Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 7: Avastar Unleashed

It’s been over two months since i last posted an update on my Bento Avatar, that’s partly to do with working on T H E  W E L L and New Babbage traditions. The other reason was that Avastar wasn’t doing what i wanted and i was getting more and more frustrated with it and i’m sure the Avastar team were getting fed up with my support tickets.

Avastar was finally released 2.1.0 in October with the same problems that caused me to halt all work. Then in 2.1.1 i discovered the ‘bake to mesh’ option. What this feature seems to do is glue any changes made of the mesh shape to the Avastar bento rig, either moving verts, adding new verts or cutting the mesh into bits. Suddenly Avastar went from being a frustrating mess to SUPER AWESOME AVATAR BUILDING MAGIC PLUGIN.

Not only did ‘Bake to Mesh’ button fix my chopped up avatar issues, it also made making changes super easy and quicker than before. Now i don’t know when the button first appeared, as i don’t ever remember seeing it before 2.0.1. There was never any documentation to say when it should be used and the Avastar team never mentioned it to me when i sent support tickets crying. I also cant tell wether it was a feature planned at the start of Bento Avastar development or just a sudden ‘oh that would fix everything’ moment near final release. In any case it really has made things simple again especially with making clothing and is a welcome addition. Though it does come with some side effects which if not kept an eye on could cause issues.

When i discovered the ‘Bake to Mesh’ button i started using it all the time. I would make a change, then ‘bake’, upload a test, see something wrong,  go back to blender, make another change then ‘bake’ again. It wasn’t until some of my beta testers mentioned the eyes looked odd that i realised some how the face had changed from how it originally looked. Upon investigating i discovered that ‘bake to mesh’ actually warps the mesh shape ever so slightly each time it’s used. You would not notice it.

This revelation has resulted in me having to go back to previous mesh shapes created before ‘bake to mesh’ appeared and start again to remove the warped effect. Knowing now whats happening, i try to only ‘Bake to Mesh’ when i really need to.

It has not stopped me from going forward with my Bento Avatars and i hope to finally have my Bento Avatar ready for users to play with before Christmas. The next Update Post will explain more about the features built into my Bento Mesh kid Avatar.

As of posting this Avastar has a 2.1.2 release, but i’m too scared to try it.

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 6: Avastalling the Consumer Version

2 months later and Avastar has progressed to RC14 and unable to fix a major issue that came with RC13. Its frustrating to have come so far along with my Bento avatar only to suddenly have to halt.

A friend of mine asked for base files to make clothes for my Bento avatar seeing as it appeared to be swiftly approaching final release. I hesitated and decided not to agree and good job i did because the latest versions of Avastar will not allow me to even export a fitted mesh avatar.

The modern mesh avatar uses fitted mesh to allow slider customisation so you can be fatter or thinner or customise the face. This fitting can also be added to the clothes made for that avatar so they deform along with the customisation. The modern avatar also uses Bento bones and avastar has 129 bones for its skeleton. Second life though only allows rigged objects with up to 110 bones to be imported. The advice from an Avastar documents (which i can’t find at the moment) was to chop up the avatar mesh once you are finished and use a special tool ‘clean weight maps’ to remove unused bone groups from the chopped parts. The avatar is then a collection of objects each with less than 110 bones attributed to them allowing for import to SL.

This was working perfectly until RC13. Now when i cut up the avatar it looses fitted mesh support and i haven’t been able to find a work around. It’s possible that they have changed the workflow and have yet to inform me of the new one, but It’s been like this for over a month now and the recent RC14 does not resolve the issue. I haven’t been able to import any new version of my personal avatar and the Consumer version i was working on is in limbo right now.

I did manage to get a few Consumer Version test kits out to testers before RC13 came along. Working on a classic avatar head shape and testing wether users could replicate their classic faces. The main issue i had was with the neck and jaw but things were progressing well.

Two testers recreating their classic style faces. It became apparent that Avastar is unable to replicate exactly how the jaw is presented in SL

With the help of my testers i hope to allow users to get as close as possible to their original avatar faces but its slow going with Avastar.

It is a little bit frightening in a way how much my avatar work relies on Avastar now. As much as i appreciate Avastars mission to make mesh avatar creation as simple as possible, I’m at Avastars mercy. But then Avastar 2.0 is STILL a work in progress, i just didn’t realise the Release Candidate stage would take it all year.

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 5: Expressing my happiness

Avastar has progressed to RC12 and I’m in the middle of creating facial expressions to convey the mood of my Bento Avatar.

When upgrading Avastar i somehow ran into an issue that caused my Rig to export animations that flipped the facial bones upside down. I sent a bug report and we spent hours trying to work out why this happen and how to fix it.

I still don’t know how the rig became corrupted but with guidance from the avastar team i was able to create a new rig and re-bind my Mesh Body without having to loose all the weight mapping and settings. This new found ability to rebind mesh to new rigs is great news but does have some important steps needed to prevent screwing things up, such as setting appearance control to ‘no sliders’ before unbinding.

 

Setting the Mood

Reaching the 100th iteration of my mesh body i finally moved onto scripting the menu system built into the avatar. These options will allow the user to Select masking presets or custom masking. There is also an updated wet mode i first introduced in the first loki mesh avatar. But with this being a Bento Avatar i’m also adding some new features.

Moods is a new option with which you can select your avatars mood such as being happy, sad, grumpy or frightened. These aim to animate your avatars face in response to what ever occasion you might find yourself in at a party or during a role-play game.

 

Learning to smile.

It’s a universal world wide view that to draw a smile you simply draw an upward curve, but in reality a smile does not really do that, its a lot more complex and it has taken me a while to learn how best to animate a smile with Bento. Trying to avoid upward curves and ending with a scary grinning face turned out harder than i expected especially when results vary between blender and second life.

I even looked at Medhues examples of using movement/translations to create a more natural smile, but realised that doing such a thing has side effects that would need extensive workarounds to use. Though i did learn how to animate the tongue to stick out.

When it comes to face expressions i’m finding subtlety is best because expressions seem to work best when glanced briefly. The combination of movement between body and face can really bring the avatar to life in a way that has been lacking in Second Life for 14 years.

 

With these Bento Hands

So i think I’m on the final stretch with regards to my personal Bento Avatar. I’m basically scripting the options and testing our various moods to see what works best. I’ve also been experimenting with adding Bento enabled animations to objects that animate you to grip them as well as add little bit of casual flare.

Next week i hope to start on the consumer version which will replace the head with a default avatars head in the hope users can reproduce their classic avatar faces. How well this will work… will have to just wait and see :-p

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 4: Giving Bento the finger

Avastar is still stuck on RC10 but seems to be working well. I decided to start work on making my Bento Avatars hands look better. What i thought would just be a days work ended up being over a week of frustration.

The problems started when i took a close look at the Bento Skeleton Fingers and noticed that the finger bones are horrifically out of proportion. Again my first thought was ‘I’m doing this wrong!?’.

Apparently no, after contacting the awesome Avastar team for support i was told this is in fact how the bento skeleton is.  So i immediately went to work on editing the Avastar bento skeleton bones to try and get a more proportionately accurate hand.

The next problem was when it came to exporting the avatar to import into Second Life. When exported with Avastars ‘Use Bind Pose’ the avatar came in with correct hand proportions but Second Life ignored the edited finger lengths so i got really long slender fingers.

Top: Default Bento salad fingers – Bottom: my adjusted kid fingers

A few people were like ‘dude they make horses and stuff so you must be able to like do shorter fingers? Well to make anything that is not a human you export using ‘joint offsets’. Avatars exported with joint offsets seem to lack the extra tricks of Bind Pose such as fitted and physics mesh or something like that. All i know for sure is that my avatar looked incorrectly deformed when imported with joint offsets. Although the hands came in the correct size and shape…. typical.

 

Medhue is a god.

And so it was that i got more and more frustrated with the prospect of having salad fingers. That was until i happened to watch a Medhue video on rigging a bento tail in which he showed how you can use just an animation to make tails longer using joint offsets. After seeing that i screamed into action and created a simple animation that stored the edited bone lengths and nothing else.

Having the Bento Avatar play this animation every time it is attached sets the hands to the correct proportions and makes me a happy bunny. Now i can get on with final texture adjustments and explore creating animations . The light at the end of the Bento tunnel is in sight and I’m having fun!

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 3 : Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

We are now on Avastar RC10 and apparently close to official release. Since my last blog post in this series i’ve actually made a break through and managed to import a fully working Bento kid avatar….

My frustrations with Avastar are slowly dissipating as i get feedback from the Avastar team and work out my own workflow. I now have a checklist i go through with the project saved as stages so i can go back to a previous stage if things go bork. Some of the issues i had are still in Avastar, i simply changed what i wanted to do.

 

Shoulders

I’m not normal because i’m male, i’ve always been male. I am of course talking about Second Life and you might be surprised to know that almost every boy child avatar you bump into in Second life is actually a girl. The reason for this is the female avatar skeleton was designed to be small and slim so when users started to relive their childhoods they found they got better child shape results by using the female avatar even for boys.

When i first arrived in Second Life i chose the male skeleton to be my avatar base shape and have been that way since while all my best friends are female. It’s one reason why my avatar seems to look so unique compared to other kid avatars, the male avatar face shape can not be recreated on the female avatar shape because they are a different base mesh. So if i changed my avatar to be female i would loose what people recognise as Loki’s good looks.

But why is being female so important you might ask? well it is because of shoulders. Simply put, female shoulders in Second Life look better when settings are set to really small compared to the male avatars which are designed to look wide and muscular.

Over the years I’ve tried joint rigging and other attempts at making the shoulders look good on a shrunken male shape, all because i needed to preserve my face. I began the Bento avatar project still wanting to use the male avatar skeleton and became frustrated when Avastar appeared to not want to allow the ‘use bind pose’ feature with the male armature. After a long winded workaround i finally got a male skeletal based Bento avatar into Second Life and the shoulders looked crap. It was at that point i did a face palm realising that i didn’t have to use the male skeleton any longer. My entire head was a brand new mesh head so i could finally join my friends and be female.

This revelation has made the Avastar workflow a lot quicker and the results much better looking.

 

Exploring the Bento

Now that i have a working workflow i’m able to start proper experimenting with Bento and other Avastar features. For instance i discovered that i don’t have to apply physics to the butt or breasts, i can actually apply them to rigged mesh hair allowing for gentle bouncing and swaying giving a little extra detail.

Thanks to Avastars ability to attach the avatar to Second Life customisation sliders I’m able to warp my face and other parts of the body. How this will be supported with my next line of clothes I’m not yet sure.

While not very relevant to my personal avatar, this will be important for the consumer version

Creating animations is the next step. I’m having trouble with the .ANIM file format from Avastar and I’m discovering weird issues that can arise from it. But it’s so great to see my new mesh face blinking and smiling, the potential is there to bring so much life to my avatar than ever before.

I got stuck in this expression

One thing i’m disappointed with is after adding 106 new bones not one of them are for toes, there are multiple bones for wings a tail, and even the groin, but the feet are flatter than a pancake. Perhaps i can take bones from somewhere else and make them into toe bones?

 

The Consumer version of Loki Bento Avatar

So the hardest part is complete and i hope the rest should be easy, adding animation presets, built in masking, wet mode, designing new clothes. Once my avatar is complete and I’m happy with how it works, i plan to make a consumer version with a head shape based on the default classic avatar. My hope is users will be able to recreate their current head shapes as close as possible to how they are now. I could then offer specially designed head shapes to choose from in future.