Creating avatar skins – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series; I wrote about some of the options and guides for beginners to learn about creating an avatar skin. Part 2 moves on from that to cover a free resource: Eloh Eliot’s Another Skin templates.

Many people have heard of these and, indeed, there tends to be a general view that everyone knows what they are. If you are new to virtual worlds or have never tried your hand at creating then you probably won’t know about them. I was aware of the name for some time but didn’t know exactly what they were for about two years.

Eloh Eliot was (as far as I am aware) the first person from Second Life to create and then make freely available, complete, full body, female skin templates. Complete, in this context, means that they come with a base skin texture and shading/highlights on the face, upper and lower body. The head template has eyebrows, eyelashes and make-ups which are pre-prepared and all are fully modifiable and customisable.

They can be used, fairly easily and quickly, to create a skin to replace the Ruth avatar default you have in OpenSim. They can be a training resource for developing your own custom skin design and they are also available to be used commercially.

Eloh Eliot’s work is an amazing stand-out in the realm of free resources, not just because of the good, professional, quality of the work or for the amount of time she has put into making them convenient to use. Quite simply, no other creator at this time offers the same kind of flexibility in this particular area.

How do you use them?

If you visit the resource page for Another Skin you will find three female skins that are currently available to download. One of the older skins – Untitled, comes as layered Photoshop (.psd) files only. The two most recent skins, Starlight and Pleiades, are available for download in Photoshop (.psd) and Gimp (.xcf) file formats. Starlight is also available to download in Illustrator (.ai) file format.

Two of the skin generations listed are not available to download at this time (which, sadly, includes the experimental male skin mods).

The files all come with a license and I strongly recommend, out of courtesy to the creator, that you read them or visit the FAQ page to understand the required usage.

Once you have downloaded the files to your computer it is then entirely up to you how you modify them. If you want a straightforward female skin to replace your default avatar skin this can be easily achieved, usually within a few minutes for an intermediate/advanced user, in the graphics programme of your choice.

Whilst the site has no in-depth tutorials; it does give a guide on how to change the presets of the Starlight skin in its .psd format. This is helpful as, with this skin generation, you have a choice between 2 nose and mouth shapes as well as preset make-ups.

Other resources?

There is one other thing I’d like to cover about female skin templates, particularly as it is referred to on Eloh Eliot’s site. A similar resource for female skins did use to be available which were completely free and modifiable. They were also created by a Second Life resident, Sezmra Svarog, and called the Splendor skins.

Sezmra Svarog was originally a creator for her skin and clothing business called Nora. In 2008 she closed her business and made the Splendor skin templates, as layered Photoshop files and wearable skins, a free resource via her website and at a specific sim in Second Life.

Skipping forward to the present day – it appears that they are no longer available in those places (there is no reference to them in the creator’s Profile info either).

At the time of publishing this post; I do not have any information on why the Splendor skins are no longer available. It is entirely possible that the templates and skins that were created are still sold or distributed free of charge by other people.

*Update* 22/12/10 It appears that the Splendor skin.psd files are available to download from a resource website called ZeroTerminal.

ZeroTerminal also hosts downloads of the Eloh Eliot templates and mods of the skins, made or uploaded by site users, as well as other free resources. You do have to register with the website to login and download and it is aimed at Second Life residents.

I would like to point out that, personally, I haven’t registered to use this website. I don’t know the people who have set up this site and there doesn’t appear to be any information on their Second Life identities, real life details or any contact info, so please use your own judgement. A final caveat – to quote from a comment by one of the admins, GateOn: “Even though I watch out copyrights as much as I can, I don’t accept any responsibility for any item I am posting.”

Unfortunately, skin templates and their derivatives can be a subject that causes a huge amount of confusion (and some no small amount of drama at times). To assist with recognising the Splendor templates I’ve included an image of the Head .psd file and what Sezmra Svarog wrote about using them.

Splendor skin by Sezmra Svarog - Head template

Splendor skin by Sezmra Svarog - Head template

From the Read Me text included with the .psd files:

**You are free to use these files to create your own skins for your Second Life avatar, no matter what Grid you are using it on.

**You are free to alter these files to create your own skins in order to resell them.

**You are NOT encouraged to redistribute these files, commercially, as is.  Please don’t take advantage of others – it may return to haunt you.

I hope the above will be of use to anyone who does come across the Splendor files or skins for the first time.

In my next post I will be writing my very first tutorial on how to use the Another Skin – Starlight file in Photoshop, from download to uploading to OpenSim.

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.