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

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 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.

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!

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.