As many of you in SecondLife® (aka SL) might have already started hearing or reading about, Linden Lab  has been working for months on the introduction of a Materials System (aka MS for remainder of article) in SL that is available to the entire building community and would be visible for all SL residents.  This is extremely exciting when it gets fully deployed and will bring the quality and reality level within SL to another level !

But before I go any further I am sure many of you might not know what a MS is.  Well let me try to explain what it is and why it's so cool.

A MS is a technology that allows 2D textures (i.e. basic images like from a photo or a texture) react with corresponding shadows and reflections when light sources are directed at the texture.  
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Click Image to view my YouTube video this topic
Light sources within a gaming systems like SL can be a moving sun on a sim, or any lit prim (like a face-light or street lamp).  As such, since the MS enabled texture knows how to appropriately interact with these moving / changing light sources, if the light sources change in any way (i.e. they move or get brighter or dimmer or get turned off), the texture will respond to these changes and create shadows and shininess / reflections in a realistic way.

As part of this blog, I have created my first "Toysoldier Thor Video Blog Series" on YouTube whereby I actually show you how the new MS works within SecondLife.  Click on the video title image above to watch the 9 minute video.

Up until now (and until MS is fully released in SL), us builders have had very basic ways to provide realistic shadows and reflections on SL built textures.  What we have been doing is hard painting the shadows and reflections right into the basic texture to make it look like the texture is interacting with nearby lights.  This is referred to as "BAKING" the materials system onto a texture. 

As a 3D model / Mesh creator, my 3D modelling tool (ZBrush) has a powerful MS built into it that can interact with light sources, but then before I bring this mesh object into SL, I have BAKED the desired result onto the textures of the model.  When it shows up in SL as an art sculpture, you all might say that is cool and see the shadows and reflection.  But what the observer is subtly missing is that even if all the lights are turned off or moved, these reflections and shadows don't change.

This might sound like a small problem but the human brain is an extremely powerful interpreter of it's surroundings.  It picks up unusual lighting situations and concludes that what it sees is fake and not a real situation.  This reduces your human experience of the level of realism within SL.  Therefore, the better you as a builder can reduce these "Unnatural Reference Points" and fake out the human mind, the more believable it is to the mind and the more real the experience for you within SL.

I should point out one interesting fact.  SL has had a special MS active for a long time and we all see it in action almost every day when you are bouncing around any sim near the LL Ocean.  Yup... you got it.  Have you every noticed and marveled at how much more beautiful and realistic and interactive the LL Oceans are than anything else in SL?  That is because the LL Oceans have been specially built with a MS that directly interacts with the sim's sun / moon light sources.  That is why it shimmers and the reflections change as the waves are rolling.
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Texture or Diffuse Map
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Normal Map
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Specularity Map
Anyway, LL's MS is very close to full deployment and they already have a MS enabled viewer released.  Its not in the latest release of FS (4.4.1).  So I decided this weekend to experiment with this new MS on the SL Beta grid and installed the latest LL Viewer 3.6.1.

I took one of my landscape textures from my BANFF ROCKWALL texture pack that I have been selling for many years and convert it to be able to interact with SL's MS.  This is done by using a program that can interpret a 2D texture as it is being hit by light sources and creates a set of additions related textures that a MS uses to do it's magic.  These special textures are called MAPS.  

There are several types of maps but SL only uses THREE.  The basic texture map called a "Diffuse Map", the "Normal Map", and the "Specular Map".  The others are not used in SL.  To the left you can see all three of them I created for my RockWall texture.  The first one looks completely normal - because it is completely normal (ironically it's not the "normal map").  It is what I sell in my pack.  The other two maps look completely weird but these special colors on these maps are providing very important light reacting instructions to the SL MS so that it can create the shadows and reflections on your screen as light sources move.

There are many methods to create these maps, but an extremely powerful small programs that can very effectively create these maps from a basic texture is a program called CRAZYBUMP.  This is what I used to make these maps in a matter of about 1 minute.

Once I created the three maps, it was time to go into SL's Beta Grid called Aditi to do some experiments.  At the time of this article you have to use the LL's latest materials system enabled viewer - I used version 3.6.1.  Once logged in, I uploaded the three maps (i.e. they are just texture like any other texture so you upload them like you would load any image into SL).

I decided to create a floor and three balls made of this texture so that I could see how the sim's lighting and shadows interact with all the prims.  For each prim, I followed the instructions to load all three maps.  This is done in the newly enhanced TEXTURE tab of the object's EDIT window.  You first load the Diffuse map.  Then you load the Normal Map, then the Specular Map.  Both the new maps have several options to changes their interaction on the prim, but the specular map has more settings to increase/decrease the amount of reflection (aka Glossiness).
Once I was done, I set up the scene with the sim's sun set in the sunset position so I could see how the low sun's angle created the shadows and lighting with all around it (including me and a recent jail cell cage I created.

I also, create one scene with NO MS used and one with many of them prims using the MS.  

I also inserted a basic cube prim and enabled its "LIGHT FEATURE" similar to what we all use to make face-lights for our avatars.  You can see it glowing in the middle.  It was put there so I could see how the prim's shadows and reflections interact with this light source.

Finally I also took the same image of the MS scene from the latest version of Firestorm 4.1.1 to show you all that it does not yet know how to interact with the MS (even with all my settings at their max).

As you can see, even though my texture does a pretty good job in looking 3D-like with some subtle baked on shadows, there is just no comparison to the amazing realism that you witness when the prims are installed with the MS maps (the middle image).

Enlarge the middle image by clicking on it and tell me with of the three balls DOES NOT have the MS enabled.  Its very easy to see which one it is.

Also, notice the reflections on the floor.  What this image cannot illustrate but is very clear in my embedded video blog is that the reflections and shadow change with the changes in the light sources around it.  When I move the lightbox, all the shadows and reflections change to respond to where the light is coming from.  This is the most amazing feature of the new MS to SecondLife®.

When LL works out all the bugs and this is fully released into the grid by all the 3PV makers, grid residents will see an evolution to an amazing new level of realism.
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NO MATERIALS SYSTEM - LL Viewer (click to enlarge)
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MATERIALS SYSTEM on Most Prims - LL Viewer (click to enlarge)
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MATERIALS SYSTEM - FS Viewer (click to enlarge)
There was one quickly noticed annoyance regarding the EDIT of the MS deployment.  Once I set up the Texture, Normals, and Specular maps the way I want, if I later decide I want to change the texture's repeat pattern, the other corresponding textures must be manually changed to match the main texture.  Considering there are almost no instances where these 3 textures would need to be out of synch, I am not sure why LL did not lock the repeat values for these 3 textures together so that if any one of them changed, the others would also change.  They should have placed a manual override as an option but defaulted them to be in lockstep.

This concludes my blog on the new SecondLife® Materials Systems.  Looking forward to exciting new builds with it.
 
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Today I was completely surprised, shocked, and then angered when I found out from one of my many amazing SecondLife friends that the founders and contest manager of the ARTISTS4SL group disqualified my artwork submission because - as I was told the reason given to her....

"...it did not meet the spirit of the contest"

So what the hell happened that a so-called art contest in SecondLife by a so-called art group called ARTISTS4SL would reject my art submission !! 

Well I want to first tell those of you that are reading this blog posting that I almost NEVER enter these kind of contests.  Why don't I enter them?  Two reasons:

FIRST:  Because I am not one that likes doing photoart of avatars and profile photo art.  Its not that I can't do a pretty good job taking SL photos of avatars and  artistically manipulating them.  But avatar photos - clothed & nudes - have been done millions of times and in so many ways and by some amazing SL photo artists, that I couldn't think of a way I would add a unique inspiring perspective to this style of art in SL.
SECOND: 
Any art contests whereby the winner is chosen by open public forms of voting as opposed to being judged by a pre-determined panel of qualified art judges is just a sham of an Art Contest.  We all know that they are moreso popularity contests and not
We all know that these open vote contests in SL are just popularity contests and not a legitimate way of promoting the best works in an art challenge.  It also does not help the members of an art group like Artists4SL who's mandate is supposedly to help educate and ramp up beginner artists by showing what winning artworks on a theme would look like versus those that might need more aspects to their art.  By promoting winning artworks simply based on the most votes because the artist has a large network, it confuses new artists.

BUT, despite my natural tendency of avoiding contests like this NUDES theme of ARTISTS4SL, something inspired me to take a shot at this contest by this group.  The inspiration was because I got the idea that maybe I could blend a nude model pose in 2D format with my skills in 3D mesh modeling.  
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"ALL HE SEES" click to enlarge
So I recruited a lovely friend to model for me.  She patiently posed for me for over an hour.  Then I spent two days experimenting in my 3D modeling tool and photoshop to convert my SL photo into a surreal 3D looking portrait sculptured 2D photoart for this contest.

The result is what you see to the left and it was called 
"ALL HE SEES".

I contacted the organizer of the contest Jewell Wirefly on several occasions to understand how and where to register to be eligible to submit.  I asked what I could and couldn't submit.  I finally submitted, my work on the date (even though it was not ready that day).

Very importantly, as a final step of the submission instructions from the contest boards, it told artist to now go out and tell all your friends about your art in the contest and get them to vote.
As much as I don't agree with this "popularity" style of contest voting, it's what they promote so I played along and contacted a lot of my SecondLife, Flickr, Facebook, Koinup friends to look at my art and come vote for me.  I said it was a free vote.  After I sent out my request for their support, a few asked how many times they could vote.  I went to ask Jewell again.  She said only once but then dropped another undocumented bombshell on me... ONLY GROUP MEMBERS CAN VOTE.  Again, this was not in any instructions or rule.  But to show how lame the contest was, even though only group member votes count, they allowed anyone to vote and think that their votes actually counted.  I told Jewell that it would be proper that she at least post this new rule near the board - which she did.  

I had to tell my friends about this added rule to the voting and didn't expect any friends to vote knowing this.  BUT my friends are so awesome that most of them joined the group and then voted to ensure their votes counted.  In a matter of four days my art submission was far ahead of any of the other submissions - 57 where most didn't even break double digits!!


Then this morning when one of my friends went to vote, she was not able.  She contacted Jewell to ask why she couldn't vote for this leading artwork.  She was told by Jewell that she talked to the founder (whom I have to assume is JIMSLATER75 RESIDENT in SL and "artists4SL" in facebook) and they decided to disqualify the artwork because it was not in the spirit of the contest.

So basically I followed all the rules of this poorly structure lame art contest to a TEE and then because my popularity and that of my artwork were far greater than any of their other contestants, they quietly removed my art submission.

To add to the unprofessional manner of how this group's management operates, Jewell nor JimSlater nor anyone from the group even contacted me about their concerns or to inform me that they were removing my submission where I could have argued my defense.

I have removed my membership from this poorly operating unprofessional group.  I have demanded they delete my submission from their board that they didn't even do.  And I am updating all my notices in facebook, koinup, flickr, inworld SL, and this blog to tell all my art loving friends about what happened and how this group operates.

I personally want to apologize to all my friends for all the hassle and work I put them through to support me for nothing!  I love you all for your deep strong support of my art!!

Toy
 
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On Sunday June 2nd 2013. I was sitting at my main computer just popping around all my relevant sites like my SL Marketplace Merchant store, my art presence on DeviantArt.com, my art presence on Koinup.com, my SL Facebook account, and others.  Just was checking to see how things were going.  

Then I went to my FLICKR account to see how things were going there.  I guess it was my statistics review of top selling SL Marketplace items that piqued my interest on what are my most viewed and most "interesting" and popular artworks in my FLICKR page. 

Before I get into what are these "TOP X" submissions in my Flickr account, let me give a little story about my Flickr account and how its birth tied to a milestone of me starting my passion and hobby as a Digital Artist.

It is strange to know when one's new career or hobby or passion started to the exact day, but this is the case for me and my passion to explore my more ARTISTIC path in my life. I guess I always had that in me but it wasn't until the April 2010 SecondLife Fantasy Faire where my entry into a "Photo Contest" had me ending up winning 2nd place and it kick-started my career/role as a "Digital Artist". It was also on that day when I won 2nd place that I posted my FIRST ARTISTIC FLICKR photo submission. Prior to that date I only had 3 older images used to hold some group logos.  That date was April 20, 2010.

If you go to my inworld SecondLife Art Gallery you will see a lot of the artworks I have created since April 20th, 2010. But, if you want to see pretty much ALL of my created artworks, experiments, RL photos, textures, and basically any images I captured since this date, then my FLICKR account is the place to explore. It has a lot of works which I didn't think were worthy of placing in my art gallery - which already stands at 5 floors tall.

Now, one really cool feature of sites like Flickr is that it has a highly detailed account statistics section where you can see all kinds of information on all your submitted photos into your stream. 
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My 1st SL Artwork - click to Flickr Page
Well I decided to analyse and and compile these statistics for my Flickr stream and create a blog post about it - what you are reading now.  After looking at these FLICKR STATS, I have summarized some cool TOP X images that I will now share with you.  


The first general statistic is that as of the day I posted this blog I have submitted 176 images in total and they have been view 36,079 times up to today.  


To answer another question of "Why is your account called TOYSOLDIER98?".  That name came from my initial YAHOO account since Flickr is owned by Yahoo.  I have held some version of the name "Toysoldier" since I first came onto the Internet back in about 1994.  When I finally joined Yahoo chat rooms in 1998, there already was a "Toysoldier" so I just added the year to the end of it.

What I already have mentioned and you can see the image of it above, the first artistic Flickr submission I made was on April 20th, 2010 and it was called:
"Fantasy Faire 2010 - Sector Sci Fi"  ( 208 views, 2 faves, 6 comments )

One thing to point out is that if you click any of the images, you will go to the actual flickr page.  This will not only show you a larger image but I also provide a lot of "artist comments" for each work.  So feel free to click any image.

Here is the awards to my TOP 3 VIEWED Flickr images.  Top viewed means that the count does not take into account if the image had any "faves" or "comments" - it was just visited and viewed.  Following are the top 3:
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1ST - "VOYEUR"
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2ND - "MUCH TO LOSE"
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3RD - "GLOW ON GRUNGE STREET"
Here are the statistics for the 3 TOP VIEWED shown above:

1st - Voyeur (1407 views)
2nd - Much To Lose (707 views)
3rd - Glow On Grunge Street (682 views)


Here are the awards for my TOP 3 MOST INTERESTING Flickr images.  They are deemed most interesting to Flickr stats because they have the highest combination of Faves / Comments counts 
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1ST - "PRAIRIE WINTER"
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2ND - "FALL REFLECTIONS"
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3RD - "IRONHORSE EXPRESS"
Here are the statistics for the 3 MOST INTERESTING images.  The numbers in the brackets are (views/faves/comments):

1st - Prairie Winter ( 486 / 18 / 104 )
2nd - Fall Reflections ( 419 / 18 / 39 )
3rd - IronHorse Express ( 286 / 22 / 55 )


Some things to about the winners and their statistics. 

Viewing and popularity counts can be highly misleading since some works are older than others or I put more time promoting a submission into more Flickr groups, or other reasons.  Also, in the most popular list, Prairie Winter was my only recognized formal award winning artwork I ever created in SecondLife.  Fall Reflections is by far my most popular selling artwork in both SecondLife and MarketPlace. 

As for the fact that the 1st place Most Viewed being "Voyeur"... ^snicker^  I think that is because there are a lot of people with sensual naughty minds out there that like being... well... VOYEURS!  That is likely why it is by a factor of 2:1 higher in view count then the next highest views yet it only had 12 faves and 16 comments.

Anyway, I really hope you enjoy my little "TOYS FLICKR TOPS X TOUR"