Sunday, December 09, 2007

Using Second Life with a Whiteboard

overlay tools allowed visual annotation over SL during crits.

With a recently installed Promethean ActiveBoard in the studio, we tried a recording of a crit during a studio session.
This was our first opportunity of explore Second Life controlled by the activeboard kit, as well as another way of bringing SL into a blended learning environment.

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play
extract from recorded crit

Using the popup movement and camera controls within SecondLife, the avatar could be controlled via a pen or activeslate. With both a user operating at the board, and an activeslate being passed around, several users could puppeteer an avatar.
The inbuilt screen capture software, recorded both the onscreen action and the group's voices via the laptops microphone.

As first thoughts, this technology quickly enabled us to do a walkthrough of a SL work, with a student evaluating or commenting on the work in realtime. This would be a great way to evidence the process and learning outcomes of the student in a Second Life project. It also creates a video file for use by Second Markers or External examiners - that have no experience of using SL.

as this was a first attempt it revealed issues to resolve:

i) better microphone - or microphone placement to record a group of students clearly.
ii) some experimentation with video capture settings to get a better frames per second.
iii) set aside some time to show students (and other staff ) how to use the whiteboard tools.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Setting up SLOODLE ( 1st Attempt )

Having a spare hour, I had a fiddle with getting SLOODLE up and running on our college MOODLE server. Our very supportive IT dept ( see they do exist ! ), adding the SLOODLE patch and sending prim passwords back and forth, and generating the Notecard needed for the sloodle_config.

Setting the SLOODLE objects up in SL had a few teething problems. With the generic startup set, giving a few errors, when I was trying to get the two worlds connected.
Finally, I ended up rezzing the Avatar Registration Booth from the SLOODLE toolbox, manually updating the notecard in that, and trying to register the avatar with that....

Then got the Chat Logger up and running, with the Moodle Course Chatroom.

One thing I found, ( and this is probably only my experience ) - I needed to reset the SLOODLE objects manually to get them to work, after they were rezzed by the SLOODLE toolbox.

Anywho - off to find some willing test subjects.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Upping the Ante

Its been a while since I've blogged about the Digital Media courses activities within Second Life.

2nd year project, starting of with an SL based sketchbook.

Now a new academic year, and the course moving to new facilities on the Blenhiem Walk Campus, we've decided to jump in deeper with Second Life as part of the course.

Previously, we had rolled out SL as a more tentative venture, using it via Personal Development and Critical Studies - so we could explore Digital Cultures and Emerging Technology. We were very fortunate to also have a project with Penguin, that allow both staff and students to see the Vocational worth of Second Life.

Now the course is into its 2nd Year, we have Specialist Pathway modules in both Moving Image and Interactive Presentation.

For both of these modules, we decided to have a Second Life based brief, they could choose to undertake. The modules started on the 9th Nov.

Interactive Presentation

The Team brief is to create an Art Gallery within Second Life, which can be used by the other students and potential Artist in Residence projects.
The students have to consider curation within a virtual 3D space, the different forms of media that can be shown, how avatars can navigate, explore and engage the work that will be shown, as well as creating signage for the space. Upon this they will create an intergrated CSS template for a Ning based community and Blog.

It is hoped out of this brief, that students can explore and reflect on the differences of Flash or Web based Gallery and information presentation, with this 3D variant. As well as engaging with Social connectivity aspects of both Second Life and web communities like Ning.

Moving Image

The brief is to create a 2 minute Machinima presentation, to promote the Design for Digital Media course's presence and activity on the Collective's Second Life Island.

Hopefully, through this brief both the creative use of machinima can be explored, but tempered with a corporate sensibility. My gut feeling with more corporate presence within Second Life or similar (PS3 Home or There), there will be a new skill set needed for this convergence industry, and I hope this brief starts to address the portfolio needs of graduating students into this industry.
Also the cross-transferable skills back to video production, still means regardless of it being either traditional video or machinima - the students still has to go through the experience of production management, communicating with cast and crew & editing of footage.


With the 1st Years, we've had the opportunity of creating a new 10 credit module called 'Digital Cultures and Technologies', a half practical and theoretical module.

This has given us an opportunity to have a more course wide engagement within Second Life. The project set is called 2020, where we ask the students to design a poster to communicate what they speculate could be future digital ( or other ) experiences, commodities or technologies.

These poster will then also uploaded into Second Life, as part of a display - in the new art gallery the 2nd year's are building.

As part of the module, we've had a seminar on Avatars, which allowed practical play via Second Life.


All of these projects will run up till Christmas, which we'll hopefully make open to the public. ( though actually the islands always open to the public, so you can pop by and see work in progress - so excuse the clutter - we're a sandbox, not a polished marketing tool.)

Some of the activity that's been blogged by the students...

As a team, Liam and Fio, have initially created a 3D sketchbook to house both there research and idea development, and a place to try out building prototypes.

( which actually reminds me, I get a few IM's saying that there's seems to be little happening on our island... actually a lot happens its just tends to be up at 500 ms )

here's some posts from the 1st years, after playing with avatar creation for an afternoon.

It's also sparked some critical response,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Using Second Life to support Moving Image specialism on Design for Digital Media.

Moving Image specialism.
Moving image covers all time / screen based work, from live action Video production to 3D / traditional Animation. Projects could include title-sequence design, music videos, short drama and documentary productions.

The production of moving image work using Second Life, other MMO's or Video Game Engines is called Machinima. The practice of Machinima can help re-inforce the practice and theories of professional moving image production, could be used as a form of advanced animatics within a larger moving image production; as well as being a moving image medium in its own right.

A Whale of a Tale, - Angrybeth Shortbread 2006

Transferable skills that can be gained from creating Machinima

Storytelling and Structure
Without a story / narrative / structure / concept , as a starting point, then the machinima will have no co-herent sense or meaning. In the act of creating a machinima, the student's have to work out what they are trying to communicate to the audience, and develop appropriate scripts or storyboards. Dramatic structure and character development can be deeply explored with this technique. As Machinima has very little costs ( well once you have the kit that is ... ) a student can try alternative shot setups and sequences, and explore how they impact on storytelling and meaning.

Shot Compostion / Camera Movement
The camera controls within the Second Life client, are sophisticated enough to allow a student to explore shot framing techniques both moving image and also virtual photography. Lens effects ( field of vision) can be explored to a degree. Scripted objects allow tracking and craning sequences to be explored ( without the considerable cost and health and safety issues that happens in real life ). Focus, exposure techniques and smooth zooming effects are several areas that can't be explored with Second Life machinima at present in realtime.
With the recent addition of dynamic lighting, some exploration of lighting techniques can be applied, especially low-key / chiaroscuro
lighting effects. Though shadows at present can't be cast by objects or avatars.

I've slowly been building learning material for shot framing using machinima here. --- link

Post Production
Second Life has no inbuilt tools for editing shots and sequences created in Second Life. Footage will either be recorded directly to the hard-drive of the computer or onto video tape ( if using video-output from the computer to a video deck ).
Editing the footage would need to be done in programs like eg. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or Avid. This allows a student to engage with industry software whilst editing the machinima footage into a fine cut for presentation. Working with machinima footage captured via software, also allows students to explore quicktime compression.

Sound Design

The above example machinima 'whale of a tale' is entirely post-produced sound design, with sound effects synced in the post-production software. This technique, allows students to explore foley sound effects, added dialog replacement, and music compostion. Sound can be generated within Second Life, 10 second samples can be triggered, looped or synced with animation gestures. Streaming audio eg. Mp3 , can also be played into the land plot.
For students focusing more on traditional animation techniques, sound - especially dialog would be pre-recorded before animation would be generated. The mac client quicktime output is mute, so to record sync audio at the same time, the video deck option is the best solution. Alternatively using a piece of software like Soundflower can capture sound running through the sound card.

Art Direction / Production Design
Set design, costume design, props, location can be explored with Second Life. The content creation tools within Second Life can build all the assets required for machinima production, re-inforcing the students understanding of 3D modelling techniques ( that in themselves are cross-transferable to Games Design ). Combined with Shot compostion, genre styles can be explored. On a more management level, exploring Second life user created content for adequate assets, like clothes, props, and even locations, allows the students to explore the professionalism and responsiblites of roles like location manager, as well as co-ordinating a budget.

One distinction between machinima and 3D animation, are the characters ( avatars ) are controlled by other people online. This requires the machinima maker or team, to think of stratagies to co-ordinate a group of people in front of the camera synchronously. Also having to co-ordinate others, means the team have to break down the production into a schedule giving pragmatic experience of time-project management.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Brian Eno drops by The Collective...

Outside lecturing, part of my specialist practice is exploring art and design possibilities within Second Life as well as freelance design work, through my avatar - AngryBeth Shortbread.

Commissioned by The Long Now Foundation, thru, I was asked to translate Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings into Second Life, to concurrently run with its North American Premiere at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts in San Francisco. This was an interesting project to undertake, as it gave an opportunity to explore curation in a telepresent location. The original work is a very mutable presentation, taking on many forms - from plasma screens to video projection, as well as a DVD version that can be viewed at home on a computer or television.

This idea was carried over into Second Life - with several placements taking different forms of presentation of the work. These installations were spread out amongst the Second Life grid, creating a journey for the second life audience.

Response from other bloggers here -

picture by Ze Moo / Text by Cryus Huffhines

I love the image above as it shows the telepresent audience. SL sims may be limiting in the number of concurrent viewers, to a number similar to a real life small art gallery opening.
Though the ability to share at distance an international audience and have the work open 24/7
gives a little back.

Other images from the show can be seen at here - Link

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Penguin brief.

Through a 'live brief' commissioned by Penguin Books - Digital Publishing Dept, the last two months have given the Digital Media students the opportunity to experience the vocational side of Second Life. As tutor, I took on the role of a Production Manager / Technical Supervisor, with a small team of students brainstorming how the Penguin Brand could be realised as a Metaverse Experience. Using a medium like Second Life, the students are understanding how their skills in 3D CGI, Interactive Presentation and Graphic Design Communication can be brought together in a virtual space, as well an opportunity to consider how an 'audience' would experience and 'read' the content for this form of presentation.

I'm particularly excited, as this is getting student's to engage with possibilities of careers as content creators / designers for MUVE's (Multi-User Virtual Environments), not just for Second Life, but possibly for HOME on the PS3 and other MUVE's like Kaneva and There. Hopefully an industry that will become more the 'norm' when they graduate.

The project also gave us an opportunity to try to develop an idea of a Virtual Sketchbook. A small sandbox was created specifically for the project, divided into four sections: The Brief/client info, Research, Idea Development and Building area. This created a mix of images on Prims and 3D objects. Along with Virtual Portfolios, the idea of using a sandbox to explore the Design Process, is particularly of interest to myself, and something I want to further in the next academic year.

Text based Staircase (Idea in Progress). One of Penguin's requests was to approach the Second Life build more abstractly - rather than recreating something obvious like a 'bookshop' to represent the Brand. The Text staircase was produced by Chris Meredith, giving him an opportunity to explore 3D typography.

Recreation of Roald Dahl's Writing Shed.

The project is ongoing for a few more weeks, during which time representives from Penguin will give us feedback to the overall design approach, and allow for students to reflect on Industry reality. So far this has been a good project for students to practically engage with the issues and possibilites of using this emerging technologiy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Virtual Art School

If we are thinking about and simulating an ideal real life art school, then should we not also be creating the ultimate SL art school? Do we need a school for educating future virtual designers and artists? There are a lot of arguments floating around about this, but I don't think it wouldn't do any harm to have a go at building one. Perhaps the blank canvas approach that our friend at Leeds College of Art & Design, AnnaBeth Robinson (AngryBeth Shortbread), is taking with her students on the Digital Media course is the most appropriate way to tackle this. Art schools have traditionally provided studio space for the creation of artefacts, with staff available to mentor, facilitate and hopefully inspire students. Perhaps the ultimate art-school in Second Life is not a building at all, but an empty island owned by the student group.

comment by Ian Truelove on the Emerge - JISC website

Much consideration was placed into the idea of giving ownership of the island to the student group, when setting up our SIM. The blank canvas approach was an attempt NOT to constrain what ideas and work could be created within an online 3D environment. My personal take on this, is if you replicate too much of the 'Real' or at the other extreme create an Abstract space, the students may consider this is the only way to construct stuff on the island, or try to fit within that framework. Of course stronger students will question, explore and push this paradigm.

Interestingly for the first few weeks, as students created their initial presence on the island, they naturally replicated the real. Aspirational houses / studios decked out with furniture, setting their own boundaries and personal plot of land by creating a 'Home'. Into this space, many began to exhibit their personal and portfolio work.

I found this, not to dissimilar an experience to when I was a student at Art College. As a group we were given a very large studio space, lots of 8x5' panels, and told to construct our own spaces. What resulted was a mix of private booths, the construction of a small village of cubicles, and a section of studio fenced off, for large construction and video work (hmmm like a Real life sandbox ).

As a building exercise, I preferred to sit back and let them explore the building tools through creating recognisable structures. Creating something that's recognisable helps the student to gauge how well they can use the building tools, something akin to drawing exercises.

But within a few days, a few had begun to explore building in the sky, and immediately the parameters of what defines a space and how avatars move around a 3D environment was being experimented with. One particular went the other way, terraforming the land to create a deep 'hobbit hole' home inside a mountain.

Another thing that emerged quite quickly was the creation of 3D Characters, influenced by Designer Toys and Video Game culture. This really demonstrated how some where gaining a confidence in pushing their skills within SL.

Now the students have had their honeymoon period with Second Life, as a vocationally biased Digtial Media course, I've began to push them to consider how Second life, supports their specialist pathways and ultimately how they can utilise their skills for industry. But thats another post for later...... :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Week on The Collective Island

Keeping track of the activity, after a week of access.
So far 9 students (45% of the course cohort) have created their own presence on the island. ( It is important to note - this is extra curricula activity - not directly part of any course module ) The only input from myself, is that they can only use up 800 prims, and to consider their build a 3D portfolio. The island is not divided into plots, and the students have been encourage to self-govern the space. This seems to have led to some collaborative meeting spaces, amongst their own 'houses'

A Club build initiated by Nos, has work of other students on the wall, and has become one of the congregation points.

Inside Liama's Studio, a mix of work from RL graphic projects and objects made in Second Life.

Fio's space is beginning to bring in a mix of her interests in digital art and photography. The chairs are inspired by one of her favorite films - 2001.

Xissteve's building takes a 'game' apporach, as you explore the maze like building to find his images from previous modules.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Collective - Simtastic!

After a few months of organising with the College, and two weeks of waiting for Linden Labs, the Collective finally has its own island - wait for it called - ' The Collective ', how original heh?
Today it was opened to the course students, with 8 logging in and having a play, though a planned official opening will happen after the Easter break. Already several students are marking out their own spaces, hopefully without too much tutor interjection, they will self-govern the island between them. The only rule applied, is each student can use upto 800 prims. Hopefully this will get them to collaborate a prim budget between themselves to work on larger scale projects.

The mainland gallery will continue to operate on my own plot at Gourdneck. I think it is important that the students have a base to engage with the main grid, and it is also a potential traffic generator to the island sim when we have Exhibitions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Activity in the Metaverse begins.....

Students play drums as a group in Second Life.

Over the last few weeks, the students have become more confident in building and texturing with Second Life’s 3D content creation tools, with a few dabbling into scripting interactive elements into their builds.

Fio's Geisha doll - self directed building project in Second Life.

In total – 16 ( out of the 20 ) of the 1st year cohort have created a Second Life account.
2 have not joined as they don’t feel it is for them, and 2 don’t have adequate connection to Second Life at home, ( though they have been encouraged to uses it whilst at College )
Of the 16, 7 students are particularly active – logging into Second life at least three times a week. With the rest on average, once a fortnight.

As Second life has been introduced to them as an extra-curricula activity, the students work autonomously with the online environment, choosing to develop their own projects and buddy teaching each other second life skills. Tutor interjection prods individuals towards resources and techniques, which they themselves disseminate to the others in the group.

To date this has included:

  • Students have been using Second Life as a tool for CMC outside College hours, which has been useful with the course Team briefs in Video that have been set recently.

  • Collaborative Building project – 6 students have been remodelling the sandbox into a Fantasy Garden. – This is particularly interesting process, as the students are beginning to take ownership of the 3D space they are working in, rather than just their avatars
  • Co-operative Building – Individual students have been creating their own builds, but sharing resources like textures and scripts between themselves.
  • Several students have been using Second Life for Research, tie-ing into their Critical studies Essays and recent module in Interactive Presentation - example Link Here
  • Experimenting with Machinima making ( involving directing other people ). Link Here to work in progress

Recently – a new module called Personal Development has started. This contains a range of ‘live’ and simulated briefs, with several being solvable (or aspects of) via Second Life. This has brought Second Life more into the course structure, specifically allow students to self-direct a project to use their Second life techniques.

Issues to resolve:

Uptake of Second Life, - due to the extra curricula nature of the bringing Second Life into the course, many students do not want to take on more work beyond the course requirements.
With the Collective’s own private island coming online soon, specific activities will be introduced into the course structure, which will be another opportunity to encourage students to engage with Second Life, Particularly a project focused on End of Year Show, that will involve the outgoing 2nd Year HND Interactive Media course.

The island will also be accessible to the students over the summer, where they will be encouraged to create a machinima film for the Bradford Animation Festival.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Students orientate themselves

The Collective village, was created during the New Year holiday, and opened to the students to use from the 8th Jan 2007. The intention is to use ( for the immediate future ) Second Life, as an addition to the course content. As a vocational based digital media course, Second Life won't replace the 'industry' based software that is taught during the first year modules, but it does provide an opportunity for the students to critically engage an emerging technology and broaden their research and idea development. As students become more confident with Second Life, they may choose to incorporate it within their Self-Directed projects during the 2nd and 3rd Year.

As part of an extra curricular activity, within the 1st Year Interactive Presentation Module, a small group of students began exploring Second life, as an alternative platform / experience for presenting Interactive / Digital Work. As sometimes the case with first use of second life, many spent time playing with their avatar's apperance, stamping their ownership upon them.

The sandbox gave them an opportunity to start using the basic 3D tools, and play with freebie objects that they had found on their explortations. Doctor Who seemed to be a re-curring theme.

Not only does the Collective Lab exist to help orientate the digital media students, but interested staff from other college departments and courses, drop by to play.

Paul (the fox), Instructor technician, talks to the students inworld, though in reality he's on the other side of the main art building.

The Collective's presence in Second Life

The Collective Village, the base of operations, located in Gourdneck.

The Studio Lab - is the public meet and greet section of the Collective village. This area will be consistantly updated with content, showcaseing the student's work in progress and end of module exhibition work. This space allows the students to explore and simulate curation skills, that are transferable to real life, as well as exploring the potential of second life for presentation of digital design work.
One area of ongoing staff research, especially with this section of the village (and Second Life in general ), is to investigate Second life as a potential form of e-portfolio using it to link and show students ongoing design work, and demonstrate their skills in professionalism and critical engagement.

The Cinema - is a special area for showing students' moving image work. The Students engage with Traditional Animation, Computer generated Animation, and Video Production skills throughout the course. The Cinema gives the students an opportunity to show work to a broader audience, and eventually host their own film festival or moving image promotion. It also allows them to pragmatically investigate video / audio streaming.
It also doubles as our ad-hoc lecture theatre, if we need to support and explore any distance learning opportunities.

(inside the cinema)

Floating 700ms above the ground, is the Collective's Sky Park, which consists of...

The Sandbox
is probably the most engaging and process led part of the Second Life experience for the design students. This is a small building area (70ms x 30ms), that allows them to
explore the creation tools and scripting within Second life. Working within a tighter constraint of prims, forces the students to consider and problem solve prim efficient 3D work.
Anything larger scale, they would work within a public sandbox like Newcomb.

The Local Teleport Hub, connects the ground and skypark area, as well as quick teleport to the cinema. This area also doubles as a small chat room / congregation area, when student's are logging in from home.

The Meta-Lab, is my personal workspace, to create and investigate educational tools made in Second life.