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.
Over 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?
I 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.
But 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