Tag Archives: The Drax Files World Makers

The Drax Files 42: creativity and remembrance in Second Life

Jaimy Hancroft and two of her father's creation: a warnamandal, and on the wall behind her, a mirror painted by Mario

Jaimy Hancroft and two of her father’s creation: a swarmandal, and on the wall behind her, a mirror painted by Mario

Dangarnon, The Spires of Andolys, Hope’s Horizon – for anyone who loves Relay for Life of Second Life, these are the names of places which brought to life the three ems, each of them being mythical, mystical and magical. They are also places designed by sisters Jaimy Hancroft and Eowyn Swords, who together form Death Row Designs (DRD), featured in The Drax Files World Makers #42, released on Friday, December 16th.

For those who don’t attend Fantasy Faire, Jaimy, Eowyn and DRD are perhaps better know through their participation in gacha (or gatcha if you prefer) events, such as The Arcade. Through these, their items have also gained popularity in public and role-play regions. Their broken Ferris wheel, for example, can frequently be found as one travels across the grid looking for places to explore.

Gacha events are loved by some and a total mystery to others. Entire events are devoted to them – The Arcade, mentioned above, being perhaps the most popular / prominent.  However, for those unfamiliar with the The Drax Files World Makers #42 provides a solid introduction during its first half. But this isn’t the heart of the DRD story; that belongs firmly to the second half of the segment, in which Jaimy shares the origins of her creativity with us, which is deeply rooted in the memory of her father, Mario, and his creative influence over her.

“He could fix anything,” Jaimy says of him. “He did woodwork, he built [musical] instruments, he painted landscapes. And he also recreated famous paintings, but in miniature just with only one hair of a brush and a magnifying glass. He was the first one of us, I think, to be in Second Life.”

The Disney-like Spires of Andolys, Fantasy Faire 2015

The Disney-like Spires of Andolys, Fantasy Faire 2015

Jaimy’s own artistic talent revealed itself from an early age through art, but under her mother’s encouragement, directed her talent into cuisine, attending culinary school. As she notes, as a means of artistic expression, it is somewhat akin to other creative endeavours, taking as it does,raw ingredients to create something unique.

But it is Mario’s influence that has had the greatest impact on Jaimy’s and Eowyn’s work in Second Life, and is honoured in many ways through the goods they produce. It is also the reason they have been so deeply involved in Fantasy Faire and RFL of SL – perhaps most memorably in 2014, when Jaimy built Hope’s Horizon, inspired by Tolkien’s great city of Minas Tirith, for that year’s Fantasy Faire.

“He was a major Lord of the Rings fan,” Jaimy noted at the time, “and this was my chance to do something great to make him proud.” Anyone who visited Hope’s Horizon will acknowledge that it was inspirational in its scope, and a fabulous tribute to her father.

The citadel at the top of Hope's Horizon, built by Jaimy for the 2014 Fantasy Faire, and in memory of her late father

The citadel at the top of Hope’s Horizon, built by Jaimy for the 2014 Fantasy Faire, and in memory of her late father

It would perhaps have been nice to catch more of a glimpse of the path  Jaimy took to move from cuisine to Second Life and digital creativity, but this is really a very minor niggle. What we have here is a poignant story, told honestly and from the heart, without any overlay of pathos, told honestly and openly.

Presented in this way, the segment stands as a further tribute to Mario, as well as giving us a glimpse into Jaimy’s own warm nature and the creativity she shares with her sister. As such, it really doesn’t need a lengthy written exposition; it speaks clearly and eloquently for itself and is a fitting piece for the time of year, and with which to see out 2016.

The Drax Files 41: animating Second Life

The vista Animation team: adding action to Second Life since 208 - and now in 360-degree Technicolor!

The Vista Animation team: adding action to Second Life since 208 – and we can see their work in 360-degrees thanks to The Drax Files World Makers

The Drax Files World Makers #41 arrived on Wednesday, October 12th, 2016. At just a shade under four minutes in length, it is an intriguing beast, exploring in-world animations and motion capture through a 360-degree video format.

The latter is suitably underplayed at the start of the video, as Drax introduces it – but the clue comes much sooner when watching on a flat monitor – the 360-degree cursor located up in the top left of the screen, which you can use to steer your way around the video view, or you can left click and drag. Obviously, if you’re using a mobile device, you can tilt and turn the device, allowing the gyro to move the image around, and those with a head mounted display can instantly enjoy in in 360-degree surround.

Motion Capture in the Vista Animation Studios

Motion Capture in the Vista Animation Studios

“I’ve been playing with some of the cheaper systems available,” Drax told me, as we discussed the video, and why he opted to go with the 360-degree format for this segment of World Makers. “Like the Ricoh Theta and Samsung Gear 360, and Mambo Morane has been working in real life with the Go Pro array, so I started thinking in June about how we could do this in SL.”

This turned out to be harder than anticipated. The first attempt involved using an array individual viewers synchronised by a device built by Arduenn Schwarztmann which would enable simultaneous filming through all six viewers, and included additional audio cues to further assist in the post-production stitching process. Unfortunately, this approach revealed that differences in how GPUs process the recording, even with the same windlight and camera defaults in the viewer, could result in recorded clips sufficiently different one to another that stitching them together failed to produce a smooth result.

And translated to Second Life

And translated to Second Life

“Then Mambo Morane came up with the idea of filming in six instance of the viewer running on the same machine, using Open Broadcaster Software to bring them all up together,” Drax continued. “We could then pull them apart in post-production and stitch the individual clips together using 360-editing software, with all of them having the same look and feel. Unfortunately, this may not be something for many machinima makers right now. The software for editing and stitching the video cost US $800.”

The result is a very smooth video, freely intermixing physical world footage shot at Vista Animation’s offices near Barcelona, with footage stages and shot in Second Life which presents an exceptionally immersive and unique view of Second Life, even when seen on the flat screen of a video monitor.

Certainly, the 360-degree aspect is guaranteed to be one which will have people watching the video at least twice, simply because scrolling / looking around in side SL is addictive, and there are some nice little touches to be found – such as little Marianne McCann gamely holding up a boom microphone in some of the in-world footage. This inevitably means it is easy to become wrapped-up in scrolling and looking, without paying attention to what is being said, prompting a second viewing to focus on the main aspect of the audio narrative: animations.

Animations for an important, if often taken-for-granted aspect of Second Life

Animations for an important, if often taken-for-granted aspect of Second Life

Animations – walks, stands, sits, dances, runs, hops, crawls – whatever form they take – are something we’re all familiar with to some degree. An animation override system can often be one of the first purchases made in Second Life (allowing for the worn AOs now supplied with starter avatars and those supplied by the makers of avatars, human or otherwise), and we’re all familiar with the idea of mocap – motion capture – going into their production.

Vista Animations is widely regarded as one of the premier providers of animation packs for overriders, dances, etc., and World Makers #41 offers something of a glimpse into their work, albeit it without going too in-depth with matters of production and workflow (although Drax has previously covered elements of MoCap in Drax Files World Makers #6, so this sits as a good companion piece, and Vista Animations also offer a look at their work for those interested in other aspects of animation creation.

What is offered here is a feel for both the complexity of motion capture and how rapidly the field is changing, as well as a look behind the curtain at a small, successful business which has grown out of Second Life. It terms of the former, the Vista team point out that when they started with their first MoCap suite in 2008, it cost them US $45,000. The system they use today, which I believe was purchased in around 2012/13, set them back US $2,000.

Two of the 12-camera rif vista Animation use in their motion capture process

Two of the 12-camera rif vista Animation use in their motion capture process. Image courtesy of Vista Animations

The MoCap process isn’t just a case of pulling on a suit of sensors and then moving around with the cameras running. Everything has to be calibrated – sensors (50+ for the body and additional elements for the hands), skeleton, props, etc. – to ensure a smooth capture process, which can be time-consuming. Then, once captured, there is the entire editing and post-process work required to produce the finished animation files which can be uploaded to Second Life.

While this latter aspect isn’t really touched upon in the video, what is fascinating to see is how physical world actions translate in-world through the clever use of cross-fading in the segment. This is particularly effective as we see Drax doing a mock interview while being motion captured, then transition to him carrying out an interview in-world.

Continue reading

The Drax Files 40: the eyes of experience in Second Life

Bernhard-2

Bernhard Dörries

Update, January 16th, 2017: Bernhard Dörries passed away in a hospital in Augsburg, Germany, on Sunday, January 15th. Our condolences to his family and friends. Those wishing to personally pass on condolences can do so through Concetta Curtiz in-world. Please see the comment from Draxtor which follows this article. 

“My name is Bernhard Dörries, basically for as long as I have been alive. In Second Life my name is Bernhard McIntyre; I am 88 years old. In Second Life I am, and I feel like, 37.” And thus the focus of the September 2016 segment of The Drax Files World Makers introduces himself in what is one of the most remarkable pieces so far filmed in the series.

His name may not be familiar to most of us, but Bernhard Dörries was instrumental in the establishing the German New Cinema movement following the end of World War 2. Perhaps not as recognised even within cinematic circles due to his focus on television, he nevertheless made 129 films during his career, ranging in scope from experimental meditations on the moral decline and subsequent clash of upper class society in Germany, through documenting the existence of two German states during the Cold War, to pieces examining art history and the influence of colonial powers on middle east painting and sculpture in the 20th century.

What’s more, he is still filming, having turned his attention to machinima and the potential of Second Life – a platform which has become as much his home as the assisted living centre in which he resides in the physical world.

Bernhard McIntyre " “My avatar is [my] co-creator, equal partner in sharing feelings, co-owner of feelings and emotions.”

Bernhard McIntyre ” “My avatar is [my] co-creator, equal partner in sharing feelings, co-owner of feelings and emotions.”

“I discovered Second Life in 2008,” he says. “It not only showed me new worlds, it opened new worlds inside myself! I became a new person!” Bernhard says of his experience of the platform. It is within Second Life that Bernhard lives with his Second Life partner, Alsya, where they share a tropical island home modelled after Stromboli – up to and including the volcano! – and which removes the physical world distance between them.

Throughout his career, Bernhard has looked into the nature of society; starting in Munich at the end of the war, and the near-destruction of his homeland. He has constantly sought to scratch away at the surface veneer of our modern society and look at what lay beneath, and how progress so often involves the burying (and ignoring?) of the past, perhaps leaving issues and situations – and lessons – ignored.

Bernhard’s own situation is perhaps a reflection of this. Elderly, in need of care assistance, confined to a wheel chair, he is of a generation our commercial, consumer-driven society can often see as having little intrinsic value (in the UK, for example, the most frequent television adverts we have for those of 60 or over present their commercial worth in terms of life insurance policies aimed at meeting funeral costs).

The fathers of German New Cinema, post WW2 (l-to-r): Christian Doermer. Dieter Lemmel, Bernhard Dörries, Edgar Reitz, Rob Houwer, Hans Jürgen Pohland, Wolfganf Urchs, Roland Martini, Alexander Kluge and Hilmar Hoffmann, director of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (1954-1970)

The fathers of German New Cinema, post WW2 (l-to-r): Christian Doermer. Dieter Lemmel, Bernhard Dörries, Edgar Reitz, Rob Houwer, Hans Jürgen Pohland, Wolfganf Urchs, Roland Martini, Alexander Kluge and Hilmar Hoffmann, director of the International Short Film Festival, Oberhausen, Germany (1954-1970)

Yet, as Bernhard demonstrates, while his body may be frail, his mind – and heart – are as agile as ever, and through Second Life he can fully enjoy creative expression in building an island home and in putting together an 80-minute machinima film. It is a place where he can also enjoy emotional release and partake of the company of loved ones and friends on equal terms, free from and shadows or outlooks which might otherwise colour interactions with him.

Bernhard himself recognises this, saying, “My avatar is [my] co-creator. Equal partner in sharing feelings, co-owner of feelings and emotions.” While the comment may have come in response to a question about his film, there is little doubt he’s referring to the broader dynamic between himself and his avatar. It’s a sentiment anyone who has invested time and self in their avatar will doubtless find resonating. However, with Bernhard, we should see within it a special value.

As with Fran Swenson, whose story Drax covered exactly three years ago in September 2013, he demonstrates that Second Life is as much about expressing who we are, regardless of age or situation or location as it is about creativity. It offers a genuine mix of potential and opportunity unmatched in any other medium.

So much so, that I find my thoughts sliding off at a tangent. Just how well will the upcoming new platforms – High Fidelity, Sansar, et al, with their onus more on the “real” self, through elements of identity, voice, and so on, manage to replicate the broad freedoms all of us enjoy in Second Life when expressing who we are – or who we prefer to be? It’s potentially an interesting subject on which to cogitate, although one perhaps better served in a separate article.

As it is, this a beautiful piece, fully deserving of the slightly longer running time, providing us with insight into a remarkable man who is still as much a pioneer today with his embracing of Second Life as he was when he and his colleagues set out to redefine German cinema.

The Drax Files 39: of games and freedom in Second Life

Sergio Delacruz. Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres / Sergio Delacruz

Sergio Delacruz. Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres / Sergio Delacruz

There’s an argument about Second Life which is as old as the platform itself: is it or isn’t it a game? The majority of  active Second Life users most likely fall on the side of the line which says it is not a “game”, and I’d be among them for many and varied reasons. However, one thing that Second Life can be, is a platform for a wide range of games.

This is demonstrated in segment #39 of The Drax Files World Makers,  which explores the work of content creator and designer of in-world games, Sergio Delacruz. However, in typical Draxtor style, there’s a hidden depth to this piece which makes it yet another fascinating exploration of the potentials and opportunities which are open to anyone engaging in Second Life.

Sergio runs Delacruz Technologies, where he builds a range of items, such as his familiar Ferris wheel and bumper cars, and where he hosts Susan's Diary

Sergio runs Delacruz Technologies and Delacruz Park, where he builds a range of items, such as his familiar Ferris wheel and bumper cars, and where he hosts Susan’s Diary

When it comes to games, Sergio is the man behind Drone Wars (which I can remember playing back in 2009/10), a first-person shooter pitting players in combat against armed drones whilst attempting to locate and disarm a nuclear device. More recently, he has created Susan’s Diary, an immersive horror / mystery story players have to solve.

Like so many of us, he was drawn to Second Life out of curiosity, and was struck by the huge scope for creativity offered by the platform. “I was like a child with Lego,” he says of his early, sandbox-based days. However, and again like many of us, he quickly realised the potential of the platform for both creative expression and for learning new skills. Starting with a pair of primy sneakers, he progressed through teaching himself to script in LSL and onward into game design.

With the latter, he also recognised what is perhaps one of the more unique aspects in designing games within the platform: if the creator desires, they can be built so that people can play them using the avatar with which they are most comfortable with using, without the need to adopt a specific character and / or look, as is the way with console and computer games.

One of the darker aspects of Susan's Diary, an immersive horror / mystery game

One of the darker aspects of Susan’s Diary, an immersive horror / mystery game

This is actually an important point. Because we can engage in games within Second Life using our avatarian familial, rather than being forced into the identity of a pre-defined character, it is possible to have a far more personal connection with the game – it becomes far more our adventure.

Second life also allows for a more open approach to games design and game play; designers can present games which are not necessarily constrained by a linear narrative, but become more of an exploration and discovery by the players, whether playing individually, or with a group of friends (something which further makes games in SL far more of a genuine social experience than those of other mediums can allow, again due to the limitations imposed by pre-determined characters, etc.).

The concept of “freedom” is perhaps where a good portion of the heart of this piece lies. At its core, Second Life is about giving anyone who uses it personal freedom and in a huge number of ways, be it through the creativity of actually making things, or through using the things other make to create an environment others can appreciate and enjoy, or through which we can find new ways and means to express ourselves through art, or through learning new skills. And of course, there is the freedom it gives us to express our personalities through our avatars and to socialise with others from all of the world in a huge variety of ways.

Sergio designing his physical world home in SL - from the comfort of his physical world home, inset). Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres / Sergio Delacruz

Sergio designing his physical world home in SL – from the comfort of his physical world home, inset). Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres / Sergio Delacruz

Of course, there’s a wide range of opportunities sitting around and between these examples, both within and beyond the platform. Nor are any of them mutually exclusive; most of us embrace two or more through our time in-world.

In Sergio’s case, this freedom has given him the ability to develop skills and interests which have application beyond Second Life. From LSL he’s moved to more recognised programming languages such as JavaScript and C#, which in turn have encouraged him to experiment in other mediums, and also to get a potential leg-up into the world of “consumer VR”. Most recently it has offered him the opportunity to dip a toe into real-world design, reproducing his own home inside Second Life.

“In Second Life you are free,” Sergio says at the end of the piece. “Free without limits.”  And that is perhaps the platform’s greatest gift to each of us.