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Saturday, August 7, 2010

No-one's Perfect: Sextan Shepherd

External objects produce decided effects upon the brain 
Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth

It's the perfect cure for any midsummer melancholy: Sextan Shepherd's Nemo. If you haven't been lately, get out your best graphics card and prepare to spend a couple of hours in bliss. Forget about clown fish, Captain Nemo is the central character in Jules Verne's book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a brilliant and sometimes disquieting book well worth a (re-)read this summer. Even if you're not into Steampunk, this build will delight you and pull you in. Quiet, charming and self deprecating in the best Gallic style, Sextan has put together one of the most amazing adventures available inworld. Albatroz Hird, who was wearing his Indian avatar, introduced us on the dockside.
It was late at night. This is what happened, minus most of my inane questions and cooing.
 If you click on the pictures, they get bigger.
Albatroz Hird: Thirza, meet Sextan, Sextan, here is Thirza :) Voilà, comme ça, ça, c'est fait ^^
Sextan Shepherd: Thanks for the introduction Alba.
Albatroz Hird: Thirza a écrit un super article sur Avignon, très bien illustré.
Sextan Shepherd: Yes Alba, I have read it, it's really well done.
Woo hoo, vive la France, mental handshaking and compliments. You can't beat it. On the jetty, there's a dirigible that takes you on a tour of the island, it's one of those rare places where you get the delicious feeling of being a little lost, in an imagination vast enough to disappear over the horizon. Alba, Sextan and I walked into the great underwater elevator.
Albatroz Hird: Un indien dans tes installation, c'est compatible ?
Sextan Shepherd: LOL il est étanche l'indien?
Thirza Ember looks up  étanche = waterproof ... hehe je crois.
Albatroz Hird: Sûr, en tout cas, y prends pas l'eau! C'est vraiment étonnant de réalisme, je suis vraiment impressionné!
We walked out into the big underwater compartment, and looked at the model of the installation.
Sextan Shepherd: You never came here before Alba?
Albatroz Hird: Nope, it's my first time
Sextan Shepherd: OK, Thirza, so you already know the submarine city. I'm afraid all that I have built since that time is no more connected with  the J.Verne story. The flying city in the poster is called Alnitak. It is the ancient name for the biggest star of the orion constellation Zeta Orionis. Come on, follow me.
   I tried to follow them, but this horrible Snowglobe viewer, or the new mouse, or ...something. Anyway, I fell in a sort of trough and couldn't get out. There's no flying on Nemo, so I was pretty stuck, and did all kinds of jumps that this skirt was not built to withstand.
Thirza Ember: uff... don't laugh so hard.
Sextan Shepherd: ...... I said nothing!
Albatroz Hird: We don't, do you Sextan?
Sextan Shepherd: You are so thin.... you can hide between the walls.
See, I told you they were French. The giant shrimp is my favourite part of this build, it makes me hungry for a yummy fritto misto. Although this one might be a bit indigestible.
Sextan Shepherd: So how did I had the idea to build Nemo. Look over you, at the manta ray on the ceiling. This is the start of Nemo. I built that manta ray because I thought it was cool, don't ask me why! Then after that, maybe I was hungry too... I have built the shrimp. I was just having fun. Then I thought it could be nice to have a place where I can put this stuff in, and Nemo was born.
Albatroz Hird: c'est vraiment un travail, exceptionnel que tu as réalisé.
Sextan Shepherd: Before this, I was building small objects, like the object that you saw at Avignon. I got the sim to make this real. Ok, so now that you know how Nemo was born - lets go to see the rest! Fasten your seat belt!
With that, Sextan led us up another flight of stairs and down a tube. Once again, I got stuck in a gully. It was all pretty humiliating. I asked about textures. There are hundreds of sharp, beautiful, and surprisingly quickly loading textures in this build.
Sextan Shepherd: On this sim the textures represent 50% of the time involved in the building process, I create all my textures from scratch, or I start from a picture taken,  so I spend a lot of time on photoshop. You know, I love video games, and I wanted to find the same kind of atmosphere, something very immersive, that doesn't look like what we usually find in SL and yes, the details are important to get that immersion.
Albatroz Hird: Volta, Tesla, Faraday, Watt, Edison, et tous les autres précurseurs devaient vraiment tout inventer: c'est ça, le pur génie. Créer pour pouvoir créer plus loin. [That means Creating in order to create further - I looked it up]
Sextan Shepherd: Absolutely, Alba. They had all to discover things. J'adore l'electricité. I'm a big fan of Tesla's work; I don't think he would have liked SL, he was involved in reality, in matter, and he was already beyond our universe. This would all be too unreal, too abstract. William Crookes is another genius ...dans un autre genre. He discovered Neon. All the neon lights that we have today.. it's his invention, we owe him the TV screens too. Tesla, Verne, Eiffel, Guimard, Crookes... they all lived at the same period! They could have met each other.
Albatroz Hird: Au sommet de la tour pour un diner, ennuyeux pour les autres, mais certainement intéressant pour la science!
I tried to imagine them all at the top of the Eiffel tower, at the Verne restaurant of course, and wondered what they would order. Maybe the shrimp. Or lobster. I like lobster. In another room which, for once, I navigated without mishap, there were round platforms with a celestial clock and other mechanisms were on display, part of the continuing build.
Sextan wanted us to move on, down another long dark straight tunnel, but I hesitated, trying to take a picture, and apparently was waving my arms about, although not on my viewer.
Albatroz Hird: Thirza rame - you want some flippers, Thirza ? :))
Thirza Ember: you are too quick for me: remember I am only a blonde and it is all new.
Sextan Shepherd: It's because there are so many things to see.
Albatroz Hird: Take your time, no problem
Sextan Shepherd: Ok now lets walk straight..
Easier said than done. We came out into a cavernous space dominated by a giant drilling machine.
Sextan Shepherd: These are the orichalcum mines. It is a fantastic material, it's what gave to Atlantis its technological advance. Plato talked about that when he wrote about Atlantis.
We climbed an iron staircase and came to a transporteur.
Thirza Ember: This is beautiful too.With so much detail, you make the sim seem very big, it is an incredible imersive experience.
Sextan Shepherd: Well it's a sim size. I just can't have bigger.
Albatroz Hird: Je suis réellement impressionné.
Sextan Shepherd: Lol it's nothing but a few prims.
Albatroz Hird: Oui, mais quels prim!
When the transporteur stopped, we were at Nemo station. A path led off to the left, to the village, but we climbed up to take a look inside the Nautilus. I asked Sextan how he builds - from RL drawings, or gradually, prim by prim, within SL.
Sextan Shepherd: I have no organisation at all. One build calls another one, and another one, it's a kind of organic growth.
Thirza Ember: The central idea is very strong.
Sextan Shepherd: ho.. if you found the central idea .. send it to me! I wish I could knew it!
Thirza Ember: I think it is beauty in science, or elegance in exploration, like Tesla; he found elegance in electricity.
Albatroz Hird: Depuis combien de temps travailles-tu sur ce projet ?
Sextan Shepherd: I have started this in March.
Thirza Ember: Tell me, also, does being famous it make it harder for you to build?
Sextan Shepherd: I'm not famous LOL so I can build quietly lol

Thirza Ember: oh no, you're famous - the sim was full from the first day. Everyone is drawn to this build, it is
so beautiful and interesting, and even now there are always people here.
Sextan Shepherd: Yes, but 99% of the people that came here on the first day have forgot my name since. The sim is famous .. not me.
Thirza Ember: Well, I don't think so, but i think it is better to be quiet than to be famous.
Sextan Shepherd: yes me too!
Albatroz Hird: I agree.
Thirza Ember: you don't feel pressure to make something even better?
Sextan Shepherd: Ohh yes, all the time. Every build is a challenge, how to make it better than the
previous.
Albatroz Hird: This kind of pressure is coming from the inside of you. it's the worst one, and the best one too.
Sextan's version of Nautilus is a giant fish. propped up on the shore. It's a role-player's dream, and I should have thought it would make a great place for whose in the literary community, struggling with writer's block, to meet and get inspired.
You can see why Sextan's study is right here on board, in the heart of the build. It was late, very late in France, but Sextan kindly continued the tour. The men talked about building tips, something about metal textures, stuff I wouldn't have understood even in English, and I admired the helm. After a bit, we got back on the transporteur and rode to the village. Sextan really isn't at all Steampunky in the way one would expect, as I then discovered.
Albatroz Hird: Tu connais Syberia ?
Sextan Shepherd: Non Alba. What is siberia but a country?
Albatroz Hird: C'est un jeu d'enquête fait par Benoît Sokal dans cet esprit steampunk, un univers d'automates.
Sextan Shepherd: Oh no I don't know.
Ooo shops. I remembered the SLSyberia build that Clematilde Oyen and her friends put together a couple of years ago, and wished I'd better pictures of it. Sextan led us into to a giant orrery, complete with shadows that make the planets seem alive. Under the mechanism, a couple of lovers were saying a shy good night in open chat.
Sextan Shepherd: Thirza this part of the sim is not taken from a book, it's just my fantasy, je me suis amusé avec le planetarium.
Ever the perfectionist, Alba's next question was no surprise.
Albatroz Hird: Super! tu as calculé la correspondance des cycles, je suppose ?
Sextan Shepherd: Oui plus ou moins...
Albatroz Hird: je me régale [that means 'I'm loving it', isn't that nice?]
Sextan Shepherd: haha tant mieux!
Albatroz Hird: pas de parcelles à respecter, libre de faire comme tu le vois, c'est top!
We went up onto the roof. There was a giant cannon.I like giant cannons. Mouselook. We shot ourselves up into the sky and landed on the flying city above. What a trip.
Sextan Shepherd: Welcome on Alnitak the Flying City. It's still in progress... want to see something new in SL ? La maison aux miroirs.
The geostationary mechanically assisted flying city reminded me of an old fashioned funfair, the attractions linked by a sort of boardwalk. We walked into a lofty room, bright with stained glass and turning mirrors. The men started talking technical stuff, and I just zoned out, enchanted by all that spinning, sparkling glass.
After a while, we walked over to the Space-O-Rama. This beautiful metal sphere contains a theatre with giant lenses that turn to show aspects of space: a sun, a nebula, and the vortex of a black hole.
Albatroz Hird: super !
Thirza Ember: It's a wonderful build, and I have almost no lag, which makes it so much more fun.
Sextan Shepherd: I try to keep the scripts as low as I can: I still need to add something in one lens, it's empty for the moment.
Alba suggested a model version of the sim, similar to the one he is wokring on for his own marvellous build at Avignon, but with so manyy intricate and oddly shaped buildings that seems close to impossible; and yet, looking at Sextan, nothing seems quite beyond his ability.
It was late, so we took a brief look at the Museum of Flying Machines, containing some of Sextan's notable working creations, and this beautiful photograph. It was really very late, dawn had broken over the sim and it was time to say bonne nuit to both these fine builders... I knew I'd be back, again and again, for there is still so much more to see, from the underwater rooms to the tea set carousel, and the spider building...
 I hope you'll visit Nemo soon, and experience this truly liberating place for yourself. Nemo is the perfect antidote to all the imperfections of the summer sun. If you see a clumsy blonde in the corner, give a wave, it's probably me.

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