Saturday, June 19, 2010

Everything Ode is New Again

One of the first truly impressive sims I found way back when I first started exploring in Second Life was a place called Ode. I'd seen some neat builds and found fun things to do, but Ode was the first sim that really impressed me as an attempt to push past the limits of what most people did with Second Life and truly make an environment. Gorgeous fields of flowers elegant trees, a few simple understated buildings…and a massive cliff that dropped precipitously off into a crashing sea.

Ode served as at the home and showroom for Second Life jeweler Random Calliope; his WorthWhile jewelry gallery was down at the base of the cliff, if you want to go look for it…but in the sim itself you didn't see glossy high-fashion photoshopped ads, models, exhortations to buy-buy-buy, join groups, get updates, participate in hunts, or any of that. Just a fields, trees, a simple house. If you wandered you'd find some stables, a gazebo, and a fountain.

Across the (new) fields of Ode

You could just to to Ode to chill out or cavort through the fields—plenty of people did, and the sim is a popular spot amongst SL photographers. If you looked around, though, there were lots of details like an in-world book detailing some of Random Calliope's jewelry pieces, commissions, and design approach. There are also free pieces to be had: butterflies around the sim sometimes give you bits of his "Ode" set if you catch them, and sometimes a shooting star also bears gifts.

Ode has recently received a substantial makeover, apparently at the hands of the very talented Saiyge Lotus. All the signature elements are still there—the poplar trees, the butterfly house, the fields, the stable, the cliff, the gazebo…the butterflies and shooting stars. Collaborators Elizabeth Tinsley and Saiyge (and others? I don't know) are apparently planning to keep Ode around: they've moved their sim Oubliette next door, so the stores Evie's Closet, Balderdash, Frippery, and No Strings Attached are now part of a coherent two-sim landscape. It's gorgeous, and deserves your attention.

But WorthWhile Jewelry is gone; if you look around, you'll find a note saying due to "changes in both life and the his ability to create his art within the Second Life environment," Random Calliope has moved on. Not left SL, apparently, but put the jewelry thing behind him.

So here's a little backstory: The occasion of my second or third trip to Ode was also the instance in which I did one of the rudest things I've ever done in SL, albeit unintentionally: I busted into private areas of the sim, thinking it was some kind of puzzle or game. A brief account of my adventure appears in an old entry in this blog, along with some screenshots of a very young Lou Netizen.

What I never really told anybody about that excursion was that I found Random Calliope's workshop, kilometers above the "public" level of the sim. Random Calliope makes virtual jewelry, but he does it within some rather unusual parameters, perhaps inherited from very early days of Second Life—after all, his account dates to 2005. He uses pure prims. No textures, no sculpts: just the plain-and-simple Euclidian shapes, coloring, transparency, and prim properties you can create with Second Life's built-in creation tools. And the results are absolutely stunning: these aren't the block squared-off shapes slammed together that seems to make up so much of Second Life's architecture and prim-based builds: these pieces are organic, balanced, swirling, living, and elegant, and also seemingly simple while encompassing a heap of complexity and technique.

Most people, presented with a Random Calliope piece and told it's "just" pure prims that anyone in Second Life can make, will be intimidated and potentially put off even trying to build jewelry. (I know; I've done this very thing to many of my friends.) But being able to peer into Random Calliope's workshop that day back in 2008, see a piece in process and partially assembled…it inspired me. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I thought "I could do that!" And so began my fascination with happy little tiny prims.

I visited Ode many times since then, often bringing friends to hang out or just to show them the big cliff (it eventually got a path you could walk down all the way to the sea). But I never went trespassing again. Maybe a year later, sometime last in the autumn or winter of 2009, Ode changed a bit. I was just sitting on the cliff, I think writing trivia questions for Lou's Clues, when I noticed something had changed at the bottom. I cammed down there…and nestled under a stream at the base of the cliff were a pair of hidden rooms. And one of them looked like it might be a workshop.

Of course, I immediately flew down there, and while there was no explicit security set up, I didn't go inside. Instead, I move my Second Life camera through the workspace and zoomed in on what I found. Although I'd since racked up a bit of experience with my own tiny prims, seeing bits of Random's work laid out, in process…well, it's humbling. Since he's apparently set SL jewelry behind him, here are a few glimpses of what I saw:



In-process pieces by Random Calliope

Check out the gem being built in the top right of that first image: most SL jewelers make gems by slapping a texture on a prim or a sculpt. In that gem, every facet is a precisely crafted prim with each face's shine, transparency, and color carefully set. I've tried building like that; trust me, it's not easy. Other pieces—and remember these are not finished—are distinguished not just by the elegance of the prim work but by the complexity of their design. Anyone who has used SL's built-in building tools knows that achieving curves and twists like that running through such a large group of objects is not simple.

I only met Random Calliope once, very briefly, well over a year ago one time when I teleported to Ode for a little quiet time. He was speaking with another avatar, apparently a long-time friend, but he was very gracious and welcoming to me…and I suppose had forgotten or didn't care that I'd inadvertently busted into his workshop not very long before. I mentioned his work had kind of inspired me to start building in Second Life, and he said that was perhaps the best compliment he could receive.

Older and maybe wiser, at the bench in Ode where I took my first profile pic

So, all my best, Random. I hope Ode continues to be a beautiful place for some time to come.

If you go to check out Ode, you owe it to yourself to check out Frippery and Balderdash—Elizabeth and Saiyge aren't slouches with the jewelry thing themselves, and some of Random's work is still available via Frippery.

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