Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview with Azar Shelman (Chev, Tony Dyson OBSS) (Nov 2008)

By Bixyl Shuftan

With much of today's technology having once been in science fiction, Second Life could be described as recent science fiction tales of virtual reality come to life. So when someone connected with one of the best known science-fiction characters does something in Second Life, well, it gets interesting. Of Tony Dyson, most people in the US, Europe, and Japan will almost instantly recognize a character he designed: R2-D2 of "Star Wars." So when he took an interest in Second Life, it was a story worth pursuing. I was introduced to the man at a Halloween party in October 2008 by Delinda Dyrssen, and we agreed to have a real interview later.

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Tony Dyson has made a name for himself in special effects, notably motion picture special effects, such as Superman 2, Moonraker, Dragonslayer, and especially his work on R2-D2 in the “Star Wars” movies (his resume can be found here: ). Recently, a friend told me he had come to Second Life under the name Azar Shelman, and offered to arrange an interview. Naturally, I took the chance, and a time and place was set up.

I met up with Azar at his place ‘Discovery Center’ in Germania Prime, far up in the air, which is accessible from ground level. He showed me around, his experience in special effects showing up right away with the teleport effect between floors. One floor will be “Robotwo Urld,” with a number of robot features, notably a Robot Exhibition, R2-D2 Stand and his iBot2000 Transformer robot. Azar told me that when he installs the Discovery Centre in nature themed sims, this floor would be changed to a Art Gallery and his iBot2000 robot would take on the role of a "spirit mentor."

The largest floor was the Main Theatre, (Theatre of Magic) which had enough seating for 74 avatars. Each seat would have a camera, a “Third Eye Camera System,” to assist the audience in getting the best view. Instead of actors, Azar had plans for a show with automations, “this is more of a narrative theatre, totally programmed.” He was also designing it so it could be changed for different shows fairly quickly. Besides “pure entertainment,” he also planned to give some iBot2000 demonstrations. But the place could be run without automation ús, “We can also produce live performances ... guess you can say we have a third use.”

Another floor was what Azar called the “Events Theater,” which was a smaller theatre to help Second life “Mentors” to teach newcomers about the finer points of our virtual world. Azar also told me he would be producing an “Introduction to Italy and Venice” for Venice tourism, “an example of what can be achieved” of how Second Life can help the tourism industry in real life, “If we find either of the theatres in more demand, we’ll build many more dedicated units.”

The next level is a private office, which Azar calls his "Think Tank," for his group members. "I realized very early on," he said, "that a project this complicated would need a very special team." He told me that his Personal Assistant was 786smile Shelman, ZenMondo Wormser was the project director and Delinda Dyrssen was the media consultant, the newest member to his team was Car Skytower, who was also very new to Second life and a creative director for his real world company Turn Page Studios, and a friend of the family for over 15 years. Azar added that I must of noticed that the building itself was something very special too, "I was very lucky he told me, "to have Damanios Thetan design and build this unique building, he’s been a great source of inspiration on this project."

The ground floor at the “Discovery Center,” has three booths set up. Azar explained one of the things that bugged him about Second Life was that information about a sim was not always easy to come by. So his solution was this information center, one booth having information on what land was for sale or rent, a second for what shopping was available in the area, and a third booth for any events. He also planned to put a “holodeck” on each floor to increase the functionality of each project on that floor. The idea for the ‘Discovery Center’ came to Azar while he worked in Second Life and  talking with sim owners.

Of the iBot2000, Azar told me it would be a highly versatile tool for Second-Life users. The robot would be a “transformer,” able to change its shape, such as to an airplane or shuttle or submarine. It would also come with one of a number of modules, depending on the users wants and needs, “when a person buys the robot, they buy what module they want.”

Azar talked about students taking information in on a “learning curve,” and how Second Life was better for a student to learn than on the web, “students can’t meet with each other on a website, but  they can here ... socialize, get friendly, have adventures. ... the technology tools are far more advanced here.” Azar also liked how Second Life buildings didn’t need to be designed like real-life ones, that you didn’t need to put in stairs, but design a place around the ability for one to fly and so on, “I like to ce ‰lebrate the fact we can teleport.” Azar’s motto at his Discovery Centre is ‘Celebrating the difference’. Azar told me he was currently working on ten projects in SL.

“How did you find out about Second Life and decide to log on?” I asked Azar. He answered, “I first heard about it on ‘Beyond Tomorrow... Australian program.” When he first logged on, he only stayed briefly not having found enough to keep his interest. Returning in Summer 2008, he was more impressed by what he found, and stuck around. He also “met a great mentor in StarRose Mirlin from Mystic Academy. She showed me how the place works.” Azar had still been in his newbie avatar, and was quickly told that a new look was expected of players no longer new. She got him looking around and exploring places.

Azar told me he had spent over twelve years working on the Internet before coming here, and found Second Life much more useful when it came to conducting business, “I see the difference here ... We can go out to the client. ... I like the psychology of it. ... The whole point is to think outside the box.” Azar commented, “If you’re finding there’s not that much to do, you’re not trying hard enough to find out what you’re good at.”

Azar told me that he has no plans beyond his current project of installing as many "Centers" across the Grid in 2009, at least for the moment, “Everything I want to do is centered around the Discovery Center. ... I’m very happy working here in Second Life.” He has plans on updating his web-sites to help publicize his work in Second Life.

When I asked him how his experience in special effects affected how he saw Second Life, Azar told me, “Special Effects is about imagination, creative thinking and problem solving. I don’t just work in movies, but also theme parks ... animatronics.” He talked how it related to magic and the medieval period sims. “I’d like to think they built Secon ±d Life just for me, but they won’t tell me so. (laughter)”

“I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve never met so much talent.” Azar described the "Builders of Valimar" a Tolkien theme and the Elf lands with nearly a hundred sims dedicated to nature and friendship or the "incredible" Jedi Star Wars worlds, "you must have noticed my very blue eyes?" he asked, "I must have too much ‘Spice’ in my food (laughter), a present from ‘Splintered Rock’ a great Dune role playing sim. All incredible worlds, living and breathing.” He expressed a desire for more guides to show people around Second Life, and was glad to hear about Sean Voss’ efforts in the past. He felt it was important to “help people get to their imaginary side.”

Of the misconceptions about Second Life, such as people thinking it was dominated by sex areas, Azar thought those were the result of lazy reporting, “a couple reporters who never got off Help Island, not really trying.” Despit Ue “people acting silly,” he felt it offered opportunities for people such as housewife’s with a small child, “people can socialize when they normally can’t. ... It has so many positive things going for it.”

Asking him about the “Chev” and OBSS with his name, he told me, “it stands for Knight or Sir it’s short  for the French word  (Chevalier) because I was knighted in Malta for my charitable works for children world wide. The OBSS letters after my name stand for the order ‘ Ordo Byzantinus Sancti Sepulchri’ in English ‘Byzantine Order of the Holy Sepulchre.’”

Eventually, Azar Shelman/Tony Dyson and I had to part ways, and he wished me, and the readers of the Newspaper, well.

“Be daring, get a few costumes, see what’s available. It’s a living film, become part of it.”

*  *  *  *  *

I would hear about Tony Dyson/Azar Shelman a couple more times in Second Life. He appeared on the "Tonight Live" show by Paisley Bebee in December that year, of which I wrote the following:

* * * * *

Azar had a surprise on the show, a number of the audience were in various “Star Wars” avatars, from Jawas to Jedi, a number of R2D2 and other astromech droids, and a squad of Clonetroopers. Paisley’s interview went smoothly, the contents which can be seen in the SLCN.TV archives (yes, that’s me next to that red astromech). B ut what happened after the show was also worth telling. The Clonetroopers stood at attention, and after an initial salute, began cheering Azar.

The artist must have been taken with the devotion of the Star Wars fans as he stepped off stage and went amongst them. Yours truly stepped forward for a few pictures, getting a reaction from a few of the troopers. “Back off fox, he’s ours now.” one told me, though it was obvious he was acting. Paisley talked about having a lightsaber, but had trouble finding it.

Azar and the squad of Clonetroopers talked a little, and they invited Azar to their Star Wars sim. Azar agreed to go, which got a cheer from them. They then began teleporting out, which soon got Azar realizing something, “Um, when I told you I’d visit your bsim, I didn’t mean right now. I’ll go there tomorrow.” “Oh sure,” another  member of the audience spoke in jest, “go ahead and disappoint your fans.” “Look guys, it’s 4:30 in the morning where I am,” Azar pleaded, “take it easy on an old man. If I head there, the sound on my voice will be snoring, ‘zzzzzz,’ because I’ll have fallen asleep behind the computer.” The remaining Clonetrooper nearest to him was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to break the news to his friends. Azar then logged out.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the Force,” in this case the force of fan devotion.

* * * * *

Over a year later in May 2010, he would appear again at a benefit for Cypress Rosewood, whose home had been damaged in a flood. That would be the last I would hear about him for some time, until a few days ago when I saw his name on Facebook. We ended up having a short conversation. He hadn't been on Second Life for a couple of years, but was interested in hearing in goings on about here.

Perhaps he'll be back soon. Until then, "May the Force be with him."

Bixyl Shuftan

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