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  Press


Building a Better World One Polygon at a Time with Digital Element's World Builder Pro

Visual Presentation in the Social Improvement Arena
by Thomas Loughran

For all the technical advances we talk about on our planet, we can just as easily bring up an equal share of problems in almost any part of Earth. Often it isn't pretty. Drug problems usually lead to shattered families and educational problems can lead to failed lives. Environmental problems gather an ever increasing amount of media attention and only a relatively small portion of the people living on this planet invest their energies into doing something about all of these problems. In response, you often see announcements everywhere clamoring for support for a myriad of different social causes whether it be Save the Whales, Mentor a child, Stop Global Warming or Take Better Care of Cows.

The messages can get tiresome, but the truth is that they eventually do end up making some difference which is always better than nothing happening at all.

But, before any of these social improvement causes gather celebrities to wave their flags or even just regular people to come and help out once a week or once a month, someone, somewhere has to create a presentation to get them excited about that cause. Pay close attention because this might end up being you!

In many ways "social cause" work is similar to other areas of independent media production demand:


The new Community Center located in the Venezuelan mountains

The budget is usually tight or zero. It's usually late in the hours of the night. Often it is on a computer similar to the one I am using: outdated, not fast enough and barely holding itself together. The time factor being stated can vary from "immediately" to "at once!" and often it is just you, a friend on the chat line and the fact that you don't have the skills needed to do what is being asked for. To top it off, often the reward at the end of it is not a paycheck, but just the hope that maybe you helped make some small difference.

The question in this field is invariably the same: "How do I get people excited enough to want to help this activity?" but the answer to it is always different. After all, everyone has something they want to say and everyone else has already heard it 100 times in 100 different ways. So how are we going to give them the 101st way and make it exciting and fresh? Each of you will have your own answer, in the situation I faced the answer was Digital Element's World Builder Pro. I mean hey, everyone wants to change the world, but how often are you given the chance to build a new one from scratch?!

For my project I needed to create a graphic presentation of a community center being donated for social activities such as drug rehabilitation, illiteracy assistance and community volunteering in the local schools. The presentation was for potential volunteers and donators to get them excited about lending a hand in this center which is located in one of the more unstable cities in the world: Caracas.

For those of you who don't know, Caracas is labeled as the "Murder Capital of the World" by the US State Department. In a population of about 3,000,000 it can see upwards of 40 murders in a given day. Drug usage has been escalating drastically amongst the lower class and there is a serious problem in this same class with adult illiteracy. This community center was being established to start making a dent in this both by prevention type lectures given to the younger students in the schools while also offering rehab facilities to those who had already been victimized by narcotic substances. As well there are extensive tutoring services for helping overcome illiteracy, personnel for coordinating community projects on cleaning up neighborhoods of graffiti and litter and the "special forces teams" for going into the slums of the city where most of the murders occur to help ease tensions amongst the neighboring zones.

For the most part, it's not pretty work and convincing people to participate in lending assistance can be tough. So I was asked by a friend to help with video, music and a dash of genius to create something that would touch people's hearts and make them want to participate in these activities. Not so easy when at times these people's lives would be at risk and when you aren't a genius.

After brainstorming for a bit and writing a basic concept script which would largely use shots of the existing activities that I had in stock with some snazzy motion graphics, I collided up against the part where a dash of genius was needed and was fresh out of supply. The basic idea for this particular shot being to go from a space view of Earth all the way down to the new community center seamlessly. After doing local tests with helium balloons, mini-DV recorders and a lot of string I figured that there had to be an easier way to do this. Zooming in from space to ground level was fairly easy enough using satellite imagery. But seamlessly moving from this into footage of the building which the camera then traveled into for an architectural walkthrough was going to be a bit more difficult especially as I didn't have a remote control Skycrane I could operate from 3,500 miles away. So, 3d seemed to be the only way to go.


Look Familiar? It should! The World Builder interface is similar to most pro 3D packages you already use.

When starting to sketch this out, the concept of creating a 3d environment was definitely daunting to me at first. Not so much the building, but that the building was located on a vibrant, tree filled mountainside with valleys below. While I did have some extensive compositing and editing experience, actual 3d creation never went beyond basic architectural models and logo creation. I figured there had to be some software that provided the perfect solution to this type of problem and in checking around in the on line 3d communities, Digital Elements World Builder Pro seemed to be the tool of choice. It seems I had found that missing dash of genius!

Installation was very easy. Included on the web-site (or in the box) is about 3 and a half hours of tutorials to get you up and running on the creation of your new world. You will find upon opening the program that fortunately the interface is very familiar with similar toolsets as to what you are used to using in most prograde 3d applications and thus eliminates a major part of the learning curve.


The supplied samples and skeletons got me creating my landscape in minutes as opposed to the hours that I feared.

If you are the "figure it out as you go" type you probably skipped straight over the tutorials and were thrilled to find that creating 3d landscapes wasn't as hard you might have thought. Well I was anyways!

Next using photographs and the ubiquitous Google Earth, I modeled my terrain using the landscape creation tools built into the program and began to see the glimmer of hope for my shot when finding this only took a few short minutes thanks to the toolset and sample skeletons which allow you to rapidly rough out your terrain and then scale pieces until perfect.

Following this came populating the landscape with the different tree species and the like and this too proved amazingly simple with a drag and drop level of ease. I should comment that the extensive libraries and texture catalogs included with the program literally make it a "one-stop shop" for the average landscape schmoe such as myself. For those of you dedicated arbor and greenery fanatics out there who know the exact qualities that separate the deciduous species from the coniferous varieties and so forth, there is plenty of resources on the web-site for all your flora fetishes. For me however, with what came with the package, I was home free.

After populating the landscaping and using the materials to tweak my scene just right is the part which I find most frustrating about any 3d work I do: Lighting and compositing. In my particular scenario I had built the community center using Auto Cad and 3D Studio Max and needed to composite it now with the scene. The website boasts excellent integration between 3DS Max and World Builder and it was definitely a relief to see this being the case. No crashes and it was nice to see the inherent properties carried over so I didn't have shadows going all different ways on the rendering passes. The lighting options and systems as well as existing sky presets make setting the mood feasible for relatively new persons to the 3d world such as myself.

However I have to admit I was very disappointed to find that there was no Automatic Idea Execution plugin which would Bluetooth sync with my mind and generate the scene I was imagining. In other words, this program doesn't entirely replace the work and long hours that go into making your imagination become a thing of realized polygons, texture maps and volumetric light sources. But what it does do is give you a comprehensive toolset and relatively simple process to follow that will allow you to create environmental scenes of stunning complexity in a fraction of the time other traditional 3d programs might take when you factor in a learning curve when beginners and intermediates use such programs (like me).


Built in Libraries make realizing your visions drag and drop simple.

I have limited experience with this tool but I am sure as I continue in the following weeks I will learn more and start to tap into the full power of it. As with most things artistic, it never is about the tool itself but only what it can accomplish. In the case of generating environments and landscapes with World Builder Pro, the limiting factor only seems to be one thing: your own creativity and the willingness to do the work to discover new methods in acheiving one's artistic visions. Okay, so technically that is two things but I am sure you get the point.

If I did have that Bluetooth mind-syncing plug in what the computer would see is a future world where the problems we face are gone and, in the immortal words of John Lennon, where we can all live together as one. Each unique polygon in this case is a person like me. A person like you.

But, we are a long, long, ways away from that. I do my small part only because I think one person can make a difference and with enough "one persons" one day it will be different. Often working on these types of projects can be frustrating and have no material remuneration for you at the end (i.e. a paycheck) but the actual reward is usually in knowing that you did something selflessly to give back to a world that so many of us simply just take from and actually, just take for granted.

And there is one other factor which makes it worth your while to invest some of your time and money into these types of projects: you more often than not meet great people who really do care about what is happening and doing something about it. For me, this can be the best part and on this project it was great to discover the folks at Digital Element share these same ideals and supported me greatly in the making of this presentation and in the use of the World Builder software.

In the end, who knows? One day, with enough of us working together, maybe we can build that better world most of us hope for. Polygon by polygon.

 

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