Beq Janus, the designer and builder of Aurora, shares with us the inspiration and the backstory of the frozen world beneath the northern lights. She talks of her creation process, reveals how she found Second Life, New Babbage and started building.
This is your second year of building a Faireland. What was it like, what made you return and do it again?
Stressful, frantic, sleep depriving, nerve wracking, scary, exciting, uplifting, inspiring. Building for the Faire is an adrenalin fueled roller coaster. I feel so honoured to be given the opportunity to create for our Faire land visitors and it touches so many things that are important to me.
First of course is the building, my first creative outlet in this world, the first time in my adult life where I had positive reaction to creative endeavors, this is coupled with the story writing, a strong part of my method when building is to create a world in which to place my scene. Then we mix in learning, part of the stress is self imposed I try to push myself each year to learn a new skill. This year I created a lot of my work in Blender natively where previously I had tended to use inworld prim2mesh type tools. Add to that procedural textures that I used for a number of the buildings, I learned loads and for me that is a big part of this, if I’m not pushing myself I suspect I’d feel I was letting you all down.
The story informs the build and the learning, I’m a real set of contradictions in this, in most regards I am a visual person, in my head I see pictures even words and numbers are visual but to breathe life into a sim I need to know about the people who live there, think like them, become them.
How was Aurora born? What inspired it, what is its story?
Last year I created the vast airship Asperatus and the colony of flying craft that formed that world. It too had a back story which I never really brought to the world, after the Faire I moved into the creation of my art installation Metamorphosis for the RFL track.
In my mind I had plans for this year, a railway curving through space, I had it all in my head, but the reality of it was that it is simply not a practical region for a track based event like the Faire, so when I came to talk to Elizabeth about my plans, we quickly dismissed them and started to throw around other ideas. Elizabeth knew my preference was for the steampunk genre and yet she had a penchant for something wintery with snow and ice palaces. How do you take the hot steam, furnaces and big iron of steampunk into the fragile delicate ecosystem of ice? The best know conjunction of those themes is almost certainly the first book of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, known to those of us outside of the US as “The Northern Lights” but otherwise known by the name “The Golden Compass” and that really kick started my thinking.
When I create I have to get under the skin of my theme. For my 2014 art sim at RFL, Metamorphosis, I immersed myself in the life and history of Escher, for while the work draws centrally from the Escher work that shares its name, Escher drew inspiration from the Italian town of Atrani and it features in many of his works in various ways.
For Fantasy works I create a world and characters, I start with a mind map, a plan, but also a Faire build has to be a home to the merchants so how do you transform that idea into a workable shopping sim, a process I am yet to master I must admit. Very quickly I settled on the beautiful architecture of pre-revolution Russia, the onion domes that top the glorious multi coloured churches. I decided that the main building, the sponsors store would be based upon the incredibly beautiful Saint Basil’s church that sits within the Kremlin in Moscow.
I took a painfully long time for me to see the other buildings and I was worried about where I could take the idea. In my story world I had the romany gypsy inspired “Romantics”, a doffed cap to the gyptians of His Dark Materials. I wanted to capture their parallel culture, and where steampunk so often focuses on the solidity of science I wanted to soften that with some more etheral notions. My earliest designs had the ‘mantics living in bedouin-like tents but I simply could not convince myself of the practicality of this in a sub-zero world and so their homes became shacks and ice caverns. The larger stores needed to sit up with the sponsor store by the landing point, and soon the ideas flowed from the story and gave me the answers. In European cultural history we have tales of the Hyperboreans, a race of giants that live in a world of temperate climate and bountiful lands, literally Hyperborea means “beyond the north wind” but the stories evolved to envisage a race living above the northern lights.
This gave me the inspiration, the link I needed in to the Fairelands mythos, were the northern lights a gateway to the other dimensions? How does the gateway open? The result is the enormous iceberg plateau that carries the churches and cathedral of the Hyperborean worshipping Orthodoxy now fallen into disuse as the modern religion of science replaces those myths. A tension is provided by the ‘mantic clan stranded upon the ice after following their traditions to seek answers from the lights. It is the eve of the confluence, the coming togetherof the Fairelands and, while such facts are meaningless to the people of Aurora, the two opposed factions face each other in a stand-off on the ice, a once in a lifetime surge in the northern lights is prediceted and both factions seek to use this to save their world. Will they succeed?
People who want to find out the answer and feel a little more of the tale that inspired much of the world I created can read the serialisation on http://primperfect.net /blog
How did you begin building in Second Life? What inspires you to create?
I came to SL in 2007, a chance meeting with a guy in a pub brought me here. We sat and had a drink in some trendy bar, whose name I forget, in Oxford City centre, and he was so animated and passionate about the work he was doing on this virtual world thing. I didn’t really give it too much thought, but when I got back form Oxford I figured I’d create an account.
The virtual world was called Second Life, despite it being in newspapers and on the TV at that time I had never heard of it. The man in the pub had said his name was Babbage, Babbage Linden, so when I got in to Second Life I decided to look him up. I had no idea what or who a “Linden” was of course, and instead of finding Babbage the man, I stumbled into Babbage the place, New Babbage. A single sim of victorian buildings and a rather brilliant animated foundry. I watched from high up on the city wall as two odd looking avatars ran around building things. I made a good friend that night and I learned that soon there was going to be a maddive expansion of New Babbage, it was going to grow from one sim to …. two!
When Babbage canals appeared in May 2007 I was a month old and quickly decided to buy a plot of land in this exciting new town. I had never done more than throw a few prims together when I embarked upon the building of my first house, a project that became Maison Horta, a reproduction of the real life home of Belgian, Art Nouveau, architect Victor Horta. That house still exists, and to my shame has evolved but a little in the 8 years since.
Inspiration comes in many forms. It might be an image or a song lyric, a word or phrase. Those two characters from my first visit to Babbage had been hopping around some object that looked a bit like an ATM. To be honest I have little recollection of what it actually looked like. What I do recall was that they were filling it with books, gutenberg press editions of the works of Verne and others. They were for an event called Relay For Life, you may have heard of it?
That year’s relay entry for New Babbage was a wonderful undersea build by Reitsuki Kojima and it soon became clear that the tunnels would be used as the infrastructure to a further expansion of New Babbage. I bought an underwater plot of land and drawing inspiration from the movies started to build a sprawling underwater home with anthropomorphic submersibles and working airlocks. As you might expect from the above, there was even a back story for its construction.
What calls you to fantasy? When was the first time you encountered the genre and realized you enjoyed it?
Fantasy is escapism, just like SL, we leave ourselves behind and take on new lives and live new stories. I grew up with Star Wars, close encounter Krull, the Dark Crystal as movie fodder and yet the first real fantasy book I have compelling memories of was “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K Le Guin. We were given this to read by my English teacher when I was 11, I fell into it totally, for me it was so rich in ideas and imagery that to this day I see pictures of the young wizard Ged floating crosslegged in the gardens, late at night eating hot chicken. You know, that having written that now I have absolutely no idea if that scene is even in the book, but it is in my head and that is all that matters. Le Guin captured me totally with that book and I devoured what was then a trilogy. I never really looked back from there.
Do you have a favourite Faire memory? What are you looking forward to most this year?
So many. I loved the crazy, chocolate rush of some of Mayah’s creations when I first visited the Faire and I was so pleased to see her return this year.
Elicio, Sharni and Alia never fail to deliver stunning visual treats that leave an imprint on you. There was a brilliant moment a few years ago now when Alia built The Tides and at random a giant woman (literally) appeared like a mythical goddess. This was Ceri Quixote and her mesh avatars, pushing the boundary of SL long before the creation of fitted mesh avatars that we have now. It was the first year that we saw Petites, the tiny mesh avatars that have become a staple of the Fairelands and of the fae culture in SL. I took a photo of the 20m Ceri Giant and a tiny petite and myself. The photo never quite conveyed the scene but that memory is burned into me.
Thank you, Beq, for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you for creating another Faireland so rich in stories and imagination!