Tools of the Social VR Trade

As we enter Second Life’s 16th year and continue to build and script experiences in the virtual world, we forget how simple it all used to be. 

For the most part back in 2007 Second Life was built on it’s own PRIMative building system which gave it’s users freedom to create complex creations in a way only current Minecraft kids can still appreciate. Clothing design was a simple task of cut and pasting pictures on a texture template then applying it to Second Lifes clothing system. Fast forward to today and Second Life’s content creation has become vastly more complex and the tools needed to create has also become more advanced… and sometimes expensive.

BLENDER 2.8 – 3D Modelling app – FREE

Back when Second Life introduced 3d model imports i took my first dive into 3D Modelling. I tried a few different programmes around at the time but settled on Blender. It’s hard to believe such a powerful tool is FREE, totally free! It took a few years of constant experimenting to get fully used to the concept of 3D mesh creation but now i can’t build pretty much anything i can think of and that feels great. There are so many tutorial videos out there for anything you might get stuck on.

Blender just recently redesigned its User Interface which is causing me a few headaches but if you are new to 3D Modelling and Blender then 2.8 is a great application to start your 3D creation hobbies. The new EEVEE shader (shaders are little engines that display your model in light and shadow), displays your work in incredibly rendered real time allowing you to see things closer to how it’ll be seen in the next gen Social VR Platforms such as Sansar.

Character rendered real time with Blender 2.8

Blender also has a massive support community who build plugins that make some tasks easier. Ones i have been using are Avastar, SimpleBake and recently  HairTool. (note: plugins tend to cost a little bit, but its worth it just to support and say thanks to the creators of these tools).

Substance Painter – 3D Model Texturing App – $149 for current version – extra cost after 12 months for any updates 

Ever since i was a teenager i’ve been using Adobe Photoshop for hobbies and career in design, it was my THING and i’ve been paying for the privilege of using it for most of my life. I used to use Photoshop to texture my 3D Models created for second life, a long painstaking process especially when trying to get realistic effects on rusting metal or trying to bake (imprint) lighting and shadow effects. Then Substance Painter came along and freed me from all that pain. 

Substance painter is basically photoshop for 3D Models. You can drag and drop pre-made ‘materials’ such as stone, or brick or cotton and drop on a layer associated with the model watching it magically appear and react to lighting. You can mask parts of the model so only certain materials show up and you can apply ‘generators’ which create effects such as worn edges or rusting metal with just a few clicks. I do find though that what i create in Substance Painter often looks a lot less impressive in Second Life, and that’s only due to Second Life’s old shaders. Sansar on the other hand renders my work beautifully. 

PBR and SSS allow for more natural lighting effects in Sansar

I use this application more than Photoshop now, making me wonder why I’m still paying Adobe subscription for photoshop… but then adobe recently bought Algorithmic who own Substance painter. Change is coming.

Marvelous Designer – 3D Clothes creation App – $490 one time fee

I hate making clothes in Second Life. Gone are the simple days of uploading a texture to make a shirt. Now i have to create, rig, offer demos, different sizes, different fits… it’s just not fun anymore and more work than it’s worth. Marvelous Designer in combination with Sansar comes close to making it fun and simple again… at a colossal price. 

Marvelous designer (MD) is an application that allows you to draw shapes, patterns for clothing as if you were cutting for real life clothing. Im suddenly reminded of home economic school classes with sewing machines. You can set which edges sew together and watch as the applications physics engine magically sews the pattern together to create a shirt or shorts around any 3D Avatar model you import. The Physics engine creates wrinkles around the model as it would in a real fabric and can be adjusted for material style. 

Things get even more fun when you learn you can export the clothes you made to Sansar as a special .SAMD format. Sansar can then apply physics to clothes during ‘adjust clothing’ option allowing you to tug and pul the clothing over your virtual world avatar. It really is next level stuff. 

I tried the 30 day trial and really enjoyed making hoodies for Sansar, but the only way i could justify paying for the perpetual license was if it made creating clothes for SL easier, and for me it made it harder. I can justify the cost of Substance painter as i use it for nearly everything these days, clothes, objects, entire environments. Marvelous designer i can see me using it for just clothes and for only one platform.

Adobe Photoshop  – image editing app – Photography plan $119 per year

The King of reality manipulation. I mentioned before that i’ve been using Photoshop for YEARS and paying for it to. I still use it but usually only for converting image formats, cropping and removing backgrounds, adding alpha channels. But i really need to look at wether i can use a cheeper or free alternative instead of paying for an application of which i only use 10% of it’s features.

A possible alternative is KRITA and free open source Painting programme for Windows, MacOS and Linux. It’ll take me a while to get up to speed with the UI but i will try and use KRITA for a current Printing Project and see if can really replace the Adobe King.

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