The Illiastra Panoramic Camera: 360-degree images of Second Life

Illiastra Camera Test; Inara Pey, October 2016, on Flickr A static panoramic view of our home island produced using the Illiastra Panoramic Camera and the Hugin Software.

I received a generous gift from Illiastra Ascendent (NVZN, aka James Reichert in the physical world) over the weekend, who sent me the Illiastra Panoramic Camera (MP link) to try-out in Second Life.

This is a HUD-based system which can be used to produce set of images of an in-world scene which can be stitched together using suitable software to create a static 360-degree view. These can in turn be uploaded to Facebook or websites such as VRchive and YouTube, as scrollable, 360-degree views of a location.

The system comprises two camera HUDs, “basic” and Pro, together with a photosphere for viewing captured images in-world. The difference between the two cameras being that the “basic” model uses 8 images to create a 360-degree panorama, while the Pro version takes a total of 26 (including directly above and below you) to produce either a panoramic view using 24 images, or a spherical view using all 26 images.

Producing your static panoramic image is a 2-step process:

  • Capturing your in-world shots using the camera
  • Stitching them into a panoramic mosaic using a suitable software application.

Once this is done, you can proceed to prepare them for 360-degree viewing on Facebook, VRchive, etc. Illiastra provides comprehensive set of videos on producing your panoramic shots, stitching them together and uploading them to Facebook, which I highly recommend.

For the rest of this article, I’ll take you through producing a panoramic shot and then uploading it to VRchive and converting it to a 360-degree video for You Tube.

Taking the Shots

There are some basic steps to follow when preparing to take shots using the system:

  • Position yourself at the centre of the location you want to capture in a 360-degree image. Be careful of where you select – too close to building or trees, etc., could have them dominating a part of the view.
  • Set your preferred windlight and daytime settings.
  • Make sure you freeze the clouds – you’ll be taking up to 26 images which will need to be stitched together, and moving clouds could make that a bit of a bugger to do. Use Menu > World > Environment Editor >Sky Presets > Edit Presets or PhotoTools > Clouds and check the scroll lock check boxes.
  • Make sure the viewer’s camera is set to the default view  angle, FOV and focal length
  • Hide yourself from view  – used the supplied alpha mask after removing all attachments or use something like a Vanish gesture. Otherwise, the top of your head will be in every shot.
  • Tap ESC on your keyboard to free your camera (and free it from any other influences acting upon it).
"The
Basic Camera HUD: closed (l) and in use (r)

Once you’re set, click the camera HUD your camera will rotate and position itself for the first shot. Use the Snapshot shortcut CTRL-‘ (tilde) to save the image – you’ll be prompted for a file name and location on your computer for the very first short after the HUD is attached.

The Pro version of the camera produces 24 shots using the left / right keys (+ CTRL-' for image capture), the chevrons denoting the progress through upper / lower sets of 8 images apiece. The up and down buttons position the camera for taking sky / ground shots respectively, which can be used to create spherical views
The Pro version of the camera produces 24 shots using the left / right keys (+ CTRL-‘ for image capture), the chevrons denoting the progress through upper / lower sets of 8 images apiece. The up and down buttons position the camera for taking sky / ground shots respectively, which can be used to create spherical views

When you’ve saved the shot – which is effectively the first frame of your panoramic image – click the right arrow on the HUD to advance the camera to the next point (indicated in green on the HUD), and take another snapshot (CTRL-‘). You won’t be prompted for a file name for this and the remaining frames – simply progress on around the HUD, capturing a snapshot at each of the highlighted views in turn.

If you are using the “Basic” camera, you’ll be taking a total of 8 shots – once around the HUD. If you are using the Pro camera, you will be taking 24 shots around you – that’s 3 times around the HUD clicking the right button, giving you 8 horizontal shots, 8 angled upwards, and 8 angled downwards – just follow the prompts on the HUD. When you’ve taken all 24, click the UP arrow on the HUD to capture an overhead view, and the DOWN arrow to capture a shot of the ground under your feet. Again – remember to press CTRL-‘ to save each image.

Note that after the very first instance of asking you to select a file location / name for your shot for image ever captured using it, the HUD will automatically save any subsequent set of shots you capture to the last location on your hard drive you used to save images captured using the snapshot floater

Producing your Panoramic Image via Hugin

Once you have taken your shots, you’ll have either 8 (“basic” camera) or 26 (Pro camera) shots of your location. These now need to be stitched together. GIMP or PhotoShop can be used for this for those proficient in using them, otherwise Illiastra recommends using the Hugin Panorama Stitcher available through Sourceforge.net.  I opted to use this.

With Hugin installed and launched, proceed as follows:

  • In the Assistant tab, click on Load Images…
    • If you have been using the “Basic” camera, select all 8 of your shots
    • If you have been using the Pro camera, selected the first 24 shots  – do not include the final overhead sky shot or ground shot – these can be added later, if required.
  • A dialogue box will appear. Enter a value of 90 in the Horizontal Field of View (HFOV).
  • Click OK to load your images into Hugin – things will initially look a mess – don’t worry!
  • Click on the Align button to initially align your shots – this may take a while to process, depending on your system, the image resolution, etc., and then may end-up upside down. Again, don’t worry!
Loading and aligning your images in Hugin
Loading and aligning your images in Hugin
  • When Align has completed, click on the Move/Drag tab and click Straighten. If your shots are upside down, enter 180 in the Roll text box and click Apply. Your images will further align and flip the right way up.
Straighten and correct inverted image, if required
Straighten and correct inverted image, if required

Continue reading “The Illiastra Panoramic Camera: 360-degree images of Second Life”

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A (Leafy Hollow) Cottage in Second Life

The Domineaux Effect Leafy Hollow Cottage, as seen for our revised garden
The Domineaux Effect Leafy Hollow Cottage, as seen for our revised garden

I recently mentioned that after spending a good few months on-and-off sorting out the island home and getting it just so, I’d started fiddling with it again.

It’s not that either of us was really dissatisfied with anything; it was simply the case that a hunt for a building which might form the basis for making a new house along the lines of Scotney Castle, started a hunt in-world and through the Marketplace, which uncovered a delightful cottage by Domineaux Prospero. It wasn’t precisely what we were looking for, but it – and Propsero’s popular Cottage Dock were enough to get me wanting to tinker and play again; and truth be told, the cottage really is a lovely unit.

The Domineaux Effect Leafy Hollow Cottage
The Domineaux Effect Leafy Hollow Cottage with modified exterior wall texture

The Leafy Hollow Cottage, to give it its full title, is a 94-LI single-piece, materials-enabled mesh build (+ extras) – no rezzer required. It’s perhaps the first dwelling to appeal to me since getting into Alex Bader’s house designs two years ago – which is saying something; it generally takes a team of wild horses and a stout harness to drag me from Alex’s work!  With a 27 x 12m footprint, this is a two room build, the larger one offering the full 12m width, the second being slightly narrower, and suited to use as a bedroom.

Core features are a working fire (with the nice touch of smoke rising from the chimney when the fire is lit), lockable front / back doors, opening / lockable windows, working exterior / interior lights (the latter provided by boards of candles suspended from the roof, complete with colour options), and control options accessible from the light switches. The main room offers room enough for a comfortable lounge and something like a kitchenette for those so inclined, but for me the main attraction of the house is the ceiling. This has beautiful exposed beams with arched bracing, giving the interior of the cottage a classic look and a feeling of age which perfectly contrasts with the plaster-like finish of the interior walls.

The cottage has a beautiful interior, ripe for furnishing and with plenty of wall space for pictures, all set off by the gorgeous ceiling detail
The cottage has a beautiful interior, ripe for furnishing and with plenty of wall space for pictures, all set off by the gorgeous ceiling detail

Being Modify, the cottage is open to a range of opportunities. For example, I’ve swapped-out the exterior wall maps for a set which match other elements on our island and re-tinted the roof tiles. LI can be reduced, if required, by removing the external uPVC style guttering. The extras included comprise planter boxes, semi-circular steps for the front / back doors, rain barrels, and plants for the planters.

The Domineaux Effect Cottage Dock is the first prefab dock facility I’ve really liked (as opposed to using pier building sets). At 54 LI, it provides room for up to three boats, one of which can be under the roof. An additional floor section allows the covered area to be used as a party deck, if preferred. Various accessories – chairs, a beer cooler, dock extensions and two versions of a little boat –  are provided, and the dock itself is provided in two finishes: weathered or “new”. Being Modify it is also open to some degree of personal tweaking.

The Domineaux Effect Cottage Dock provides moorings for up to three boats - if you don't mind jumping over the dock's handrails to get to one of them! Note the flag pole is not a part of the dock
The Domineaux Effect Cottage Dock provides moorings for up to three boats – if you don’t mind jumping over the dock’s handrails to get to one of them! Note the flag pole is not a part of the dock

So what of the rest of the island? I won’t bore you with reams of details. Suffice it to say we took the opportunity to make things look a little more natural. The southern end of the island is perfectly suited to the Cottage dock, and so behind this, I put Alex Bader’s landscaping kits to work, using his Scots Pine, Rocky Trail and Enchanted Wood (minus the trees, which I swapped for his Scots Pines) to offer a more natural feel to the island as things gently slope upwards trough a wooded area in which sit some of the old ruins.

Kris Lehmann’s Botanical forest Ruins Tower –  which really started the whole “house among the ruins” thing for me – now sits at the north end of the island, giving arched access to a new, broad ribbon of beach looking out over totally open water. We’ve also retained the little “formal” garden, built using Alex Bader’s Tiered Garden Wall Set – fast becoming a feature in many public regions, which offers a natural break between the more “natural” end of the island and the house with its lawns and terrace.

Some of the castle ruins are retained, but relocated. Sculptures by CioTToLiNa Xue and Silas Merlin remain features across the island
Some of the castle ruins are retained, but relocated. Sculptures by CioTToLiNa Xue and Silas Merlin remain features across the island

For those looking for a small, comfortable house offering a fair degree of flexibility with the internal space without running to multiple rooms, the Domineaux Effect Leafy Hollow Cottage could be just the ticket. The Cottage Dock is similarly a great addition to land which features water, whether or not you have boats to dock. My only quibbles with them are really, really minor: the Cottage Dock could perhaps benefit from a gap in the handrails on the left side for boarding craft moored there, while the default texture and materials maps on the exterior of the cottage can require flipping in order to make the mortar between the stones look recessed, rather than raised – but this is easily done. Certainly and obviously, neither of these factors prevented an investment in both cottage and dock.

To see the Leafy Hollow Cottage and the Cottage Dock in-world, hop over to The Domineaux Effect at Musing Meadows. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Garden walls in Second Life

Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set
Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set

Alex Bader is perhaps my favourite landscaping content creator in Second Life. His kits cover everything from creating a sandy beach right the way through to building cliffs and peaks, with trails, woodlands, hills, rivers, woodlands and more featuring in the mix. His kits and other items form one of the largest sections of my inventory devoted to building and landscaping, and for the last year, his forest cabin and his beach house have been our preferred choices for our in-world house designs – and I can’t actually see us swapping away from them.

In mid-June, Alex generously sent me his latest creation, the Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set, although it took me until the last week and a bit to actually have the time to really start playing with it. Even so, I can say up front that if you’re looking for the means to create a garden which features eye-catching and beautifully organic walls with sweeping curves, unique shapes, tiered or otherwise, this is simply a must-have set.

Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set
Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set (image: via Alex Bader)

The kit comprises 17 primary parts – straight walls, curved walls, S-shaped walls, sloping walls, butas, “eyes” steps, etc., most of which are mirrored or offered in “tall” or “short” versions, some of which include attached grass slopes, to present a complete set of 28 wall sections and steps. Add to this three matching terrain elements (flat, sloped and irregular), and you have a very comprehensive set with which to create walled elements in a garden or against a hill. Alex even includes three unlinked samples to get you started!

The pieces range between 1 LI (basic steps) through to 4 LI in their default sizes. They are supplied as copy / mod, so resizing is possible – although care is needed, as doing so can significantly increase the other LI on items when enlarged. The wall segments are scripted to provide 4 stone styles:  granite, light stone, dark stone, and grey stone, each of which can include a moss effect as well, giving a total of eight different finishes.

Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set in use at Holly Kai park, together with the Skye Water System and steps from the Stone Stairs kit
Skye Tiered Garden Wall Building Set in use at Holly Kai park, together with the Skye Water System and steps from the Stone Stairs kit (plants and seating, etc., not a part of the wall kit)

The various shapes fit together extremely well for the most part, although there are some slight differences in width in the capstones on various segments.  However, it is in the gentle slopes and sweeping curves in several of the pieces which make this set a treat to use; as I mentioned at the top of this piece, they allow the creation of very organic walls and tiers.

How artistic you might get with the set is down to you and the lie of your land; the two designs I’ve created so far are relatively simple, but the end results are still – if I say so myself – eye-catching. It also works exceptionally well with other kit Alex has produced, particularly those which are materials enabled, such as his Skye Stone Stairs and the Skye Water System.

The kit provides three sample builds (17, 24 and 29 LI respectively) to help with ideas for what might be achieved
The kit provides three sample builds (17, 24 and 29 LI respectively) to help with ideas for what might be achieved

I’ve already seen this kit in use at a couple of events, and I’ve little doubt it is destined to become a staple and distinctive part of many regions across SL. It can be purchased in-world via Alex’s store (which is well worth exploring in its own right) or via the Studio Skye marketplace store. The price, at the time of writing, is L$699.

Pocket Racing in Second Life

"It's a glorious day here at the Inazuma circuit, Ace Resort, with perfect race conditions, a track temperature of 37 degrees, and the drivers ll looking forward to a good race..."
“It’s a glorious day here at the Inazuma circuit, Ace Resort, with perfect race conditions, a track temperature of 37 degrees, and the drivers all looking forward to a good race…”

I’m always on the lookout for fun things to do in Second Life  – hence how I got into sailing, boating and flying. I’ve also poked around at cars and racing, but they’ve never really appealed to the same degree. However, when Annie Brightstar posted an article about trying a Pocket Racing circuit recently, it piqued my curiosity.

The track in question is the [Pocket Racers] Inazuma Circuit, part of the 719 Racing brand created by Hakuyuki719. It is designed to fit into a 1/4 region and comes complete with everything needed for up to 8 people at a time to race one another and / or race against the clock. The cars presented by the track are the little 719 [Pocket Racer] Wing series which can also be purchased separately as a rezzing system.

When I say the cars are little, I'm not kidding. They are, however, veritable pocket rockets
When I say the cars are little, I’m not kidding. They are, however, veritable pocket rockets

Like Annie, I hopped over to the track at Ace Resort, a Japanese region offering a variety of activities at ground level (and possibly elsewhere in the sky – I confess I didn’t explore that much, other than by, um, accident…), with the track located high overhead.

The car rezzer is located at the end of the pit lane, and I would suggest that once you have driven off of it, you touch the car for the configuration menu – these may be pocket-sized vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they have a pocket-sized performance; they can actually be something of a handful for the uninitiated. I found setting the transmission to Auto and re-setting the steering responsiveness to around 5-6 worked best for me, but the best thing is to fiddle with the settings yourself.

On the grid following an installation lap (or six...)
On the grid following an installation lap (or six…)

You can do this by heading out onto the track for an F1-style installation lap, which also allows you to gain some familiarity with the track before racing begins. Then it’s back around to the grid ready to race your lap time will automatically start and be recorded each time you cross the start / finish line.

My early laps were not brilliant, but as I settled down, I did manage to climb up to 4th place on the timings board. However, I seriously doubt my technique would endear me to a Formula 1 team, given it partially relied upon bouncing the car off the Armco barriers at the side of the track.

4th fastest time - just don't ask to see the condition of the car after I achieved it...
4th fastest time – just don’t ask to see the condition of the car after I achieved it…

There are transparent safety walls around the course, although I didn’t find them particularly effective. This probably say more about my racing technique than any fault in the safety system, but it did give me the opportunity to discover the shooting range at ground level – if only by dint of landing in it. Well, it was that or bailing out of the car and practising my skydiving technique instead!

The great benefit of courses like this is they don’t involve the unpredictability of region crossings (719 Racing also produce a region-sized track suitable for “full-sized” racing cars), while the tight fit of this particular course makes it very competitive in these little cars. When driving on your own, the clock becomes a significant adversary, and I’d imagine when racing against friends, a certain hilarity would be forthcoming.

"Well, I was going to take a look at what was on the ground after racing, anyway..."
“Well, I was going to take a look at what was on the ground after racing, anyway…”

Is it enough to convert me to racing cars in-world? Well, no; I’m too addicted to boating and flying. Is it a fun way to spend an hour or so completely distracted from the care and worries of the world, physical or virtual? Absolutely. There are doubtless other Pocket Racer tracks scattered around SL, but if you want to give things a try, Ace Resort is a good place to start. And if you’re looking for a new attraction for your own region, the 719 Inazuma Circuit might be just the ticket!

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