On Sunday, May 2 at 4:00 pm SLT, as part of the LitFest program at Fantasy Faire 2021, we gathered in Somniatoris Arx for a conversation with Walton F. Wainwright and Victor E. Eton about the creation of Somniatoris Arx. Here is the transcript of that conversation, held in text.
Aoife Lorefield: Welcome, Fairelanders!
We’re here today with Walton F. Wainwright and Victor E. Eton to explore the creative processes that led to the intricately detailed Faireland, Somniatoris Arx. Wainwright is a storyteller. He’s working with an amazing team. And we have the chance to learn more about how they designed and created this city and its sustaining genius, the Somniator.
Here’s how we’ll proceed: I’m the moderator, Wainwright and Eton will be our key speakers, and other members of the Somniatoris team are also with us. Because we’re in text tonight, I’ve already shared some questions with them, and they have replies prepared.
But we’re ready to go beyond what we have ready ahead of time. I’ll be asking some followup questions based on the replies (which I have not seen) and I also invite you to IM your questions to me. I will ask the ones that are a good fit for what we’re exploring and for what you as the audience want to know.
You’ll notice we’re using special chat extenders that only broadcast the speaker’s words, courtesy of the Somniatoris engineers. Please note that if you are farther than 20 m from us, you will hear us, but we won’t hear you. If you have questions or comments, please IM and please also IM them to me.
Please welcome the music of Tamlorn to accompany our talk! He’s on the stream now 🙂
We hope you’ll enjoy the discussion and find it illuminating! Let’s dive in.
Walton, I know you view storytelling as an important part of your role. Can you tell us a bit about how this works for you? In other words, do you start with a storyline? An image? An idea for a build you’ve always wanted to try? Where does the creative process begin for you?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Oh my, certainly a fun question to answer!
I’m a very audio visual individual, so music tends to steer me towards a direction for a mood, and from there an image is developed along with a prompt in my mind. This year, I wanted to do Steampunk that avoids the clanky, kitschy ratchet town ends of things, and focuses more towards religious, elegant and cult like tones with more decoration and less mechanical clutter.
The prompt for this round was “Cathedral City”, and it kicked off from there with more relevant music stuffed into a playlist, mood boards put together and concept art sketched out (quite briefly) to get an idea of the direction I want to go. Once the visual and audio canon is set, the story telling begins, and the lore building is put together over time in between creating more visuals of the world.
My base inspiration is to cover gothic literature, and in some ways, this sim is an homage to the trending questions that cropped up during Queen Victoria’s long mourning. A city of mourning and remembrance is what Somniatoris Arx is all about, rather than being spooky and filled with nefarious intentions.
Here’s some relevant sketches that I’m not too -too- embarassed to show which are behind me. I only did a few since most of the ideas come from meshing it, so I suppose looking around you is a good way to know part of the process as well!
[Sketches and drawings displayed on boards behind the speakers.]
Aoife Lorefield: Wow!
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): So above is the logo I’ve illustrated for Somniatoris Arx, featuring what the people think is the Somniator.
Bottom are ideas, the stained glass bits I’ve drawn, the coloured version, the priests, the symbol, and to the right is what the people of Somniatoris thought the Somniator might actually look like.
My curated Somniatoris playlist in Spotify:
Aoife Lorefield: This is amazing, thank you!
Walton, my followup question was going to focus on specific inspirations for Somniatoris and you have already more than answered! Thanks for being generous with your sources, this is fascinating … I did not expect you to say you started with music
So, instead, I will ask about the story … you’ve said you start with music, then images, then story … How detailed a narrative do you create at the beginning? Or do details emerge with the build?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Details emerge with the build as I add more elements to it; tying it all together and forming a culture from artifact to artifact. When designing the priests for example, I focused on the culture of mourning, and once I get that down, I start developing the people, and how they approach the world around them. The writing is done in between breaks from meshing, I do develop something concrete in my mind first, but that never gets jotted down in the same detail as designing the visual aspect of the lore.
Aoife Lorefield: … Let’s note here that the moderator (me) is in awe of this process 🙂
Walton, you’ve worked with an incredible team to bring this creation to the Faire. If you could, please introduce Victor, and the other team members here tonight, and then perhaps share something about when you bring in collaborators and how you work together.
If we look to film directors as examples, we go from Hitchcock who controlled his films down to the individual frame, to Altman who didn’t even write dialogue but instead put his actors in a space and told them to get into character and talk. What does your process look like once you start working with a group?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): The process begins after I set down my idea, type out a brief document about my concept, and begin to start contacting members of my team who specialise in specific areas that will help with the morale in this sim’s creation. Once I have a concept, idea, and everything on paper, I go to Eckenfeld and work side by side with him to get the theme song of the sim exactly how it is heard in both of our minds (which will be released as a gramophone this week, so stay tuned for that new release!).
From there, I start meshing. Good lord do I keep on meshing in between new releases for my store, because the number of parts needed to be done for this city is quite a task! I worked to the bone to ensure every mesh part uses as few textures as possible (and most of them share the same single texture using various tricks), rendering this entire build down to a mere 43 textures numbering to a total of 53,504kb VRAM – this low number is due to the use of 512 textures.
Once all is done, given the custom level of detail, I start gathering the rest of my team of enthusiastic friends and staff who share the same mindset in creating a wonderful place to start putting together buildings. It’s like a work party where we share techniques we discovered along the way, and it helps take some weight off my back while I put all my effort into the main art pieces seen on the sim.
Then Alkaia Exonar, my scripter, rolls in to work on clever and low lag scripts made specifically for high performance in crowded sims, which you can see in the swinging thurible that barely affects the sim’s resources (despite people assuming so, but actually we’re facing some sim server issues which is already addressed for next year’s FF), and sound design is worked into the sim with very few clever scripts that help spice up things from sounding too repetitive.
Everything in this sim is original work: from sounds, to sculptures, to scripts. All of it is tailored for Fantasy Faire and nothing more (unless we decide to do a spirit of it after the faire in the future). I keep tabs on every aspect of the build: from texture number, polygons, and scripts. It’s probably why, despite some FPS issues from server and vendor lag, that this massive city loads quite fast, despite the scale.
Victor here is the Co-creator of Contraption and focuses on releases during the event such as the Somniator’s prayer beads, though, has done the lamp posts seen on sim (and on sale here), and the large cathedral engine next to The Somniator behind me.
Aoife Lorefield: So you are considering art + story + tech constraints from the beginning … amazing. I am fascinated that your first collaboration is, again, music.
We have a question about a specific inspiration … which I think can be considered more generally … and here’s the question:
“Is the swinging censer based upon the one from San Juan of Compostela in Spain?”
(Feel free in answering to point to any other specific pieces that inspired you)
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Correct! Some bits of inspiration that pushed this build are Catholicism in Spain, skeletons of saints and important individuals that have been decorated for worship and viewing, and my favourite of all: Giant skeleton hoaxes, except this isn’t a hoax in our world – just a strange mystery.
Aoife Lorefield: Excellent! I did see the Spanish influence … and myself am fascinated with reliquaries, thank you 🙂
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): Indeed, there are some truly beautiful examples of jeweled saints and martyrs out there that’re immortalized under regalia.
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): As much as I wanted to jewel the Somniator, after a lot of thinking I feel like the people would probably leave it intact and decorate around it, like with an entire cathedral city
Aoife Lorefield: I can see that 🙂
I have another work process question, which could apply to any of the team: Are the skills and artistry you use here things you do for creative exploration, or are the skills we see here in this work related to your RL work?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): The illustration and visual direction are related to my RL work. The 3D art of things is actually creative exploration and interest in doing 3D things on Second Life and other virtual world platforms in particular. For the others — I’m not sure! They can answer that if they wish.
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): A little bit of both, when it applies to myself. My RL work often includes in depth design and fabrication processes of real world products – at the moment, it’s furniture. Therefore, I often find myself more mechanically inclined, so I often design the machinery, robots, etc… for [ContraptioN]. As for artistic exploration, it’s usually the entirety of my body of work here on SL. RL constraints are often a lot more limiting than SL, so I use this platform as a creative medium to do what I wish.
Aliton Firehawk: Walton made a very well developed build kit that made things very easy to manipulate and work with using SL’s built-in tools (snap-to-grid, local positioning, etc). Most of my creative experience was birthed from doing things in the game, so that did help.
Alkaia Exonar: Coding was something I went to school for as well, so LSL scripting somewhat flows from my RL skill set – though LSL is its own beast and uniquely frustrating in many ways.
Aliton Firehawk: Doesn’t need to be relayed, but I also do RL coding, and LSL scares me.
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Working with Alkaia is a pleasure: bouncing ideas and butting heads about User Experience design and screaming about trying to get things to run as efficiently as possible. Lots of deadline screaming…so much of it.
Screaming and lots of tears, which is what this entire build floats on LOL
Aoife Lorefield: We’ve talked some about your own process, Walton, and specific inspirations … and then about the team … now I’d like to ask a bit more about Somniatoris.
I’ve had several questions from the audience about what happens next. Do you have more plans for this amazing place? SO MANY people want to know more, see more … Are there plans for post-Faire Somniator tales? experiences?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): I have no idea. We could have an incarnation of it not built for shopping somewhere for fun, or maybe it’ll just be away for a while and surface again some other time. I am really happy with how this build looks however, so it is a possibility! We haven’t quite thought way ahead for that, but we hope you enjoy the experience of the sim while it’s up until May 9th.
Aoife Lorefield: OK, that inspires *me* to spend more time here in the next week … this is a very generative place
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): As with a lot of work that you spend too much time staring at… I think it may disappear into the fog for a little while, with a small chance of perhaps resurfacing somewhere, somehow again in the future. Enjoy it while it’s out!
Aoife Lorefield: Walton, I know you’ve seen the suggestions for a Somniatoris tarot deck but perhaps the entire audience here has not … have you ever, or would you ever, consider something like that?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Hmm I could! I am getting attached to the aesthetic, however, it does take a lot of work to cover all of the cards to make a deck. Certainly something to keep in mind though, I’m glad you’re interested in the aesthetic and idea!
Aoife Lorefield: I love this reply! And would note that art decks are sometimes released with only the Major Arcana 🙂 Aoife Lorefield <— is a tarot reader and fan 🙂
LET ME SAY THAT ONE WAY to recognize and appreciate this amazing build is to donate to the RFL kiosk over to my left, near the FF posters!
Somniatoris already has a wonderful donation total and we all know the cause we’re here to support deserves the best we can bring, as Walton and his team have given their best 🙂
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): Yes, Fantasy Faire and Relay for Life is a wonderful cause! Donate what you are able and get some incredible items to go with it.
Aoife Lorefield: SO PLEASE LIFT THAT TOTAL 🙂
OK, now we will let Somniatoris go just briefly as I ask … what comes next for you, Walton, and your team? A focus on ContraptioN for a bit? Or are there new big plans brewing?
Aliton Firehawk: Sleep.
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): A big S L E E P
Aoife Lorefield: so far, ale and sleep are big on the list 🙂 … which makes total sense!
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): but also likely more contraption releases, another art build I can’t talk about that’s small but it’ll be charming to look at
Aoife Lorefield: Oh, wonderful … looking forward to those for sure
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): This year will be our tenth anniversary at contraption. A WHOLE decade of making content on the grid, so that will be something I’ll be working on the next couple months
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): More events! There’s a good, long lineup that I shall need to work on soon; I really have been neglecting the list for too long.
Aoife Lorefield: also awesome 🙂
We’re reaching the end of our time today. I do have one last question but first want to take a moment to THANK YOU, Walton, Victor, everyone, for creating this awesomeness and specifically for being here today and sharing so generously about what had gone into this incredible creation.
So, audience, here is your moment for the applause gestures 🙂
[Here ensued MUCH heartfelt applause and some spontaneous Riverdance.]
Aoife Lorefield: Here is my last question for today:
We can look around and see the wonderment that you have given to the Faire and Fairelanders. What does this event and this community give back to you that you use for future inspiration?
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): The faire and community has given me a chance to actually be free with the things I want to do, and can do, and try to do. My IRL work, I have to work under the direction of others, but in SL, I can see if anyone will enjoy anything else under my own direction.
But to be supported for creating basically any content I feel like is a pleasure and a dream, so We thank you all for giving us the opportunity to do the things we want to do.
(also i don’t have to starve doing it either)
Aliton Firehawk: I want someone to write a fan story of the tinies waking the Somniator via riverdancing and the Somniator joined them.
Aoife Lorefield: THANK YOU so much, Walton, Victor, Aliton, Alkaia, Eckenfeld, everyone for this amazing creation
THANK YOU, Fairelanders for joining us today!
THANK YOU, Tam, for the music 🙂
This has been fascinating and wonderful and I am in awe … thanks 🙂
Tamlorn Carterhaugh Wood (tamlorn): you are all so welcome. Great fun!
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Thank you so much, and it is an honour to be able to talk about my creative process and talk about the work put into this sim!
Victor E. Eton (western.wanderer): And thank you all for allowing us to be here, and lending us all your ears. We rarely are able to speak thoroughly about the process behind this all, and all the effort sometimes gets buried under the final product. We’re very grateful.
Aliton Firehawk shouts: If you wait 2 minutes, you all can hear the bells ring at the turn of the hour.
Aoife Lorefield: ooOOOOOoooo … bells at the top of the hour
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): Ah yes the main theme for the sim, a teaser
Aoife Lorefield: thank you, everyone, for joining us today 🙂
Walton F. Wainwright (faust.steamer): We’ll have the gramophone with the main theme of the Sim out when it comes, be on the look out for it on my flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/waltonwainwright/ and our store group: Contraption
Thanks for coming everyone, and be on the lookout for the new release, as well as some end-of-faire gifts!