Sansar: the art of Silas Merlin

Felsenmeer – Silas Merlin

I’ve been an admirer of the art of Silas Merlin since first coming across his pastel art in Second Life. A Maître Pastelliste of the Société des Pastellistes de France, his painting are remarkable, and I urge anyone who has not seen them in-world to do so. Over the last two years, Silas has also been branching out into 3D art, developing his skills as a sculptor – something I’ve been at times been privileged to witness.

For the last several months Silas has been working in Sansar, creating an experience to showcase his work. Called Felsenmeer, Silas describes it thus:

A sea of rock, peopled by creatures frozen in time. When you encounter the more detailed rocks, observe them from different angles, sometimes they reveal figures that want to be carved in more detail.

Felsenmeer – Silas Merlin

It’s a perfect description for the setting, in which sits a large house and smaller cottage, surrounded by a field of boulders  – genuine felsenmeer, together with larger rock formations, in turn surrounded by hills.  Look closely enough at some of the rocks, and you just might see sculptures waiting to be found: one formation, for example, suggests it might become a dancing couple, or perhaps a grandfather sitting his grandson on his knee…

Other stones and boulders have already had the sculptures within them released. Finely crafted, several sit close to the house. Others, further away, have the look of being cast in bronze – as do the trees, which add a certain alien feel to the landscape.

Felsenmeer – Silas Merlin

The ground floor of the main house is occupied by many of Silas’ circus characters, complete with one of his pastel pieces – a jester, appropriately enough. The house is also the home of a modern sculpture  – and find this, and you’ll find a ramp leading up to the upper floors (you may need to SHIFT-teleport to get onto one floor from the ramp), where more of Silas’ expressive pastels reside, together with some more sculptures; these are not to be missed, so do make sure you explore the house.

The rest of this intriguing landscape should also be explored; the landscape is all boulders and rock formations. Follow the paths outward from the house and you’ll find there are surprises to be found tucked away here and there. So don’t limit your explorations to just the vicinity of the house and cottage.

Felsenmeer – Silas Merlin

Experience URL

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Sansar’s Creator Academy: Hall of Materials launches

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Linden Lab has launched its Creator Academy: Hall of Materials experience. It is intended to help creators explore and better understand the materials capabilities of Sansar, learn about the various shaders and physics materials using interactive kiosks, and how texture values interact and impact one another.

The hall comprises two sections; the first covers media surfaces, stereoscopic media, UV animation materials, emissive materials, standard materials, and metals. Overhead, spheres float as a physics demonstration. The second, rotunda-like section, provides insight into audio materials and materials layering.

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Kiosks provide overviews of specifics aspects of using mateirals, and some of these are are interactive. In the rotunda for example, walk across the different surface types (sand, water, ceramic, glass, carpet, etc) – to trigger the corresponding sound. With other, proximity might trigger a level of interaction.

However, it has to be said that some of the interactive elements appear to be more geared towards those in VR mode – as indicated in the introductory video. Some kiosks, for example, use panels of buttons which are currently largely inaccessible to those in Desktop mode. While this may well change as Desktop mode interactivity improves, it nevertheless limits the effectiveness of Hall of Materials as learning experience right now.

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Also, while I favour tutorials, it has to be said that Sansar’s very nature perhaps limits the effectiveness of experiences like this. Unless you tweak the client or have multiple accounts, you can’t visit the experience and simultaneously try things out directly for yourself in Sansar’s Edit mode, and fix concepts in your head by doing so. As such, I did wonder if the effort in building the experience might not have been better served in producing a series of short videos on the subject matter, perhaps in the manner of Torley’s famous SL TuTORials.

Given these points, Hall of Materials should perhaps be viewed as an experiment in teaching / learning more than anything else, and it’ll be interesting to see where the concept goes and how it develops. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the introductory video, which provides a basic overview of the experience, in its own somewhat “novel” approach.

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Minimalisms in Sansar

Minimalisms – Zafia Vesta

Update, November 14th: when I originally posted this article, I passed a comment about it perhaps benefiting from in introduction. A few days after I posted this article, Zafia IM’d me in Second Life to offer her thanks for the piece (thank you, Zafia! Feedback like that is always appreciated!), in which she indicated she would be adding such an introduction, which she has now done (thank you, Ryan for nudging me on this!). It adds further depth to what was already a superb exhibit, being personal in nature, and I was particularly delighted to learn how Wim Mertens and Michael Nyman influence Zafia with this experience, both (Nyman particularly – hence mentioning him in the article below) having been a part of my own exposure to minimal music. As a result of the new introduction, I’ve revised the last paragraph of this article.  

Minimalism is a form of expression using pared-down design elements. It can be found in the arts, design, architecture and the use of space.

Within the arts, minimalism encompasses to 2D and 3D art, music and even performance arts. It began in post-World War II Western art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s, where it was also known as “literalist art” and “abc art”. It can encompass works in both colour and monochrome.

Minimalisms – Zafia Vesta

Musically, the term “minimal music” was coined in the 1960s by Michael Nyman when  describing a ten-minute piano composition by the Danish composer Henning Christiansen, although the first piece of minimalist music is generally regarded as the Monotone Symphony (1949), by Yves Klein. With architecture and space, minimalism is founded on the principle that “less is more” (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) and focuses on the elegant use of lighting, the connection between two perfect planes and the space left by the removal of three-dimensional shapes.

I mention all of this as a means of introducing Zafia Vesta’s Minimalisms, her Sansar experience which brings together all of these elements in an immersive celebration of minimalism.  The space itself utilises lighting and a contrast between light and dark to great effect, while incorporating the connection between planes of colour along the single, fully definable hallway in the space, which also offers a void in keeping with minimalism, with the gap in the “roof”.

Minimalisms – Zafia Vesta

Within this pace is a series of elemental sculptures and geometric shapes – the very definition of minimalism – some of which are animated through spinning (which itself could be said to be a minimalist form of animation). These are spotlighted across the display space, inviting exploration and study. Surrounding all of this is a piece of minimal music, The Grid by Philip Glass and taking from the visual tone poem, Koyaanisqatsi, to complete the experience.

Minimalisms is an imaginative, expressive means of exploring an art form from within. As such, I hope Zafia will continue to curate the experience and add features and capabilities to it as Sansar grows.

Minimalisms – Zafia Vesta

Experience URL

A judge’s look at Sansar’s Scariest and a Win 10 MR hint

The Diner

As I recently reported, the winners for the two recent Sansar contests – Top Props and the Halloween themed Sansar’s Scariest  – were officially announced on Monday, October 30th.

For the latter competition, in which users were asked to create a spooky / scary experience in the spirit of Halloween (although not necessarily limited to the theme of Halloween), and the final decision on the overall Grand Prize winner and honourable mention were decided upon by journalist and VR consultant Alice Bonasio.

In issuing the official announcement, the Lab included some feedback from Alice on her decisions, and on Wednesday, November 1st, Alice offered an expansion on her thoughts around the entries and on Sansar in a piece written for VR Scout.

The Diner – faces at the window!

Of the grand prize winner, The Diner by C3erb3rus, Alice comments:

Even by Sansar standards, the lighting and textures in this experiences were amazing, incredibly nuanced. From the giant flying saucer spinning away to the MGM lion roaring from the drive-in movie screen in the distance, every element felt well-executed and real. Which is probably why it produced the best—spoiler alert—“jump out of your skin” moment of any of the experiences I tried.

Having spent time exploring the experience, I can only agree. The Diner is fabulously atmospheric, a wonderful throwback to the horror B-moves of the 1950s, complete with spooky diner, things that jump up in the night, flying saucers and more. There’s even a B-movie feature – the British black-and-white 1958 movie, Fiend Without a Face – playing at the drive-in alongside the titular diner. Careful exploration is recommended indoors and outdoors, as there is much to be discovered in the diner, down at Area 51 and even at the drive-in.

Paranormal Investigation

The Honourable Mention for the contest was Paranormal Investigation by Abramelin Wolfe, an experience I visited just after it opened, but have yet to write about. In it visitors take on the role of the paranormal investigator in a haunted house. A more traditional kind of Halloween build, but one that is fun nonetheless. It’s a dim, occasionally hard to explore setting when in Desktop mode, but one that’s worth taking the time to explore, as you might discover that the bumps in the night you might occasionally hear in the attic might not necessarily be caused by things trying to spook you. Commenting on the experience, Alice said:

This felt like something I would have paid for if it was a console game. Carefully crafted visuals, well-timed and well-judged sound effects, this is an experience that has something for everybody, including Ghostbusters fans like myself, who will delight in having the library books floating off the shelves all around them. Definitely not the most original in terms of theme and composition, but absolutely beautiful to look at and a pleasure to explore.

Paranormal Investigation

Alice also lists a number of other experiences she enjoyed – one in particular of which still stands as one of my favourite experiences in Sansar, in terms of both presentation and potential. This is Tyler Scarborough’s Stasis Interrupted – Chapter 1, which I’ve reviewed here. This is really a superb setting for the opening of a story, and Alice nails the description:

It’s like Alien, but with Zombies.” If you’re a fan of either genre (or, like me, preferably both) you will probably like this experience quite a lot. The creators got the slick look and foreboding mood of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece just right, something that can be surprisingly challenging … This is all about building up suspense and atmosphere, and even during my relatively short test-drive it managed to do that.

Stasis Interrupted – Chapter 1

Alice goes on to mention Miner Difficulties by Through The Waterfall (Jasmine and Galen), which I’ve also reviewed, together with Joyride by Alex, and several more experiences were mentioned in the official blog post about the competition.

Alice Bonasio: Sansar’s Scariest special judge

The fact that so many were singled out beyond the grand prize winner and honourable mention underlines a point raised about contests like this:  a single large cash prize doesn’t really reflect the amount of effort put into entries, and might even dissuade people from entering future competitions. The Lab has indicated that they’re aware of this, and are looking to possibly revise the prize pool in future contests.

In commenting more generally on the contest, Alice doesn’t shy away from pointing out that Sansar does have some problem which need to be ironed-out, particularly around the area of processing power (I’d also raise a question on performance; while my PC may no longer be top-of-the-line specs-wise, it is still an i4 system with 16Gb RAM and a GTx 970 4Mb GPU, and there is still at least one experience in Sansar I cannot load).

True, she raises the issue more around the VR aspect of the platform and the current high cost of entry into VR (something not exactly Linden Lab’s fault), but performance issues are there within the platform, and can limit access in Desktop mode – which is important, given the relatively slow take-up of VR, if Linden Lab wishes to reach a broader audience with Sansar until such time as (or even if) VR gains more of a broad-based market footing.

In drawing attention to performance, Alice appears to look to the new Windows 10 Mixed Reality headsets as a possible solution, securing an answer to a question I recently asked at a Sansar Product Meeting, without gaining a definitive answer: would Sansar be supporting these headsets in the future? Alice has more success than I, quoting Bjørn Laurin, the Lab’s VP of Product as saying, “We’ve been experimenting with some of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and do plan to make it possible to use Sansar with them in the future.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether the new headsets increase people’s interest in VR / AR – right now the price differential between the higher-end versions of the headsets and the Oculus Rift isn’t that great, which might limit the appeal of at least some of them. I’m also curious as to how quickly the Lab’s experiments with the new headset might product user-visible support. In the meantime, Alice’s VRScout article makes for interesting reading alongside the Lab’s own competition blog post.