Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 1 : Here we go again!

The Beginning of last year the big news about second life was the new BENTO avatar feature allowing creators the ability to rig mesh avatars with facial expressions and hand gestures.

Perhaps the Drax Files should have waited a year before showcasing Bento as the case always seems to be that Linden Lab introduce a feature, the community goes wild, then Linden Lab take a year or two to finally release said feature to a community thats long forgotten about it. I myself decided middle of last year not to jump on the Bento Bandwagon until the project was complete, and chose instead to push all thoughts of Bento to 2017.

So now we are in 2017 i have started looking at Bento or more specifically Avastar 2.0.  I’ve rigged characters for animating in blender many times but when it comes to second life the whole weighting for fitted mesh and other technical garbage that needs to be done gives cause for anxiety. Thats why Avastar is so important.

When i created my first Mesh Avatar the Avastar plugin for Blender was for me a bit unstable. It was still having features added in order to support the misleading ‘fitted mesh‘ feature. What i ended up with was a mesh avatar that worked for me but wasn’t a very good avatar for others to use and customise. The hope is this time around Avastar is much more stable, much more accurate and that i understand better how it works.

While not committing to create Loki Avatar 3.0 until Avastar reaches official release, i have been experimenting and getting to grips with the Avastar work flow which can change suddenly when they change options around confusing the hell out of me. Not only is Avastar a quicker way to create avatars, it also has features to export animations making it the best tool for creating SL animations. Seeing your mesh avatar hands moving thanks to Bento is really cool, and so is watching him blink. Suddenly mesh avatars can truly come alive!

I’ve also been using Substance painter to texture the new Loki Avatar. Before i used old faithful photoshop which is now bloated with features i don’t use or understand. Substance painter is now my goto tool for texturing 3D Models and is allowing me to create extremely detailed skins. Just how much of this detail will end up in Second Life i do not yet know, but it might fare better in future VR platforms.

The main aim for me is not realism, but rather personality.

Future Features
I learned a lot from my first mesh avatar Loki Avatar 2.0. Specifically about how users don’t want to change how they do things, so i’ll be creating my next avatar with that in mind.

Here are a list of features i hope to explore for Loki Avatar 3.0

• Personalities – With the addition of Bento facial animations, it’s possible that built in expressions could convey specific personalities, such as naive & Innocent, cheeky & mischievous, Grumpy, ect. Personalities could be chosen from a menu option adding a type of avatar customisation not available before.

• Hand gesture options – You could select from many hand poses.

• Easier Skin customisation – Loki Avatar 2.0 was notoriously difficult to customise the skin, i made the mesh texture system far to complicated so plan to make customising the skin a priority feature this time around.

• Common size – For Loki Avatar 2.0 i had this wacky idea to use adult size SL skeleton joint shrieked down to a kid size would make for e abetter kid avatar. It worked for me, but confused EVERYONE who used it, and in some cases just made other clothing break the universe when attached. It was partly because i had a silly idea, a lack of understanding how Avastar worked, and i stubbornly refused to begin again. Well now i am beginning again and i hope to make an avatar thats 100 times more friendly to other creators clothing.

• Bento Default Head – In my tests i’ve been working on my own very specific Loki face. I may decide to create a more detailed face based on the default Second Life head shape. The Idea being that those who are attached to how they currently look with default avatars, can try and reproduce the same face with a bento mesh avatar using the avatar slider support. In theory it should be possible, but we’ll have to wait and see. There is the possibility that i could create a range of different faces which you can tweek using sliders.

The Loki Bento Mesh avatar is just the start, the real fun begins with clothing and bento supported attachments that can take advantage of the new skeletons extra abilities. This year continues to be fun!

No Bento Loki Avatars until next year.

Over the weekend i took another brief look at Project Bento that was highlighted on the Drax world makers back in February.

If you don’t know what the Bento Project is, basically it’s an update to what people can upload for avatars in Second Life adding extra ability to rig facial expressions and fingers.

bentoloki

First announced last December of 2015 and still in testing, i hope to at some point work out how to use it. the Avastar plugin for blender should make things easier eventually but at the moment that also is still in testing.

bb

I’ll keep an eye on how it continues to evolve, but i now don’t expect to update my free mesh avatars to include bento until next year. In the mean time there are plenty of other features i can add to Loki Avatars that people have asked for.

Areas i hope to improve are the ability to change and customise skins and try a new way of masking body parts. I’d also like to experiment more with re-rigging the body shapes now that Avastar has evolved more. This would lead to backwards compatibility issues with older clothing though so we’ll see.

[UPDATED] Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 5 – Loki Avatars

testAlmost a year ago i started a project to make a mesh avatar. I actually finished my own Mesh Avatar around July/August of last year, but since then i have been trying to work out how to make a consumer version that allowed others to customise it easy as well as have clothes for it.

 

Not a classic.

I explored a lot of ways to make a mesh avatar and chose the controversial path of making an avatar that could not wear clothes made for classic SL avatars. It means those who choose to use my Avatar are limited in the choice of clothing. To help with this i’ve decided to create a clothing creation pack for Clothes designers who want to retrofit or build new clothes for the Loki Avatar.

 

Character

V4_Packaging_Avatars_characters

The way i have decided to present the Loki Avatar is as characters. The Smallest Avatar is called the Lilkid, then you have the BigBro followed by The Anime character. I hope to add more characters with more subtle changes to their shapes in future. Some people have already asked for a more skinny kid, or a more muscular teen and since i never really managed to figure out wether fitted mesh was just a myth i will try and supply some variations to the characters in future.

[UPDATE]: The Loki Avatar is partially Fitted Mesh, but once i started shrinking down the classic base avatar, things got weird. Since it’s only partially fitted, such as hands and feet part of the belly i can’t really promote it as fitted mesh.

 

TOTALLY FREE

 

shop

I want users to have the opportunity to try the avatar and see if the system works for them, so all the Loki Avatars are available for FREE, FOR EVER.

 

SKNpods & paks.

SKNpodOpen

But of course if you want to be able to change the colour and textures of your Loki Avatar, then you will need to purchase the SKNpod. This unlocks premium customisation features.

 

The First Step.

This is just the beginning. The Loki Avatar is basically the consumer version of the mesh body i use for my own avatar and i will be constantly working to create new clothes and accessories while also striving to improve my own look. This then gets offered to all those who are using the Loki Avatar characters.

 

The Next Step.

The Loki Avatar has only been available for a week and already there is a list of improvements that will come later in the year, such as better more precise SKNpod features, New Characters and more. Future clothing planned are School uniforms, new Bib overalls and socks. There are also a few other kids clothing designers who have grabbed the Clothes Creations kit so look out for the Loki Avatar Logo.

 

Thanx.

I’d like to thank everyone who encouraged me in this the longest single project I’ve worked on so far in Second Life. To those who gave me honest feedback and to those who kept me going on the numerous occasions i wanted to bin the whole thing :-p. The Loki Avatar and the solutions i built for it will not be to everyones tastes, but to those who pick it up, figure it out and use it, i hope it helps you achieve and express your second Childhood here in virtual space.

If you’d like to learn more about the features of the Loki Avatar then head over to the official Loki Avatars Website

I’ll finish this post with a short Machinima i created using the Loki Avatar Anime character.

Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 4

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

 

Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 3

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 🙂