Two quirky stops in Sansar for the holidays

Sansar: The Violin Tree

As it is the holidays and a time for fun and games, I thought I’d blog about two quirky experiences in Sansar which are easy to hop into and enjoy.

The first is the Violin Tree, by Mikki Miles, which offers a fun little trip into the world of music in an abstract kind of way – and one easily missed if not careful. The setting is simple enough: a square, hilly island rising from open waters, a circular lake at its centre. To one side, a down the slope from the spawn point, a wooden jetty points towards a raft floating on the water. A walk out along the jetty will reveal several things: the first is that half of it is a xylophone, which is playing randomly. The second is that a voice is singing over on the raft – but don’t try to walk to it over the water! The singing comes from a megaphone sitting on the raft alongside a wooden frame containing Sandro Botticelli’s Venus from The Birth of Venus (circa 1480-1490), with a granite sculpture sitting on the other side of the frame (if you want to get close use F4 + the movement keys to freecam over the water).

Sansar: The Violin Tree

Atop the island, each flanking a central body of water, sit a tree – the titular violin tree – and the 40,000 year-old bone flute of the experience description. On the lake, a little rubber duck scoots around, attracting attention; walk towards it and as you reach the edge of the lake, the duck vanishes as a gigantic piano rises from the water, the fall board and main lid opening before the piano starts to play Handel’s Water Music – albeit it slightly tinny. Similarly, approach the tree and / or bone flute, and they will also impart a music excerpt, while the brass “piping” rising from the outer slopes of the island are revealed to be the tubing of trumpet, horn or trombone.

But that’s not all. To one side of the island there sits what appears to be the entrance to a mine.  Visitors can enter it and follow the tunnel down into the island, where a little more musical fun is to be had, including a nice tip-of-the-hat to the Rolling Stones.

The Violin Tree isn’t a hugely ambitious experience – but it is one cleverly considered, which makes good use of ambient sounds and trigger volumes to offer an eclectic little musical / art / historical  visit.

Sansar: The Violin Tree

Back in September I visited the Reverse Perspective Art gallery by JackTheRipper, which offers a fascinating tour into the world of reverspective art, as conceived by Patrick Hughes (see here for more).  This is actually one of two art / optical illusion focused experiences created by JackTheRipper, and I for my second little recommendation, I offer the second: his Optical Illusions Arena.

Exceedingly simple in presentation – to the point where it might initially seem to be just a random space where someone has been playing – the Optical Illusions Arena again has more to it than may at first appear to be the case. As the name suggests, it is a space containing images and items designed to trick the eye through the use of set observation points, forced perspective and so on. What’s more, it works in either VR or Desktop mode.

Sansar: Optical Illusions Arena – from one vantages point, an odd painting on the floor (l); from another, a ladder against a wall (r)

Scattered around the single-room arena are a number of elements, some in 3D – such as what at first appears to be a collection of sticks hanging in the air – through to seemingly random paintings on the floor. Also appearing on the floor are a series of red dots with arrows indicating a direction in which to look. When standing on one of these and looking in the direction indicated either in VR mode or first-person (F3) view in Desktop mode, will reveal the secret of one of these random collections or paintings. Thus, the group of coloured sticks becomes as set of painted wooden chairs, the odd splodge of white-and-grey on the ground becomes an opening in the floor, and so on.

If visiting with a couple of friends, the reproduction of an Ames room can offer the most interesting effect. When viewed from the observation point outside of the room, two avatars entering it through the doors on either side will appear to be very differently sized, one to the other, and interesting effects – from the observer’s perspective – can then be had as they move around the room.

Sansar: Optical illusions Arena – the Ames room will make two avatars appear to be different sizes when they are apparently the same distance from the observer (note: the disjointed element of the image is due to my attempt to demonstrate the effect with one avatar and two photos, not a reflection of the build)

Neither the Violin Tree nor Optical Illusions Arena are going to set the world on fire in terms of being major attractions – but that’s not the intend of either. They’re about having a little bit of fun while experimenting in 3D and with Sansar’s tools. As such, if you find yourself with ten or fifteen minutes on your hands, why pay them both a visit?

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The art of Jay Salton in Sansar

Sansar: Jay Salton Art Gallery

Jay Salton is an Australian digital artist with a remarkable eye for creating stunning images which encompass fantasy, surreal and abstract elements and which are rich in colour and depth. He’s long held a desire to see his art evolve into a virtual space which people can explore and experience with their own senses. As Renegade Rabbit, he has taken a step along the road towards this evolution within Sansar, where he presents the Jay Salton Art Gallery.

Set within a walled meadow, the gallery building is fronted by a small garden with a lean towards Japanese influences. The spawn point is at the end of a footpath that leads beneath a Torii gate and over a water feature from which rise two small islands, each topped by a tree – one of which has something of a Bonsai-like topiary around it. A young lady sits on a rock before the water feature, while Jay’s love of the surreal is catered for by the presence of two gigantic mushrooms flanking the gallery building in the meadow.

Sansar: Jay Salton Art Gallery

The gallery, wrapped in the greenery of young birch-like trees, is of modern design, with clean lines with the interior finished in soft tones – an ideal backdrop for Jay’s stunning art. At the time of my visit, fourteen pieces of Jay’s work were on display, eight in individual alcoves or mounted on their own on walls, the remaining four grouped together along the rearmost of the gallery’s walls.

These are all visually stunning pieces, presenting marvellous scenes that range from might Saturn (at least I assume it is Saturn) rising over one of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes, to images of fabulous islands one can easily picture in the South Seas, to studies of fantasy settings and images hinting at mysticism and magic. All are fabulously evocative, carrying rich narratives that speak to us as we look at them – and which perhaps reveal something of the artist himself, and his love of the digital medium.

Sansar: Jay Salton Art Gallery

“My artistic pursuit started at a young age when I dreamed of creating worlds and realities of my own,” Jay notes, before going on to reveal his life took a darker road. Drugs, a diagnosis of schizophrenia at 18, and a decent into hopelessness from which he escaped through glass blowing after his uncle stepped in and gave him a job at his glass studio. And thus his delight in creativity and art was renewed.

He goes on to note, “When I discovered digital art I was given the tools to turn my childhood dreams into a reality.” With a gift for working with Photoshop, 3Ds Max and Bryce, Jay now offers his worlds and his imagination for all of us to enjoy – and having visited his work in Sansar, I’m looking forward to see how else he might use the platform where he might further realise his dream of evolving his art as a virtual space.

Sansar: Jay Salton Art Gallery

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Visiting the Hollywood Art Museum in Sansar

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum

The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) opened in Sansar on Saturday, December 9th, 2017. A joint endeavour between Sansar Studios and renowned director, designer, writer, producer, and practical effects professional, Greg Aronowitz. Mr. Aronowitz – whose credits such as Jurassic Park: Lost World, X-Files, Saving Private Ryan, Contact, Terminator 2, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – is an avid collector who has amassed an incredible collection of Hollywood production art, from storyboards to costume sketches, concept drawings, models, and more.

Greg Aronowitz

The aim is to provide an environment where digital reproductions of items from Mr. Aronowitz’s collection – spanning a period from Citizen Kane to Transformers: The last Knight offer visitors a unique and intimate view of the creative processes involved in some of the world’s most beloved films. Through this, HWAM hopes 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.

For this inaugural exhibition is featuring a special exhibition of production pieces from the Star Wars franchise films – which comes ahead of the US opening of the latest film in the series Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Unfortunately, while I had a ticket for the event – the timing: 03:00 onwards on the morning of Sunday, December 10th, UK time, meant I was unable to attend. So instead, I hopped in as soon as time allowed.

Anyone who has been able to visit Paramount Studios, just off of Melrose Avenue in los Angeles might find the spawn point for the experience to be somewhat familiar. Directly behind it is an arched gateway, echoing the iconic entrance to Paramount, with some of the buildings also echoing some of the architectural styling of building within Paramount’s grounds.

Facing the spawn point are two massive soundstages (which also carry a similarity to those of the Warner Brothers studios). These provide the first clue on how exhibitions at HWAM are to be handled: the entrance to each is in fact a teleport point to an exhibition. Right now, only Stage 5 is accessible, a huge poster on the wall announcing it as the Star Wars exhibition. However, Stage 6, just across the way will provide access to an exhibition of Drew Struzan’s magnificent art.

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum

Step through the door to stage 5, however, and you enter the Star Wars soundstage. This offers a mock-up of an interior, complete with plain outer wooden walls, scaffold supports and a pair a green screens. A ramp runs up into the set, resembling the boarding ramp of a space vessel, the green screens either side suggesting CGI of the underside of the ship would be added post-production.

Aboard the ship visitors pass through a series of spaces featuring artwork, production sketches and reproductions of props from the film; there are even reproductions of casts used to make merchandise and models of that merchandise.

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum – “Use the Force, Luke … Let go!”

The spaces are organised into themes. The Beginning: Spaceships guides visitors through the design of various Star Wars craft, with a notable focus on the veritable X-Wing fighter (above). Races and their modes of dress, etc., comes next, before a broader look at the worlds of Stars are examined and then, finally, a peek into the world of merchandise.

The work of many of the behind-the-scenes bigger hitters for production design are featured in the exhibition, including Joe Johnston, the late, great Ralph McQuarrie, Phil Tippett, and Colin Cantwell – the man most closely associated with the X-Wing and the Death Star designs.

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum

Wall panels also provide text information, and collision volumes before wall and free-standing displays will trigger audio explanations of images and models  (VR users can press the audio buttons alongside display sections). This means that HWAM works for both VR and Desktop users, providing information equally to both – kudos to the Sansar Studios team for this!

There is, however, a slight bug: some of the models can be picked up and dropped  – this is particularly prevalent in Desktop mode, where an accidental left-click can see you wearing an X-Wing or Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar’s head. This can result in some of the models being scattered on the floor, and is an  a general issue in Sansar which will hopefully be addressed to prevent “non-movable” objects getting accidentally moved.

Fortunately, each time the experience spins-down when no-one is using it, things get replaced on the next spin-up (the reset buttons on the various stands do not appear to work). Note, as well, that the Exit door to one side of the last exhibition space will drop you back into the Star Wars spawn point, on the sound stage.

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum

This is a superb exhibition, and it is clear that a huge amount of thought has been put into it. The artwork has been beautifully reproduced and the models are exquisite – particularly those for the merchandise spin-off section (above), some of which are small when compared to an avatar, but still wonderfully produced – just take a look at the Cantina Bar scene or the model and cast for Ben Kenobi.

With the Drew Struzan exhibit “coming soon” to sound stage 6, I’m looking forward to repeat visits to the Hollywood Art Museum and seeing what other gems Greg Aronowitz and the Sansar Studios team offer us! And if you do like Star Wars, keep an eye on the Sansar blog and the Atlas Events calendar (when visible) for more activities in the week commencing Monday, December 11th, 2017.

Sansar: Hollywood Art Museum – the Cantina Bar model reproduction, with me alongside to give an indication of scale

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Anu’s mystery in Sansar

Anu

I first became aware of Anu’s existence in Sansar courtesy of a Product Meeting which took place there. Built by AnuAmun (aka (AnuAmun Alchemi in Second Life), it is an intriguing build, bringing together a curious mix of ancient and future, in what is simply described as “a happy place, filled with smiling faces”.

The first thing that tends to strike visitors on arrival is the lighting. Set at what appears to be sunset, the sky a burnished orange, the lighting is one of the major features of the experience – as becomes clear as you explore. The spawn point seems to be the corner of a park, and gives the first indications of the juxtaposition between old and possibly futuristic: the ground is partial covered with strange hexagonal elements, themselves covered in part by soil; odd metal structures and panels sit with ruined stone walls and bare rock faces.

Anu

Facing the spawn point is a set of aged stone step and footpath, guarded by plant-bearing statues and lit by tall (electric? gas?) lamps. These point the way to a small greensward, again mixing futuristic metal stairs and free-standing hexagons with more traditional park benches. More stone steps set into the slope lead the way up to a paved plateau where sits what might be an old temple, the stonework weathered and partially exposed beneath what might once have been pristine white daub, but above which rises a new-look tiled roof.

Alongside this temple is a small, more modern-looking building, the walls neatly squared and at least partially covered in a painted stucco finish and the windows neatly framed in wood.  Empty inside, save for s set of stairs, this smaller building has both a balcony and rooftop terrace for looking out over the scene. The temple is more impressive: the wide, tall windows with their intricate stone arches suggest windows from a Norman cathedral, and allow the light of the lowering sun to stream through in streams of God rays, illuminating the temple’s interior and the cobbled area before it.

Anu

While seemingly natural from above, the plateau on which these buildings sit overlooks a lower area, paved by a mix of the hexagonal elements and stone, and where the sides of the “plateau” reveal they are the walls of an industrial-looking structure built back into the hill. Thus the question is raised: which came first: the industrial-like structure with its walls partially scrawled with graffiti, or the temple above it?

The area before this (non-accessible) structure can be reached via a slightly circuitous route from the spawn point – just wall out onto the grass to the right of the park area where the table and chairs can be seen, and follow the route under the stone arch a short distance from them, and you’ll find the way. This route also provides access to an old stone stairway climbing another hill, where sits a large platform facing the temple across the shallow valley between the two – although (at the time of writing) there’s no means to reach the top of the platform.

Anu

Walk to the paved area before the more industrial elements beneath the temple site, and you’ll find a bridge spanning the steam flowing through the setting, and which provides access to a long tunnel burrowing under the platform-topped hill. There’s also a lighthouse-like tower rising from a corner of this paved area, a further set of step apparently providing access to it – although for some reason attempts to access it bounce you back down the steps.

All-in-all, Anu is a mystical, mysterious setting. You can’t help but feel there is a story waiting to be told here – a story yet to reveal itself. I’ve no idea if the experience is still a work-in-progress, but parts of it had that kind of feel about it notably around the structure on which the temple sits, the tunnel through the hill across the valley, and the area around the platform above it. If it is a WIP, then further visits may well be in order to see how it develops, and whether that story starts to unfold.

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A Paranormal Investigation in Sansar

Paranormal Investigation

Paranormal Investigation is an experience by Abramelin Wolfe – of SL Abranimations fame – built specifically for the Sansar’s Scariest competition, which concluded in October. It was judged runner-up up in that competition – and deservedly so.

Given it was built for Halloween, this is – in lighting terms – a dark experience in which visitors are invited to join ghost hunters exploring a haunted house. As one might expect from such a place, the main lights are out – presumably to help spot spectres. However, lanterns have been placed out along floors and hallways to help illuminate the way, although it can seem a little dark for those in desktop mode.

Paranormal Investigation

A visit starts in the lounge of the house, where the ghost catchers have obviously set-up a base of operations, a case of equipment on the floor, and a table against one wall where a record of their work is being kept. This is worth getting a look at, as it includes a floor plan of the house (try first-person (F3) if in desktop or, if you’re handy with the movement keys and the mouse, freecam (F4) over to this and zoom in – use the – and + to reduce / increase the zoom speed).  Easy to fix the in mind, the plan helps with explorations as you move on through the house.

This is perhaps the quietest room in the house, and offers a doorway through to a study where the first hints of paranormal happenings are going on – books float through the air, a Ouija board is being kept busy by something. The books are worth watching; they don’t randomly fly around, rather, they are carefully removed from their place in the bookshelves, float around and are then returned to their resting place, as if removed and replaced with deliberate intent.

Paranormal Investigation

At the back of the house and across the hall from the lounge are the kitchen and dining room respectively, where more signs of odd goings-on can be found, as can the first indication of a ghostly presence. More apparitions can be found upstairs – including a skeleton seemingly determined to keep in trim. However, the biggest delight in this experience is to be found up in the attic, where the Thing That Goes Bump In The Night clearly has an interest other than haunting!

What makes this experience a delight is the attention to detail. There are various nods to paranormal investigations – the use of the term “ghost catchers” puts one in mind of the Ghost Hunters TV series; in the bedroom there’s both a jumping bed and a revolving head a-la The Exorcist, while elsewhere bodies float or appear as you explore. Again, if you are handy with freecamming in Desktop Mode, you might want to zoom into the bookcases in the lounge and study and check the titles of the book spines, such is the care poured into this design.

Paranormal Investigation

With a little interaction possible (chairs can be moved around), a good use of trigger volumes to generate things like the appearance of the floating body and localised sounds, Paranormal Investigation makes for a fun visit for those still looking for a bit of a spooky experience.

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Nature’s beauty in Sansar

Skye Naturae Virtualis

Alex Bader is one of the foremost creators of landscape elements in Second Life – trees, plants, land forms, textures, building kits, and so on, for temperate and tropical settings (he also produces a range of castles and buildings).

He’s also been working in Sansar as a part of the overall Creator programmed (Closed and Beta), and a visit to his experience there was added to my list of places to visit after Cube Republic (another creator of excellent plants and landscaping items in Second Life) prodded me about it recently.

Skye Naturae Virtualis

Unsurprisingly, Alex’s experience – called Skye Naturae Virtualis – is focused on nature: plants, trees, rivers, trails – which have been the hallmark of his work in Second Life. What is marvellous about it is the depth of realism Alex has achieved within it. So much so, that I can honestly say it is perhaps the first virtual environment I’ve seen that has made me regret not having ready access to a VR headset, just so I could experience visual immersion for the sheer pleasure of the setting, rather than out of any technical curiosity. It’s a place that quite honestly makes you want to be there.

You arrive on a woodland trail, rocks and cliffs visible through the trees, the sounds of birds and of flowing water. Ahead, the trail leads between tree trunks, fork to the left and right. Some paths are only short, others lead onwards, splitting again, crossing a bridge, offering a way to grassy slopes.

Skye Naturae Virtualis

This is very much a work-in-progress, with Alex noting that he plans to add to the setting over time as he creates more plants, trees and other elements for Sansar. This can be evidenced by one of the paths winding its way into a rocky cleft, the way only to be blocked by boulders, the path beyond them petering out in a space that looks like it is waiting to have detail added.

Alex says his hope is to, “Create a natural virtual space, just as exciting and captivating as the real (no harm in dreaming the impossible!).” On the strength of what is already available within the experience, I’d say he is achieving the impossible. Skye Naturae Virtualis is one of the most natural-looking environments that can be enjoyed in a virtual space, almost perfectly bringing together setting, sky, sunlight and sounds into a whole. Beautiful in Desktop mode, I can well imagine that in VR mode it could leave you feeling you’re almost anywhere in the temperate world, be it one of the national parks of the United States, the forests of Canada, the lowland Alps of Europe, the woodlands of Germany or anywhere else you care to think of.

Skye Naturae Virtualis

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