Using an Eloh Eliot Starlight skin – Basics 1

Eloh Eliot - Another Skin Resources for virtual worlds

This is the first part in a short series on how to use Eloh Eliot’s Starlight skin templates for virtual world avatars. Basics 1 covers downloading the template files and changing the skin tone.

Please read the below disclaimers first.

This is a Photoshop-based tutorial (CS3) produced on a Mac. There are similarities when using Gimp, so you can follow this tutorial as a general guide. I’m unable to offer detailed advice for Gimp as I haven’t used it.

This tutorial is just one method of making very basic changes to the skin templates. It doesn’t contain any advanced techniques on skin making (hand-painting, photo source, 3D baking etc.,).

All the Photoshop files used were designed and created by Eloh Eliot of Another Skin. These files are not my own work and I am not an experienced skin creator. I am unable to answer any detailed technical questions about how they were made. These files do come with a license agreement which I strongly recommend you read before you using them. MIT License

This might seem an obvious statement but for any readers who are not aware: the Starlight female avatar skins are depicted as anatomically correct. These tutorials are meant for a mature audience who are comfortable learning and working with anatomically correct template files.

Continue reading

Making Avatar Clothing – Part 2

Following on from Part 1; this post shares some guides on making avatar clothing and tattoos. Tattoos are more of a skin-related subject but I’ve fitted it in here because they use alpha channels.

Clothing and Tattoos with alphas

There are many applications for transparency information in virtual worlds. This isn’t an in-depth look at all possible uses but I’ve included the terms that are generally used.

The alphas

Alpha channel(s) – An alpha channel is used in Photoshop and Gimp when you want to use levels of transparency in your file. For clothes; this can be used to make a semi-transparent shirt or to select a specific area, e.g. to create a lace effect as part of a design. To read more on how they work you can visit this SL knowledge base page: Alpha channels and transparency. A video tutorial on how to create alpha channels is at Robin Wood’s site: Easy Alphas.

Alpha masking – This is one of the features that launched in Linden Labs’ Viewer 2.0 in 2010. Alpha masking means that it is possible for an avatar to wear a transparent texture.

A good example of this would be shoes. Prior to alpha masking many styles of sculpted prim, high-heeled shoes and boots needed what is called an invisiprim – a regular or sculpted prim that has had a transparent texture applied to it. When worn as an attachment this blanks out the foot or leg area that could show through the shoe prims and spoil the effect.

The invisiprim method is no longer necessary if a transparency texture is worn by an avatar. Another SL knowledge base page explains here: Alpha masking.

The layers

Tattoos – The original method for wearing body decoration and tattoos means creating your design, uploading it and then making it into system clothing layers. This has a drawback if you are wearing other clothing on the same layer as the one that the tattoo is worn on. It isn’t possible to wear both at the same time. In SL many designers provide their tattoos on every clothing layer possible to avoid these layer conflicts.

Using this method also lacks the facility to apply a design to the avatar head area. It is possible to tint tattoos through the Appearance window, if they have a modify permission, so it allows changing the colour to suit yourself.

Wearable tattoos – Another feature introduced with the launch of Viewer 2.0. This gives the use of a texture layer over the avatar skin. The process of creating and uploading files is the same as the original method. Making the tattoo wearable in the Appearance window is closer to making a skin. Tattoos or other body art designs, such as make-ups and eyelashes, can be worn on the avatar head.

It also means you can wear body art designs without taking up another system clothing layer (like shirt or pants). When Viewer 2.0 was launched I understand that it wasn’t possible to use colour tinting on this layer in-world. I’ve read that this is now a feature in the latest versions. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to check that myself.

There are some disadvantages to wearable tattoos and alpha masks which has to do with viewers.

It is possible to use alpha masking and wearable tattoos in OpenSim with a viewer that has these features included. I use Imprudence 1.3.0. and have created tattoos on the wearable tattoo layer (the ability to tint tattoos is not included in that version). However for people on Linden Labs’ viewer release 1.23.5, or a third-party viewer that haven’t been updated, you won’t be able to see alpha masks or wearable tattoos.

There are some bugs and problems that can occur when using them. I won’t try to document them here but suggest searching the jira pages for Second Life, Mantis for OpenSim or the relevant viewer developers’ website if you encounter any problems.

So far I haven’t seen any tutorials/guides that deal specifically with making wearable tattoos. I intend to make my own resource on this subject in the future.

Clothing and tattoo tutorials

Natalia Zelmanov’s post on Semi-transparent clothing is a good place to start and is suitable for Photoshop and Gimp users.

Nicola Escher has written Creating a tattoo which uses Photoshop. This post is for making tattoos as system clothing layers. It covers some of the same information as Robin Wood’s Easy Alphas but is a step-by-step tutorial for a simple tattoo.

You may be wondering why there are not more links to other video tutorials. This is down to my preference for written tutorials. Generally speaking, I find it easier to follow a tutorial if I am reading rather than watching it, pausing and switching windows. There are many Second Life user videos posted on YouTube that deal with clothing, tattoos and other content creation. As I haven’t watched all of the available videos I’m unable to give any particular recommendations.

I’ll be writing more about clothing in future posts but I hope that you’ll find the information useful for your own creations.

Making Avatar Clothing – Part 1

In this first post in a two-part series I’ll be covering some information resources and tutorials for making avatar clothing.

There are a lot of online tutorials and guides about making a basic t-shirt (t-shirt tutorials are by far the easiest to find in a web search) and it would be difficult to list them all here. If you have a particular favourite or one that you think would be helpful to beginners, that I have not mentioned, please leave a comment and link on this post.

Getting started

You will need to download the avatar mesh templates made by Chip Midnight and Robin Wood, if you don’t already have them. There are good reasons to have the two templates as there are some distinct differences between them. Tutorials do make use of both and, sometimes, combine the two together. If you are interested in how the two templates are combined, using Photoshop, you can read how at Combining SL Clothing Templates.

This information is often contained in the other tutorial links recommended below, so my apologies to readers if you end up reading the same information several times.

You can find links to the template downloads at this Second Life Clothing Tutorials wiki page. This page is an excellent resource for guides and websites, including some I’ve mentioned before (such as Natalia Zelmanov, Seshat Czerat, Nicola Escher, etc.)

Once you have both templates: I suggest starting off with reading Seshat Czeret’s ‘Theory of Second Life skin and clothing’ and then ‘How to make SL clothes in Gimp’ guides.These are still helpful if you are using Photoshop, although some of the control and layout details will differ between the two programs. If you don’t find these helpful then a visit back to the Second Life Clothing Tutorials page does offer alternatives, e.g Natalia Zelmanov’s clothing tutorials.

Notes on the above guides

Please remember that these posts and others were written in 2008, or earlier, and for Second Life users.This might make some information out of date.

A few of the links included in the guides are now inactive, have been registered to a different person/company or go to pages, such as Olila Oh’s, that seems to be an advert search site and not the information quoted in the guide.

The ‘Theory of Second Life clothing and skin’ refers to the system clothing layers being used for ink/body tattoos, which they still are, but the ability to use avatar alpha layers has now been developed. I’ll cover resources on alpha layers at a later point.

In ‘How to make SL clothes in Gimp’, it refers to using a 3D preview program and going to a beta test grid. Personally, I’ve never used either. I upload directly to OpenSim to test how clothing looks on my, specific, avatar shapes than using the standard SL avatar model. If you intend to make clothing that you want to give away, or to sell, then it would be useful to try the method described or similar for testing.

Advanced techniques

There are tutorials which show more advanced techniques for making clothing. These examples use Photoshop and require that you be comfortable and knowledgeable in using the tools and layers. I’d say these would be best suited for those who gone beyond the basics to an intermediate level.

Two written tutorials available are The making of Noell top texture and How to fit textures with ornaments for upper and lower body by LeeZu Baxter, a long-term SL resident and designer. These are both helpful guides that make use of LeeZu’s own creations and design techniques (which is why you will find that the images do display very clear name marking).

The other example is at Robin (Sojourner) Wood’s own website. Robin has covered a lot of subjects, mostly in videos, which are informative and worth browsing for a more experienced Photoshop user. A particular series of four, video, tutorials covers how to import the SL 3D avatar model into Photoshop and use the model for clothing creation. One very important point – this will only work if you have Photoshop CS4 Extended or later. Earlier Photoshop versions do not have the necessary 3D tools to follow these guides.

Resources

Below is a list of free resources that can be used for making your own clothing or developing your own textures. Although these are free resources; I’ve indicated where you might need to check what the designer has specified as the user agreement. If someone has offered a texture, brush, etc., for personal projects but not commercial, and you intend to sell your work, then please get in touch with the designer before you use it. It’s common courtesy to do so and not all designers will say no to a request, if asked politely.

Also, if you come from a commercially developed grid, do take into consideration that a great many people use the same resources. Unfortunately, this can cause all kinds of problems. Always check first, if possible, and try not to make assumptions if you see the same textures being used by different designers.

Webtreats ETC – A huge choice of textures are available at Webtreats, which are great for all kinds of creating.

Photoshop Brushes – A wide range of brushes, textures, patterns, gradients, etc., that are available for Photoshop users. *Note* Each designer sets a different agreement, please be sure to read which creative license they specify.

deviantART – Probably one of the best known of art sites, many members offer free licensed or Creative Commons work. *Note* Designers set different license agreements and you will need to check carefully, or ask directly if you are unsure, before using it in your own work.

Other places worth looking at for free resources are Flickr and Wikimedia Commons.

In the Part 2 post I will be writing about other advanced techniques as well as the use of alpha layers for clothing and avatars.

Different kinds of triangle shapes

Recently I was looking for the best way to create a regular prim in the shape of an equilateral triangle (i.e. a triangle in which all three sides are equal). I specifically needed this kind of triangle to make a floor panel for a six-sided structure, which can be made out of six identical triangles (see image 1). Let’s look at a couple of ways to create a triangle.

hexagon with six triangles

Image 1. Putting the last floor segment in

Using the Prism building block type

This is the method I ended up using for my floor panel. It just involves two quick steps:

  1. Create a simple box.
  2. When the box rezzes, and with the box still selected, click on the Object tab in the build tool. Locate the “Building block type” selection list, and change its value to Prism. (image 2)

    Image 2. Selecting the Prism building block type gives you a triangle-shaped prism.

I used this method, because it instantly gives you an equilateral triangle. It will stay equilateral as long as you keep the shape’s X and Y sizes equal, and it will rotate neatly around the triangle’s center (also called centroid or center of gravity). This is an important difference with other ways to make a triangle, as we will see below.

Using the Prism default shape

An obvious way to make a triangle is to take the second shape in the list of available base shapes. Confusingly, this shape is called Prism too. Please note the difference between the Prism building block type (which we used in the previous paragraph), and the Prism shape, which actually uses a Box as its building block type (image 3).

Image 3. The Prism shape creates a different kind of triangle

The box you get has been sheared and tapered to create the triangular shape. This is okay for triangle shapes that need a 90-degree angle. However, an equilateral triangle has three 60-degree angles, and the 90-degree angle in this shape will not change when you resize the prim. (see image 4)

Image 4. Sizing the prim does not change the 90-degree angle

Calculating the right triangle size

The 90-degree angle is caused by the Top shear value. When you change the top shear X and Y values back to zero, the triangle starts to look better. It’s too tall though: to change it into a perfect equilateral triangle, you need to calculate the height of the prim. If you want to try this, do the following (see image 5).

  1. Create a default box (sized 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5).
  2. Make sure the Top shear values are zero.
  3. Set the Taper X value to 1.00.
  4. Change the Z size value (the triangle’s height) to 0.433.

Image 5. For a box-based triangle, check Taper, Top Shear and Height

The height calculation is not difficult, but it takes some extra work, compared to the first method. Besides this, there is another drawback of this approach. This becomes apparent when you need to rotate some triangles in order to create a pattern. If you use this type of triangle, it won’t stay aligned with adjacent triangles, because it has an awkward center of rotation. Since the shape is still based on a box, it will rotate around the center of the box (image 6), rather than the center of the triangle, which you get with the prism building block (image 7).

Image 6. A box-based triangle doesn't rotate neatly around the center

Image 7. A prism-based triangle rotates around the triangle centroid

Conclusion

For equilateral triangles, start with the Prism building block type. For triangles with a right angle, use the Prism default shape.

Happy building with triangles!

Uploading an avatar skin to OpenSim

I decided to write this post after receiving a reader’s question on how to upload files to make into a completed skin in OpenSim. My reply included a description on how to do this, but I think it’s something that needs an expanded post.

I learned how to upload files and make a wearable skin in Second Life; it is one of those areas where an assumption is often made that everyone knows how to do it. To help those who haven’t put together an avatar skin before I’ve written this tutorial.

The same basic method applies for other grids and viewers (as far as I’m aware).

I’m using the Starlight skin .psd files made by Eloh Eliot and working in Photoshop CS3. For OpenSim I’m using the Imprudence viewer.

This tutorial is for people who have some Photoshop experience rather than the complete beginner.

Preparation

When you are happy with your skin and want to upload it take the following steps:

1. Check the image size of your Photoshop files. If they are set at 1024 by 1024 pixels you’ll need to resize them. You can upload this size but it will make a large file, which is not very efficient, and could be slow to rez in-world.

Resizing your skin files to 512 x 512

Resizing your skin files to 512 x 512 (Image 1)

2. In the Image Size dialog box resize the Face, Upper and Lower Body files to 512 x 512 pixels. (Image 1)

Then go to Save As and save the Face, Upper and Lower Body files as Targa (.tga) format. (Image 2)

Saving as Targa (Image 1)

Saving as Targa (Image 2)

The next dialog box to open will give you the choice of saving as 16, 24 or 32 bit (Image 3). To make sure that the Face file is uploaded with the transparency information, select the 32 bit option. You can save the Upper and Lower Body files as 24 bit – if you have not added any Alpha Channels when modifying the files.

Saving as Targa (Image 2)

Saving as Targa (Image 3)

Face/Head template files usually contain an Alpha Channel and only Targa (.tga) and Portable Network Graphic (.png) file formats are available in virtual worlds to recognise the transparency information. People also use the .png file format for saving skin files. I use Targa as that’s what I’m familiar with but it’s what works best for you.

3. You do not need to save your .psd files at the 512 x 512 image size. If you are using the original files, and not saved copies, I’d recommend against it. If you want to come back and make changes, or create a new skin, it is harder to do detailed work at this smaller size.

4. Now that your files are saved it is time to upload them. Login to your grid or region and find your favourite spot to do some appearance editing.

Uploading and making your new skin

1. Go to File, then the Upload menu, select Upload Image and choose the Face, Upper and Lower Body .tga (or .png) files. (Image 1)

Uploading your skin in OpenSim. Image 1

Uploading your skin in OpenSim. (Image 1)

Depending on your viewer, you can choose to do a preview of each file before you upload it. To look, go to the ‘Preview image as’ and then use the drop down menu to see the file as it will look on an avatar. (Image 2)

Uploading skin you skin in OpenSim. Image 2

Uploading skin you skin in OpenSim. (Image 2)

Those with free uploads, or viewers that have free temporary uploads, can skip the preview if you wish.  Once the files are uploaded they will be saved to your Textures folder.

2. The next step is to make a new skin. Open your Inventory window and go to Create, located at the top of the window. Select New Body Parts and then select New Skin. A new skin will appear in your Body Parts folder. Rename the skin as you choose, then double-click or Command click (Mac)/Right click (Windows) on the name to wear it. Don’t panic on finding that it is a default Ruth skin! The next steps should fix that.

3. When you’re wearing your new skin go to the Appearance window. Choose the Skin tab listed under Body Parts. (Image 3)

Making the skin in the Appearance window. Image 3

Making the skin in the Appearance window. (Image 3)

The Skin window will show three grey boxes with a black cross in them, on the left hand side next to the sliders. These are the Head, Upper Body and Lower Body Tattoos. This is where you will assign your uploaded skin files to the new skin you’re wearing.

Make sure you have the ‘Apply Immediately’ box ticked, so that you can see the files as they are applied to the skin. Click on the Head Tattoos box. Another window will open where you can look for the uploaded skin files in your Inventory. Find the Face upload, click on the name and then click on the Select button. Now the upload will appear in the Head Tattoos box and on your avatar skin.

Repeat the same process for the Upper and Lower Body boxes and then press Save. You will now be wearing your new skin with the uploaded files.

I hope that this will be of help. Enjoy your new skin!

Making prim hair – Part 1

In this post I’ll be giving some links to tutorials on how to create your own prim hair.

Prim Hair

First to mention is this tutorial on Creating Prim Hair written by Natalia Zelmanov (the owner and designer of Sirena Hair in Second Life)

This tutorial is not the sole method to create prim hairstyles but it does offer a clear, step-by-step process in four parts, which is very useful for a beginner. After many searches on this subject; these tutorials from 2007 remain as, possibly, the only complete resource that has been written about making prim hair which is still available online.

Due to the time these tutorials were written at they do not feature the use of sculpted prim parts. Also, the tutorial uses a script to create multiple, aligned, hair prims. This is called LoopRez 0.6, a free and full perms script.

LoopRez 0.6 is available in a L$0 pack, placed in a tutorial section, at the Sirena Hair sim. If you are a current Second Life resident you can visit to pick up your copy. The pack also includes notecard help and sample hairs to work with.

For Open Sim users and others who’d like to cut and paste the script: the LoopRez script (modified to include a root prim by Lum Pfohl) is available at this SL wiki page.

Some personal notes on using this tutorial.

It took me several goes to get into manipulating hair prims, especially the re-sizing steps in Part 2 of the series. This was because I wasn’t taking my head shape into consideration. If your avatar’s head shape is irregular, larger or smaller than the average 50 head size in the Appearance slider window, than you will need to compensate for that in your editing. Alternatively you can edit your shape, but, I prefer to work with prims rather than the Appearance sliders.

This is a picture I took after about twenty minutes of editing from the basic aligned prim shape. My test hair needs a lot of work but, with thanks to Natalia Zelmanov, you can learn the basics to start on making your own hair from scratch.

Prim hair editing from Natalia Zelmanov's tutorials

Prim hair editing from Natalia Zelmanov's tutorial series

Also to note: for the above tutorial it is recommended to edit your hair on your avatar, using a pose stand, but if you don’t find this method useful try rezzing it on the ground (once all the prims are linked!). Some hair designers and people with experience in editing prefer to have better camera panning of the interior and exterior of the hair. You will need to finish editing it on your avatar for the best possible fit.

In searching for more information on prim hair creation I came across this archived forum post, 10 steps to making prim hair. This is dated from 2007 so, again, doesn’t feature sculpted prims.

A drawback to this post is that the hair images which were linked from Arikinui Adrea’s website are no longer displayed. I have not tried making hair from the guide myself but I include it here as other people might find it useful.

Making Hair Textures

When it comes to creating your own hair textures there are a few tutorials. These are easy to find by a search but some dead links do show up listed on people’s blogs. Here are a few active ones that use Photoshop:

Creating seamless hair textures in Photoshop by Hazel Kyrgyz

Hair texture tutorial by twiddler2

How to create a hair texture in Photoshop – Second Life wiki

I hope all the links and tutorials will be of help to beginners and budding hair designers. Have fun!

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.

Installing OpenSimulator – Part 3

In this blog post, I will be looking at how you install MySql as the database engine for OpenSim.

Reasons for using MySql for OpenSim

It’s good to realize that installing MySql as the database engine for OpenSim is completely optional. You don’t need it to run the full version of OpenSim – using MySql doesn’t give you extra functionality or options when you’re in-world. In fact, if you’re running OpenSim just for you, on your own computer, it’s easier and sufficient to use the default SqlLite database engine.

However, if you’re planning to let other people connect to your OpenSim region(s), MySql is going to give you better performance and stability, because it has been designed to deliver data very quickly, for multiple users at the same time. You’re likely to experience delays and instability when you’re using the default database engine.

Please note that you will need to plan your strategy. You can start out small, as an experiment, or for research, by using the default database engine. Later on you can switch to MySql, but there is no easy way to upgrade or move everything inside your sim to the new database environment. When you move to MySql, you will get a new, empty, OpenSim environment.

Downloading MySql

You will need to download two install files. The first download is for the database engine itself. This is the software that runs the database; it runs invisibly, and once it is installed on your computer or server, it will be started automatically.

The second download is the MySql workbench. It is a tool that allows you to perform administrative tasks on the database engine, such as creating databases, and making backups. To operate OpenSim, you will only need it once: to create a new, empty database, which the OpenSim installation process can use to prepare your OpenSim environment.

Download the MySql database engine (Community Server edition) from this location: http://www.mysql.com/downloads/mysql/.

If your server or PC is running on Windows, download the MSI Installer. For Mac, there is a DMG Archive available for both Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6. Linux users can choose a version that is specific for their Linux distribution.

Regardless of your operating sytsem, you will notice 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the software. The 64-bit version will only work for you, if you have a 64-bit operating system. The difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems is the way they access the memory of your computer and the amount of memory they can use. If you don’t know if your computer’s operating system is 32 or 64-bit, you can safely choose to download and install the 32-bit version of MySql.

Download the MySql workbench tool from this location: http://www.mysql.com/downloads/workbench/. For Windows, get the 32-bit MSI installer. For Mac, select the 32-bit DMG Archive. There are no 64-bit versions are available for this software.

Note on downloading: the mysql.com website will ask you to register, but this is optional. There is a “No thanks, just take me to the downloads” link which allows you to go straight to the downloads, without registering.

Installing MySql

Start the first installer file to install the database engine. You do not need any special installation procedure or settings, so you can use all default settings that are presented during the installation procedure. At the end of the installation, the installer needs you to specify a root account and password. You will use this login information later on in the MySql workbench, to connect to the database engine.

Now start the second installer file, to install the MySql workbench. The installation is very straightforward, but once you start the workbench tool, you will need to do some configuration.

Registering a new server instance

First, you need to let the workbench know about the database engine. You do this by registering a new server instance  in the workbench. Click on ‘New Server Instance’ in the Server Administration section on the right.

Then complete the following steps:

  • Specify the host machine by selecting ‘localhost’ (which means that you’re referring to the database engine that runs on the same computer), and click Next.
  • The next step is titled ‘Set the database connection values’. Use the default values, but store the password by clicking on the ‘Store in vault’ button. Fill in the password you entered for the root account before and click Next.
  • Enter the password once again and click Next.
  • In the next step, entitled ‘Test host machine settings’, this message may appear: File doesn’t exist. This is okay, you can click Next.
  • The next step shows a review of the installation steps. Click Next.
  • In the last step ‘Create the Instance Profile’, click Finish.

Creating the empty database

On the workbench home screen, in the SQL Development section on the left, there now should be a connection entitled ‘localhost’.

  • Double click on the localhost connection to open it. A new SQL Editor tab opens.
  • In the Object Browser on the left, you will see a test database. Right-click or Control-click anywhere in the Object Browser and select the menu option Create Schema, or click on the icon I’ve highlighted using a red circle.

  • Create a new schema (new database) and give it the name ‘opensim’. Click Apply.
  • In the Review the SQL script dialog, click Apply SQL.
  • Click Finish, and Close.
  • In the Object Browser you will see the new database.

Allowing OpenSim to access your database

Later on you will start OpenSim, so it can start using the MySql database for the first time. However, you will need to give it access to the database first, by creating a login account. In the next section, you will instruct OpenSim to use that login account in order to access MySql.

First, create a new login account:

  • In the MySql workbench, click on the home tab to return to the Home screen.
  • In the Server Administration section, double click on the @localhost server instance. A new tab opens, allowing you to do database administration.
  • Click on the Accounts button. A list of accounts appears. Currently it only contains the root user.
  • Click on the Add Account button. Fill in a login name (I suggest you use ‘opensim’) and a password. Remember the login name and password – you will need it later on.
  • Click Apply. You will see that the user gets added to the User Accounts list on the left.

Next, give the new account specific rights to access the database (called schema here) you created earlier.

  • Click on the Schema Privileges tab. Make sure that the opensim user on the left is still highlighted.
  • Click on Add Entry.
  • Click the ‘Selected schema’ option, and select the ‘opensim’ schema. Click on OK.
  • Back on the Schema Privileges tab, click on the ‘Select ALL’ button, and click Save Changes.

Instructing OpenSim to use the MySql database

The final thing you need to do is tell OpenSim to start using MySql as its database engine. Without this step, OpenSim would use the default file-based database engine, so this is the part where you tie OpenSim and MySql together. In this section, you will be editing two configuration files. These are simple text files, so you can use the text editor of your choice. For Mac users in particular, editing .ini files may seem a bit unusual. However, the following procedure is applicable for any operating system.

Editing OpenSim.ini

  • In your computer’s file system, navigate to the file folder where you installed OpenSim.
  • Find the file OpenSim.ini in the Bin sub-folder, and open it using your text editor.
  • Scroll down, or use the text editor’s Find/Search function to find the following two lines:
    storage_plugin = "OpenSim.Data.SQLite.dll"
    storage_connection_string="URI=file:OpenSim.db,version=3";
  • These lines need to be ‘disabled’ because they tell OpenSim to use the default database engine. Disable them by typing a ; (semicolon) in front of them. See the lines outlined in red in the screenshot below.
  • A bit further down, find the following lines:
    ; storage_plugin="OpenSim.Data.MySQL.dll"
    ; storage_connection_string="Data Source=localhost;Database=opensim;
      User ID=opensim;Password=*****;"
  • These lines tell OpenSim to start using MySql. Enable them by removing the semicolons at the start. See the lines outlined in green in the screenshot below.
  • Note the stars/asterisks in the second line. Replace them with the password you created in the previous section.
  • Save the file.

Editing StandAloneCommon.ini

  • Inside the Bin sub-folder, you will find another sub-folder called config-include.
  • Find the file StandAloneCommon.ini in that sub-folder, and open it using your text editor.
  • Find this line:
    Include-Storage = "config-include/storage/SQLiteStandalone.ini";
  • In the same way as before, disable this line by typing a semicolon in front of it. See the line outlined in red below.
  • Find the following lines:
    ; StorageProvider = "OpenSim.Data.MySQL.dll"
    ; ConnectionString = "Data Source=localhost;Database=opensim;
      User ID=opensim;Password=***;"
  • Enable these lines by removing the semicolons. See the lines outlined in green below.
  • In the second line, replace the asterisks with the password you created in the previous section.

Conclusion

You have now taken all steps necessary to run OpenSim with MySql. I recommend verifying that you have completed each step, before you start OpenSim again, especially the configuration changes in the last section.

When you start OpenSim again it will automatically connect to MySql and start adding tables and data to the new database for your regions, avatars and objects.

OpenSim and learning

As Enlades has mostly concentrated on information gathering and sharing, this is an out-of-character bit of writing by being an opinion piece. And a long one at that. I apologise for this unscheduled interruption, but, after a recent comment debate on another person’s blog I felt motivated to write something different.

I think it is also overdue in terms of both explaining about some of the links to tutorials and for those who are interested in OpenSim and creating.

I’ll start by saying: I love our OpenSim regions, I love the idea that an entire virtual world can be designed and made according to whim, imagination and for fun. Although neither of us has made use of hypergrid, as our regions are still under development, or visited other grids or regions I can imagine how amazing and inventive these places can be given the freedom to create.

When I first started hearing of OpenSim grids, stand alone regions and various communities one of the things that impressed me was the idea that people were more open to the idea of sharing information, even including their own creations. I’m sure there are many generous and helpful people in grids and stand alone regions who do just exactly that.

However, there is one big, unavoidable, drawback waiting to trip you up. With the odd exception, when you’re looking online for particular information you’ll find precisely nothing. It is like being stuck in the Antarctic zone of information.

As any regular visitor to this blog will probably have noticed: nearly 100% of tutorial or information links listed on this blog are:

a) courtesy of Second Life residents or wikis and,

b) no matter how useful or inspiring they’re almost exclusively from two or three years ago, if not sometimes older.

Whilst it is understandable that the most popular resources would be linked to Second Life, because of its prominence amongst virtual worlds and the number of residents, I’ll give one very specific example of what I mean.

With the greatest thanks to interested visitors, this blog has seen an explosion of views over the last two months, having generated, so far, 419 views. That may not sound like a lot to better known blogs, but for a tiny, only 4 months old with 8 posts blog that seems a lot. A rough breakdown of those views shows that over half of those hits were people searching for information on avatar skin creation. I’m not going to nitpick unique viewer numbers, because I don’t really care about that level of detail.

What this does show, I think pretty clearly, is that by far the most sought after information through searches is on how to make a skin. As I pointed out in my previous posts about this subject the only tutorials/guides I could find were, yep, you guessed it, from 2007/2008.

I’m not an über-researcher, so I’m ready to stand corrected, but in all these months I have been unable to find any freely available guide or tutorial on how to make from scratch, or modify a template like Eloh Eliot’s, an avatar skin using hand-painting or photo source techniques.

Think about that for a second…

Does something about that strike you as odd? Because to me that sort of stands out like a strawberry in a bowl of spinach. Not one single person, in any virtual world, has written blog posts or made a video covering the most basic lessons on how to paint or source a skin in any program? Is everyone walking around as a Ruth avatar?

(I’m not including Natalia Zelmanov’s Goth skin tutorials. This is because it doesn’t deal with creating human skin tones or a photorealistic style and was written before skin design became such a diverse area.)

I can absolutely understand that it’s a complex subject, but then so are lots of other things. I haven’t noticed a complete lack of clothing tutorials (which I will get to at some point), and yet that requires a similar knowledge of avatar mesh and painting/3D skills for highlights and shading.

The point I’m trying to get at here is that I wouldn’t necessarily expect that kind of skin tutorial to come out of SL, or any commercially developed grid, because, well, they’re commercial. If you’ve scrambled your way to the top of the skin designer tree, built your own sim and even have a marketing budget, then you’re hardly likely to stand in the middle of your store shouting “And today I will give away all my templates, resources and trade secrets!”

But what about those who don’t make for commercial reasons? You know, like people who use OpenSim.

So, I’m making this plea to any OpenSim advocate that might be passing by and read this. You want people to wake up and realise what fantastic things can be achieved? Want to get people interested in developing their skills and sharing that? What does it say about OpenSim, and its users, that when it comes to tutorials and guides on some pretty major areas of design and creation the only online resources available are ones that were made by Second Life residents? Does that promote the positive side of OpenSim to you, does that sound inspiring or encouraging?

Then give people information to work with, to learn from, to inspire them.

Don’t sit back and think, “oh that’s too complicated” or “that’s already been done by someone else” because chances are it isn’t, if you think about how to explain it clearly, and just because something has been done by someone else, once, 3 years ago, doesn’t mean it isn’t time to provide an alternative.

Nothing comes from nothing and gives nothing.