is well overdue; a view I would share. I would certainly hope that any new committee – allowing for any ideas Linden Lab may have – would seek to better engage with the broader arts communities across Second Life, and seek to go about its work with greater transparency with meetings and through the keeping of public records.

In the meantime, those wishing to apply to use one of the core regions, which are available for 3-month grants (longer by arrangement) can do so via the LEA Core Sim application page.

Animesh officially released for Second Life

Anmesh Halloween boogie, October 2017, Courtesy of Alexa Linden

On Wednesday, November 14th, Linden Lab announced the official release of Animesh, with the promotion of the Animesh viewer as the de facto release viewer.

Animesh has been in development for about a year, and like Bento, has been a collaborative effort between Linden Lab and Second Life content creators.  Essentially, it allows the avatar skeleton to be applied to any suitable rigged mesh object, and then used to animate the object, much as we see today with mesh avatars. This opens up a whole range of opportunities for content creators and animators to provide things like independently moveable pets / creatures, and animated scenery features.

Alpha flipping: use of multiple mesh models to achieve a sense of movement by rapidly cycling through them via script, revealing and then hiding each one in sequence – in this can giving the illusion the squirrel climbs and swings from the bird feeder

One of the potential advantages with Animesh is that it might help eliminate the need to “alpha flipping” across multiple versions of a mesh creature in order to simulate its movement.

To explain: if you right-click and edit animated mesh creatures in SL, you’ll see that they can appear to have multiple parts, most of which are invisible. When they are active, a script renders then sequentially, causing each of the models to be rendered in turn before hiding it again using an alpha mask.

Like a set of flip book drawings, this gives the illusion of movement: be it a sheep or horse or cow raising and lowering its head to appear as if it is grazing, or a rabbit hopping back and forth over the ground, or simply mimic the movement of legs as an animal wanders along a pre-determined path. As long as the script is cycling the motion is repeated.

The problem with alpha-flipping is that is can be render intensive, impacting viewer performance, so the hope is  – and as well as bringing other benefits – Animesh will, over time, hopefully encourage creators to switch away from alpha flipping methods of animation.

Animesh also includes the ability to attach a single object to an avatar (or two, if you are Premium) which can then behave independently of the avatar. Quite how this will be used remains to be seen – but again, one obvious option is more render-efficient pets, or perhaps an animated item of clothing that simulates being blown by the breeze, and so on. Another potential is with things like avatar tails – while Bento also allows for items like these, the use of an Animesh with its own skeleton could avoid potential conflicts when trying to use two Bento items that use the same set of bones in the avatar, and so conflict with one another.

There are some initial limitations with this release of Animesh. As a couple of quick examples: when it comes to pets, for example, because rigged mesh is used, it’s not possible to simply put a pet on the ground after carrying by using Drop so it can run around – you have to go via Detach and inventory. Also, there is no avatar shape associated with Animesh at present, which may limit its adoption for use with NPCs, as there is no real ability to custom body shape and size (the addition of a body shape to Animesh, and the ability to modify it via the sliders is being considered for a future Animesh project).

Animesh Resources

To help people get started with Animesh, there is already a range of available resources, including:

Rigged mesh can be set to be used as Animesh through the Build / Editor floater

In particular, the user guide and test content offer the best way of getting started with Animesh for those who haven’t tried it thus far.

Again, Animesh isn’t just for content creators: it has been designed such that just about any Rigged mesh can be converted to Animesh directly from the Build / Edit floater. Do be aware, however that simply converting an object will not cause it to start animating – you’ll obviously need suitable animations and a script to run them.

Like any other object utilising animation, this is done by adding the animations and scripts via the Edit > Contents tab for your converted object. If you’re not a scripter / animator, you can still use the Animesh test content and have a play around with things.

Quite where Animesh will go will be known in time – even at the Content Creation User Group meetings some fairly imaginative use-cases were being pondered by some (using Animesh in vehicles for animating wheels, for example). To try to help users find Animesh content, the Lab note they’ve created a new Marketplace category – Animated Objects – but going on a brief parse through what’s there already, this may need some form of curation if it is to be for Animesh – several of the items I notes didn’t appear to be Animesh – so be sure to read descriptions carefully and perhaps check in-world as good start to appear.

As with all things, Animesh can be subject to bug and issues, and Whirly Fizzle has created a JIRA filter for Animesh for easy tracking of known issues. If you do hit upon a bug or issue, do be sure to raise a Jira report and label it for [Animesh].

A razzle of raptors? Animesh used to animate rigged mesh raptors from Linden Lab

Additional Links

 

November SL Town Hall with Oz, Grumpity and Patch – reminder

Just a quick reminder.

The next in the Lab’s in-world Town Hall series, featuring Director of Product, Grumpity Linden, Technical Director Oz Linden, and Senior Director of Product Operations, Patch Linden, will take place on Thursday, November 15th, 2018 at 10:00 SLT (18:00 GMT / 19:00 CET). The event will take place at the Town Hall meeting regions, with the landing point URLs as follows:

Selected questions from the Town Hall meeting forum thread (now closed) will be put to Grumpity, Patch and Oz during the session, and there may be an opportunity to ask questions from the audience, if time permits.

All things being equal, I hope to have a summary of the session up after the event, which will be similar in nature to my summaries of 2018 Town Hall meeting – see here for the September Town Hall with Ebbe, as an example.

Firestorm: fake website and downloads warning

There are always certain risks involved in on-line living. With Second Life, we’ve all likely seen or heard of various scams and attempts to either data-scrape or gain people’s account details through phishing and other means.

Another area of risk is using viewers from untrusted sources, making a careful checking of linking to TPV sites mandatory (e.g. by checking them through the Third Party Viewer Directory page on the SL wiki) – particularly when they appear in note cards or pop-up in group chat sessions, and so on.

I raise this because Firestorm has been the subject of fake accounts posting links to a completely fake Firestorm viewer website.

Group and individual IMs have been circulating from fake “Firestorm” accounts, pointing to a fake Firestorm website & viewer downloads – with the Windows download link infected

The website – note the addresses arrowed above – is a scam site that is particularly nasty, as the Windows download link is infected – see virustotal.com – and so should not be used.

For clarity, Firestorm’s actual web address is: http://www.firestormviewer.org/ – no “pro” or anything else in the URL. Furthermore, outside of their own support and test groups, Firestorm do not spam other groups or individuals with links for downloading their viewer.

Currently, the Firestorm team is trying to get the false site taken down, and Linden Lab are working with them to ban the fake accounts.

However, if you do receive an IM similar to the one shown above, fielding fake website URLs, or see a similar message in a Group IM or notice, please don’t simply dismiss it. Linden Lab have requested those in receipt on such messages / notices should file an Abuse Report.

When filing a report, make sure you take a screen shot showing the message / notice displayed in your viewer – the abuse report screen shot feature will automatically capture open IM windows, etc. Reports can be filed under the Harassment category.

If you need assistance with raising an Abuse Report, please refer to my Abuse Reports tutorial, written with the assistance of Linden Lab’s Governance team.