Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." - Vincent Van Gogh

It begins with azure mountains, and resolves, by tiny incremental flourishes, into something far vaster. There's much to say about Robbie Dingo's "Watch the Worlds", but first, watch the machinima. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to download and watch it in a higher resolution:

Best resolution.
Good resolution.

After the break, Robbie explains how he put this truly extraordinary machinima together.


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.


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» Van Gogh's Starry Night, the Second Life sim from Boing Boing
This piece of Second Life machinima documents a wonderful recreation of Van Gogh's Starry Night as an island in the virtual world: What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh's masterpiece to rich, three dim... [Read More]

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Really beautiful. Thanks for sharing. :)


It's a frighteningly good machinima that show the power of virtual worlds to realize what we only dreamed before -- walking into a flat landscape and living there, if only for a moment.

Alastair Chamerberlin

wow and WOW again. my gob is officially smacked. This is hands down one of the single best things I have yet sen in SL. Kudos!!

Misacha Vaughan

This is simply a Masterpeice. It captures the essence and speaks for the reason so many love SL. Even shed a tear looking at it. Bravo!

jenn steffey

That really made my day. I think it is a wonderful idea to work on and I hope you do more.

Niko Donburi



Great ideas here. Thanks for sharing.

Andy Enfield

Absolutely amazing! :-) The song fits the video perfectly, great work!


robbie, this is beautiful! your best (so far) and you have done so many wonderful machinima. Can we put it into my machinma gallery?


Oh this is the best i see in sl. Please, guys, ell me the singer and song name, please


That was awesome... That was the most beautiful and perfect SL work I´ve ever seen.
And the song matched it perfectly.

/me bows down

Lance Sismondi

Robbie, you have enriched my virtual world through your most worthy homage to a true master. This is the most poetic and beautiful multimedia art I have experienced in SL to date! While viewing the film, I was given pause to reflect on the unlimited possibilities of beauty and creativity in a virtual world where the spirit of a soul is breathed into the bits, bytes, electrons and photons to order them into beautiful existence that may be wiped clean from the virtual world but never from our memories.


I'm going to be the lone dissenter, I can see -- but this seems like a lot of work to make a pale imitation of a popular masterpiece. If it was an exercise to master technique, that's one thing: that's why many artists copy other pieces, to explore and better understand the technique that created it, NOT to collect the borrowed interest of someone else's creation (in the case of the film, two creations: Van Gogh's and Don McLean's).

True artistic genius in SL would manifest itself in original works only possible in SL (such as -- and again I'm going to be unpopular -- griefings like this one:

Granted, griefing is more akin to vandalism than to a Van Gogh... but at least it's creative, not imitative. I hope that the "artist" celebrated here goes on to create more original work which might actually merit the attention this is getting.

Cosma Ordinary

A bright spot in the artists' night of the soul is starry night and a worthy goal, however it was realized. The sincere undertaking is our inspiration. Thank you before I look for the elusive video. The song plays in my heart already.

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