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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The Secret of Mount Shasta in Sansar

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – click any image for full size

In June, Linden Lab announced another in their series of contests for Sansar experience creators. The Labyrinth Contest challenged entrants to design and build an engaging labyrinth / maze that has at least one challenge those exploring it must solve, whilst making their way from a defined start point to a defined end point.

On offer was a first prize of US $5,000 cash, with a choice of a one year subscription to Maya or Zbrush for second place and third prize of an Oculus Rift headset and hand controllers. Following the close of the competition towards the end of the month, The Secret Of Mount Shasta was judged to be the first prize winner.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – the tunnels await …

This is the second Sansar contest entry by Abramelin Wolfe of SL Abranimations fame to win a prize. In November 2017, he was runner-up in the Halloween themed Sansar’s Scariest competition, producing Paranormal Investigation (which I reviewed here).

Quite a lot has happened in Sansar since then in terms of feature and capabilities, with more scope for content creators to script and present interactive experiences; and while things still might fall short of Second Life, the improvements can still show that Sansar is more than just a place to visit and look at; and The Secret of Mount Shasta proves this in spades.

Set as an adventure mystery, the experience presents a considered use of Sansar capabilities to provide a game-like environment winding its way through the caverns and tunnels of a high mountain and filled with traps. Filled with  challenges and traps, it sets out a single goal for visitors to achieve, as the introduction lays out.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – the way is barred – or is it?

Search for the Lemurian Ascended Masters that live deep inside Mount Shasta. Navigate the caverns, avoid the booby traps and solve the various puzzles. Discover the secret of Mount Shasta!

– From the introduction to The Secret of Mount Shasta.

Visitors commence their adventure at a small tented camp sitting alongside the entrance to the caverns. This is guarded by imposing hooded figures carved from the living rock, oblivious to the wind and snow around them. Between their mysterious figures, light flickers from naked torches within the tunnel entrance, enticing people inside.

The torches are periodically placed along the bare stone walls, providing sufficient illumination to see the way forward – but be sure to keep an eye on either side, as further tunnels do open off the first, and can be easily missed if you’re only focused on what lies ahead. Some of these tunnels are gated, the way forward apparently blocked. Some can be opened – rising like portcullises – by pulling a nearby lever. Others may require other means of opening them (I’m not about to give away all of the secrets here!).

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – symbols will help you on your way – but only in the right order

Opened gates initially provides access to further tunnels – just beware of the booby traps, such as the arrows launched across a passageway at certain intervals. Such traps might be individually place, or come in pairs or groups – so keep your eyes peeled and time your moves accordingly. Should you be struck by an arrow, you will be transported via a chamber back to the experience spawn point at the base camp.

The further into the labyrinth you get, the more complex and engaging things get. Tunnels open out into caverns, again either individually placed or in close-knit groups, some even linked, although the way between them may be initially barred. Puzzles are to be found within these caverns, and you’ll need to look for the in-scene clues to correctly solve one of them. There are even skeleton guards to fight – yes, fight; again look for the clues on the walls / ground for how to do this, and remember, you can pick things up in Sansar and throw them.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – you must be prepared to defend yourself. And to move stairs

All of this makes for an engaging – and actually quite addictive – challenge which combines elements of Tomb Raider with platform games and even a touch of Harry Potter as you work your way through things – complete with a ratcheting up of both frustration at each re-spawn and determination to end to the end of the challenge and find what awaits. For those with a sci-fi leaning, there might even be an echo of the Stargate franchise (ascended Lemurians  / ascended Lanteans?); ideal for those who prefer Daniel Jackson over Laura Croft or Indiana Jones!

There is a marvellous sense of an unfolding story within The Secret of Mount Shasta – and the way in which clues are provided in-game to solve one of the puzzles along the way is adds to this sense of story. Visually impressive with a superb and subtle audioscape to add further depth to the adventure, this is a worthy winner of the Labyrinth Contest and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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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 missing 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. On the flip side, it’s 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, 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.

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Aech’s Basement: a new Sansar RPO experience

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

Thursday, March 29th marked the US opening of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, the film based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name. Few can fail to have heard of either film or book – which features a VR “metaverse” made up of thousands of worlds, called OASIS. To mark the opening of the film, but with much less fanfare, Sansar Studios, the 3D / VR modelling and experience design team at Linden Lab, recently opened Aech’s Garage in Sansar.

Described as being “interpreted from the original ILM design for Ready Player One, from Warner Bros. Pictures, Amblin Entertainment and Village Roadshow Pictures.” Aech’s Basement is the second Ready Player One experience to be presented by Sansar Studios, the first being Aech’s Garage (read here for more).

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

I can’t speak for the movie as I’ve not seen it yet, but in terms of the book, and with one or two liberties taken to ease avatar movement, the experience hits pretty close to home. And like Aech’s Garage before it, there is a wealth of detail and subtle touches packed into it which are – for those with a keen eye and love of sci-fi and films or the 1980s – a treat to find.

Aech had named his chat room the Basement. He’d programmed it to look like a large suburban rec room, circa the late 1980s. Old movie and comic book poster covered the wood-panelled walls. A vintage RCA television stood in the centre of the room. hooked up to a Betamax VCR, a LaserDisc player and several vintage video game consoles. Bookshelves lined the far wall, filled with role-playing game supplements and back issues of Dragon magazine.

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, Chapter 3

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

Unlike the book, where avatars visiting Aech spawn at the top of the stairs leading down to the Basement, visitors to Aech’s Basement in Sansar spawn in the basement itself.  Walls panelled in wood, as per the book, it is literally chock-a-bloc with 80’s references. The RCA TV is there, although it has been moved against a wall, rather than occupying the centre of the room, its place taken instead by a sofa. However, the consoles are there on the floor in front of it – two Segas and what looks like (from a very quick Internet search, I confess to being no expert), a Mattel Intellivision. The 80’s posters are on the wall celebrating films of the era, and albums by popular 80’s musical artists are scattered around.

A little liberty has been taken with the video tapes, as they are VHS rather than Betamax, while against a wall near the spawn point sit racks of audio cassettes. The rest of the space – in suitably 80’s style lighting – is furnished as one would expect a den to be – large, plump sofas, armchairs past their prime, a games table and – against one wall, a bar.

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

The Easter eggs are to be found all over – from the posters , albums and VHS films, through to models from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica, to space invaders climbing down a ceiling support – and more (I’m just not going to spoil the fun of finding them for yourself). I particularly like the election poster for Wil Wheaton (he of Star Trek the Next Generation fame, as well as a respected blogger, narrator of the Ready Player One audiobook and – in the novel – the vice-president of the OASIS User Council).

Connected to Aech’s Garage by a door at one end of the room, the Basement is a lot smaller than that experience, and can great a little crowded with more than half-a-dozen avatars in it; however, it is as visually rich. Sansar’s quirky interactive capabilities do mean things can get thrown around, but hopefully, this will improve as those interactive capabilities are refined.

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

Sponsored by Intel, and licensed by Warner Brothers Entertainment, Aech’s Basement and Aech’s Garage make for an ideal joint visit to the world of Ready Player One, whether or not you’ve seen the film and – in the case of the Basement – especially if you’ve read the book.

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Visiting the Drew Struzan Gallery and Studio in Sansar

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

On Friday, March 23rd, the The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience opened in Sansar. As the name suggests, it is a celebration of the art of celebrated illustrator, Drew Struzan – and it is perhaps one of the most visually superb and compelling experiences yet to surface on the platform, particularly for anyone (like me) with a love of films and all that goes with them (I love both film art and film soundtracks).

Drew Struzan

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience is part of the The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) project, established by Greg Aronowitz with the aim of encouraging 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.

I provided something of a “preview” of the opening, including a (very) brief look at Drew Struzan’s career here – which I hope you’ll read alongside this article.  For this piece, I’m focusing purely on the presentation of Drew Struzan’s work as it appear sin Sansar. But first, some preliminary notes:

The experience is in two parts: a gallery of Drew’s work, and a reproduction of his physical world private studio.  Access is via the gallery experience, which can be reached in one of two ways – via a direct URL, or via the Hollywood Art Museum experience – just walk to the entrance of Sound Stage 6, which advertises the exhibition, and you’ll be transferred to the gallery experience.

Both experiences can be enjoyed in VR mode or Desktop mode. However, if you’re visiting in Desktop mode, I suggest using first person view (toggled via F3) to get the best view of the art.

Also note that some of the pieces displayed in the “cinema” part of the gallery have associated audio recordings of Drew talking about them, indicated by a set of push buttons beside the art. These buttons work in both VR and Desktop mode. Instructions are provided on a board by the entrance to the “cinema”, but in brief:

  • Walk up to a button to trigger the audio track (only audible to you). Once playing, you can move away from the button so others can also trigger the audio. Slowly moving away from a button will stop the audio playback before the end, if needed. VR, users can additionally use their controller’s trigger button to start / stop the audio.
  • Note that if you step up to another button while audio from one is already playing, the current track will stop and be replaced by the audio for the button you are next to.
Name those films; the 20th Century Fox 50th Anniversary art produced by Drew Struzan in 1984, now part of The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

Taking the Tour

The gallery space is divided into a number of distinct areas. The “lobby” area features some of Drew’s fine art, with portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan together with a self-portrait, as well as a more classic piece of art (Autumn) and more. A hallway leads off this, displaying more of his fine art, including a fabulous self-portrait in pencil and a phenomenal study of Albert Einstein, before reaching the “film” element of the exhibition, which starts with some magnificent pieces celebrating George Lucas, 20th Century Fox together with the art used for the cover of Spielberg / Williams collaboration soundtrack album. There’s also a collection of truly amazing portraits of some of Hollywood’s greats, which Drew produced for US postage stamps and for Franklin Mint.

Sinatra (l, for Franklin Mint), and John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda (all produced for US postage stamps), and Cary Grant (r)

Beyond this is the “cinema” exhibition space, and the collection of Drew’s film-related art, and the point where the audio options are available.

This features individual film posters (including the 1977 Star Wars “Circus” poster Drew produced with Charles White III, complete with the story of the poster’s unique look related by Drew), placed along the main corridors.  In the centre of the gallery is a walk-through of “comprehensives” – drawings showing the initial layout and composition of a proposed artwork for the client to approve before going to the final illustration –  Drew has produced over the years. There is also a section featuring a Hellboy poster and a Star Wars poster showing the creative process in stages from initial drawing through to final poster; and a special display dedicated to the Back to the Future trilogy.

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

This entire environment is visually stunning. The set is that of an old-style movie theatre with Deco lighting, red carpets and ornately-panelled ceilings, completed by excellent lighting. There is a richness to it that really give the environment a sense of place; exploring it in first-person genuinely gave me the sensation of being there – no headset required (although I imagine I’ll be totally blown out of my chair when I do get to see this experience in VR). As to the art – it has to be seen to be appreciated; it is just astounding, and the images here do not do it justice.

Beyond the “cinema” gallery is the entrance to Drew’s private studio – just walk up to the door marked Enter Here to be transferred to it.This is again stunning: a complete and accurate reproduction of Drew’s physical world studio. Just how accurate? Well, it has been produced by the Sansar Studios team working in collaboration with Insight Digital, a company specialising in photogrammetry and laser scanning to recreate sites of antiquity in digital format for detailed examination. some of their work has already been imported to Sansar at the Voyage Live: Egypt experience, and you can read about that work here.

Drew’s studio – reached via The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

For Drew’s studio, Insight took over 4,000 photographs of his workspace and laser scanned the objects and items inside it. “They went front, back, side, top, bottom, behind. Everything!” Drew says of the work. The result is – if I might use that word again – stunning.  literally everything from the original studio space is here, beautifully reproduced.

The wealth of detail is extraordinary, and I strongly recommend careful exploration and viewing, simply because there is so much to see (watch out for the drawer with the stash of paints…). While touring, a couple of people did comment that things seemed a little big, but I assume the space was slightly scaled up to reduce issues of avatars colliding with one another when looking around in groups. And when you have (eventually) done, use the door beneath the deer head to return to the gallery.

Drew’s studio – reached via The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

A truly marvellous and visually impression pair of experiences, and kudos to Greg Aronowitz, Insight Digital and the Sansar Studios team under Jason Gholston for bringing it all together, and very special thanks to Drew Struzan for sharing both his art and his personal space with us in this way.

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