Creating avatar skins – Part 1

As mentioned in the previous post (First visit to an OpenSim region), your OpenSim installation does not include any avatar assets beyond the standard Ruth avatar. This is the first post in a series about resources and information to develop your own wearable items and create your own look.

For many people; the first, and most basic thing, about the appearance of a newly-created avatar is being able to wear a skin and shape that matches your personal preference. Skin design and creation has developed into a sophisticated affair and it is one of the more challenging areas when it comes to a DIY approach.

The basic skin (or skins dependant on which virtual world library assets you’re using) provided for your avatar rarely tend to be the ones that you stick with throughout your virtual life. If you’re building your own virtual world with OpenSim your appearance may or may not be the first order of priority, but if you want your avatar to have a specific personality some work is required.

Before going further into this subject there are a few relevant things to point out.

If you’ve come from a grid where there are a wide variety of skin designs then you’ll need to be realistic about what you can achieve as a beginner.

To create good quality skins, whether they are photo sourced, hand painted or both, takes knowledge, practise and the right tools. If you haven’t had any previous design experience or worked with the avatar mesh then, please, bear in mind this will take time to learn.

Expecting instantly achievable results to the same level of whatever you have seen or worn previously can set you up with an unfair hurdle. Whilst resident in Second Life some of my favourite skins came from creators such as: Gala Phoenix, Launa Fauna, BettiePage Voyager and Tuli Asturias. If you have heard of these creators, or are aware of their work, you will know that the development of their skin designs was not overnight.

Everyone has to start out somewhere.

Read, research and decide what kind of skin you’d like to aim at creating. There are a lot of options: you can create your own, personalised, skin texture from scratch. You can use free licensed templates that include a base skin. You can learn to hand paint details or to blend in photo source elements. You can use 3D programs to create highlights and shadows.

You can also purchase various templates for skins, shading and make-up design. However, I will not be covering these as it can, sometimes, be hard to determine the source files used or, alternatively, they come with very specific End User License Agreements (EULA).

Rather than repeat what more experienced people have written; I’ve included a list of links which I’ve read and might be of help for an overview. The following links are all based around creating for the Second Life environment and are some of the most well known of guides. It is necessary to point out that two links are to posts that were written in 2007 (Natalia Zelmanov and Nicola Escher). This information is quite sufficient for OpenSim usage but it may not cover specific up-to-date details and changes.

Seshat Czeret – The theory of Second Life skin and clothing

This post covers the essentials to understanding how clothes and skin layers work and comes with links to tutorials that Seshat Czeret has written. A good place to start with if you are completely new to clothing and skin making.

Natalia Zelmanov – Creating Goth Avatar Skin Part 1

This post starts a basic but helpful guide on what you need and what steps you can take to make an avatar skin. Worth reading if you have never used the avatar templates or tried to create a skin. The guide makes use of Photoshop.

Nicola Escher – Creating a Complete Avatar Part 1

This post is an informative guide rather than a step-by-step tutorial. Parts 1 and 2 cover the planning and general points of creating a custom character avatar. Worth noting is that this refers to several processes, and software, that are aimed at intermediate to advanced users, so if you are a complete beginner it would be better to start with the other two links.

I’d recommend all of these blogs for further reading as these generous and knowledgeable writers have covered a lot of subjects and have links to other information and resources.

At this point you may be wondering why, as I did initially, with all the resources available there are not more recent reference materials about developments in making skins.

At a guess I would conclude a few reasons play a part; over the last three years there has been a shift towards video guides and tutorials, rather than blog posts, which mostly appear on YouTube. I hope to cover some of these in the future.

There is also the likelihood that more recent information is available on specific forums. This is not always easy to find, if you don’t know where to look, and does mean having the time and patience to read through various threads and responses to find what is useful to you.

Overall, avatar skin design is a highly-developed commercial area. In common with most other businesses – if you have worked at methods of design and signature style over months and years, you do not give away that information lightly.

There is, however, one hugely popular and well known free resource site and in my next post I will be writing about it: Eloh Eliot skins.

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2 comments on “Creating avatar skins – Part 1

  1. A very very basic question. Given the set of .psd files for a skin how do I get to the appropriate thing to upload to opensim that results in an actual wearable skin. This very basic thing doesn’t seem to be answered here. Googling around shows me a lot of no doubt interesting stuff but has not so far clued me in. What is the missing bit everyone seems to assume I know?

    • Hi Serendipity, thanks for visiting our blog! To answer your question, the way the skins are uploaded to OpenSim (and for SL/InWorldz, etc.,) is as follows:

      1. If your .psd files are at 1024×1024 image size they need to be resized to 512×512.

      2. Save all the resized files as .tga (Targa file format)

      3. Login to OpenSim and upload the Head, Upper Body and Lower Body .tga files to your Inventory. When the upload window opens you can choose from the drop down menu ‘Preview image as’ to see what the skin files look like before you upload them. The options listed may depend on your viewer but Imprudence allows previews for male and female skins.

      4. In your Inventory window go to the Create menu, then New Body parts, then New Skin. A new skin will show in your Body Parts folder, which you can rename as you choose. When that is done wear your new skin. It will be the default Ruth skin but don’t worry! There is one more stage to go.

      5. Go to the Appearance menu. In the Appearance window look for the list of Body Parts and chose the Skin tab. You will see three grey boxes with a black cross in them called Head, Upper and Lower Tattoos. These are where your uploaded skin files will be attached. Click on the Head Tattoos grey box. It will open another window where you can look for your uploaded .tga files. Click on the Head file that you’ve uploaded and then select. Your skin file will now be applied to the default Ruth skin. Repeat the same process for your Upper and Lower body files and then save the skin. If everything went right you should have your new wearable skin!

      Sorry that was such a long reply, I hope it does help. I didn’t realise when adding the tutorial links that they did not cover the step by step upload process clearly. I do hope to finish my own video tutorial on using the Eloh Eliot skins soon and that will cover uploading and completing the skin.

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