Pandamonium at Cool HQ – Live Mocap

We have another technically adventurous Cool Stuff Collective this week. Of all the ones we have done it is the one that made me laugh the most. Plus it is highly related to virtual worlds and avatars.
We got Vicky into a sensor laden motion capture suit. The suit using gyroscopic sensors to get positional information and limb rotation.
Motion capture suit
Vicky Letch gets suited up.
That is then used live to allow an avatar to be controlled (though it can be used to record BVH files for things like Second Life and other games)
In this case we turned Vicky into a very cute Panda.
All the kit and support came from the Brighton based Animazoo. Mark from Animazoo was thrown into the spotlight as the visiting expert too and did a great job.
We changed the flow as this was about Vicky performing in the suit so I took the reigns as interviewer with Mark and also got to talk to Vicky’s virtual panda persona.
Animazoo Mocap controlled panda
Many people faced with a mocap suit and an on screen digital figure just wave their arms around a bit, Vicky threw herself into character and became one with the Panda, which is what made this item even cooler.
As well as body movements a separate hand controller is used for facial expressions and the Vicky the panda became even more real.
The bit that really made me chuckle was the reversal of the silly question at the end. Usually I have to strop off in indignation saying I am a tech geek not a … whatever. As we had a digital panda there it was its turn to rant and turn and leave in a huff. Brilliant puppetry and voice combination meant this worked really well.
Those of us that live and work in virtual worlds have started to get used to expression through a digital avatar. As we know though, it is that proxy for our human actions that seems to scare many people, fearing being misunderstood or lacking in trust of the other avatars as people might be “hiding” something. It is the core of all the fuss about #nymwars too as we express ourselves digitally. (I had a go here using Kinect a while back) whilst trying to explain digital persona is not a binary thing.
In this show it was Vicky, we knew that, but equally she was acting and merging some comedy panda with her own persona. It is something everyone should try, some puppetry or digital interaction with a facade that is not just their face. It tells you a lot about that persona and about yourself.
Anyway the show is on the ITV Player for a few weeks. Two more shows to go and the next one is next Saturday but at the slightly earlier time of 7:50 (so the CITV tweets said anyway)

Minecraft Machinima

There are some great examples of creative use of cover versions of popular music combined with machinima created in Minecraft appearing on youtube. This one is really good IMHO 🙂

If you don’t get what Minecraft is and can do then watch this, and then some of the linked videos too. It is a new generation of filmaker/gamers exploring the creative world online in a metaverse.

The future of Virtual Worlds in your hands : vPEARL summit

Septmber 2011 sees an even in L.A. It is sponsored by the IEEE but it is not about the usual technical interchange standard. Instead it is about getting people from diverse fields and setting then some social challenges in a rich creative settings and seeing who comes up with what to harness both existing Virtual Environments and spotting the gaps missing for the future.

The event is titled vPEARL (Virtual Play Exchange Advise Renew Learn), it’s going to be on 20-21 September 2011, Los Angeles, California. In the US of A. Registration is $150 and spaces are limited to 100.

The official event page and registration is here:

There is an upcoming page too here

Just so you know the context of this a large number of people from around the virtual world business, academia, film, the arts and many others have come together already to start this movement. As an example you can see Ren Reynolds post on the same event over at Terra Nova. You can also see some of the names of people gathering together to make this happen (as we all have good intentions to push the metaverse to its next level) here on the site.

“vPEARL Highlights

Keynote and Catalyst presentations
A set of real-world challenges developed by the VECoLab, a community of virtual world experts sponsored by IEEE and supported by
Summit focus on “Breakouts for Solution” teams with onsite and virtual participants facilitated by the VECoLab
A variety of virtual world platforms from sponsoring vendors for use by participants
A planned one-hour virtual world link to another conference in the UK to share key findings
Awards for the best solutions developed by the teams, based on creativity and applicability”

The UK conference will be a live link to ReLive 2011 I will be at that conference ready to do my Terry Wogan bit and say “Hello Los Angeles”.

Pass it on, check it out, lets make things happen.

Metameets – The last post : 4 of 4 (plus 1)

Finally I get to talk about the last parts of the Metameets conference gathering last month. It is rare that posts take this long as I prefer to fire a quick post up and not leave things lingering, however it was so packed that that just was not going to happen to do it justice.
First it was great to see Toxic Menges tell us all about the now famous Meroos. These virtual life critters are a Second Life phenomenon. They are not simple scripted in world creatures. Their evolution and life cycle is controlled on servers outside of Second Life. They are registered purchased goods expressed and interacted with in Second Life. I did buy a Meroo after the presentation, but it has run away as I forgot to feed it. A-Life is always fascinating and when combined with a virtual world and a value economy even more so. Meero’s evolution and breeding cycle, specializations and changes are all out there to be discovered and lots of people are farming them for profit, or caring for them as pets.
This is really advanced a-life in how it works within the scope of a shared environment. Toxic pointed out how the Meeroo’s come up and give your avatar a hug in world. This is not a standalone tamagotchi.

Next up was a remote pitch by film maker Bernhard Drax/Draxtor Despres on The making of SL/WoW documentary Login2Life. This was part in world (we all rezzed with him in virtual Amsterdam) and then heard all about this new reportage covering all elements of the SL and WoW experience. It is running on German TV very soon and hopefully will be available world wide as we all know Draxtor does great work.

We have Melanie Thielker back to do a second presentation specifically on Roleplay in Virtual Worlds. Melanie enthused about the potential of role play in virtual worlds, how characters form and play and act. It is a very specific form of entertainment that can be a little scary for people used to being handed their experiences. In some ways it is like the difference between a radio and choosing your own songs. Both work, both co-exist and virtual worlds provide an ideal way to explore what role play is.

Toni Alatalo got a chance to show off RealXtend and the subtle differences and extensions that this platform has over SL and Opensim. One of the key elements of the model this works on is that everything is a world object. There is no specific need to have an avatar or an island. (So much nodding and whooping from me). Toni also gave his presentation with the virtual world, mixing and zooming around screens and examples of eagles swooping and catching fish.

Timo Mank came to talk TMSPTV a meditative space and a playground for co-creation across realities. This was an intriguing project that turns the island idea on its head. This was a creative collective that represents its stories and ideas in Second Life in order to reach a wider audience yet is drawn from a physical location which is itself a communal physical island. It has a culture of storytelling and each day the stories are retold as part of a daily routine. That culture is capture and placed in world.

Karen Wheatley talked about The Evolution of Virtual Theatre. This was a fascinating insight from a theatrical production point of view. Karen stages live plays in Second Life but adapted for Gorean culture. The Jewell Theatre has been staging full-length original plays in Second Life since August 2007, so there is a lot of experience on hand. In staging plays Karen has to consider the fact that the audience actually may be sat in one place but can move the camera anywhere. There are no cheap seats in SL. Set changes can happen very much quicker too, with objects rezzed and moved as needed. Most of the plays have been text based due to unreliability of voice sometimes. Chat was adjusted with the equivalent of a text microphone that relays the chat labelled as the character name not the avatar name. Yes thats right a person with an avatar playing a character lots of levels of redirection there. Actors also have to be aware that they need to explicitly puppet their avatars with a directors missive “T*ts to the action people”. Having had to deal with the challenges of locations and tv studios I appreciated the challenges of staging in SL in this more directed way. As Karen said you use what you have got and the challenges of a platform or place become part of the production.

Steve Zapytowski continued the theatrical strand with Blended Performance: Live Actors and a Virtual Player. Steve is professor of Design and Technology, Kent State University. Founding member of the Institute for Learning in Virtual Environments (iLIVE). He presented from in SL and we watched some local videos of his work. This was about a physical production of Hamlet but the ghost was a stage effect that was pre-render animation of a human figure. They had to mix the pre-renders with suitable lighting and cueing to make the ghost move, appear, puff away etc. It look very powerful and very interesting. There was lots of discussion about live puppetry versus the pre-canning but again thats a choice of the environment and how to work. Each has its flavour and challenges.

Finally up was Chantal Harvey / Mamachinima that strangely I already blogged, it was where I started this thread of metameets.

So that was Metameets. An amazing collection of ideas, people and passion. I throughly enjoyed both being the MC and hearing everything and meeting everyone. The Club Karlsson venue was very cool too and everyone was very helpful . What a blast ! Well done all. In particular joja dhara for bringing us all together in the first place (though she asked me not to thank her at the time so I have messed that one up 🙂 )

All the pieces are falling in place – Unity3d

Back in late 2009 I wrote a post saying we had all the pieces to start seriously building virtual world toolkits and environments from off the shelf pieces.
Today I have seen two releases arrive of new hosted toolkits and services, both using Unity3d and some of the other pieces related to hosting a server component. They are both from stalwarts of the virtual worlds industry and both with former close ties to Linden Lab and Second Life.

In not particular order the first is from called Unifier. As with all Unity environment this benefits from the browser plugin to let it run on most browsers. According to the site its using smartfoxserver to broker the positions of the other avatars and flash voice for VOIP.
The key is that it acts both as a hosted service on Amazon EC2 (i.e. thats where the server will be running for your instance) or as a run yourself service. Smartfoxserver is a relatively simple java application to get going on a server with some config for ports etc needed. The important parts are it knowing what it needs to keep a track of an what clients subscribe too. There also appear to be lots of interaction with other content, whiteboards etc and the sort of dynamic tools needed to interact online. So a lot of work has gone into productising this.
The second offering is from Tipodean which is both a service to run peer to peer unity3d (which looks like it uses the unity3d master server) and an OpenSim to unity3d conversion service. So you can pay to get your build moved from prims to the mesh of unity3d and then have some unity3d polish applied to it.
It is not clear how dynamic any of the environments are, as typically, whilst unity3d can load new assests on the fly it is more complicated to set that up than the ability for people to walk around a fixed environment.
The upshot of all this is that there is more choice and scope for the market to grow. These join the other services out there and form part of an SL counter culture, in a slightly different way to the counter culture of Opensim.
It’s all good.

Very cool controller – Blobo

At Metameets Toni Alatalo of Playsign (and RealXtend) showed me this gadget he had. I was instantly intrigued and thought it was brilliant. Its a bluetooth based controller that knows its own rotation, directional travel and also if its being squeezed. It Is called a Blobo.
Blobo ball controller
It also has some interesting features where by your avatar and some other information is stored in the ball so you can move it to other blobo owners games and play with them.
I shall certainly be carrying mine around to a few venues and presentations to show people that the world is not all joypad 🙂

Metameets part 3 of n : Grid wars and envelope pushing

Metameets might seem a long while ago at web speed but the themes and trends emerging are still relevant. So I make not apology for this being a long run series of posts 🙂
On day 1 we got to another section about the grid and kicking this off was a discussion about Second Life third party viewers or TPV’s as they are called. This is a fascinating case study in both competition and symbiosis with a load of niche and specialised interests thrown in for good measure.
Kirstenlee Cinquetti/Lee Quick is the driving force behind the very popular TPV Kirstens Viewer Lee has a great passion for the Second Life environment and also is very interested in photography and film making.

So the aim of his viewer project was to take the Open Sourced Snowglobe code from Linden Lab and enhance it and improve it to make a very focused viewer that presents a great visual experience, as good as it possibly can be. He makes no apology for the spec of machine needed and this is where the cooperation with SL comes in. He is able to provide a focus and a niche built on top of the standard open source code to enhance some users experiences. However he is, and has to be, so on top of the releases of the code and changes to the grid (servers) that he finds things out before they go really public. When a function appears, hidden away, he and his team will find it, test it and patch their viewer to use it, or work around it if it doesn’t work properly. In many ways he is quality assurance for SL, whilst being completely independent. He said the Lab hates him 🙂 but i am sure they love him in equal measure too. It is difficulty for many commercial companies in andy industry to understand this user/developer/prosumer model. Kirstenlee is pushing the envelope with access to features that are intriguing (like stereoscopic 3d). He is restructuring major parts of code to treat the user interface in a much more engineered way to allow for cleaner layout and transparent parts of the interface. He is now looking at better camera controls, fixed views, dollys etc for the machinima makers to use. All of this is good for SL (and also the related platforms like opensim potentially). The Lab benefits from this focus, but I can imagine that it can also be difficult as when developing an releasing products time and priorities are different for different people.
Next up and on the a slightly different co-op confrontational path was Melanie Thielker. She is another (of the very rare) core opensim developer and has done a lot of the restructuring work. Here though Melanie was talking about her hosted business based on Opensim Avination This venture is a growing business, with a focus on roleplay. It is very impressive to be able to both spark up and push forward a customer facing grid whilst also living in the open source development world. However that gives Melanie a great perspective on what needs to be done and real life systems architecture to keep her grids running and growing. This grid is of course in direct competition with the Second Life one, but exists because of the spin off of Opensim and the open source approach to development in taking something closed and making it better.
Next we had a bit more of a standard product pitch, though it is still a leading edge idea. Fred van Rijswijk from C2K dashed in to share some of the interesting things being done with Layar. Layar is a “traditional” augmented reality application. The client allows the merging of real and virtual content based on location of the client. I say traditional as I think AR is about anything from anywhere merged with anything from anywhere else in more than one way. We do have to evolve to that though. Rather like the early web AR generally requires someone to make things for you. Design and game agencies can craft the 3d models and register them in layers to be viewed. It is interesting to consider all the content creation in various virtual worlds done by general users and how that might be liberated by AR applications? Augmenting one AR with another etc. I do like many of the Layar examples and the increasing move to go from flat HUD styles to more interactive 3d objects in space is an interesting direction.
Finally for the day Tim Goree of Nokia and a rather well known metaversanlity riffed on some ideas without the aid of a power point (yay). Tim knows his stuff and I am happy he has managed to stick with it in a large corporate environment and keep pushing. Tim was musing on the avatar, not just as a single mesh used to represent you in a virtual world, but as an identity construct that flows across all digital media. He talked about some of Microsoft’s work in ultra realistic avatars (which help with the concept of visual identity) but he also talked about the underlying need to choose how and what to share with who and own your own identity.
I am borrowing Tim’s quote from Roland over at Mixed Realties (as I took no notes 🙂 )
“Count up all the virtual worlds user hours, gaming user hours, chances are all this is more important than the web”, so Tim continued. “Avatars have been used to validate transactions for hundreds of years – think stamps, coins for example. These days there are billions of (virtual) avatars out there, why not use them to change society?”
It was then left for me to wrap up, as Tim had said some cool forward thinking things I just mentioned the IEEE Virtual Environment Colab and its event coming up as validation that many people are gathering again to push the industry to the next step and not just considering moving data from a to point b (though we still need to do that). I also pointed to the Btween3d conference in London sponsored by Sony that is bringing thought leaders from lots of industries to consider the whole of the domain.
So with consensus driving bodies such as the IEEE looking for the patterns and exemplars in the virtual world and related technology domain, and a major gathering in London on the subject it was good that the pioneers in the room at Metameets were still very much on the leading edge, pushing things forward whilst the world catches up with them 🙂
Next Day 2 (which is more art than science and a shows the breadth of what goes on out here/there)

Metameets – Lazy teachers and revolving doors – Part 2 of n

In my previous Metameets post I stopped half way through day 1. So we pick up on a change in conversation this time with education.

(image from As I took hardly any pictures at the event!
Education is always a good subject for virtual worlds yet is always a fight against the status quo. It is good to hear where the experts in the field are taking it.
Jolanda Verleg from Insperion started her presentation with a vision of a “Lazy Teacher” getting us to imagine a class full of students busy at work whilst the teacher sat back with their feet up on the table. This was a deliberately provocative image to challenge the nature of teaching. The premise put forward is that traditional broadcast teaching, stood in front of the class needs to be put aside in favour of more engaging techniques that use the immersion of virtual worlds with the students and allows classes to take on a life of their own. The full presentation is here and is a well thought out description of Adventure, Background, Competition and Drama (Jolanda calls those the ABCD of learning) that provide very human focused ways of learning to learn and discovering. To quote directly “Be there for them, just don’t step in front of them to block their way…”

To continue the education theme Ineke Verheul stepped up to describe a school learning project using virtual worlds with the The Chatterdale Mystery. She described an environment that recreated a village and within that a task was set for students to travel the village asking questions of residents to try and discover the location of a bomb. The aim of this was for the investigation team to be exercising their investigative skills needed in the curriculum. It has another fascinating side though in that the people they talked to were not bots but role playing fellow students. For those students this was then an exercise in practising their language skills (in this case english). So there were in fact two lessons going on with different groups interacting in the same environment.

On the schedule next was going to the the Fenêtre sur chambre, which for various reasons as it was a remote presentation did not happen. However we all agree that it is one of the most important and worthy uses of virtual worlds. People cannot be anything but touched by its impact.”windows in the bedroom” uses virtual worlds as a connection between children in long term hospital wards and their parents and friends. Creating and playing together. (It’s not about ROI or profit or efficiencies etc its about people connecting in difficult emotional situations and that is very important)

Our final education slot of the day was down to two students Lars Dijkema and Mathijs Hamers from Elde College. We had to make a fuss of them as they had just graduated the day before, so to come and talk to us was a fantastic commitment and they arrived with a lot of enthusiasm and vigour to share their project with us. The project was a computer science one, but their mentors (such as Rick Reesen, a good friend and still at IBM doing some interesting things all with virtual world flavours) and teachers helped set them on the explore the use of virtual worlds. The overall project for the class was to investigate eco friendly and positive school environments. The guys decided that the idea they wants to explore they would do by building a virtual classroom exhibit. They quickly found that expanding that idea to build the whole school and providing a shared environment for their fellow classmates to show their ideas had a powerful social effect too. In their demo of the build the first thing that struck me was the revolving door. It was spinning away at the entrance. I thought it was just there as a graphical trick but it was spinning to attract attention because it was part of an idea to generate electricity for the school from motion of the door. I thought that was a great idea, and the visual cues and where and when I saw that will stay with me. It may have already been created elsewhere but the guys had taken the idea and implemented, then shared it and now I have that idea in my head. Great stuff!

This does of course link back to Jolanda’s presentation on how to teach and engage. The ownership and drive of the students was enabled and shepherded by the teacher and the attitude of the school. Elde College has a very open attitude to the technology and what can be used and accessed. It is a model that every school should take a look at over the risk averse control mentality.

That’s enough of that for now. Still to come, entrepreneurship, TPV’s for SL, AR and a vision for the future

It only takes a few clicks – Kitely Virtual World(s) on Demand

If you have strayed a little from virtual worlds recently, or if you are intrigued by the bigger environments but just don’t want to dive in fully or if you need a quick private virtual world to test and idea, or if you need a quick online 3d meeting place….(lots of use cases) then just spend 5 minutes (or less) with Kitely. press the register with facebook button. Create a world (there is a mini plugin to install to be able to launch) then hit launch and the SL client you have on your machine will spark up and drop you into your shiny new on demand opensim.
When you create the world you can specify it is only for you or for friends.
When you are not there the sim is parked in storage rather than being always on. That makes sense for most applications. The fact this is opensim too is great. The technology has got to a point where a service like kitely can build upon it.
using kitely
Pretty much in the time it took to read this you could have sparked up and entered a virtual world with full creative control and prim building.
They have also added importing of your own oar files, and exporting too which is very handy.
The images are form my little private OAR but include things like the Cool Stuff Collective set we used on S2Ep13 of the show.
So far so good, it all looks very promising 🙂 I think I will have to drop this into my Opensim presentation at Develop this year to show just how far and fast things are moving.
My "local" opensim presentation hosted on demand
I often run a local opensim to show how I prepare presentations, which in turn could make them an exhibit. Whilst I have some live opensim servers they were for private work, never opened them up due to confidentiality. I also ever got around to sparking up another one. So now if I build a nicer OAR file of the idea. Make it available online, that OAR can be used by people who only need to have a moderate vw knowledge to create their own instance of it, or visit my instance and share with others.
It’s a subtly different model, but an intriguing one that works, and as the tech works smoothly why not just use it 🙂

Sharing more ideas, Rockliffe and Metameets

The next few days are both busy,exciting and enjoyable with a bit of pressure thrown in for good measure.
Tonight I am on a show online in Second Life and on Metaverse TV for Rockliffe University
“Like oil and water, virtual environments offer a rare and complex mix of technical and social extremes where all the really interesting bits are occurring along the thin edge of the emulsion between the two. This week Kevin and Ian discuss the various perspectives of how technology and social constructs are merging and how far we have still yet to go.”
So I have to have my future brain wired in and see where the conversations take us. As this is just that there is no specific prepared content which is great as I enjoy to buzz of riffing on the ideas. See you there 🙂

The tomorrow I jump on a plane bound for Amsterdam, on the same flight with Justin CC or opensim fame so the southampton virtual world massive is on tour. We, and lots of our european fellow evangelists are heading to Metameets which is always the most vibrant gathering on the subject, mixing art and business and innovative ideas.
See you there too ?