Introduction to creating and uploading mesh models

Thom Lunasea with mesh coffee cup (image from Second Life)

This blog post tries to provide information to those who are looking for a starter tutorial on preparing mesh models and getting them in-world.

Mesh models, just like sculpted prims, are created outside of the virtual environment using third-party software and imported in-world by uploading the model in a particular format. The only file format currently supported is COLLADA, which uses the .dae file extension. Most professional and free modelling software have support for exporting 3D models to this format. Over these guides, we will use the popular and free Blender software to illustrate the process of modeling, texturing, exporting and importing the model. Continue reading

Coming soon! A guide to mesh

Blender model render by Belochka Shostakovich (partly based on a great tutorial at BlenderCookie by Jonathan Williamson. I ❤ JW!)

 

An announcement for our readers: Thom Lunasea is currently planning and writing what will be an ongoing series of posts on creating and uploading mesh objects.

It’s a subject we’re both still learning, so covering rigged mesh is not possible as yet, but we hope that the posts will provide useful information. The tutorials will be based in Second Life but are meant to assist residents of other virtual worlds where similar mesh capabilities are supported.

The first post will be on how to use an enabled viewer’s upload screen for an unrigged mesh object. Thom will be providing a download of a simple object he has created, licensed under a non-commercial Creative Commons license, as part of the tutorial.

We’re both looking forward to exploring this subject further!

Virtual World viewers: Part 6 – Linden Lab official viewer

In Part Six I’m looking at the official viewer for Second Life: Linden Lab’s V3 client. There are different versions available from Linden Lab for development viewer betas and others that focus on Inventory management or Market Place delivery functions. This review is for the main stable release: 3.2.8.248931.

Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading

Virtual World viewers: Part 5 – Firestorm

In Part Five I’m looking at a third-party viewer which has achieved prominence in Second Life. Firestorm is a V3 series client that comes from the same development team as the Phoenix viewer.

Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading

Virtual World viewers: Part 3 – Phoenix

In this review I’m looking at the well-known third-party viewer Phoenix. Originally I’d intended to review an older version but decided to try the more recent 1.6.0.1600 release. This is the team’s development to offer mesh-viewing capabilities.

I started using an older Phoenix version in 2011 when I became interested in some of the features that the Imprudence viewer did not have. Using this mesh-enabled viewer is a new experience for me. So, let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading

Virtual World viewers: Part 2 – Imprudence

This is a review of a third-party viewer I’ve used extensively in SL and OpenSim regions. Imprudence 1.3.2 release was made available in early 2011. As this post is image intensive, please continue to read after the cut.

Continue reading

Virtual World viewers: Basic Information

As explained in Virtual World viewers: Part 1 I’m going be testing different viewers for basic, Mac-friendly, useability in Second Life.

Before starting the reviews it might be helpful to new users to explain some of the differences between viewer use.

For Second Life users: there is only one official viewer series – Linden Lab’s own. Every other viewer available has been developed outside of Linden Lab, which is why they are called Third-Party Viewers (often shortened to “TPVs”). For further reading this wiki page explains more: Second Life Downloads

Two key things to mention: if you do regularly switch between the official Linden Lab viewer and TPVs, or use a third-party viewer all the time, it is useful to know that Linden Lab accepts no responsibility for problems arising from installing anything but their own official viewer. If you have concerns about security or privacy issues the most usual advice is to not download and install a viewer on your computer.

There are no longer any official Viewer 1 releases available from Linden Lab. Support for Viewer 1 in Second Life will be withdrawn at some point, although a definite date for this has not been clearly stated (to my knowledge at the time of writing).

For OpenSim users: there is no single, official viewer. This is left entirely to the choice of the individual and what works best for them. In the case of larger grids they may suggest, when signing up, which viewer suits their particular environment.

TPVs, like many other subjects in virtual worlds, can cause heated debate and disagreement. I don’t intend to raise those arguments. I don’t generally find it helpful and these reviews are not in-depth enough to cover every possible discussion.

The review series starts off with Imprudence 1.3.2. This is based on a version of Viewer 1 code. The user interface is distinctly different to Viewer 2 and 3 and will be most familiar to people who started out in SL or OpenSim pre-2010. Viewer 1 remains popular with those who prefer the design and functions or are unable to run more recent viewers.

So, let’s take a closer look with Virtual World viewers: Part 2!

Virtual World viewers: Part 1 – Which one to use?

In browsing Second Life blogs the other day; I came across a reader poll about what viewer people use for Second Life. (You can find it at HarlowHeslop “Which viewer do you use?”)

Thanks to Harlow’s poll and readers’ comments – it got me thinking of how difficult it is to know, as a Mac user, whether a viewer suits my system or not. As a Second Life and OpenSim resident; I’ve changed my viewer of choice several times for different reasons, whether that was an unstable viewer or just to improve the experience.

Although documentation is usually offered in some form; researching the general user experience usually means looking for information scattered across various developer sites, forums and personal blogs. Or simply downloading it and hoping it works.

Before drama ensues; I’m not seeking to single out developers and testers for focusing on their particular platform of choice. That is understandable and reasonable.

To help with sharing information: I intend to review the current main viewers, and a few others, based on their Mac-friendliness for basic tasks.

This is not full bench testing. I’m not an alpha (or beta) tester or a programmer and I don’t have any ties to a particular viewer or development team. Which viewer to use is dependent on what you want to do in your virtual environment, which virtual world it is used for, what machine you are on and other personal preferences.

The reviews are intended to give an overview of what is available. What I will be looking for is how well Mac viewers work without extensive changes to settings and what works on the operating system and hardware I have. For the purposes of these tests they will be taking place in Second Life. Where possible, I will be using the latest stable release and not any experimental or beta viewers.

It would be great to offer a full review of all capabilities, but, that requires more time and knowledge than I can give. For those who are looking for specific advice on streaming media, building, advanced photography, scripting or other abilities I apologise in advance at not being able to include all details.

Completed Reviews

Viewer 1 series

Imprudence 1.3.2

Phoenix 1.6.0.1600

Viewer 3 series

Exodus 12.01.03.01

Firestorm 3.2.2.24336

Linden Lab 3.2.8.248931

Review criteria

Download and installation (including what documentation is available)

Navigation (user interface and avatar movement controls)

Graphics

Avatar Appearance editing

Transactions

Friends, chat, groups and maps

Snapshots

Testing set-up

2007 iMac with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB SDRAM Memory

ATI Radeon HD2600 Pro graphics card. Operating system is OS X 10.6.8. Online connection is wireless broadband.

N.B I recognise that the iMac being used is not a recent model. As it is only just four years old; I don’t consider this to be outrageously antique and it is my sole computer for recreational use.

In Part 2 I will be looking at two Viewer 1 versions; the still popular Phoenix viewer and the 2011 stable release of the Imprudence viewer.

Using Blender: A beginner’s thoughts – Part 2

In my previous post, Part 1, I discussed some of the things to think about before starting to use Blender. In this post I will be recommending some training materials and other information that I’ve found helpful.

Before getting to the links; a couple of issues which have made this post a bit problematic to write.

Blender versions

Which version of Blender to download and use? Currently the main, stable, release is version 2.49b. There are also beta versions available, the 2.5 series, which are in development and will replace 2.49 sometime in the near future.

You will find that there are guides and project resources already made for the 2.5 versions. There are a couple of drawbacks to going straight to using them. As betas there’s no guarantee they will be a reliably stable environment on your computer. Also, some controls and capabilities are very different from 2.49b so what you learn isn’t totally interchangeable.

If you want to start learning how to make and import sculpts for virtual worlds, Blender 2.5 versions will not support a Python-scripted program called Primstar. I will be explaining more about this in one of the tutorial links.

Sculpts vs. meshes?

With developments in Second Life and OpenSim to support meshes does anyone need to learn about sculpts anymore?

My own perspective is that sculpts will still play a part in virtual worlds for awhile and are worth learning and working with.

Mesh design and importing for virtual worlds is still a work in progress. Most of the popular viewers do not, as yet, have capabilities for importing mesh objects or being able to view them. No-one is certain when it will all be ready for a full launch or what the precise technical restrictions might be. In the long-term, it will probably revolutionise what can be built. Right now though, if you want to build something, you will still need regular or sculpted prims.

One of the things that I do consider is a big positive for using mesh is that, unlike information for making virtual world specific sculpts, there is so much more to find through websites and forums. It is a lot easier to see what can be achieved from beginner level to experienced professional.

With these changes it can make for a difficult decision on where to focus. I decided to go ahead and concentrate on sculpt information and Blender 2.49b because they’re in every day use. Some of the links below go to Blender sites that contain information on mesh work and the Blender beta versions, so if you want to read more there is that option.

Tutorial links and notes

1. The Blender Survival Guide by Paolo Ciccone

The Blender Survival Guide, made by Paolo Ciccone and hosted at Creative Cow, is a thirteen part, video tutorial series on the basics of using Blender 2.49b. It is a project-based learning series and covers a lot of the basic controls and the user interface that you will need to know. This series does not include specific information on sculpt objects but is aimed at beginners who want to learn about Blender’s capabilities. An additional note is the series is made on a Mac, so it may not cover all keyboard control differences for Windows or Linux users.

I found this an excellent introduction to the controls and interface, but, I realise it might not suit all beginners.

2. Machinimatrix Blender Sculpt tutorials

If you’ve already covered the basic controls and interface, or you want to jump forward to learning about sculpts (I’d advise covering the basics first!), then this resource is specifically aimed at sculpt making for Second Life. It is still applicable to other virtual worlds. This is mostly project based but it also has other information on sculpt making, basic controls and has recently added information on meshes.

Machinimatrix offer a bundled package of Blender, Primstar, Python and library resources called JASS. They do offer a free version of this package as well as a paid version which includes additional features. If you are an OpenSim user who is interested in using the paid for version I recommend contacting them first to see if they can, or are willing to, provide support outside of the Second Life environment.

I’d already installed Blender 2.49b before I visited this site. Out of interest, I did download their free package but encountered some installation problems that I couldn’t resolve and went back to my previous set-up.

It is possible to download Primstar and Python separately and install them to follow these tutorials.

The Machinimatrix tutorials are aimed at beginners and I found them fairly easy to follow and well-designed to take you step by step to a completed sculpt.

What is Primstar?

Primstar 1.0 is a free, Python-scripted program, created by Domino Marama, for Blender 2.49a/2.49b.

At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, there is no way to make Primstar 1.0 work with Blender 2.5 betas (which I assume is down to the differences in Python versions and coding). The Domino Designs website shows little sign of updates over the last year and, unfortunately, it looks as though there will not be any Primstar updates coming out.

Primstar uses a separate, floating, window accessed by drop down menu once it is installed in Blender. It adds pre-defined shapes to your workspace, i.e. a cube, cylinder, hemisphere and so on, for you to model with and also assists with making your sculpt map. The reason this is incredibly useful for beginners is that all the shapes have been set up to meet the technical limitations that virtual worlds have for sculpts. Put simply; if your sculpt map information is not correct you will end up with a deformed sculpt in-world.

Primstar in Blender 2.94b

Primstar 1.0 in Blender 2.49b

I won’t attempt to explain in detail here what these limitations are as it won’t really make sense to anyone who hasn’t used a sculpt program before.

You can download Primstar here. Installation notes are included in the download. You will also need to download the correct version of Python that your Blender installation uses. For example: Blender 2.49b needed Python 2.6.6 for Mac OS downloaded.

As a Mac user: I can’t speak for others’ experiences but for me Primstar does have some noticeable instabilities and can prove difficult for a manual installation. Unfortunately, it tends to crash Blender a lot. Mostly when I’ve been adding new sculpt shapes to my workspace or baking a sculpt map. Another thing I’ve found is that you must click on the very top of the Blender window to have it become active again after you’ve had the Primstar window open. It remains the active window even when it has completed its action and closed.

If you are prepared to persist with using it (it is a very useful and popular tool) then save your project frequently, especially right before you need to access the Primstar window again.

Other Blender links

Blender – Blender home page with all available downloads as well as tutorials and technical information.

MasterPrim – Written tutorials on sculpts for Second Life by Parinya Rung.

Sculpt Blender – Four written tutorials for beginners to Blender and Primstar by Robyn Huffaker.

Blender Guru – Tutorials, guides and articles for Blender users.

Blender Cookie – Tutorials, resources and articles for Blender users.

Super3 – Video tutorials and resources by the well-known Super3boy. Also worth checking out is the link to the Nystic forum for Blender users.

I hope that these links will be helpful to beginners. Happy Blendering!

Using Blender: A beginner’s thoughts – Part 1

I had hoped that this post would be my Eloh Eliot beginner’s tutorial, which is still being created at the moment, sorry folks. As it is taking rather longer than planned I’m going to jump ahead with a two-part post that was going to be published later on and deals with 3D design, specifically using Blender.

One of the first things I wanted to look at, after moving to our own virtual world, was creating sculpted objects. As virtual world residents may recognise; the use of sculpted prims, and recent developments for use of modelled meshes, has become a standard part of the environment. The design and creation of sculpted prims and meshes is perceived as being a highly specialised area. This does pose particular challenges to a beginner-level builder.

General thoughts

In some ways the view of specialisation is completely understandable; it tends to be associated with the huge expense, and need for training, that relates to such programs as 3DStudio Max and Maya. Generally, for pricing reasons, these two programs are beyond the reach of most beginners in 3D design. If you are a novice and hobbyist user the costs are, without including any hardware that is up to necessary specification, somewhere between £3,500 to £6,000 when bought as new, not including VAT (prices based on U.K official sellers).

These programs are often perceived as the best, and only ones, to use. This does apply if you want to develop a career as a professional 3D designer but there’s an English colloquialism saying that comes to mind: “all the gear and no idea”. Having a copy of either of these programs will not transform you into a genius at 3D just by installing and opening them. There’s often the belief in virtual worlds, especially the more commercial, that because everyone uses them this is the only way to go. This is absolutely untrue.

There are alternatives. Quite a few more than you may have heard of, based on this list, so this takes some research on what you are prepared to spend and what suits you best. However, top of most lists, especially for free software, is Blender.

About Blender

One of the first things you encounter when asking about Blender is the idea that it is “difficult to learn” and other variations on that theme. I believe this is slightly misleading. Blender, by its nature, is complex because it has a variety of functions. It has the potential to be used for creating games, films, iPod and iPad apps, compositing, animation, logo and product design etc,.

Here is what I consider to be the two toughest things about Blender for a beginner:

1. Finding the right training resources. Many resources relate to earlier versions of Blender, so controls and functions that are referred to can differ dramatically in newer versions. Remember too that Blender is a very broad program and specific virtual world information is only a relatively small part of the entire user base.

Everyone learns in different ways, so what is helpful to some won’t be to others. On viewing a lot of online material – these resources are usually developed by people who are not qualified trainers and educators. Some are expert users and some are not. From my experiences: I firmly think that part of the view of Blender being difficult is in trying to find training materials that are easy to follow or aimed sufficiently for users at beginner level.

2. The User Interface and technical information. If you are used to programs like the Adobe product range, Gimp, Poser, etc., you will probably find Blender’s U.I really intimidating the first time you see it (I thought version 2.49 looked horrific). This is usually the first hurdle. Don’t expect yourself to understand it until you start using it properly. Also, you will need to learn about the technical limitations on what you can import to virtual worlds. It might look difficult but it can be learnt in a practical way, with time.

Tips on starting out

  • Think about how you’ve learned other skills and the method that worked the best. If you don’t learn well by reading through a PDF manual then try finding videos. If you prefer project-based learning then try to find which resources use this method.
  • Be prepared to research what training materials are available before you start using Blender. It won’t help your motivation to spend weeks learning the basics only to come to a complete halt when you can’t find a suitable resource that will help you develop further.
  • If you want to purchase training resources then check out thoroughly any samples of the trainer’s work that they have made available. Without naming names; I’ve come across two recommended resources, a DVD tutorial and a book, which I would have purchased based on what other people had said about their usefulness. After some sample viewing I found that they were unsuitable for my learning style and decided not to buy.
  • Do try and create your own training plan or routine. You’ll need to set aside a regular number of hours a week to concentrate on development; try and start with a project that uses simple shapes, such as – a basket, a vase, a hat, rather than aiming for a fully rigged steampunk avatar or exact recreation of a gothic cathedral. It’s great to have strong ideas and aims but be realistic about your level of experience.
  • Perhaps the most basic thing – if you’ve never done any 3D modelling previously then you’ll need considerable amounts of patience. The unlikeable but obvious truth applies: you do need time to develop your skills and knowledge and, unless you have a natural talent for it, that means spending proper time learning over months and years.

These points are not meant to discourage a beginner from trying Blender, or any other kind of sculpt/mesh program. This is all based on advice I wished I had received when I threw myself into learning Blender. After a month of learning the basics I was so frustrated at my lack of progress I gave up. Five months later I came back to it and am starting again with more realistic goals this time.

I would like to make a final point on 3D modelling for virtual worlds: think about what you want to make and why. This kind of design work is not going to suit everyone, no matter how creatively talented you are in other areas.

Do you really need sculpts and meshes for what you want to achieve or because there’s an expectation that they have to be used?

As with any project for your virtual world; this is about your creative expression and imagination. In the commercial race to have super-realistic pretties, people often forget that amazing things can still be made from ordinary prim shapes.

I’m going to give a visual example of this by showing some boots from Second Life. These were made by Fallingwater Cellardoor of Shiny Things around 2008 and they are made entirely from regular prims.

Although this creator has moved onto using sculpts for her business; I think these boots still stand as an excellent example of what can be achieved by good prim building and texturing techniques.

Old Boots Black by Fallingwater Cellardoor

Shiny Things - Old Boots, Black. Made from standard prims.

(Photo taken at Neverwhere sim, Second Life, December 2010)

In my next post I will be writing about training resources for Blender beginners and including links.