Professor wins award for work with Second Life

Glennis Siegfried

The sounds of bleating virtual sheep fill the room.

“They’re a wee bit big,” Constance Matova says of the five sheep on the theater stage with her. One is almost as tall as her.

“Hold on a moment,” replies Steve Zapytowski. With just a few clicks, the sheep are gone and so is the sound of their bleating. Now only Zaptowski’s and Matova’s two avatars, virtual representations of themselves, remain in the theater. “There, that’s better,” he says.

The sheep are part of the virtual world Second Life, where Zapytowski, professor of design and technology, has created his own second life.

Second Life is an online, three-dimensional virtual world where users can socialize and interact with other people through avatars. Users can stream concerts, shop for their avatars and attend jousting tournaments. Ohio University even has a museum.

Zapytowski was recently recognized by the Second Life community of Eternity Castle for the work he has done with Kent Second Life Ensemble and the Wakefield Cycle Production Team.

The Eternity Castle community is composed of members from around the world who are part of Second Life. It was the governing body of the group who decided to give Zapytowski the award based on the amount of work he has done with each of the groups over the past year, including details put into the productions.

“It’s a virtual award, so there’s not much to show for it, but I greatly appreciate being so honored by the community,” he said.

His “rez day,” the day he first created an avatar on Second Life, was July 7, 2007. The term is taken from the word “resolution.” It’s been a little over a year, and Zapytowski has done quite a bit of work. He has a castle of illusions, walls visible from the outside but not the inside, a garden full of trees and flowers that look almost real and a yacht that he takes out sailing.

“It even flies,” he said. “I haven’t had much time to take it out though.”

Zapytowski is also a lead programmer of Kent Second Life Ensemble, a group of twelve students and two faculty who rehearse, program, then virtually act out plays on Second Life. Currently they are working on part of the Wakefield Mystery Cycle.

Everything is practiced, from where a person moves to how their lines are spoken. The actions are then programmed into Second Life. There is more to the play’s creation than just acting, though.

Zapytowski and his students must also program in stage lighting, stage props and costumes the avatars will wear. Each of these are designed by Matova, a contact of Zapytowski’s who lives in Cornwall, England. There are costumes for angels, a devil and a grungy peasant girl’s outfit.

“They’re as near to real-life as they can be within Second Life restraints,” Matova said.

While only virtual, the costume contains numerous details, making it almost lifelike; cloth folds that move as the avatar does, textured dirt on the cloth and detailed makeup for her character.

“This is a first in the Second Life world,” he said of the detail that goes into the designs for the characters.

He is also working on programmable lights.

Zapytowski sees Second Life as having a lot of possibilities in the future.

“IBM has tech support where you can go in and talk to a person (in Second Life),” he said. “Businesses also use it for preliminary interviews. They’ll look at how you dress and listen to how you talk.”

It also has interesting possibilities for teaching, he said.

A class could find an hour that works, and everyone could meet, whether they were on the East or West Coast.

“If you have the time and patience and skill, it’s worth it,” Matova said.

Contact technology reporter Glennis Siegfried at [email protected].