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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

THE IRRESISTABLE ICONOGRAPHY OF GUNS N' BABES

(With a few knives thrown in for good measure.)

When veteran weaponsmith and hug-nician Francis Chung decided to create an advertising campaign for her prize arsenal last month, she launched a contest challenging Residents to take screenshots that featured her products (along with the fashions of Nephilaine Protagonist). The winners of the official contest (both in Photoshopped and non-Photoshopped categories) are here. Ms. Chung's handguns have been previously featured in this space; what struck me about the entries she received was how they'd turned Second Life into a platform for creating visual narrative (most explicity with Nethermind Bliss' graphic novel entry) and-- dare I say-- creating 2D art. Simulated screenshots have already been employed as an artist's medium; the next step, it seems to me, are actual screenshots featuring sets and custom poses, composed and Photoshopped together to put across a single iconographic image.

Of course, in gaming, if there's one ultimate iconographic image, it's someone with a big gun. Or better yet, a babe with a gun. Here's a personal selection of just some of the stronger entries to Francis' contest, with production notes from many of the artists who created them. (The entire collection is online here.)

- "An Apple A Day" (Photoshopped image) by Sally Zapata

- "Sebentry 2" (Photoshopped image) by Motoko Parks, who describes herself as "a super designer multi-tool in Second Life, but typically only of small inane things that suit my fancy."

- "Payback", arranged here into Part 1 and Part 2, by Nethermind Bliss, a Bohemian.

"My own SL nickname, 'Nethermind', is from a graphic novel that I wrote when I was 13, called 'Women Of War'," Ms. Bliss tells me. "Basically, it was a renegade troupe of superhero females that kept the balance of power in the world by less than socially acceptable methods-- it was sort of an anti-heroine saga. When I saw the Pixel Dolls clothing line paired with Seburo weapons one night, it brought all those memories back. Additionally, my good friend Kiedis was hosting several spy-related musical events at Belle Feu during this time, so he was a great help in the brainstorming for that last panel... Kiedis and I have spent many long hours at Sunset Jazz club listening to Astrin Few and Flaming Moe. After a great set one night, we took these shots, aiming for a Mr. and Mrs. Smith scenario in a seductive setting. The dance has many meanings in the entry: it's a dance of reignited passion, a dance for control, and ultimately a dance to the death. I found it more mysterious to allude to his assassination rather than show any actual firing...

"[The image is] Photoshopped, but only in a minimal way. Second Life graphics, as they are in their native environment, provide just the right amount of shading for a comic book feel. Granted, there are comic book artists who create some stunning pieces of artwork (my favorite is Bill Sienkiewicz). However, most of the inside pages are scaled down, compared to the cover art.

"Because I got such a great response [from her 'Women of War' contest entries], I plan to continue the graphic novel with Women of War. Enlisting the help of several fantastic and equally deadly women in Second Life, I will elaborate on the misadventures and sinister plots of dangerous characters who don't fit the traditional concept of heroines."

- "Devotion", by Rhiannon Chatnoir. "This shot was taken while actually dancing at Cloud 9 in Davenport," says Ms. Chatnoir. "I find shots taken spontaneously without posing can come off more natural sometimes and often more dynamic." Her idea was to incorporate "elements of stained glass and the colors of the Pixel Dolls clothes together to create a rich, textured image that is sensual and yet sacred at the same time. Within Photoshop I went through the whole image and brought up the color saturation and really hand smoothed out all the pixelated edges and odd angles."

- "Unstoppable" by wing designer Shindra Quirk. "Actually," she tells me, "this image came up as a complete coincidence. My friend and I were playing around with her bike, she had a Seburo gun in her hand, looked pretty cool, and I took a picture for the scrapbook. When the contest came up, I immediately thought of that image. [In Photoshop], I edited hue, saturation, brightness and contrast a lot, blurred the background and 'framed' the main elements (avatar, gun and vehicle) with a soft black brush before applying a personal filter I've made, which is really a mix of blending options on several layers, to give it that red glow."

- "Do You Have a Problem" by Delairen Baysklef. "The idea for this image came to me as I was playing with the Seburo and different couples [of] poseballs with my boyfriend, Xylor. As with all the images I created, I wanted something that would showcase the Seburo line, partially because it was fun, and partially because I was hoping to win, naturally. I used pre-made poseballs, so there's no real secret there, although getting the proper interaction with them and the Seburo's action override, was interesting. I ended up quickly finding out that I (the female in the picture) wasn't going to be able to hold on to a gun without ruining the pose. In the end, though, I think it turned out better anyways, since it gave Xylor a dark sort of 'who's intruding on my time with my girl' feeling and made me look simmeringly sultry."

- "Clio Graffiti 2" (Photoshopped screenshot) by Clio Lumiere

- "Smoke Break" and "Tough Love" (Photoshopped screenshots) by clothing designer Torrid Midnight.

Ms. Midnight created custom poses for each image. For "Tough Love", she says, "I wanted to include a friend in the picture and use the knife, but wanted to use an angle I felt nobody else would... I wanted the focus of this picture to be the two women and the knife a sharp contrast. I tried to show the intensity mixed with emotion; it came through better than I hoped." For "Smoke Break", she says, chuckling, "This was my sense of humor coming through. I knew everyone would be doing fashion or action shots. I had this idea of taking a smoke break in a really tough neighborhood. I made the pose to be casual but defensive, as you can see she's holding the gun ready, the eyes keeping watch, but the other arm is relaxed over the leg with the cigarette.

"On both images lighting played a big part" in the Photoshop process, she continues. "I created shadowing by directing applied light to focal points. In 'Tough Love' I used light on the blade of the knife and shadowing beneath to raise it against the skin. I detailed the facial features by painting shadow as well. In 'Smoke Break', I darkened the corners and blurred the surroundings a bit. I lit the area around the smoke of the cigarette to bring it out more. I also used shadows around the floor and on her body/face to add more of a smoldering appearance."

- Seburo & Saedaku Reflected by Kris Ritter. "Chinatown and the effects there were a hot topic at the time," says Ritter. "I decided to do a simple image using the reflection technique, duplicating everything in the image. I took Francis' Seburo and Saedaku weapons and a couple of shell cases, laid them on a glass-textured prim, and then copied each underneath the tabletop for the reflection."

- "Trinity Twins" (Photoshopped screenshot), also by Kris Ritter.

- "Seburo PD Femme Sun" by Tren Neva

- "Breaking Point" (Photoshopped screenshot) by Launa Fauna

- Going Down in Hot Pursuit by SuluMor Romulus, a builder. "[I] was trying to emulate some Matrix scene with Trinity and how she was falling and shooting at the same time," says SuluMor. "The pose is actually horizontal... I built the set vertically, including a shot of the sky. I also used an anger gesture just before I snapped the pic."

- "Seburo 5" (Photoshopped screenshot) by Stacy Maracas

- "How Do You Want It" by Delairen Baysklef. "I loved the idea of using my snapshots as sort of little glimpses in to a story," she says. "I had the idea for this picture while wandering in Chinatown, and happening across the open gate. I sort of had this idea that she (me) had just come up against some ruffians and turned the tables on them, or something like that... I had Xylor script me up a real quick poseball that I could drag and drop poses into, and then used them to adjust positioning. Again, with the Seburo overrider on [scripted]actions, I had to be careful because some actions just did not mesh with it. Ultimately though, I thought that this one, with me sort of leaning against the fence, came off rather well."

- "Pfft This" (Photoshopped screenshot) by Lash Xevious.

- "Noir Seburo" by Aimee Weber. "At the time the contest was being held," Ms. Weber says, "I was already working on a film noir project... a detective's office with desaturated textrues. I have always been interested in builds that tamper with your perspective. My giant kitchen which dwarfs visitors to the size of mice is another of my psychotropic experiments. If you feel strange when you return to regular Second Life, then I was a success.

"I couldn't Photoshop the image after the picture was taken, so what you see is what you get (this set still exists in Umber.) All textures were desaturated and shadows were exaggerated for dramatic effect. Prims with alpha textures were placed in front of the camera, one with the caption in the upper left corner, and one with the grainy film effect."

- "Assassin" by Shindra Quirk

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Comments

I just wanted to clarify that this contest was run by the amazing and talented Ariel Roentgen. Also, big thanks to Bel Muse for all her tremendous help with setting up the 2ndlook.org gallery.

Posted by: Francis at Apr 7, 2005 3:35:19 AM

Wow this was late coming lol. I was pretty impressed with a lot of the entries that came in, particularly Toast Bard's Retreat and Launa Fauna's "Breaking Point". There was a lot of talent being thrown around in the contest and it's a bit of a shame that it didn't show up as much in some of the contest winners, but that's really to be expected when it comes to having public voting and how people have large networks of friends and associates for voting.

I was particularly proud of my 2 entries even though they got no notice from anyone whatsoever lol, not to mention i'm the only person who hand drew an entry :P

Posted by: Artemis Fate at Apr 7, 2005 1:24:03 PM

Artemis' pics are here, and well worth a gander:

http://www.2ndlook.org/contest/displayimage.php?album=2&pos=84
http://www.2ndlook.org/contest/displayimage.php?album=2&pos=85

Wish I had space to include all the pics that impressed me in the original entry, including hers. But I definitely hope folks post links to their own favorites here in the Comments section.

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at Apr 7, 2005 3:08:46 PM

Hamlet, considering the timing of this with the release of Sin City last Friday, I'm surprised you didn't touch upon some more of the roots of this - Sin City, Punisher, Max Payne, The Matrix, and all sorts of other "film noir" style chicks & guns deals.

Posted by: Hiro Pendragon at Apr 8, 2005 1:58:55 AM

Thanks bro! Real good work!o

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