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

 

Getting Wet Behind The Ears

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

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 🙂