What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh's masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, "so it's all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.") But for a breathtaking moment (this is my favorite shot, above) you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.
"One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple," Robbie tells me. "If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings." He explains that painstaking process in further detail:
Mapping Van Gogh's painting to a 3D space
First thing was to set out a spot at the edge of the empty sim [island], a chair and semi-transparent copy of the original painting floating in the air to look through in [first person] mouselook. This was going to be the spot from where the original sketch of the painting was made. I disabled the camera constraint (in the debug menu) so I could sit my avatar down at this spot and wander the camera all over the sim when building. This allowed me to quickly switch back to mouselook to check the positioning of the various parts (very often) against the original painting. All of this moving back and forth has been edited out of the final video.
Creating the initial "sketch" portion
I used the wireframe rendering option in the Second Life client for the very first section. The sketch effect was achieved using a combination of post-production video effects (edge detection and extraction.) I also used the RenderGlow effect in the client for the window lights and the stars.
Importing Van Gogh textures
Firstly, using the clone tool in Photoshop, I removed the stars and mountains in a copy of the original painting - leaving only the swirling wind. This was then imported to SL as a single high rez image. I calculated the image size and the texture zoom/offset parameters so I could lay this image across the c.400 tiles forming each wall of the skybox. Also, I used texture snippets from the original painting to texture some of the objects (stars, houses, etc.)
On the time it took
Although the building work was not at all sophisticated, this was quite a challenging project. For me projects like this are all about the pre-planning (storyboarding and imagining the result, the bigger picture of the entire project, before I start building.) All starting with the [Don Maclean] song as a framework, working towards the climatic moments in the words. I spent a lot of time listening to the song and looking at the original painting, considering the inner meanings.
Read more at Robbie's blog. And the final masterworks, side-by-side:
Update, 9/2009: Replaced YouTube version with Blip version.