OpenSim: Build your own virtual world, with statues!

March 2, 2013

A friend of mine needed help getting content for the 2013 Tucson Sculpture Festival. The purpose of the event was to “kick sculpture into the 21st century”. And what screams 21st century louder than 3D scanning and virtual reality? I suggested to my friend a digital online sculpture gallery as a counterpart to the actual one. He loved the idea and told me to pursue it. At that point all I had to do was get a web server running, find an open source virtual world application, figure out how to display 3D objects we made ourselves in that world and make it available to guests at the sculpture event. No problem.

After a little Googling I quickly found OpenSim, a free alternative to Second Life. OpenSim requires a server to run on. Members connect remotely to the server over the internet. So I needed a server. Luckily I’m a member of Xerocraft, Tucson’s Hackerspace. Not only did we have a bunch of donated servers lying around, there were also several members who could get one going. A few days later and Xerocraft had its own dedicated server running Ubuntu. I installed OpenSim and after a ridiculous amount of trial and error to fix a simple little IP problem, I got remote connection working. Now I could build my virtual world from home. I used the Build options to excavate the bump of land in an infinite ocean that I started with. I created my island in a day. The biblical comparison is obvious so I’ll let it go.

"It is good."

“It is good.”

But what about the statues? I still had no idea if I could really input 3D models and use them as sculptures in OpenSim. Up to this point I only assumed it was possible based on things I’d seen online. I still didn’t really know if I could deliver on my promise. I researched content creation in Second Life and came upon sculpted prims. But my hopes were quickly dashed when I tried to actually make my own sculpted prim using Blender. It’s hard. So I researched some more and discovered meshes. That’s when it all started to come together.

Meshes are 3D models that are brought into OpenSim using third party software. At Xerocraft we had many member-created 3D models to choose from. 3D scanning is becoming incredibly simple thanks to software like ReconstructMe and 123D Catch. And if you don’t want to create your own models, you can always download some from Thingiverse. I used Blender’s decimate function to reduce the file size (to about 5mb or less) and complexity of the 3D images and converted them to Collada (.dae) files, the only format that OpenSim accepts for meshes. Note: You may need to enable OpenSim to accept meshes.

Virtual statues are capable of doing things that real statues cannot, like float in the air

Virtual statues can do things that real statues cannot, like float in the air.

Now to import the statues into the virtual world. I found a tutorial online that explained that I had to use an OpenSim viewer that was capable of uploading meshes and not just viewing them. Most client-side viewers can view meshes but very few can upload them as of this writing. I quickly settled on the OpenSim build of Firestorm. I read on and the tutorial explained the upload process:

  1. Go to Build > Upload > Mesh Model…, navigate to the folder where the DAE file resides and select it. Note: You may get a window telling you that physics is not available for meshes. We’ll keep this in mind for step 3. Click Close. An image of the model should appear in the Preview window.
  2. In the upper-left corner you can name the mesh and define what kind of object it is. Under the Level of Detail tab, select High.
  3. Click the Physics tab. Next to Step 1: Level of Detail, select Lowest.
  4. At the bottom-left corner of the window, click Calculate weights & fee. Wait for the darkened Upload button to highlight and click it.
  5. Wait for a moment and the mesh will appear in your Inventory menu in the Objects folder. Navigate to the spot in your world where you want to place the statue. Drag the mesh from the Objects folder to that spot.

Give the mesh a minute or two to appear. After that, use OpenSim’s prim controls to rotate and resize the statue to your liking. If the statue never appears, the file size is probably too big. Delete the item from your inventory and try decimating it again in Blender.

More images from my sculpture gallery are shown below:


“Blinky” Pac-Man Ghost Turning Lamp

August 5, 2012

Update: The Instructable tutorial to build your own lamp has been posted!

I’ve been on this retro gaming kick lately and so I present my newest creation. It’s based on the Japanese “Mawari-Doro” or turning lamp.  I see it as a retro gaming lover’s night light.

I started work on May 30, 2012 when my mom gave me a turning lamp that my parents had luckily found at a garage sale. I reverse engineered it and came up with my own concept. After various redesigns, dead-ends and bouts of trial-and-error I came up with what you see here in late July. The entire process cost me almost $70.

The canvas shell spins due to convection. Heat from the bulb causes the air around it to rise. The rising air passes through the slits in the top and the piece spins. There is no electric motor.

To color the bulb and project the eyes onto the canvas, I used Air-Dry PermEnamel Transparent Glass Paint. If I decide to make more of this guy or his buddies, I’ve come up with a different design that uses a photography gel (a heat-resistant translucent plastic sheet). That way if the bulb burns out, you can remove the gel, change the bulb and reapply the gel.

Check out the pictures below for shots of the lamp at various stages of development as well as my scribbled-down notes and ideas.

Nintendo Wiimote Shatter Decal

May 18, 2012

Shatter Sports Golf Ball DecalHave you ever seen those decals on cars that look like a baseball or a hockey puck has smashed into their window? I always thought those were pretty clever. But, being a gamer, I had my own idea for one that I hadn’t seen yet. You may know about the pandemic-like spread of destroyed flat screen televisions that has swept the world since the release of the Nintendo Wii. Sometimes when players get too into the game they swing a little too hard and the wiimote becomes a projectile. Well with my interpretation of the Shatter Sports line of decals, that can now be yours without having to purchase a new TV.

I bought the wiimote chassis on eBay. I cut it using a miter block (and not a chef’s knife). I also added a pulsing LED flasher to it that operates the Player 3 light. Pressing the 1 button turns it on and off. The LED slowly pulses to give the appearance that the wiimote is real but broken. You can see it if you look closely in the video above. The whole thing cost about $60 to make.

Desktop Water Fountain

May 16, 2012

Years ago I was watching The Screen Savers on G4. Yoshi the mod guy was on showing his newest idea: applying phosphorescent paint to your PC motherboard to create a cool lighting effect in conjunction with a black light. He told a story about how he ruined a motherboard one night while painting. He had the paintbrush in one hand, a soda in the other and the motherboard in his lap. He dozed, the soda fell out of his hand and spilled all over the board. It was destroyed instantly. “Liquid and electronics don’t mix,” he joked. And that’s when I got the idea.

I worked on it on and off for years. I got the case at Good Will. Since it was so ordinary looking I built the fountain around the idea that as painfully dull and functional the PC looked on the outside, it was the opposite inside the view window. The water collection tray was custom made out of acrylic plastic sealed together with solvent bonding. The disk drives on the bezel are a false front. I moved the contents of the power supply into the CD drive bay. Inside the power supply housing I connected the business end of an extension cord to the power port to run the power supply and two water pumps.

The “processor fan” operates like an old-fashioned water wheel. The hard drive light on the bezel is connected to a simple LED blinker kit. I carved the window using a drill and tin snips. The LED lights on the motherboard are waterproofed with vinyl tubes and heat-shrink tubing. The whole thing cost about $350 total.