SL is, to use one of many confusing analogies, a complete mesh. The ground, the sky, everything in between, you and all you can see inworld, are mesh. Every pixel of it. Ditto with every online (and nearly every offline) 3D environment: mesh with textures applied to it. Period.

What seems to complicate things for many people, particularly people who were around SL in the days when the only way to build things was to sling prims, is one of the great tools that still introduces most people to SL building: prims [primitives, which are actually parametric meshes: meshes created within a set of parameters. The trade-off is that whilst making it almost effortless to create simple things, there are massive limitations in prims, by necessity–though you might not know it by looking at the work of people who’ve been around creating in SL for a long time (some of those people are magicians). Having to render the world they envisage within those finite limitations has taught them the mastery of the craft. I can’t imagine slopping paint on a cave wall and telling a story, any more than I can picture building a breathtaking cathedral with prims, yet we see evidence that both can be done. Making it look easy is the mark of a creative genius].

Prims are limited to only certain shapes, but offer the benefit of costing only a single prim each. There is some ingenious math involved in making that economical enough to maintain, while affording artists the freedom to make amazing things (if you’ve never built in SL with prims, go to a sandbox, open the build floater and try some of the stuff out. If you have some knowledge of 3D creation, you might be impressed with what can be done with curves, especially spheres, hollow shapes etc., in terms of both associated rendering cost and just plain flexibility. It can even be a lot of fun just to make shapes at a sandbox. There’s a ton you CAN do).

That said, for a creator those limitations come more clearly into focus when one sees what is possible uploading meshes directly, meshes created in an offline 3D application (Blender, Maya, 3DS Max, etc.). Meshes created and imported this way (as COLLADA, or .dae scene files) have almost no limitations at all in terms of creative freedom beyond an eight texture-face-per-mesh limit, yet more complexity leads to higher rendering costs (every triangle takes some network bandwidth and processing power to download to the viewer and then render; thousands take way more, and so on) with corresponding upload costs associated. Similar to building great structures with prims, there are avenues for us to use to ‘cheat’ (all of 3D imagining is in fact ‘cheating’; we use zeros and ones on a few pieces of silicon to send light signals to a device on our desktop to make us feel like we’re in some imaginary place. Like any art, it is a form of representation, trickery, or–if you will–‘cheating.’ But this cheating won’t get you thrown out of class ;D).

Baking textures using smooth shading is one way to suggest a smoother curve than the object is made from. More complex examples of the same thing involve making multiple LOD (level of detail) models and baking texture maps–including ‘bump’ and ‘specular’ maps–from a more detailed model onto a simplified version, and using the detailed images in the materials enabled viewer to create lighting effects at the texture level that show the details of the more complex model on a simplified mesh. If the textures are carefully simplified to keep their download costs low, amazingly detailed creations can come to life with minimal rendering cost, which is the main reason that ‘materials’ introduction was such an important positive for SL–in fact, the natural next step after the introduction of mesh importation itself. If you are at all able to run a materials-enabled viewer with Advanced Lighting enabled, even if you have to use a smaller window to get a reasonable framerate, at least try it in an area with bump and spec mapped material textures. It is a revelation, especially with shadows also enabled.

[All the glass on my builds in Clockhaven in New Babbage (except my house, which I’m replacing) use materials textures for specularity, which allows both shine and transparency, which adds so much realism it should almost be mandatory, hehe. The sizes of the textures involved–one extra 256×256 repeated on all the glass surfaces so it downloads once and loads for each window from cache–adds so little to the rendering cost it’s immeasurable, for what I think is a huge benefit in realism. Due to the way lighting and shadows work indoors in SL, from the inside it barely shows while from the outside it’s obvious, just like in RL.]

While materials features can be used on prims (great for straight rectangular floors, for instance, or as noted above in brackets, windows), it does obviously afford much more freedom when working with the versatility of direct mesh, without those previously mentioned parametric limits.

Okay; taking a deep breath, sipping some tea, and figuring out why this is relevant to the average SL fashion freak. A question was asked in a Fabfree Fab Advice post recently ( http://fabfree.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/fab-advice-edition-5/ ) about the trouble with fitting rigged mesh hair.

One of the troubles with rigged mesh clothing (including hair) on the current default avatar is that the current av was never intended to have complex mesh rigged to it, so while it did an amazing job of filling in {there are some amazing mesh clothing creations currently available, using the same kind of creative voodoo that prim builders use to make magic, only in this case rigging mesh clothing to an increasingly obsolete, or really just overly simple mesh ‘skeleton.’

For the first decade of SL’s public availability, any more complex an avatar mesh would have been seen as wasteful, unnecessarily contributing to lag–though you may get arguments from anyone who doesn’t think badly triangulated calves, or that weird mutant shaved butt thing when you sit down were ever going to be good enough; it’s helpful to remember how SL was used back then.

For a system originally designed for people to log into using every kind of computer with internet access–seriously, Windows98 on a Pentium–long before sculpties were even offered as a building option, that avatar mesh has served us pretty well, I would say. In fact, I think it deserves an award for design efficiency} there is a new avatar in town:

The new Second Life FittedMesh Viewer version 3.7.0.286015 uses a new avatar skeleton with added bones to allow mesh clothing (and other attachments) to rig in a more detailed fashion, meaning that the sliders will affect more of the mesh, so that our inventories will be spared having five standard (in most cases) sizes of each garment. It should be easier to get a unique fit as well, since even the five standard sizes are necessary educated guesses with unfortunate gaps that for some people never seem to be just right.

I will here make a comment–though based on my own opinion, I think something more people should consider about the necessity of having to modify their shape to fit clothing. When you or I or anyone else where clothing in RL, if it has any shape to it at all (people who wear burlap sacks exempt), it affects the physical shape of your body. Skinny jeans are an obvious example, but anything; and particularly for women, any top. Having to adjust your shape to allow your breasts to fit one or another garment is a close approximation of RL. When you wear this t-shirt or that blouse in RL, it may press your breasts against you or hang freely from them (even then inducing some gravity pull), or may pull them together, etc. Same with your waist–don’t get me stated on corsets–or your butt, your arms even. You shouldn’t need to adjust so as to look like a different person, but some adjustment is actually realistic, to simulate different types of garment. Rather than see it as somehow compromising your commitment to the realism of your avatar, think of it as the possibility to increase realism. And above all go with SMALL ADJUSTMENTS, especially when moving many sliders in a single adjustment.

Being 5’8″ and wearing a medium, I find I have to make changes very seldom (at least partly both because of the styles I wear and how I combine meshes), but once in a while the old booberoonies get a slight tweak (and not from some guy on a beach, thank you). If I was one of these 8 foot mutants, I’m not sure I could ever get anything to fit and look right, let alone get an AO made with mocap animations recorded from a 5’6″ woman to look anything like normal (or dances, sits, etc.).

If you want to be realistic, literally the first step is your height. If you get that wrong, it doesn’t matter what else you do, you won’t look your best; although that grapefruit-sized head probably doesn’t help (and if your arms are so short you look like you can’t wipe without help, you may want to apply at the circus). There are sources online showing proper proportions of the human form for artists. Don’t sell yourself short–pun intended–creating an avatar in SL isn’t like UMVU or any kind of extended chat program; you’re creating an artwork, and given some great tools to do just that–don’t waste them, you deserve better.

No one puts the effort into all this fashion thought without caring how they look. Looking your best starts with the base layer on the canvas, your shape. Start there with some basic human proportioning, and think first about your height. It affects realism, period. Of course all of this applies to human avatars, but any furry with a human form or really any biped can benefit from thinking about those proportions.

I make mesh furniture of all sorts, buildings, etc., and I use realistic heights for door openings, chairs and the like. Having a realistic height is a necessity for realism. We use high ceilings inworld for camming room, but everything else benefits from realistic proportions, particularly now that people are using mocap animations recorded from realworld humans, unless you’re compensating for something and don’t mind it being completely obvious

And remember another thing: with any clothing system, there is a learning curve. Remember trying to learn how to adjust flexi skirts to look their best? Especially with a realistic body shape, which at one time just wasn’t done. Even editing prim or sculpt attachments to fit; none of those skills were ingrained, they were learnt. Making the most of mesh clothing, within the limitations of the current SL default avatar mesh, requires some skill. Generally though, once you get most of the initial work done, you won’t need to change much.

If you are a larger girl, certain creators make garments better suited to your frame, identically to the way seamstresses create for certain body types in RL. Often they have the sense of how to make your body look its best. In RL, there are types of clothes I just can’t wear. Even if they come in my size, I can’t make them look right. Thanks to mesh, for good or ill, SL now has that extra touch of realism, and I for one embrace it.

Another factor influencing hair design is the discrepancy in avatar types. A realistic looking hair mesh made to fit well on an abnormal looking shape (8 feet tall with a giraffe neck and the increasingly proverbial grapefruit-sized head) will vanish into a 5’5″ curvy woman with a shorter neck, etc. And the converse is obviously true: a mesh rigged to a realistic avatar will float oddly above an av with a longer neck, etc. Add to this the complication of guessing breast size and shape, the possibility of mesh breasts, and it soon seems impossible to make a gorgeous mesh hair fit more than a few people.

This is the main reason that nearly all rigged mesh hair creators not only provide but insist that you use demos in their stores to be sure that what you buy will work for you. From what I can tell so far, rigged mesh hair itself may be unaffected by the coming updated avatar in the fitted mesh viewer, so we may have to work within this for the foreseeable future.

Another thing to consider is that some creators face the challenge by offering multiple sizes in purchased packs, often 3 sizes. If you have trouble fitting good rigged mesh hair, that is an excellent option (this goes along with what many do, offering multiple colours in colour packs, to get as close as possible to the tint you really want. Some offer HUDs with multiple colour choices, which is another great way to).

Take it from a confessed hardcore hair junkie: there are many great mesh hair creators in SL, more all the time. Experiment with demos, try new stores, ask your friends where they shop. I have a favourite, but I buy styles from many different makers and am always finding great new ones. Just remember to clear out the demos from time to time. *blush*

Consider also that this all only applies to rigged meshes, both clothing and hair. Simple attached mesh (‘non-rigged’ or ‘unrigged’) can usually be resized, either with a HUD, or by editing yourself if it is sold with mod permissions. Such resizing options will be made obvious at the time of sale. If not, you might ask the creator or customer service rep.

To get back to that new avatar mesh in the new viewer, it is a beta, which means it’s been tested enough to work fairly well, but it isn’t the current stable, so consider the usual caveats. It’s also just in the LL code so far, so this viewer is the only one using it presently:

Second Life FittedMesh Viewer version 3.7.0.286015

available on this page: http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Alternate_Viewers

Once a few creators have begun to work with it, pieces will begin showing up in the market, and likely some freebies or at least demos to experiment with. Once it becomes mainstream (people have been begging for this since I started over 2 years ago, so it shouldn’t take long), inventory bloat (caused by the necessity of providing 5 sizes of each garment to reassure customers that something should fit) should at least stop growing, easing life for the servers. Although I plan to do a LOT of shopping once we reach that stage, and I bet you do too. Then I will finally have to face the dreaded Inventory Purge :/ ).

I’ve been holding off learning to rig meshes partly in the hope that this day would come, eliminating at least part of one of the compromises creators have had to work with so far. I know many others are in the same boat.

So hang in there with mesh, and if you get frustrated, ask someone for help. Many would love to help you sort that out to get the most out of your SL. It can be done, with minimal compromise if you know a few tricks, and you deserve it. 😀

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