This is the third installment featuring Second Life® creators discussing their work and the limitations that determine what is possible. Again, I thank the following designers for their generous gift of time and willingness to participate: Cyclic Gearz (CG), SySy Chapman (SS), Tyr Rozenblum (TR), Siddean Munro (SM), Anya Ohmai (AO), Shai Delacroix (SD).
Why are so many details baked into the textures rather than created as individual pieces – like belts on clothing or doorknobs on cupboards?
CG: Anything you see in SL has to be downloaded to your computer. The more complex it is, the longer it takes. Mesh is made up of individual shapes, called polygons. The lower the amount of polygons a mesh object is, the easier on your computer it will be. To add all of these details in as mesh, increases polygons, which in turn increases the Land Impact, which not only increases how much prims it takes up (in the case of furniture), but increases how long it takes for your computer to load in from the server. Many designers compensate for this by using textures to add in the detail so you can have more mesh visible without it taking a long time to load.
Again, as I said before, you can either have mesh that loads faster, and puts less stress on your computer/the SL servers, or you can have highly detailed physical mesh. There are some creators who do add this detail and bring down the land impact with some tricks in the uploader, but that doesn’t really reduce the strain on the server or your computer.
TR: This is something we don’t do anymore unless an item just isnt going ot have any options (or need to turn something off). How I learned to do it was to bake it all together. Now I just don’t see the point. Maybe I’m reading this question wrong. So I’ll answer it a second way (because, i’m not sure if I got confused here sorry!) we don’t bake all the details in to our stuff because unlike home and gardens, we’re not really trying to save on prims. I know, okay, that it’s probably not the best way, but for the most part as a fashion designer we follow what our customers want. PC’s be damned, they want detail. So we’ll generally model it in, but use the lower poly, or decimated versions. I know earlier on I personally went a little nuts >.> with face count. I don’t think fashion design can get away with the same stuff home and gardens do to cut corners. When people shop home and gardens they look for the lowest possible prim, with best look. With fashion they just want the most detail, come hell or high water.
SD: Some users have a hard time downloading mesh to their clients due to hardware limits or bandwidth . Some computers aren’t as updated to render current game graphics. I live on a 5 MB DSL connection that limits my streaming. Before mesh, I had a hard time building anything with prims as it would lag or double up. I think of this as a standard for my clients. That’s why I personally prefer to do most of it on texture and normal maps. As a character artist, I try to keep my mesh in good topology and low in polycount with proper LODs. This is industry standard. There are details you can’t sacrifice and there are weighting issues to address with unnecessary polygons. In 3D movies or next gen games, you decide which area requires more details as the camera focuses on it. In SL, everything is in scrutiny, everyone is a hero character. My challenge lies in balancing these issues with the overall style in mind.
What are some of the limitations on the SL avatar that give creators a hard time?
TR: A few key issues to look for with the sl avatar and its weighting:
- The torso where the torso joint meets the chest joint, where your avatar bends at the belly, is a very weird place to weight crop tops. It’s kind of a nightmare really, because it will push alpha’s down to be visible under certain tops, or the belly will clip depending on how far you pull out a top, or how low/high it is.
- The collar joint (It’s just above the shoulder), is sort of a nightmare, it affects all the way back to where you would see the shoulder blades on the avatar. They really enjoy doing their own thing. You can stress and fight, but their favorite thing to do is clip through low neckline tops and straps. You can avoid this by just testing placement of straps, and raising necklines a smidge. It’s really trial and error.
- Certain skirt lengths can get a little wonky, if you see someone do a pencil skirt, generally they will have some kind of texture under it so a lot of the clipping isn’t noticeable. In MMO’s the animations for characters are the same (and weights are better). Because its fixed, in SL ao’s can be just about anything, and the area on the avatar is bad anyway. If you get close to the knees with skirts, expect some clipping if your legs cross over one to the next. It’s just going to happen, take a breath.
- Floor length anything. I know you love your feet and fancy shoes, but this is a huge problem area, while you can get a pretty decent weight for a dress like this, you will still find issues with foot clipping. I dont know why, I ask god every time I try to do it. AO’s are the big conflicting issue with this one too.
- Low cut skirts (at the abdomen) and jeans. If you leg moves and you see alpha kick up under the hem, its because of how the thighs are weighted on the standard av. Same with the weird torso weighting, you just have to take the bad with the looking fabulous with your ass on display…….thing.
TR: SOME NON ISSUES: These are the things that creators need to work on and could do better and shouldn’t be blamed on the SL av. Elbow and wrist length sleeves, and long pants. You guys can do this! Yes the crotch is kind of a pain, and no elbows and wrist bend aren’t fun, but with a little bit of willpower you can push through it. You may not be able to get a perfect realistic joint bend, but it’s totally possible to get a decent rig out of stuff like this. So in no way should anyone blame this on the avatar.
CG: Seconding this – you can avoid noodle arm! It’s not easy, but it’s doable. Noodly bends on the elbows and joints can cost you sales!
TR: Going to add to this, because I think it’s really important. The way the avatar rigged makes clothing production (as well as avatars and rigged accessories), like an acrobatic trick every time you do it. It’s a hard thing to decide if you do A. make something wild that will probably clip and be rigged awkwardly, or B. play it safe and create what you know works. Yes, there are obvious weighting mistakes out there that shouldn’t exist. So the excuse of “it’s because of the avatar” isn’t always the fair one to use. But a lot of times troubles ARE because of the avatar. As you learn to model, and learn to weight and make clothes for second life, you learn the problem areas of the av. You learn lengths to not use, strap positions and necklines to not use, cuts for tops to not use. But its hard to tell sometimes what is just bad weights, and what was poor choice on placement. That said just like we have to go “okay, this wont ever be perfect”, I wish customers would understand that, the weighting won’t always be just so. That often times there is some kind of tradeoff for items you are wearing. That isn’t an excuse, it’s just fact, if you are wearing the standard AV. I personally am looking forward to working with Maitreya and slink body here soon (taking some practice for me!) because our clothing will be working against an avatar with infinitely better weights than the standard av. I tell people all the time to look at body replacement, as more mesh (and texture clothing) rolls out for them, you are going to see higher quality weighted items.
SS: Tyr is on a roll and really i have nothing to add cause she’s saying exactly what its LIKE. As someone who just started to work with the Slink body to make fitted mesh (yes, that is a new learning curve) it is indeed true that if you’re given a good base weight, you can work with it and it looks way smoother then the default avatar. Basically the default avatar is just not very handy to work with is what alot boils down to.
SD: Purely because I make menswear, I would love to have a different set of skeleton/ rig for the men. The current ones don’t address the anatomical differences between gender and I’m not even going into sliders. Female avatars are better weighted and supported in both animations and mesh. I cannot stress enough how important anatomy and good topology is in both rigging and modeling avatar mesh.
Is it possible to use huds to alpha change the length of pants or skirts? So short avatars can click of two bits of the bottom, medium avatars click off one and tall avatars leave the full length?
SM: This is unnecessary. Rigged mesh conforms to bone length, without even needing to be fitted, therefore an ankle length skirt is ankle length no matter what height your avatar is or how long the legs are.
SD: Yes it is possible. But not all clothing styles lend to this kind of editing and then you’d have to deal with awkward cut offs and alphas which are set on the system avatar mesh.
Why does alpha hair sometimes make parts of the clothing behind it invisible?
CG: This is a bug within SL, which means textures with an alpha can cause visual errors like that (PNG or TGA, I’ve had it happen with both)
AO: Please bear in mind this issue is not SL viewer specific and SL/creators can’t be blamed for its occurrence. Anything using OpenGL to render will run into the same issues. When two or more textures contain an alpha channel, the renderer tries to sort the alphas in its best attempt. Usually what happens is alpha textures overlapping become invisible or glitch when two objects are too close together. (An alpha texture in most cases within SL are 32bit .tga files or .png files with transparency/hasn’t been flattened to 1 solid layer.)
This question might exist because some people find a certain hair not making the clothing transparent and some do. If a clothing texture was saved without an alpha channel (so this could be a 24bit .tga file or .png that’s not transparent and flattened) there should not be a problem. Or the other fix is the hair worn does not have alphas around the ends where it overlaps clothing – this I find is not quite feasible since alphas add volume and realism to the hair. But bear in mind some clothing require use of alpha textures to invoke fur or lace, in that case this problem is unavoidable.