VR Photosphere: a further Second Life 360 photo HUD

VR Creations 360 Photosphere demonstration; Inara Pey, October 2016,VR Creations 360 Photosphere demonstration  – click image to view in Flickr with 360o scrolling

Following my reviews of the Illiastra Panoramic HUD and the Camera Panoramic system (see links below), I was handed a further HUD system to look at.

The VR Creations 360o Photosphere HUD is a system that does exactly what it says on the packet: produces a set of images (26 in all) suitable for stitching together into a 360o spherical images suitable for uploading to the likes of Facebook, VRchive and Flickr. It falls between the Camera Panoramic and the Illiastra HUD in price, and is quite possibly the easiest of the three to use to take a set of shots.

The system comes in a basic package of the HUD, sufficient notes to get you going, and a link to a video overview.

The HUD

The VR Photosphere HUD comprises ten buttons, as shown below, with the key buttons highlighted.

The VR Creations 360 Photosphere HUD
The VR Creations 360 Photosphere HUD

The HUD cannot be minimised, but can be positioned off to one side or the other of the screen to keep it out-of-the-way.

Of particular note with the HUD is the top set of six buttons, which are related to positioning your camera to capture images. You can effectively position your camera anywhere you like using ALT-zoom or flycamming, and use the Add button to save the camera’s location as the centre of your sphere of photographs.This also allows you to take “seflies” through careful positioning of the camera close to you.

Saved camera positions can then be paged through using the left and right arrow buttons either side of the Release Camera button – so if you return to a location and wish to re-capture a set of images, you can do so easily, while the Delete button will delete the current camera position from the HUD.

Taking Your Shots

This is very much a point-and-shoot HUD system, requiring minimal set-up.  However, prior to taking your shots, there are some things you need to do:

  • 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.

Once you’ve done this:

  • Position your camera at the centre point for your image capture – remember, you will be capturing 26 images in a sphere around this point, so you should have the camera view set to about a couple of metres off the ground.
  • Click Add on the HUD to set the camera position.
  • Press Esc on your keyboard to set your camera under HUD control.
  • Click on Begin Photosphere. Your camera will move to the nadir (lowest point) of the image set (generally pointing at the ground) ready for you to start capturing frames.
  • Press CTRL-~ (tilde), the snapshot shortcut, on your keyboard. You will be prompted for a location where you wish to save your first image. Select the folder and give a file name for the image.
  • Click the right arrow next to Done on the HUD to advance the camera to the next frame. Press CTRL-~ to save this shot automatically to the same location as the first.
  • Continue on round the photo a frame at a time using the right arrow button at the bottom of the HUD, saving each shot in turn via CTRL-~.
  • When you have captured all 26 frames, the camera will once more be pointing to the nadir point (generally the ground). Click Done to return the camera to the start position.
  • If you are satisfied with your frame captures, click Release Camera on the HUD to free the camera back to default control.

Producing your Image

Once you have taken your shots in-world, you need to “stitch” them together to produce your final image. There are several software tools you can use for this. My preferred choice is the Hugin Panorama Stitcher available through Sourceforge.net, as I’ve found it to be fast and efficient.

With Hugin installed and launched, proceed as follows:

  • In the Assistant tab, click on Load Images… Navigate to where your images are locally saved and select all 26 in the set, then click Open.
Loading and aligning your images in Hugin
Loading and aligning your images in Hugin
  • The Camera and Lens Data dialogue box is displayed. Enter 90 in the HFOV field and click OK. You images will load in the editing panel.
  • Once your images are loaded, use the Align button to arrange them. This may take a few minutes, just keep an eye on the processing window that opens.
  • When Align has completed, click on the Move/Drag tab and click Straighten. If your shots are displayed upside down, enter 180 in the Roll text box and click Apply to flick them the right way up.
Straighten and correct inverted image, if required
Straighten and correct an inverted image (if required)
  • Click on the Crop tab in Hugin and adjust the values to ensure your entire images is selected – set Left and Top to 0; Right and Bottom to 9999 – note the latter two will snap to the maximum size of your image.
  • Click on the Assistant tab once more and click Create Panorama. A dialogue box will open:
    • Set the image format to JPG and set the quality to 100%
    • Click OK to run the output process.
  • You’ll be asked to give a file name for the Hugin .PTO batch process file and the rendered image file. Enter a name for both, confirming each in turn.
  • Image processing will start, and could take several minutes.

Once completed, you’ll have an image ready to upload to Facebook, VRchive, Flickr, etc.

Do be aware that Hugin can be sensitive in handling images, particularly those with poor contrast / brightness, or which feature a lot of water, and this can lead to problems during the alignment process or in production of the finished image.

Continue reading “VR Photosphere: a further Second Life 360 photo HUD”

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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”

Lab presents “Tips and Tricks from the Community”

secondlifeA curious blog post appeared on the official blogs on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016.

Entitled [Tips and Tricks from the Community] Video: Lighting Tutorial from Brookston Holiday, it appears in the Tips and Tricks section of the blogs. As the name suggests, it features a video tutorial by Brookston Holiday (aka ProMaterials) in which he provides an introduction to using the viewer’s in-build tools and options for producing lighting effects, including  projectors (which I’ve covered myself). If you’re unfamiliar with using the tools, it’s a handy introduction.

I call this a “curious” post not because of the content – as the author of the post notes, SL users are generally the bast placed when it comes to demonstrating capabilities in the viewer and techniques for achieving a desired result. Rather, I find the post curious because it is the first time anything has been posted to Tips and Tricks in almost four years – the last item having appeared back in June 2012; and even that came with just over a year’s gap between it and the preceding post.

So are we seeing a revival of the Tips and Tricks section of the blog in the form of a  new regular / semi-regular series, or just a one-off post? Right now, your guess is as good as mine. That being the case, I’ll leave you with  Brookston’s tutorial.

 

Cory Edo’s water maps add depth to SL water

Wave effect using the Trompe Loeil "Cresting" normal water map
Wave effect using the Trompe Loeil “Cresting” normal water map

I’m coming to this via a pointer from Honour, which directed me to Strawberry’s blog entry on the subject.

Cory Edo, of Trompe Loeil fame, has released a pack of 10 free water normal maps for use in Second Life. These present a range of different wave textures which make creating your own custom water windlights for use on Linden Water a breeze. The finished results can, as with other windlight settings, be used purely within your own viewer or, for region / estate owners, can be used a default water setting  for their region / estate.

Four presets compared under the same sky settings, clockwork from top left: Linden water default; Trompe Loeil "cresting"; Trompe Loeil "Long Ripple"; Trompe Loeil "Glass" (click for full size image)
Four presets compared under the same sky and water settings, clockwork from top left: Linden water default; Trompe Loeil “cresting”; Trompe Loeil “Long Ripple”; Trompe Loeil “Glass” (click for full size image)

Strawberry has provided a  nice video tutorial on using the maps to create new water presets using the SL viewer, which can also be used alongside most v3 TPVs.  Cory also provides some notes on using the maps with Firestorm, but I thought I’d provide an additional overview on using the maps with that viewer and Phototools here as well.

If you use the Phototools button in Firestorm, click it to open the Phototools floater, then click on the New Water Preset button in the WL tab. This will open the Create a Water Preset floater.

Accessing the
Accessing the Create a New Water Preset floater through the Phototools floater

If you’re not using the Phototools button, go to World > Environment Editor > Water Presets > New Preset …

With the Create a New Water Preset floater open, simply drag and drop one of the Trompe Loeil water maps into the Normal Map box, then enter a name for the preset in the text box at the top of the floater.

Creatting a new water preset using the Trompe Loeil maps is a simple matter of drag-and-drop and applying settings and a name
Creating a new water preset using the Trompe Loeil maps is a simple matter of drag-and-drop and applying settings and a name

If you want, you can then adjust the Fog and Wave sliders and the Reflection tab sliders to produce the effect you desire.

When you’re satisfied with the result, click the Save button to save the preset to your hard drive. This will also close the Create a New Water Preset floater, so repeat all the steps above to create further presets using any of the Trompe Loeil normal maps.

You'll need to restart Firestorm after creating your new water presets in order to see them listed in the WL Water drop-down
You’ll need to restart Firestorm after creating your new water presets in order to see them listed in the WL Water drop-down

The new presets will be immediately available via the Edit a Water Preset floater (Pototools > Edit Water Preset or World > Environment Editor > Water Presets > Edit Preset …).

However, to show them in the WL Water drop-down list in the Phototools WL tab (shown on the right), you will need to re-start Firestorm.

Also, remember that Firestorm also backs-up custom windlights for you (make sure you have the options to do so checked in Preferences > Backup), so make sure you take a fresh back-up of your settings after adding any new windlights. That way you avoid having to recreate them once more after a clean install.

Do please note that these normal maps are intended to work with Second Life windlight; they are not “traditional” water textures and they will not work to create prim-bases water effects for pools, hot tubs and so on.

A great addition to the tool box of any sim designer and / or SL photographer – many thanks to Cory for creating them and making them available.

Related Links

Firestorm video tutorials

firestorm-logoAhead of the upcoming Firestorm release – which will be available Real SoonTM, (sorry, I can’t say when as Jessica would douse me in catnip and set the moggies on me 🙂 ), Jessica has been busy on a new set of video tutorials for users.

Some of the videos are specific to the upcoming release, and one is for those still using Phoenix and who wish to make the switch to Firestorm. This is something which has been covered before in Firestorm tutorials (and something I’ve attempted to cover myself in the past), but as things have moved on somewhat since those days, the new video has been produced.

The Firestorm 4.4.0 video cover features which are both new to the upcoming release, and which are updated in the upcoming release in comparison with earlier releases of the viewer – such as with object de-rendering, as per the video  below.

The current list of updated videos comprises:

All of these are available on the Phoenix Firestorm You Tube channel, and Jessica informs me that more will be added as and when time permits.

Lighting projectors: adding depth to SL

Updated 5th December: My thanks to the venerable Ayamo Nozaki of the Exodus Team for pointing out that projectors will work with shadows enabled and set to NONE. As such, I’ve added a second example to this piece.

One of the things I’ve been most fascinated about with Second Life is the gradual development of shadow rendering. I think the first time I gave them a go was around late 2008. They were primitive them (at least on my PC of the time) and I couldn’t actually do anything with them enabled, not without my entire view stuttering around.

How times have changed.

With Exodus and Firestorm 3.2, I’m fortunate to find that not only can I run shadows and have a Viewer-side fps well into double figures, I’ve also been able to play with the wonderful new toy of lighting projectors. All I can say is, “Wow!”

Rather than burble on about things, here’s an image of a simple projector in action at my house:

“That’s me in the corner / That’s me in the spotlight…”

Brilliant, no?

You do need a fairly meaty set-up to run with shadows and projectors (and a Viewer that supports the latter) – and my Q6600 quad-core with GE9800 GT does hit some pretty high temperatures with shadows enabled…so I’d think twice about enabling the feature in a crowded dance area just for the sake of seeing pretty lights, as I have a feeling that would grind my system to a halt or have pools of molten goo running out of it as things melted… However, projectors are fun to have on when the situation suits.

I’ve also heard it mentioned that ATi cards don’t render shadows as crisply as nVidia; whether this is true or not, I’ve no idea – I mention it simply because I’ve heard several people who run hgih-end ATi cards comment on this being the case.

However, if you have a computer that’s capable of handling all of the demands of shadow rendering, and assuming you’re running a recent V3-based Viewer, here’s how to go about trying projectors for yourself.

A Suitable Texture

For the very best effects, you’ll need a custom texture – in the image above, the spotlight is a layered PNG image of a white, blurred-edge circle on a transparent base layer. However, for the purposes of testing, you can use just about any texture. In the example below I’ve deliberately chosen a high-rez image to give a slightly over-the-top demonstration of the results (remember that 512×512 textures are far more efficiently rendered in SL).

First: Enable Shadows

You need to make sure shadows are enabled on your Viewer before actually setting-up your projector. If you don’t, you won’t have access to the necessary options in the Build menu.

  • Go to PREFERENCES->GRAPHICS
  • Set QUALITY AND SPEED to ULTRA
  • Click on ADVANCED to enable all graphics options (if not already displayed)
  • Make sure BASIC SHADERS, ATMOSPHERIC SHADERS and LIGHTING AND SHADOWS (may still be referred to as DEFERRED RENDERING in some Viewers) are all checked
  • Select SUN/MOON + PROJECTORS from the SHADOWS drop-down
  • You may also want to tweak your HARDWARE options – these may not be vital steps, but they may just boost your computer’s performance a little:
    • Turn off ANISTROPIC FILTERING
    • Turn down / turn off ANTIALIASING
  • Some systems may prefer it if you disable AVATAR IMPOSTERS and AVATAR CLOTH; I found that on older V3-base viewers, I actually get a slightly higher fps with AVATAR CLOTH off when shadows are enabled (around 5 fps), but notice no real change with AVATAR IMPOSTERS disabled than with them on.

Shadows should be enabled as soon as you’ve applied / OK’d these changes. Should you encounter problems, and are running an older V2 / V3-based viewer, you might try Strawberry Singh’s video tutorial on shadow enabling.

Second: Create a Projector

I emphasise here that I’m only talking you through a very simple projector. How far you go with things is up to you.

  • Create a prim. Any prim will do – shape isn’t overly important.
  • Click on the FEATURES tab in the Build menu
    • You may have to click on MORE / v (at the bottom of the EDIT menu) to see the tabs
  • In the Features tab, there is an option called LIGHT (see below, left)
    • Note that this will only be displayed with all the options shown if you have shadows properly enabled.
    • If LIGHT only has one box next to it and three parameters (Intensity, Radius and Falloff), then you do not have shadows properly enabled on your Viewer.
  • Check the LIGHT option. You should immediately see the area around the prim passively illuminated (below, right). Nothing special here, this is normal behaviour.
So? It’s an illuminated prim…

Now comes the clever bits.

  • Click on the second box next to the LIGHT option and click on it to open your texture picker
  • Make sure APPLY NOW is disabled (in case you pick the wrong texture if you haven’t prepared one, to avoid problems undoing the selection)
  • Navigate to the texture you wish to you and click on it to preview it
  • Providing the texture is the one you want to use, check APPLY NOW. The texture is added to the prim as a projected image not as a face texture
…It projects!
  • The texture will be projected by the prim.

All that remains now is to rotate and position the prim and amaze yourself and your shadows-enabled friends. Here’s my finished example, rotated and projected against a temporary screen.

I cast a long shadow…even over Mars! 🙂

Note that you can change the colour tone for a projected texture by clicking the box closest to LIGHT to open your colour picker.

You can also modify the look of the projected image using:

  • Intensity: overall intensity of texture – range 0 to 1
  • Falloff: relative brightness – range 0 (brightest) to 2
  • FOV: size of the projected image – range 0 to 3 (largest projection) – also influenced by the projector prim’s distance from the surface(s) on which the image is being projected
  • Focus: focus of the image (hardness / softness) – range -20 to +20
  • Ambience: contrast of the image – range 0 to 1.

Using a Projector Without Casting Shadows

With thanks to Ayamo Nozaki

As noted in the comments for the article, you can also enable a projector without having shadows active. This should allow you to achieve a higher frame rate for the viewer than you might otherwise experience (when testing on Firestorm 3.2, this technique yielded an average frame rate some 8 fps higher than with shadows enabled).

To try this method, follow the steps to Enable Shadows above, but once you’ve confirmed shadows are running, set the SHADOWS drop-down in PREFERENCES-> GRAPHICS->ADVANCED to NONE.

You will still see lighting effects from any projectors around you – avatars and objects just won’t cast any shadows (see image below).

Projected image sans shadows (words by R. Crap Mariner)

This should allow you to experience any dedicated lighting systems that may be set-up, and could also be used where furniture has its own pre-set shadow textures.

Summing-up

How you use projectors is down to your imagination: using rotation scripts, you can generate “spinning” lights and other effects suitable for discos and so on; you can make the prim transparent, you can reduce it in size, you can incorporate it into other items – the list is endless.

For my part, I combined a projector with a “lamp shade” prim and a little bit of scripting so that the table lamp that forms a part of my 1-prim PrimPossible lounge suite will not only turn itself on at dusk and remain on through the “night”, it’ll also cast a pool of comforting light:

Realistic table lamp

Again, remember this is a Viewer effect – so only those who have shadows enabled on their own system will actually see the results of your labours.

Happy playing!