Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 4

July 15, 2014 in Uncategorized by lokieliot

sample1Turning Heads

Our avatars don’t look real. Not at any point can you say an avatar in SL looks real. Even with the advances in features such as mesh and material mapping we can’t make an avatar look photo real yet.

But looking real is not the only thing needed to trick you into immersive situations, if it was then you would not become so involved in the characters of the most colourful animated movies.

sample3Over the years i’ve adjusted and improved my avatar. Maybe i thought i was making him look more real, but i’ve probably just been upscaling the character detail so he shines with more clarity the personality i want him to express.

I’m now turning my attention to the head of my mesh avatar and this is where things get crazy. I could go for a photorealistic head, but would that just lead to uncanny valley of walking dead? I could just replicate the SL avatars head which is only normal compared to other default avatar heads. What if i go the pixar route and create something very stylised to amplify expression?

sample2I created a mesh version of my avatars current head to see just how much life is lost in the translation. The SL avatar uses a type of animation called ‘BlendShapes’ which you assign a ‘shape key’ to in your 3D modelling program for smiles, laughter and other expressions. There is no way at all for creators to tap this feature of the SL avatar so to replace the head we loose the connection with these facial expressions.

We also loose the ability to blink since the eyes use the Head texture of the default avatar for blinking. Some people have figured out some tricks for mild casual expressions and i will probably do something similar with my own but needs more experimenting.

meshheadBut expressionless avatars might not last forever. The heads I’m experimenting with now are being blendshaped even though i can’t use them on SL avatars. Software such as faceshift and Mixamo already offer face mapping to avatar, while 3D sensor cameras are pushing into the mainstream.

So what should i do, stick with the old avatar look, or break free from the mold and go somewhere no ones gone yet with an SL kid avatar?

Stay tuned to see how this all unfolds :-p

 

Getting Wet Behind The Ears

July 10, 2014 in Making a mesh by lokieliot

So amongst the excitement of Experience Tools and Skill Games announcements, something else happened this week. LSL Materials Parameters.

These are basically new commands for scripters to control the normal and specular mapping of an object. This is great for creators as material mapping, especially specular mapping has allowed for some very cool effects

You can make objects look more metallic and other objects wet or damp. In New Babbage i used specular mapping to make cobbled sidewalks look wet and have puddles. Windows reflect light like proper glass.

What adding LSL scripting control to materials allows is the ability to script the normal & specular map for certain changeable scenarios.

My first experiment with the new LSL Parameters was to create clothing that appears to get wet when you enter water. Some people had tried this before by simply changing the texture but now we can change the actual specular shine of the object for a proper wet look.

I didn’t stop at just clothes though. Since I’ve been working on a replacement MESH avatar body, i had a go at making the whole body look wet.

stages

Stage one: DRY… Stage 2: WET!… Stage 3: Drying out…

 

The results were very promising. When you enter water the clothes and body become wet and when you leave the water the clothes and body gradually become dry again. The script itself is as low on server checking as possible, the last thing i wanted was to add scripts that cause lag. I’ve yet to consider wether to make all my future clothing ‘wet’ enabled or just the summer range.

 
Of course you need to have advanced Lighting Model enabled in your viewer before you can see all these kool extra effects, and a year after Materials first appeared many still are unaware of this feature. Some simply don’t have it switched on due to having old computer equipment while others turn it off because shadows grind everything to a halt unaware you can switch shadows off. I have a pretty up to date mac hardware and shadows kill my experience. Shadows should have it’s own separated tab so it does not scare people away from switching on advanced lighting.

Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 3

July 4, 2014 in Making a mesh by lokieliot

fittedclothesSince i reached a point where I’m happy with the mesh shape of my avatar and how it moves, i’ve not been able to take it off.

I took my new body for a spin at SL11B with new shorts and vest specially created for the body shape. This allowed me to create clothing that fitted perfectly with the body and didn’t even need an alpha layer to hide the body under it, even as the vest hugged the body tightly. But this has nothing to do with the ‘fitted mesh feature’ which i did extensive experiments with.

 

Fitted Nonsense.

I’ve spent the better half of two months now experimenting and researching the fitted mesh feature. With help from Avastars Gaia and others who have dabbled in it i have come to the decision that i won’t be adding the feature to my new Mesh body… well, not in its full form.

How i’ve come to understand it, fitted mesh fits as long as you stick to the default SL avatar shape and i really do mean DEFAULT. As a small child avatar the arrival of Mesh meant i could smooth over the bumps and hiccups caused when deforming (squishing) the avatar to be child size. Fitted Mesh simply brings back the bumps and hiccups because its following the rules of the default avatar.

So if fitted clothing shrinks horribly on a child avatar, then perhaps i should start my clothe creation on an avatar shape that is already deformed (squished). Using the awesome Avastar blender plugin i was able to import an XML file exported from SL that contained all the deformation presets for a typical child avatar. My first results were very promising but the drawback is that creating a shirt that looked great on a small avatar meant it was no longer following the Fitted rules of the default avatar. This means squished bits like the pokey shoulder blades of doom still have to be masked. Another issue i found was that once you stray from the default avatars shape, the deformation sliders start to loose there strength. My friend Marianne raised this issue during my testing, showing that the Shirt would not stretch enough to cover her tummy.

fittedMeshissue

Some friends try my test fitted shirts. Marianne demonstrating how the waist of the shirt fails to deform at the same strength as her actual avatar even though they are weighted exactly the same.

This weakening deformation issue is the main reason my Mesh Body will not be 100% fitted mesh. I managed to make the body so you can enlarge the belly and feet, but when it came to allowing for more muscularity in the arms and legs the sliders had lost proximity 75% of their strength leading to little or no change in the body shape and making all the hard work pointless. I don’t fully understand why this is, but from what i could gleam from Gaia and others, any fitted mesh will reference the default adult avatar shape when deforming regardless of how you have rigged and weighted your avatar.

Fitted Mesh is a great if somewhat complicated feature and for those making clothes for adult avatars it’s very handy. That being said , it will give a little bit of extra customisation for my future clothing, but i won’t be promoting it as fitted, because thats not what it’s doing.

 

Bug Hunt

There is a bug i need to present to the Lab once i figure out the best way. You’ve all probably seen it at some point and seems to effect some people more than others. I think i’ll call it ‘the Joint Rig Bug’. Basically you wear a ‘joint rigged’  item rather than a simple rigged item. Joint Rigs change the overall shape of the skeleton your avatar animates to. It can be used to make petits, animals or creatures with long arms and short legs. In my V3 shirts i use it to raise the shoulder joints to get what i consider better pivoting of the shoulders in relation to the neck.

The bug happens when you take off the joint rigged item or replace with a different one. What should happen is the skeleton should return to the default joint rigging of the avatar but quite often it will get confused and make your limbs go bonkers resulting in large heads, long arms, eyes popping out, and stretched bodies. Sometimes your avatar will appear in front of people failing to to rez the joint rig without which you look stupid and you don’t even know its happening because on your screen you look fine. Only way to fix the issue is an old faithful relog.

Now my mesh avatar is a joint rigged avatar and already people say i don’t load correctly, so i need to see if the Lab is aware of it and have a fix down the road somewhere.

LokiLongneck

Long necked Loki, or ‘E.T. Syndrome’ – This bug is annoying

 

People want my body.

I got great comments about the shape and detail of my mesh body, as well as a lot of interest in when i plan to release it for people to buy for themselves. Well that will all depend on my next line of experiments.

There are a number of things i need to add to a commercial version of the mesh body. First i need to test to make sure it works well with a number of sizes, but i also have to make sure its easy to customise, wether by tinting or changing skins. Customising your avatar is a fact of virtual life so i need to really think hard about it.

I am considering possibly two versions, one where you can use the default avatars head with its expressions, but also one with a mesh head.

There is also the issue that users will not be able to use any other clothes than the ones i make for it. It’s a completely original model and in no way based on the default avatar mesh. So users won’t be able to use old clothes with it, nor can they use anyone else’s clothes with it. This leaves accessorising the mesh avatar solely  at my store which is great for me, but not for the community. So i can see a need to offer other creators the opportunity to make clothes for my mesh avatar, perhaps by suppling a mesh model to work from.

Currently Linden Lab are working on series of LSL commands that will allowed script monkees to control material mapping. I’ve been preparing for this by experimenting with the idea of having the mesh body changing from looking dry to looking wet by changing the material mapping. First tests seemed promising, am now waiting for he LSL additions to be released. This may lead also to clothes that change their appearance in water.

wetskin

Bonus of mesh bodies is you can use the new materials feature to add some nice lighting effects to skin.

 

There is so many little extras i could build into the mesh body, such as cartoon cell shaded modes, footprint sounds, different types of hand poses. But I’m also conscious about Avatar Draw and Script weights.

These are fun times :)

My thoughts on a Second Second Life

June 30, 2014 in SL Thoughts by lokieliot

So Linden Lab announced they are working on a newer virtual world that will use all the new snazzy new tech that’s making VR a buzz word again, so why is that such  bad thing?

It’s not a bad thing, its a great thing. Only a few weeks ago during SVVR i was questioning Drax ‘why should Ebbe Altburg even be on the Virtual World Panel when it seems that Second Life has no part to play in the up coming VR resurgence”.

Sometimes when I’m working on a modelling project for SL i end up doing stuff I’ve never done before and have to start experimenting, researching in order to figure things out. I sometimes get to a point where i think ‘if i start again with what i know now, it’ll be a better model’ so i make the choice to dump three days work knowing that the next attempt will be far better.

I often wondered what might happen if Linden Lab went this route. While not dumping Second Life, they are taking all they know about VR and starting afresh. This is mind blowingly awesome and i don’t understand why so many are against it!

I guess it’s easy for me to dump my inventory (all 50,000 items), i’m confident enough now to simply recreate it again elsewhere better. Im also the kind of artist who destroys old art to make way for new superior art. That cake stage at SL11B? probably never see it again after next week. As for my clothing range i sell, i don’t imagine people wanting to wear the same thing a year from now, i want people to keep buying my new stuff. I mean, why would you want to keep using something that looks crap compared to an up to date awesome looking version?

But i understand when people get nostalgic about items and places in SL. People fell in love with my old Island Goony island, and when i upgraded to Escapades and totally terraformed the place some people were like “it’s not the same :(”.

I don’t know whats going to happen when this new Second Second Life arrives. Wether people will flock to it. Wether people will carefully migrate places. How big a difference will there be between platforms? Second Life is what it is due to the limits imposed on its creators and users by the platform itself. With those limits lifted by new technology will creators and users build something radically different? it’s all so exciting!

So far it’s all been just talk. In a way Linden Lab had to announce this to stay relevant in the tech media as Virtual Worlds start a new hype cycle, this time with HyFy and Facebook World in the game. How this effects the traditional Hype Cycle i can only guess, can a technology go through a second peak of inflated expectations?

2000px-Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg_

Has Second Life been thrown off the slope of enlightenment y the tsunami of Oculus,HyFy and facebookworld?

Before last week i was moaning about how HyFy was experimenting with all these cool new ideas, the future of Virtual Worlds seemed only to be alive at HyFy. Now the Lab has announced their plans I’m very excited about the future. But the news isn’t going to stop me working on new projects in Second Life, that would be stupid.

The future is uncertain, but at least there is a future!

Second Life, turned up to 11

June 23, 2014 in Gaming SL, Making a mesh, SLBirthday Festival by lokieliot

Since SL10B things have been interesting in that there has been a real focus shift towards Virtual Reality and new platforms,  although it kinda feels Second Life got reluctantly pushed amongst the hip VR crowd… anyways screw all that Oculus VR rubbish. 

It wasn’t until i started playing around with High Fidelity that i realised just how much we take for granted stuff like the mesh importer, the chat set up, the sense of scale and presence in virtual space, Inventory,  how simple SL actually is for what it does and provides. I think as other platforms finally rise, we will suddenly be a lot more appreciative of what those who worked on Second Life achieved… if not, then we should.

As we party into SL11B I’m cautiously optimistic but also incredibly upbeat about whats now possible in SL. In the past few weeks we finally saw an end to project sunshine, which to be honest i can’t tell if its improved things or not since like everything the lab does it was a gradual thing that i never really noticed. I still crash in busy places, and while Avatar faces and skin loads super fast, their mesh clothes seem to have increasing difficulty. But things have improved and you can see this when looking back at old videos.

 

Building, turned up to 11

This time last year the materials feature was just out, and since then i’ve got to grips with Normal Maps and Specular maps, all of these things i knew nothing about until it was added to SL and it really has taken everything i build up a notch. Combing Material mapping, mesh modelling, Alpha masking and Lighting can produce truly amazing results that were never possible before.

blackingFactory

Since SL10B the Material Mapping feature has allowed me to create spaces with incredible atmosphere.

 

Clothing, turned up to 11

I hate fitted Mesh, well… i mean… i hate that i haven’t quite figured it out yet. The Lab didn’t just add mesh import, they designed an interface for importing mesh with lots of considered options with previews. Fitted Mesh is sort of a hack job slapped on, you can’t even preview the fitted aspects of your creations, you just upload and cry as you end up spiky to infinity.

My experience with fitted mesh is a combination of Experimental Avastar, beta Blender and Original Mesh Avatars, so i basically made it as hard as i possibly could to start with. But my first Mesh Avatar is partially fitted which for now is enough for what i want to do and I’m sure by Sl12B Avastar and fitted mesh will mature.

The Combination of Fitted Mesh, Materials and Alpha Masking is also allowing for some fantastic effects and surfaces on clothing to rival AAA games. I’m also considering a step backwards for my clothes. I’m increasingly aware now that not everyone is comfortable being on the bleeding edge of whats possible in SL, so while i work on a mesh avatar with accompanying clothing, i will also make clothing more tuned for use with old default avatars.

I think we are at a point now where Mesh Avatars will really start taking off, and perhaps we’ll see a competitive battle for users and supporters while working around the limitations of the base avatars everything is built on.

compare

Other than loosing quite a bit of weight, my avatar is starting o look increasingly detailed thanks again to material mapping, making pictures from 2007 look 2D rather than 3D.

 

Experiences , turned up to 11

Im still waiting for the Experience Tools being released. I’ve read a few blogs recently saying Linden Lab will announce a Beta next month, but i simply don’t believe that, it’s all just an elaborate tease as they know how much i want the experience tools.

If it was true, i would be able to Ask you for permission to be god when you arrive at Escapades Island, then i could attach a HUD to you that would give you a stick and a mission to complete and off you go. Meet a troll who asks you a question, get the question wrong and i can animate you as you are swallowed by the troll and teleported inside the trolls tummy where you meet a Goblin who asks you to help him escaped the troll.

It’s all a combination of HUD story telling, teleporting, attachments and animating all of which i can can do now, just need to assign all the parts to ONE experience which you can give permission to. Really it’s all a matter of trust, will you trust a boy called Loki to animate, teleport and attach things to you :-p

vikinger

There are some amazing experiences in Second Life already , the Experience Permissions will simply make them easier and more immersive to use. If you haven’t tried this epic viking ride at Folkvang at Lexicolo region, check it out!

 

Ignoring the VR Hype, turned up to 11

So regardless of the news of SecondSecondLife, HyFy, FaceBookWorld, Oculus and born again VR evangelists, Second life this year is emerging from its dark ages into a time of enlightenment. More stability and the maturing of features & tools are allowing us to create some stunning works and new experiences.  I don’t want to speculate about how awesome things will be in future, things are already awesome, and getting better each day… or each month at least. In regards to how Linden Lab will compete with other platforms, the other platforms don’t have us users backing them… did i say backing, i meant standing behind the Lab with sticks shouting “FIX THIS , FIX THAT, WHY DID YOU ADD USERNAMES!????”

Anyways, Happy 11th anniversary Second Life, it’s changed how i view the world and the infinite variety of people living on it and allowed me to share my dreams in so many creative ways.

 

slbb

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