METANOMICS: MASTER CLASS IN 3D CONTENT
JUNE 23, 2010
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan Writer's Metaverse.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate
School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds in the larger sphere of social media,
culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual
World. So join us. This is Metanomics.
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life. We
are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use ChatBridge
technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson
Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Welcome. This is Metanomics.
DUSAN WRITER: Welcome to Metanomics. I'm Dusan Writer, and I'm sitting in today for
Robert Bloomfield. Over the past couple of years, we've seen a few terms enter the mainstream. Virtual
Worlds and games aren't just associated with World of Warcraft and Doom anymore. Metanomics has
covered the serious use of Virtual World technology and put it in the larger context of social media,
games, policy, economics and enterprise. We've seen that Virtual Worlds and games are rapidly gaining
acceptance as valid sites for experimentation, enterprise adoption and customer outreach.
Today we're starting a three-show series that we call the Metanomics Master Class. We wanted to get
back to basics a little bit, to help people to understand what it takes to create experiences in immersive
environments, and I'm pleased to be joined today by Giannna Borgine and Reed Steamroller of
Sandcastle Studios, an immersive and Virtual World development company, and we're going to be talking
about content creation, the nuts and bolts of how 3D content in immersive environments are created and
how the tools for that creation might change in the years to come.
Over the next couple weeks, we've got two other shows in the Master Class series. One of them next
week will be looking at immersive storytelling. And the final show in the series will be looking at
architecture in Virtual Worlds, its implications for Real World architectural practice and what real-life
architects have brought into environments like Second Life. So I'm kind of hoping that, by the end of this
series, we'll understand a little bit more of the thinking, the skills and the talent that goes into creating
But first I'm really thrilled to introduce Fleep Tuque. Fleep is one of those people who, to me, is central to
the community. She's an evangelist, advocate and thinker, and she was one of my early inspirations in
Virtual Worlds. I associated her name and still do with someone who has a passionate and reasoned view
of how technology in immersive environments help us to learn and relate. So I'm thrilled to have you with
CHRIS COLLINS: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.
DUSAN WRITER: So this year you're the chair of this year's Second Life Community Convention, and I
thought we'd spend a bit of time, to start the show off today, talking about SLCC. I went to my first one
last year. So maybe fill us in for the folks in the audience who don't know what the Second Life
Community Convention is. What is it and where is it being held?
CHRIS COLLINS: Sure. Well, the Second Life Community Convention this year will be--it's August 13th
to the 15th in Boston, and, if you've never been before, it's essentially a real-life meet-up, a conference
and a convention and a social event for those of us who are really engaged in working in Second Life and
playing in Second Life, and it's a great opportunity to come together and sort of meet all of the people
behind the avatars and network and talk about what we do here.
The Convention started in 2005 so some folks in the audience may have been to every one. I started I
think 2007, in Chicago, was my first year. And really, for me, it's an inspiring event. Sometimes you get
stuck in the weeds working here, and it's great to see old friends and meet new ones, as well as I always
learn something. It's a great place to sort of get into the technical details and really talk shop about what it
means to be a Second Life resident and what it means to work and live here, play here and create things
DUSAN WRITER: And since not stuck in the weeds is called being lost in the prims, I think, is the proper.
CHRIS COLLINS: Yes, something like that.
DUSAN WRITER: I think SLCC it seems like there's some mythic moments. It's part of our collective
conscience what happens at SLCC. I know that there were some let's call them adult themed: The
Stroker used to have a ball. There was the famous T-shirt that Philip wore one year that I think it said "No
CHRIS COLLINS: Missing Image.
DUSAN WRITER: Missing Image.
CHRIS COLLINS: I actually have one of those.
DUSAN WRITER: One of my classic moments last year, well, there was Tom Hale who gave us a sneak
peek of Viewer 2.0, but one of my classic moments was shopping for shoes with Eshi. I think that will be
forever one of my great Second Life memories, shopping for real shoes with somebody who could make
them better in virtuality. What are some of your top memories of SLCC?
CHRIS COLLINS: Oh, I think the very first one in Chicago was just sort of mind-blowing. I was so
nervous. I knew people in Second Life, of course. I wasn't going there with anyone, and it was sort of like
going on a blind date almost; what would it be like to actually meet these people that I talk with. What I
found is that, just like in-world, people are amazingly friendly, and you have over and over these moments
where you see somebody in front of you, and you don't recognize them, but the second you see their
name and you know who they are, you have that instant connection. And, even though you've never seen
each other in person before, you give each other hugs. I think those are some of my fondest memories.
The first time I ever met Grace, even with Rob and some of the folks from the Metanomics team, just
meeting people and getting to know them on maybe an even more personal level that really sustains then
our relationship throughout the year, and it becomes sort of an annual event, to sort of touch base again
and share meals together and talk about what we do in Second Life, at a deeper level. You get all of the
nuance and body language and things that the Virtual World doesn't yet capture, I think.
DUSAN WRITER: So there's been a lot of community, and this is a community convention, and there’s
been a lot of community concern about where are Virtual Worlds and where is Second Life at, where is
the Lab headed. Has that had an impact on people's willingness to go to the Convention? Have you seen
a decline in people signing up to attend?
CHRIS COLLINS: Actually, we were a little worried about that, but, surprisingly, it's been just the
opposite. And I think when a community is facing real challenges, that becomes an impetus, it becomes
even more important for us to come together and talk about what the future holds and the challenges that
we face, that Linden Lab faces, where is the future for our projects. So I'm hopeful that this year--in my
opinion it's the best time to come. It's when the community really pulls together.
I should just let folks know that the early registration discount ends on July 3rd, and we just got a note
from the hotel this morning that our room block if filling up so if folks are planning on attending, I would
encourage you to register sooner rather than later. I'd hate for anybody to not get a room if they want to
come. But I think the concerns of the community we feel them as well. That's one of the things about the
Convention that I think is good. It allows us to think and brainstorm and plan together in a way that the
virtual just doesn't quite duplicate yet. So I think that the response has actually been the opposite of what
we were afraid of. People are signing up, and they're coming.
We've got a lot of great things. We don't have the program ready to announce just yet, but we have a lot
of great track leaders who are reaching out to the community. So if you're planning on attending, we'd
also of course encourage you to submit a proposal because this is one of the best opportunities to get
information about what you're doing out to people who really care, who are really interested in your work.
DUSAN WRITER: So there's a more formal aspect as well because we don't want to make it sound just a
social aspect is important. And I remember last year there were tracks on education and enterprise,
music, a whole bunch of different sessions.
CHRIS COLLINS: Right the checklist is pretty extensive. We're trying to capture most of the aspects that
people are using Second Life. So we have live music and performances. I'm really excited about that,
business enterprise, education and research, government and nonprofit, health and support, art
machinima and theater, fashion design, communities and social, and a technical and Open Source track
which we'll be adding. It's not even on the website yet, but there's a lot of interest in Open Source and
some of the more technical things about what's going to be happening in Second Life, which I'm sure
you'll be talking about a little later in the show too.
DUSAN WRITER: Wow! That's amazing. And being about Second Life, will there be a Virtual World
component as well as the live component?
CHRIS COLLINS: Absolutely. We're going to do our very best to stream as much of the content in-world
as we can, though it's usually the main track room in the keynotes, you know it's hard to staff camera
people for all of the different rooms, but we're going to do our best to bring at least some of the content
in-world. And we'd also encourage folks to sponsor the Convention. If you're interested in getting your
name or your organization out again, this is a great way to communicate with the community, and it's the
people who really care about Second Life the most, I think, that attend these things and just the
opportunity to really talk shop with people who know the details. It's an experience that I don't have
anywhere else in any of the other conferences that I attend. It's really a great experience.
DUSAN WRITER: So I hope that, for something like this with community advocates being there, that the
Lab would certainly be supporting it. Where are they at in terms of their support of the Convention, or
have you heard whether they plan to attend and all that kind of thing?
CHRIS COLLINS: Oh, sure. That's a good question, and actually lots of people seem to be confused.
They think that the Convention is run by Linden Lab, and it's not. It's completely run by residents, and
we'd also, of course, encourage you to volunteer, if you want to help. But Linden Lab has always been
extremely supportive of the Convention. They're a sponsor. Again, we don't have the program details all
ironed out yet, but we expect them to be there, and they're always very accessible and very human and
willing to talk with everybody. So I don't think that will be any different this year.
DUSAN WRITER: Wonderful! Listen, thanks and good luck. I'm looking forward to seeing you and
anybody who's going in Boston, in August. Sounds like it's going to be a wonderful event, and thanks on
behalf of the community for helping to organize it.
CHRIS COLLINS: Thanks so much, and I hope to see everyone in Boston this year. Take care.
DUSAN WRITER: So now let's begin our Master Class. As I mentioned before, I'm joined today by
Reed Steamroller and Gianna Borgnine of Sandcastle Studios. Our topic today is 3D content. And I have
to say when I first came into Second Life, it had never really occurred to me how a game is made. I had
played Warcraft, and it never occurred to me how did those little buildings and mountains actually get
made. I had no idea of the process that went into it.
And then I came into Second Life, and the first thing I built was a gazebo, and I think it had 12 prims, and
it took me about 14 hours to make it, and all it was, was a cylinder with a bunch of pillars and a roof
because I had no idea that there was such a thing as camera controls. And so I would have to walk
around it and fly around it, to see if the prims were aligned. That was my first exposure to the frustrations
and the art of 3D content development, but fortunately today we have two people with a little more
knowledge of how content development happens. And I'd like to welcome Reed and Gianna.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Thank you.
WILLIAM REED: Hello.
DUSAN WRITER: So first, why don't I start with you, Gianna, a little bit of background about your
organization Sandcastle Studios. What sort of services do you provide? What types of projects are you
working on and with what kind of clients, just for some context?
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Basically, what you said, we offer solutions to businesses, educational
institutions, nonprofits, to help them utilize Virtual Worlds to create interactive, social and 3D experiences
for them. Our work really varies, based on we work across that whole spectrum from businesses to
educational institutions, but mostly doing simulations, different kinds of teaching tools, what some people
would call immersive experiences for businesses. Most people have seen the California Legacy Project
that we do with Bernard Drax, or Draxter Despres in-world. We also do a lot of other machinima content
with him, but we do a pretty full scale of services for clients.
DUSAN WRITER: So how did you come into Second Life? What was your personal experience coming
into Second Life? What was your background when you came here?
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Well, interestingly, I was working for the state of Delaware as a psychology
and criminal justice major so this was not my original background, but I did start working in-world for
Lindens for a company that does some things similar. And, when they left, we kind of picked up where
they left off. I had originally heard about Second Life from a friend, but, like many, I guess a common
problem in Second Life, I was not really sure of downloading it and what it was all about so it took me--an
article in Time Magazine to really get in here and get started.
DUSAN WRITER: And, Reed, how about yourself? What was your background? What was some of your
background before you came to Second Life? How did you arrive here?
WILLIAM REED: Well, I have always been interested in art in general. When I was a teenager, I
stumbled upon Photoshop and the digital medium. And when I was a teenager, I was working with
programs like QuArK, which was a level editor for QuArK 1 and Quake 2, and it's pretty analogous; it's
functionality was pretty analogous to building here in Second Life. And then when I was 18,
September 11th happened, and I joined the Army two months later. I was a network switching system
operator, which is a fancy term for making phones and email work on the battlefield. I spent nearly three
years overseas and two tours in Iraq. I got out of the Army. I'd always been like a gamer and everything. I
had gamer magazines and everything. I read about Second Life, and I was like, "Oh, that sounds cool." I
logged in, and I was like, "Why are my frames so low, and what's going on here?" I thought it was lame
and I logged out.
And then a friend of mine, who I told about it, from the Army, he stuck with Second Life. He went in and
stuck with it, and he got me to come back a little while later. He showed me around and everything. This
was right around the time that sculpted prims happened--a shout out to Carl Linden. That was his deal--if
he's here in the audience. And voice was hitting the Beta grid and everything, and, from that point, I was
hooked. It's one of the coolest things I've ever come across.
DUSAN WRITER: We've got a lot of people in the audience, and we have a pretty wide range probably
of folks who really understand or are content developers themselves, and we'll talk a little bit more about
some of the different tools that people are using. But I want to start out actually with something really,
really simple, and sort of let's take I'll call it anatomy of a table, and let's say I'm wandering around. It was
like that first gazebo. I think I made my first table, and then I sat down at that table, and it was at my
knees. I had made it about two or three feet too short because I just had no concept of scale at that point.
But I go around Second Life, and I see tables. I want to buy a table for my boardroom or my home, and
some of them look really great, and some of them don't. Walk through just something as simple as a
table. What is it that a 3D modeler or a 3D content developer is thinking about, or what skills are they
bringing to making that table?
WILLIAM REED: Well, the first thing I do is, I identify exactly what I want the table to look like and,
depending on how complex whatever I'm building is, be it a table or anything else, I might do concept art
just to make sure I understand internally, within my brain, what this thing is going to look like from
different points of view, be it the side view or from above or what have you. And, from there, I'm not
saying I have to do concept artwork, but I just try to get as good an idea as possible of what it's going to
look like before I even start. And, from there I'll start blocking it out with prims, and I'll add detail as I go.
It's important to start off with as simple a shape as possible and then add detail as you go, instead of just
trying to build it up from the ground up with as much detail as it may eventually have, if that makes sense.
And I know you're talking about your gazebo that you had such a hard time making. Everybody has a
starting point. Gianna especially likes to point out mine and how horrible it was. It was a couch.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: We call it the coffin.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah, it was a couch, and she calls it the coffin. Everybody has a starting point, and the
only way you get better is by making a bunch of horrible stuff, until it stops being horrible, and it starts to
DUSAN WRITER: Right.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: And it depends on how Reed looks at things, from a non-builder, because I
myself don't create actual prims or content myself. I do do some texturing on them, but, for the most part I
don't create content. What I'm looking for before a table would leave our studio was: How was it put
together? Is it low prim? Did we use any extra prims we can get rid of? Are they put together in such a
way that there's no flickering textures? That there's no gaps? That there's no seams? How is the texturing
and the shading? Is it the highest quality that it could be? Does it have shadows, or are we adding
shadows with extra prims? Is it lighted correctly? Does it have ambient inclusion? Is that baked in?
etcetera, etcetera. So I'm looking for all those extra features that I don't want to see coming out of our
studio, instead of just, "Here are some prims and enough of them."
DUSAN WRITER: So I think you threw a bunch of terms in there that I think we'll have to revisit some of
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Okay.
DUSAN WRITER: For example, "bake." I think you said "baking," and I think you said "ambient
occlusion," and that was like a foreign language to me about three years ago. Let's talk a little bit too
about tradeoffs because this opens up sort of a broader discussion, but one of the things about Second
Life is, you only have so many prims. And I know that when I go shopping and I look at a table, there's
going to be a table that's 40 prims with tiny little diamond-size prims, there's little decorating items. And
then there'll be another one that's one prim because it's made out of a sculpty. Are prim allowances
simply an economic thing, or do prim allowances represent some sort of tradeoff? And when we talk
about tradeoffs in building, what are the tradeoffs that we look for?
WILLIAM REED: Well, the prim allowance, I think it does have something to kind of do with some
economic accountability or something like that. But when you really look it, it has to do with performance.
Prims are made up of a bunch of polygons, which are the basic building blocks of everything you see in
Second Life or any other game platform. A prim has to have a lot of polygons in order to support all the
things that a prim will do. A prim can go flexi. A prim can twist and manipulate its shape, etcetera, in
different ways. It needs a lot of polygons to do that, but when people start adding a lot of detail, going
overboard with the amount of prims for a particular object, they're inadvertently adding a lot more
polygons than really an object should have, and that creates a lot of the lag problems you see in Second
Life, where you see 200-prim hair. That's ridiculous. That's a ridiculous amount of polygons.
We were looking at a shoe in a wire frame, just a shoe, and we're looking at it in a wire frame, and we
could see all the polygons that made up the shoe. It was made out of sculpties. And it must have been 40
prims, and that's nearly 40,000 polygons. That's more than 40,000 polygons just for one shoe, and there's
two of them. And the basic character in any game, even like Crisis or something like that, one of the
high-end games, the entire character would be 15,000 polygons, and we're talking about a set of shoes
that, together, is 80,000. And that's just the shoes. You know what I mean? And you really have to pay
attention to prim count for not just the allotment of prims a person may have, but for the amount of lag
that these objects are going to cause just by looking at them.
Texture resolution, too, is a big, big deal. A 1024 by 1024 texture, without compression, is three
megabytes of a download.
DUSAN WRITER: Sorry. What does "resolution" mean? Just for somebody who might not--
WILLIAM REED: Resolution is detail basically, the detail of an image file. And 1024 by 1024 is 1024
pixels by 1024 pixels is the max resolution that Second Life will allow. While it isn't transferred as three
megabytes, it's stored in your video card as three megabytes of memory, I believe. And that if you have a
given amount of memory on your video card at a bunch of 1024 by 1024 textures, they're going to suck
that up really quick. And the polygon count is going to really put a hurting on your hardware.
DUSAN WRITER: So there's a tradeoff between making sure that people don't experience lag and that
they can see the content relatively quickly, but, if you build something with just one prim and slap a
texture of building façade on it, it doesn't look at rich as a building. What you're saying is, you some sort
of call between these different choices.
WILLIAM REED: Well, it's give and take. You're right. You try to keep the prim count as low as possible,
but without sacrificing too much detail, and that's really the name of the game. Or else your content either
looks bad, or it's not usable. Those are the two extremes, and you try to get somewhere in the middle.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: I'm sure I'm jumping ahead of you here, so forgive me, but one of the things
I've seen mentioned in chat while I've been listening is mesh support and new features that have been
announced by Linden Lab. And I think that it applies to this conversation in that the more advanced we
get with the tool set that Linden Lab gives us, especially with mesh support, it allows you to have this
unparalled level of control to work with this line that we're working with, of detail but not causing lag and
such. And mesh actually will decrease lag by bringing the poly counts down in any given scene. So that's
one of the reasons that we personally have pushed so hard for.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah. It will one hundred percent decrease that.
DUSAN WRITER: Yeah. So we'll come back to the mesh discussion, but I think you made an interesting
point there, which was about the tools. And I'd also like to jump back and talk, first of all, about concept
development. Let's talk about the different types of content. When we talk about content in Second Life,
what are the types of content? I've talked about a table. There are other things, obviously, as well as
things like animations and scripts and all of that stuff. Compare the things that get developed in Second
Life, let's say, to a game studio. Where are the similarities and the types of skills that people learn just by
being in Second Life?
WILLIAM REED: Well, being in Second Life and building with prims, it'll give you an abstract skillset of
just being able to manipulate objects in three-dimensional space. That is number one. That's the most
useful thing you'll get out of it. The whole prim thing, level editors and games, I know that my experience
with QuArK, the program I mentioned earlier, was using these things called brushes which are kind of
analogous to prims. And level editors, for the most part, are pretty much the same these days. And it's
just like pushing prims around. As far as asset creation though, like true mesh-based asset creation,
that's a bit different, but other things like animations, it's the same deal basically.
Sounds and stuff, that's all the same deal as far as when you compare it to a video game, but you can't
really compare Second Life to a true-to-blue video game, in that, if you look around the Sim here, there's
just a bunch of stuff. Now the bunch of stuff is this auditorium and everything, but it's just a Sim full of stuff
that can be viewed at from any angle and experienced from any perspective you want on the Sim relative
to your position.
And in a video game, you could say that everything's streamlined. The designers will allot a certain
amount of polygons or material or content, etcetera, to be on your screen in a lot of places at once. In
order to keep their frame rates high, they can do that because they can restrict your camera to see only
what they want you to see, if that makes sense. But, with Second Life, that whole paradigm's out the
window. You see everything that's there at once, all at once. So the comparison between the two
platforms or the two genres, there are some similarities, but there's a lot of differences.
DUSAN WRITER: Sure. And I think that's part of the reason for this Master Class too, as I do think that
there is a different pipeline in a Virtual World than what you might find in a game platform. When you start
to tackle, Gianna, a client project, how do you translate strategic and user needs into the design process?
Talk a little bit about steps that you take. Reed mentioned before about drawing stuff so I imagine kind of
concept development. But do you have a particular methodology that you guys use? Or what are some of
the industry standard approaches to planning out, let's say, a full build or a full Sim?
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: It depends on the project, but to do a full Sim, we would always start with
research: What is the purpose of this particular Sim? Who is the audience for the Sim? What do we want
to see out of the Sim? So research always comes first, and then the next step, like Reed mentioned,
would be concept art. Everything gets sketched out beforehand, from rough sketches to exact sketches
that will be pretty close to what we actually build. And then laying it all out. Usually in a 3D program, Reed
or whoever the developer is will work on laying that space out in whatever 3D program they're using. I
think mostly we use Maya. And then actually doing the space of modeling it and refining it.
And then there's texturing and shadowing. You have to set the scene, find the right materials, apply them.
Bake in the lighting. Refine all of that. Import it into Second Life and refine it there. And then add in any
kind of scripting or interaction levels that we want on top of all that.
WILLIAM REED: And let me just note that there's no "easy" button for any of that. It's a long, drawn-out
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: I made it sound really small, but it's a very long and drawn-out process.
WILLIAM REED: The advantage though that we get from that is that we can lay out an entire Sim, done
every prim before ground is even broken in Second Life. We can present it to the prospective client or to
the client before they even buy the Sim. And they'll say, "Okay," and then they'll buy the Sim, and then,
bam, we can just bring it in-world.
DUSAN WRITER: Talk about some of the advantages of being able to--and are there advantages maybe
there aren't--but are there advantages to the fact that you can move stuff around, and you can rez prims.
When you bring a client in, do you make adjustments on the fly? What's that experience like of being
in--you know you can't change stuff around when you're walking around in a game that's finished, so
what's that experience like with clients?
WILLIAM REED: Well, I mean, sometimes when they want a bunch of changes it's not that fun.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: But it allows you a different kind of [AUDIO GLITCH] in that I think--I don't
see Keystone here today, but he's probably one of the best people to talk about that, with the different
work that he's done in collaborating in real time to alter buildings and changes things. You can really use
the community and the teams working on it, to move them and to make changes in real time.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah. And it's easier to present the client with exactly what they want, instead of having
to go back and, for lack of a better term, recompile everything from scratch, go back and make the
changes and then recompile and then re-import the entire thing. You can just make a few changes on the
fly, within reason. And that helps the client in the end, to become more satisfied with the end product.
DUSAN WRITER: So there's a question from the audience, from Chimera Lemon who is talking about
industry standard approaches for building in Second Life. If we widen this out, I mean one of the joys to
me of Second Life is that there are--I don't want to use the term "amateur," but anybody can make
content, and you may have somebody who makes the most incredible car that you've ever seen in your
life, and it may be what somebody with five years of training could have done. But are there resources?
We're talking about those tip sheets for how to do things effectively based on what we know about how
Second Life works. Where would you point people? What direction would you send them in?
WILLIAM REED: Well, the Second Life forums, there's a lot of information there, if you're just looking for
raw information on developing content. I would really have to say that "the" best way to learn is trial and
error. There's a lot to be said about learning how to do things the incorrect way, along with learning how
to do things the correct way. The more ways that you know how not to do something, the stronger the
lesson you learn will be, if that makes sense. It's practice. You need to practice and practice and practice
and go out and see what other people have done and pull that apart and figure out how to do it yourself
and maybe add your own twist to things. And keep working at it. The only way you can really get a good
handle on what's going on is elbow grease.
DUSAN WRITER: And I found that just Googling stuff, you'd come across a video by Torley, or you'd
come across an old blog post by somebody talking about clothing, how to do layered clothing or
something. There's actually a huge amount of information just on the web.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah. Sure is.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Yeah, I think the information is out there. It just hasn't really been gathered in
one place. And I think the best way, if you're looking for more sources of this information and you don't
know where to look is to find the community in what you're interested in. There's a fantastic Maya group
that I know Reed's very active in, some of our other people are active in. Machinima groups or scripting
groups. To find the community and usually there's a lot of sharing of those resources going on there.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah. Our Maya group has 500-plus people in it now. We really promote helping each
other out. It's kind of funny to see myself having asked the same questions years ago, and now I'm at a
point that I see other people almost walking in my footsteps, if that doesn't too egotistical.
DUSAN WRITER: Right. And there's some questions in the audience about different philosophies and
different approaches, which is kind of like asking a creative director to define creativity. But it is interesting
that you'll see a building; you'll say, for example, Scope Cleaver, you'll kind of go, "Well, that's definitely a
Scope Cleaver build," because it has a certain design philosophy. If you guys were to define a couple of
top-line areas in which design philosophy is expressed, what would you be looking for? Some of my
examples would be levels of realism versus representational or the user scenarios, whether the
movement through a space is very clearly mapped out and has signage and signaling is done within a
space. What do you guys look for when you look to understand somebody's design approach or design
WILLIAM REED: Well, again, it's based on the particular project, but like you're saying, signage and
everything. Second Life is a world where you can fly so stairs are really just a big sign that's saying, "Hey,
you can go upstairs." You know what I mean? As far as design philosophy, we really try to be as realistic
as possible with our builds. Like Gianna was saying, we pre-render texture files for our buildings and
content, which basically means we set up the scene in Maya, which has a photo-realistic rendering
engine, and we apply that to the image files that are then brought in-world, which will contain realistic
shading, realistic lighting, realistic shadows, etcetera. So we're kind of like overriding the Second Life
rendering engine, in a roundabout way, with our more photo-realistic engine. So that's a really good way
to keep prim count down, but still offer a really, really immersive environment for people to experience.
DUSAN WRITER: What you're talking about with rendering, just to clarify, is lighting primarily and
occlusion and things like that?
WILLIAM REED: Well, rendering itself, if you look around Second Life, we're just looking at a bunch of
math, when it boils down to it. In an abstract way, this is just a bunch of math being processed by your
computer. And rendering is taking that math and turning it into a two-dimension image that's presented on
your screen. And it's the same thing for Maya, and it's a photo-realistic render called Mental Ray. You set
up your scene, which is, again, a bunch of math, and then you hit the Go button, and it renders it, and it
turns the viewpoint that you spent specified into a two-dimensional image. Or it will pre-render
quote-unquote "bake" the textures based on that viewpoint, in the lighting situation and scenario that
you've set. So rendering is just a metaphor for that process.
DUSAN WRITER: Okay. Sorry, go ahead, Gianna.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: I think along those lines that Reed was saying, when I look for a good build, I
do look for those realism things. For me, they kind of trigger immersiveness. If I feel like it's real, I become
more immersed in it, through all those things that Reed just talked about. But I also kind of look for an
"outside of the box" quality in that I mean so much of the Metaverse is what you see in real life, and I kind
of look for that something that, "We're here. We can do anything. Everything can be pushed to the limits.
When I give a speech, can I jump out of a helicopter?" We did a fashion show that started out with a
volcano exploding and people walking out of the volcano. And so I really like to push those qualities of
things that we can do here because we can do them so easily. But then you also have to consider
usability and how intuitive it is. If you were new, would you be able to enter the building? Would you be
able to control your cameras, the space you posed in, and so on.
WILLIAM REED: Yeah, a phrase that she uses a lot is, "beautiful ghost towns" for a lot of Sims, that were
developed by other quote-unquote "professional content creator companies."
And one of the things that sticks out in my mind, just because I'm a dork, is the NASA Sims. I went there
with high hopes, and I got there, and it's a virtual rocket park. And that is the most boring thing I've ever
seen in my life. They could have done something so totally cool, that it would have blown everybody
away. They could have taken the environment that one of the Mars landers photographed and sent back
to earth. And they could have recreated it in Second Life so people could walk around on this virtual
surface of Mars, with some sort of popup video-type stuff explaining what was there. And that would have
been immersive. That would have been interactive, and that would have really spread their message
about how cool the stuff they're doing is, but they didn't do that. They made a rocket park.
So like she was saying, we really try to think outside the box. We try to take this platform and realize the
opportunities that it presents, that really no other forum really does.
DUSAN WRITER: I'll always put the caution in that you need to understand who your audience is. If it's
somebody that's been in Second Life for two years, they'll have a different comfort level with the
affordances than somebody who's walking in it for the first time or whatever. Good points. So the big
announcement last year and it's almost 12 months ago at the Second Life Community Convention that we
were talking to Fleep about earlier, they announced a few big initiatives. One of them was Viewer 2.0.
The second big initiative they talked about was mesh, or let's call it an upgrading of Second Life to include
richer content. And that included mesh and it included a promise of looking at things like new versions of
lighting. Now there's been no official announcement. There was some data that was leaked during a
five-minute period when the NDA was lifted. So we don't know that much more than we did a year ago.
But let's talk a little bit about what is a mesh, and isn't that what we have in Second Life? Don't we have
mesh? Let's define it first of all: What is a mesh?
WILLIAM REED: Well, like I was saying, everything we see here is polygons. Right? A polygon's a
triangle basically. You can think of it like that. It's made up of three points in space. Each point is a corner
of the triangle, and a mesh is a group of these triangles shaped into an object. A prim is a mesh. Every
prim you see in Second Life, every avatar, everything here in Second Life is a mesh. The differences:
prims are a group of polygons laid out in a regular pattern, and they're specified to do certain things, and
you don't have a lot of control over the polygons individually.
DUSAN WRITER: So if you take a prim and you imagine triangles laid out over that, what you're saying
is that you could take the vertices, the point of a triangle, and you could actually move that point, and
that's what we're saying when we say that we can have mesh import as mesh already exists, but mesh
import is using tools external to Second Life to manipulate the 3D objects more finely. Is that--
WILLIAM REED: Yeah. Create your own. Create your own and define exactly how the polygons are laid
out yourself. That is the particular advantage offered by such a system, were it to exist.
DUSAN WRITER: So we're fairly clear that this is something that was developing, that they were
developing. Let's just kind of hypothetically talk about what sorts of things we might see that are different
or approaches to a building in Second Life that would be different from what we have now.
WILLIAM REED: Well, let me just say this, a Second Life cube, just the cube, is 18 polys on a side so
18 times 6 is 108. So it's 108 polygons for a cube, which, if you were to just develop your own cube with
the least amount of polygons possible, is 12, 12 triangles. So what you would see, if developers were
allowed to bring in their own meshes that they've created from scratch, is a dramatic decrease in vertex
and polygon count in content. And that would, in effect, improve performance on client side, a lot,
drastically. And I really can't put enough emphasis on that, instead of using all these polygons that are
really just useless, to create semi-complex objects. You're using thousands of polygons that really could
conceivably be made with a mesh, maybe a few hundred, and that would, like I said, dramatically improve
performance. That's one thing.
The quality of the content being brought in would also be dramatically increased. I look around at statues,
and this is no fault of anybody's creative skill or anything like that, but statues in Second Life everybody
looks like a monkey because of the lips and stuff like that on all the statues. And mesh import would really
allow you to add detail to objects, as much detail to objects specific to certain areas of objects that need a
lot of detail, instead of just having to throw more prims at a particular place. And then leave areas of an
object that don't need as much detail with less polygons. So it would be more efficient in more ways than
DUSAN WRITER: So one of the things people say about mesh is that it's going to be inaccessible
because the tools--you talk about you guys using Maya. I shouldn't quote the numbers off the top of my
head, but I bought a copy of Maya, and it was certainly over a thousand dollars; 3DS was eighteen
hundred bucks. Zebra is like eight hundred. I mean these are expensive programs to be developing 3D
content in. Doesn't that change the barrier to entry for somebody who wants to do content development?
WILLIAM REED: No, not really.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: No.
DUSAN WRITER: Let Gianna pick that one up.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Well, basically people said the same thing when sculpties were first being
developed, but now they have to invest in some other software program. But there's a ton of free
alternatives out there. The first one that comes to mind is Blender, and people were able to learn to utilize
them, in order to make sculpties, and it's the same thing. You might have to learn a new set of rules and
how to do things, but, if you want to learn, I'm sure there will be cost because I think we're going to offer
our own, but others will have them as well. And tutorials. So you can learn if you'd like to learn.
DUSAN WRITER: So then I look around the web, and if you sort of scan around for 3D content, you can
find sites that are selling it, like Content Paradise, or you can buy an entire village of 3D content, and it's
all textured. So you'd be able to go buy stuff outside of Second Life and bring it in. I mean we don't know
what the Lab is planning for how it gets sold, but do you think that this would help to stimulate the Second
Life economy, or do you think it's going to cause anxieties or both?
WILLIAM REED: Well, any details about what could be brought into Second Life, etcetera, we aren't privy
to, but mesh import itself would most definitely stimulate the economy. It would be like opening the door
to another form of commodity to be bought and sold on SLX or what have you in-world. So it could do
nothing but stimulate the economy. There's a lot of nice _____ out there, but people fear change, and I
think the Second Life community really underestimates how smart it is, and that's a quote by
[Rhu Natay?], one of the core developers for the Second Life graphics engine. They really underestimate
how adaptable and how smart they are. It's nothing impossible to create a polygon mesh. In fact, it is
much easier than dealing with sculpted prims. If you can do sculpted prims, you can do polygon meshes.
Trust me. And the tools out there, there's plenty of them that are free, and Blender especially is
comparable to 3DS Max or Maya or something like that.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: And I think, as far as taking things from other places, we can only speculate
at this point what Linden Lab will allow. But a long time back now, what seems like a long time ago, they
put in one of their road maps something called the content seller program, and, as part of it, they said
that, to be a member, you would have to identify yourself and provide payment info, have your account be
in good standing and affirm that anything you brought in-world met all licenses, copyrights, IP rights,
etcetera. And I imagine that, for them to introduce something like mesh, where you could go and get
something off of some of these sites, that you would have to be part of a program, if not that similar to
that, and that program, in my opinion, probably won't be free, so that would also stimulate the economy
and help control some of the issues people are afraid of.
DUSAN WRITER: And one of the things I'm sort of interested in is where 3D is headed. We know that
Mark Kingdon, and Philip was talking about this a little bit as well, as to make Virtual Worlds like Second
Life more accessible, possibly by accessing them through the browser. I've been quite fascinated to see
things like 3D television sets and the work that they're doing on 3D in the browser, where the ability to
render 3D objects will be native to your browser, to something like Firefox and putting that into HTML 5 or
the use of pay per vision.
It seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, if you build something in one of these other tools, that you're
able to bring it into Second Life, but you're able to use it in other places as well. You could build
something in Maya, could bring it into Second Life, and then you could also put it into, I don't know, Flash.
You could put it into Unity. What do you think that means for the future of immersive experiences? Do you
think that we'll see multiple ways to access similar content? Speculate a little where we're going to be a
year or two from now.
WILLIAM REED: Absolutely. If you're talking about mesh data, if mesh data happens, if when everything
until then is made pretty much specifically for Second Life, due to the prim economy, in the prim
restrictions, opening the door on mesh would allow content from other platforms into Second Life. It would
be more of allowing content from other platforms into Second Life than allowing content from Second Life
onto other platforms, if that makes sense. And that content could go from Unity, like you said, to Blue
Mars to wherever. And HTML 5, yeah, with Web GL and everything like that, you could see the content
even on a web page, embedded in a web page somehow whenever HTML 5 happens. So yeah, you're
absolutely right about that; that can definitely happen. And I think it would be cool.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: And I think that a lot of people argue that there's currently no way to back up
the things that they made or have made for them, and mesh would allow people to back up stuff. So if
something did happen to Second Life or whatever platform, you could then move it to another one. I
know, Dusan, you work sometimes taking content from the main grid and taking it to Enterprise so that
would make that process easier for your team. And I think that it offers us a way to really make sure that
everything's accounted for, but, in the end, people are going to go where the communities are. And I think
right now that's Second Life's greatest asset is that it has the strongest vibrance on community, and the
real time collaboration just can't be beat.
DUSAN WRITER: I was just about to ask a question, and then Cube, in the audience, made a comment
that he was calling it the World of Shopcraft, like the World of Warcraft, but for shopping. And I was about
to make the point that a Second Life content developer could theoretically be selling shoes in Second
Life, but then having those same virtual shoes displayed in fully rotateable 3D on a merchant website
because you're able to take that initial file and port it over to multiple platforms. And I'm curious as well on
this idea of mesh, whether that means that you're able to move--you guys are fans of realism--whether
you're able to actually do almost mirror realism and in ways that we can't currently do. Could you import,
for example, a detailed architectural model so that you're actually working off almost architectural plans
as compared to sketching? Like what are the possibilities around simulation because of mesh?
WILLIAM REED: Well, hypothetically speaking again, yeah, there's a pipeline from programs like
AutoCAD to Maya, mainly for visualization, like you take your building, bring it into Maya, and then you
set up some sort of animation, animated scene of people walking around or something like that to give a
client a better idea of what this building's going to look like. Now Second Life offers an entire different
paradigm to that concept, where you could take a building, get it to Maya and then conceivable bring it
into Second Life. So not only can a client see the building in some sort of animated scene, they could
essentially walk through it and see the rooms for themselves. I think this was done with a mall in Egypt, a
project we worked on with Draxter. It was funded by the State Department.
The publicity of this project was--the architect was hired, and he did the plans for the building, and then
he recreated what he had designed in Second Life, for the client. The client, I think his quote was that,
"This doesn't lie. You can't be mistaken when you're in this sort of platform and you seen for yourself
exactly what's going to be built, what the plans are exactly, and you can experience them in a way that
you can here in this platform."
DUSAN WRITER: So we'll be looking forward to hearing further announcements from the Lab, as I say,
some stuff. We learned a little bit about some of the technical background to mesh. It's going to use the
Collada format. There'll be different levels of detail, and we'll be keeping our eye on the Lab for
announcements of when this is going to roll out and some of the specs behind the economic approach to
it. There's been a concern the overall economy--are you guys bullish on Virtual Worlds and Second Life?
Do you feel positive about the direction things are headed? And what sorts of things do you think are
going to become possible that maybe weren't so possible a year ago?
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Well, I think that one of the things that they're going in is, I like that a lot of
them are talking about going back to the basics. And I think that there's things that we have now that
currently need to be repaired, and that makes me feel a little bit safer. But with stuff like mesh support,
they're really opening the door to future things. I mean we can only speculate what they could do from
here, but the door is certainly open to import _____ and animated 3D content and all kinds of different
content in the future. So we can only guess and dream where it could go, but I think the imagination can
picture some pretty cool things.
DUSAN WRITER: And is there a way that you can get this wrong?
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: There's a way you can get everything wrong. Right?
DUSAN WRITER: Yeah. What would be the thing that you'd be looking for to say, "Yeah, they've handled
mesh the right way"? Hypothetically. That they're going to be doing this the right way. What are some of
the things you'd be looking for to say, "Yeah, this tech is going to actually work"?
WILLIAM REED: Well, it's going to--essentially, if you look at Renderosity or something like that, and this
is a point that Carl brought up to me once: Carl Linden. He pointed out that, if you look at Renderosity or
TurboSquid or something like that, that's a forum where a bunch of people go, and they sell their 3D
content for money or whatever. And, if you allow the same thing to be going on here in Second Life, it's
going to attract all of those users. Well, it's going to make Second Life, as a platform, more attractable to
those users and thus could conceivably cause an influx of new users to buy and sell content and pump up
the economy, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So that would be a good thing, from anybody's standpoint. I
know a lot of the communities are going to yell and scream, "Oh, no! We have these professional people
here," blahblahblah. What they're doing is not impossible, and it doesn't mean you can't learn how to do it
Like I said, building a mesh object is, to me, a lot easier than messing around with prims of any sort,
sculpted or otherwise, and I think any kind of fear of such a thing happening is sort of misplaced. And
that, again, I think that people should have more faith in themselves because I don't think for a second
that anybody in the Second Life community who could master sculpted prims wouldn't be able to do the
same thing with meshes.
KIMBERLY WINNINGTON: Yeah. And I just pasted a link, and a lot of the things that we're discussing
right now, we actually all discussed it about a year about the possibilities and overcoming some of the
fears. So I encourage you to take a look at them. The comments are just as interesting as the article.
DUSAN WRITER: This is great. I think you've given us some great insight into the thought process and
tools that people are using to create 3D content, and I've certainly learned a lot.
I think one of the interesting things is, just as a closing comment before we go, but one of my thoughts
has been that there is the opening up of Second Life to new content developers who may be coming in,
but what will also be interesting, I think, is for them to find a community that has become expert at
creating within a collaborative, shared space. And somebody who's posting 3D content to Renderosity is
working on their own, posting objects and then downloading somebody else's objects, which they also
view on their own. Although there are some environments where that content can be taken and explored
with other people, the possible crossover of content developers and community managers in Second Life
bringing their expertise and insight to those broader communities, I think, is one of the places that
innovation and value will come out of the changes that are coming next.
So next week we're going to talk about architecture next week, and we have two real life architects who
are both working in virtual environments alone and on projects that bridge real-life architecture to virtual
architecture, and we'll talk about their process as well, tools they use and continue our Master Class
series. So thank you for being here today. I'm Dusan Writer, and this is Metanomics.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com