Kipling Rock on the Clackamas River: Add Rock, Blend Well

After watching, re-watching, and re-re-watching “how to use Blender in Second Life” videos, mostly from, and then trying to practice making blobs, I had something of a breakdown the other day… and then a breakthrough.

First the breakdown: I tried and failed numerous times to create and bake a simple sculptmap of a blob. It was just a practice blob, and I got it to work ONCE, which was encouraging. But every other time, the steps seemed to be different. Things weren’t on the menu that had been there before. My inner volcano erupted, and much screaming, bad language, and tears of frustration ensued (luckily no one else was home except the cat, who wisely chose to remain upstairs).

Finally, exhausted, I nearly took to my bed in despair – frustration has been the end of many a project. But then I thought, “well, it can’t hurt to just ask for help in the Blender group inworld.”

Much to my surprise, my plaintive question was answered by Gaia Clary herself, who made most of the videos I’d been watching on and off for the last 3 days (and for months and years before THAT). And I was given encouragement by Eleanora Newell, who teaches many Blender (and other building-related) classes inworld.

It was a simple bug – I had downloaded and installed Blender 2.64 (with the Primstar-2 addon scripts for Second Life sculpties). There’s a bug that prevents the sculpt map from rendering in the program (which I had actually read about in various blogs). The solution is to re-install a slightly earlier version, 2.63a – and WA-LA, I could make sculpt maps. I literally cried for joy, because this… blockage of mine with Blender has really been holding me back for quite a while.

It was like “shriek! shriek! shriek! bellow! holler! cry! cry!” followed by resignation and simply asking for help from people who know more than you do, and then there’s that “ohhhhh” moment when you calm down and realize you were DOIN IT WORNG all along. And then it’s all better.

So then, I had to deal with the frustrating issue of my own lack of skill as a modeler in Blender – the controls are odd and take some getting used to. But I realized that the only way to learn the thing is to treat it like… music or sewing lessons. You have to repeat, repeat, repeat until the motion is natural, the note is pure. If not, you rip it out, you stop and do it again. So rather than beating up on myself (literally) I just kept trying, watching videos, repeating, and trying again.

Gradually, slowly, I realized that some of the things I’d been trying to learn were finally being retained and integrated. Other concepts were starting to make a kind of sense. So now, finally, I’m making slow progress.

The view from the side…

The view from the shore end… you have to wade out to climb up on the rock.

In the course of this struggle, I managed to learn how to load background images, and more importantly, how to get them to appear (hint: you have to be in the orthographic view orientation, because they are displayed only in that mode).

Yes, it’s a rough approximation. I’ve saved the file a couple of different ways and I’ll keep working on it to make it look as much like the original, roughly shaped sedimentary rock as possible. I’ve already got a “fishing” animation script or two, and will be setting the rock in the pool near Dhughan’s parcel, with a couple of poseballs for sitting on the rock fishing, and perhaps sunning oneself. It looks like I might even have a spot to put an exploding seagull (landlady Tensai has flocks of exploding seagulls, they’re a local curiousity). But in any case, PROGRESS. Strangely enough, after playing around with much more complex “ready-made” shapes within Blender, it was a simple 6-face cube that gave me a starting point. That, and a tutorial for building mesh or sculpted virtual shoes, but it was helpful for showing how a simple box could be extruded, subdivided, cut, pushed, pulled, squashed, copied, and mirrored.

You should know that although I’ve tinkered with Blender for at least 2 years, and I’ve taken quite a few classes, I have never actually been able to make much of anything. This is mostly because my unwillingness to tackle this legendarily complex program has made me feel very… intimidated and anxious about trying to do something with it. I could sort of follow in class, but not work in Blender. But if I tried to work and take the class at the same time, I’d get frustrated and angry, and often “rage-quit!” GRRR!! Also, it was partly because the basic classes I needed most were the ones I never could seem to catch. It’s very frustrating when you see a class is being offered, get there about 5 minutes in, and the instructor refuses to give the link to the “shared media” to anyone that didn’t get there 10 minutes in advance, or to anyone that missed the “Blender Basics N00bs Only” class that’s rarely offered at all. That was another source of frustration.

Yet I felt the need to actually make things that were MY things, and not someone else’s creation (although I will say I’m pretty good at texturing someone else’s purchased or gifted sculpt map). I’ve also flirted with Tokoroten and Rokuro, 2 pretty weird Japanese sculpted prim programs, and I tried and failed to make heads nor tails of poor old Sculptypaint, which I’ve only been able to use to make rocks and flowers and maybe stairs. I mean, I’ve never managed to make much headway with any of these programs, and I’ve probably watched dozens of videos and written notes and taken classes.

Finally, this project seems to have fallen into my lap from the heavens. For several reasons, I have a personal connection to this interesting little detail of a literary giant’s life: it’s just an ordinary rock in an ordinary river, in the state that inspired my home town in Second Life, Steelhead St Helens. A chance conversation with a friend led me to this interesting fact: Rudyard Kipling had a good time fishing on the Clackamas River one day. He wrote about it, went on to write more wonderful things, won the Nobel Prize for literature, and entered into literary glory. Meanwhile, back on the ordinary river, the people in the area remembered the funny writer-man Kipling and how he had fished the river, and somehow a big rock became known locally as “Kipling Rock.” A friend doing research on other aspects of Kipling’s life realized that Kipling had a connection to specific places in Oregon, and that Kipling was familiar with Northwest Coastal Indian culture and myths. The story of the rock and how it was connected to Kipling’s travel writing was brought to the attention of the geographical movers and shakers in the state, and now it’s officially “on the map” as a place name.

The rest of the weekend will be spent modeling to get the basic shape more like the original, experimenting by uploading “test rocks” (for free) to my Open Sim grid I have on my desktop computer, and learning how to get the textures assigned, mappped, whatever.

At this point I’m not sure if this will be a “sculptie,” (there’s an option to “sculptify” a model made with non-sculpty base shapes) or if it will actually end up being (gulp) mesh. That’s something I’ve never dared think of trying, but… well, I’ve been watching more videos. At this point, my “Kipling Block” is just that, very blocky. But I should be able to make it look better in a few days. Of course, I could grab a couple of open-source sculpted rocks from the pre-fab build I have on the Open Sim grid, and squash them around into a vague approximation of the shape. However, to do justice to the research and hard work done by so many people, not to mention the great writer himself, it seems best if I overcome my squeamishness with Blender and make something really worth doing. In addition to that, there will be a book to put together (there are these flip-books that can be read inworld, very interesting) and some texturing to work on in GIMP to make things look nice (some of my own photos from Oregon road trips may come in handy). Finally, I’ll have to deal with making the sculpt or mesh “walkable,” which is no problem.

It’s actually been pleasant working with Blender today, in contrast with yesterday’s desk-pounding screaming-meemee nervous breakdown. It’s a good thing I made the breakthrough before something got broken.


Kipling Rock on the Clackamas River: Add Rock, Blend Well — 3 Comments

  1. If you want to eventually be able to walk around on the rock, it will have to be mesh. With sculpties, you either have to make them phantom, or you walk on top of the bounding box (which means you’d be floating several feet in the air on the lower end of the rock).

    (Also, with mesh I believe you still have to upload with the official viewer, because the physics information has to be produced with Havok – I don’t think any of the third-party viewers have an open-source alternative yet.)

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