Casting Shadows

These past few months have brought about a rather exciting surge of announcements and renewed energy around the OpenSIM project, the open source virtual world platform. Though it is still alpha level code, the future potential is obvious, especially for those of us anxiously awaiting the ability to import 3D models created, textured and rendered in external applications like 3D studio, Blender, etc. This ability brings with it the promise of several game-changing opportunities, not the least of which is establishing a dynamic link between Building Information Models (BIM) and virtual environments.

Some of the most visible and promising new features cooperating with OpenSIM are coming from a Finnish group called realxtend. The actual look and feel of OpenSIM is very similar to the Second Life environment, but the realxtend client/server combo includes several enticing new items. For one thing, the File menu now contains an ‘Import 3D model’ option – and it works!  Also, under the prim-editing menu, you’ll find the ‘cast shadows’ option. Yeah, seriously… ‘cast shadows’… can you imagine?

What’s more, even a technical newbie such as myself can download their server code, and open your very own sim running on your own home computer. Better still, you can invite others into your sim to see what you’ve been up to. If you want to go beyond basic exploration, you can host the environment on a more powerful server for less lag and a smoother experience. Visitors to your personal sim can even teleport to and from the Second Life grid, and to other OpenSIM grids as well.

Within just a few hours, I had my own little world running on my computer. Shortly thereafter, I had imported my first 3D models created in 3DStudio. I suddenly had that same sense of urgency and excitement I experienced when I first started working in Second Life. My imagination ran wild!

You might think this experience would lead me away form Second Life itself, but I actually feel quite the opposite. I’ve never felt so confident and comfortable with the time and energy I’ve spent learning and promoting Second Life. It isn’t just OpenSIM either, but none of the new emerging platforms I’ve tried so far show anywhere near the same promise, in my humble opinion, as the combination of Second Life and OpenSIM.

Speaking purely in terms of professional/business applications, or as a platform for architectural practice and collaboration, I’m not convinced that Linden Lab shares the same vectors of interest as the more ‘platformist’ professionals who often think of it as a tool instead of a place, nor should they. The community, and the economy are vital, yet incredibly fragile components of Second Life – a combination that doesn’t lend itself well to liberal new-feature testing. Just like Philip Rosedale emphasized at SLCC last year, Linden Lab can only operate like a ‘lab’ for so long before they have to pull back a bit on experimentation and turn more attention to the ongoing challenges of performance and stability.

But when you combine the vital core elements of community and commerce with the features possible in OpenSIM-based grids, it seems a win-win combination. Despite the never-ending flow of criticism and complaints, I think Linden Lab is doing an outstanding job with Second Life, and I think they’ll be very hard to catch. But I’m excited and glad that the more specialized interests can now have their freedom, their privacy, their security, and any new feature they have the wherewithal to invent. I think Giff Constable said it best, “if something needs to be fixed, you can roll up your sleeves and fix it rather than crossing your fingers and waiting for someone else.”

Cory Ondrejka suggested in a great post today that “Attempts to strongly separate “play” and “work” virtual worlds will stunt the growth of both. Communities that play together work together better. And vice versa.” I think that statement reinforces the notion that the combined effort of SL and specialized OpenSIM places is a healthy mix. I might “work” in my Crescendo Design OpenSIM island, meeting with clients and bask in the greatness of prims that can ‘cast shadows,’ but it will surely get lonely in there. I’d be constantly checking my mini-map for green dots, and missing out on all the great stuff Second Life has to offer as a place, and not just a tool. When its time for a break, I can teleport back to SL, and enjoy the best of both worlds.

The combination of features I think are requisite for a virtual world explosion in professional practice are a tricky, yet inseparable kit of parts. For this reason, I don’t have a lot of faith in the other platforms aimed at surpassing Second Life. Just importing 3D models, or better graphics alone are nothing without a rich and diverse community.

Even if you include model-imports and community, what about object permissions? For 3D collaboration to work, you need a fairly robust permissions strategy, and a lot of the new platforms currently overlook this feature completely. I think most of us completely underestimate the genius and power of the prim system and in-world building tools. In fact, by the time you carefully prepare a 3D model with enough detail to look passable up-close in a virtual environment, you end up spending a comparable amount of time on it as you would if you had built it with prims in the first place. Furthermore, once you import it – its essentially frozen, since you can’t modify any part of it without re-rendering it and re-importing it. It would be a disaster for virtual collaboration if we lost that ability.

The community is equally critical. Even if, for example, Autodesk were to introduce avatars into Revit, they couldn’t possibly deliver as diverse of a community of non-architects. If you aren’t convinced that a public, global and diverse community is important in the future of architectural practice, keep an eye on Studio Wikitecture. That’s just the beginning.

I could be wrong, but when I add it all up, I still haven’t seen another emerging platform that includes both in-world building tools (with permissions system) as well as 3D importing, alongside an incredibly robust community and economy. Even if there were a potential competitor, they are nowhere near as far along as Second Life at solving the plethora of challenges and nuances of successfully running a virtual world (which happens to be yet another area I think many of us totally misunderstand and underestimate). By the time a competitor catches up with where SL is now, SL will be that much farther ahead.

In conclusion, I’m confident that Second Life is still a very safe and smart investment of time and money. I’ll admit to knowing very little about the back-end underlying this technology, which is why this post could be all full of baloney. But from what I can tell, the combined trajectories of Second Life and OpenSIM are a winning combination, and hold the underpinnings of what I think will be the next major technological evolution in the design and creation of the real-life built-environment.

Keep an eye on Ugotrade for further reviews of OpenSIM (including this post), and be sure to check out realxtend’s site for a description of their upcoming event in Second Life where you can learn more about the current technology, and their plans for the future.

Win a Free Pass to Autodesk University 2008
November 18, 2007, 4:57 pm
Filed under: autodesk

Head over to Autodesk Island (slurl), follow the red carpet to the end and drop a notecard with your avatar name into the last kiosk. You can also learn more about AU and find out how to meet other Second Lifers at this year’s AU. Good Luck! [update: You must be in the Autodesk SL group to submit the notecard, since it is shared with group]

Exporting Entire Autodesk Maya (and 3DS?) Scenes into Second Life
July 16, 2007, 1:52 am
Filed under: autodesk, maya, sculpted prims, second life

“. . . AND it will generate a primscript file, so that all these pieces and textures come together automatically. use it to export the entire scene.”

So, the natural question is, can we eventually use something like this to slice up an architectural model into 10m x 10m sculpted prim (sculpty) components and import it into SL – baked textures (shade and shadow) and all?

Read the whole story HERE and HERE on Qarl’s blog.

I’ve been trying to roll up my sleeves and dig into this. But, where to start? Should I learn Maya? Or, should I wait for 3rd party software to emerge, like SculptyPaint or AC3D?

Drivers of Change Post-Event Summary

Chris Luebkeman’s presentation on Autodesk Island was quite a unique experience! During event preparations, Chris described an idea for creating a more engaging presentation than the formal theater-style build where the audience experiences the event in a passive role. Instead, we opted for a more dynamic installation where attendees were encouraged to move around the build as Chris described each of the 5 Drivers of Change categories.

Chris also wondered if the architecture of the installation itself could reflect a metaphor of the dichotomy between natural or organic systems, juxtaposed against a more rigid, or linear element. As a result, a series of linear or orthogonal kiosk elements are nestled within a hull made of leaf-textures that open when an avatar approaches, and closes when the avatar leaves. This kind of ‘reflexive’ or organic architecture is a concept I’ve been looking forward to exploring, and this installation provided the perfect opportunity to test it out. While this application is fairly subtle, I think the idea of reflexive architecture has tremendous potential for virtual architecture… more on that soon! =)

The event started with Chris (avatar Leubke Mannonen) and Autodesk moderator RevitQueen Oh sitting on top of a virtual replica of the Drivers of Change box that typically serves as a give-away during real-life presentations. In this case, the box contained a HUD, created by Kiwini Oe of Clear Ink, that enables visitors to read more about each category.

As Chris described each category, he moved from kiosk to kiosk, sometimes sitting down or standing on top of the kiosk as he spoke. This kind of dynamic movement throughout the presentation made it far more engaging and interactive than the typical hierarchy of audience and presenter. I think Chris did a fantastic job, and it was a real pleasure to have been able to work with him on this event, and hopefully many more in the future!

Event Reminder: Chris Luebkeman

June 14, 10AM PST Chris Luebkeman : Future Challenges: Global Creative Contexts

This is one not to miss! Chris definitely ‘gets’ Second Life. While working with him to prepare this event, his enthusiasm and vision for the potential of virtual worlds was immediately evident. His presentation is sure to engage and inspire!

Event description: Population shifts, increasing scarcity, and the wanton consumption of arable land and natural (renewable and nonrenewable) resources amount to what could prove to be a significant global dilemma – a dilemma of disastrous proportion. Yet trends in design and an ever-increasing focus on conservation and environmental issues suggest that we are headed for a collective change. This program considers the impact of global drivers of change on sustainable creative contexts, explores potential implications, and provides attendees with examples of design work that is already responding to the challenges.

Attend this event on Autodesk Island HERE (SLurl).

Autodesk Presentation Transcript

Thanks again to everyone who joined in the presentation and discussion this morning on Autodesk Island. You can find the transcript HERE.

May 29th, 10AM: Second Life and Architectural Practice
May 24, 2007, 10:59 pm
Filed under: autodesk, jon brouchoud, rl architecture

May 29, 10AM PST- Keystone Brouchard: Using Second Life as part of your Architectural Practice
Keystone Bouchard will be doing a demonstration showing several ways in which professionals can use Second Life as a tool to support their practice. The strategies demonstrated will range from the most basic low-cost installations to more comprehensive long-range opportunities. The following topics will be covered:

  • How to import and display portfolio images to display in Second Life
  • How and where to buy or rent virtual land
  • Do’s and don’ts of bringing clients into Second Life
  • Receive landmarks to places you can learn to build, script and meet others

Attend this event on Autodesk Island HERE (SLurl).

Jon Brouchoud (aka Keystone Bouchard), started his adventures in virtual reality by using Second Life as a professional tool for architectural collaboration, presentation and communication with his studio, Crescendo Design which focused on sustainable or environmentally friendly design.

The Second Life platform proved to be immediately useful for several reasons. Crescendo Design’s business model was already largely dependent on web-based communication in order to collaborate with clients and builders throughout the Midwest from their studio in northern Wisconsin. With Second Life, they were able to invite clients into an immersive environment where they could literally walk into design concepts they had developed, and have meetings sitting ‘inside’ the designs instead of describing a drawing over the phone, or driving long distances for weekly meetings.

Second Life also proved helpful since their work focused on green design. Educating clients about the value and aesthetics of various concepts was an integral part of their process, so they depended on illustration and education to help build awareness of these principles. Second Life provided a unique medium for delivering those experiences.

While it wasn’t a feasible replacement for the drawings and models they produce with Autodesk Architectural Desktop, the simplicity of the in-world building tools enabled Crescendo to use it as a more immersive and functional replacement for visualization tools like cardboard study models or loose sketches. More polished virtual models enabled clients to literally occupy and explore their soon-to-be new home. They could use it to test paint colors, material types and finishes, and could even use it to test furniture layouts and landscaping options.

While Crescendo Design still uses Second Life as a professional tool, Jon has since transitioned into a full time role as ‘3D Experience Architect’ for Clear Ink in Berkeley, California. He is currently working toward the understanding, development and implementation of a new language of virtual architecture through a diverse range of Second Life projects at Clear Ink.