There’s been a lot of talk lately about mesh. If you’re watching the login screen while you’re waiting impatiently to rejoin your second life, you’ve probably seen the messages about places to go for mesh clothing and avatars, and of course thereâ€™s a lot of coverage on the Second Life blog. What is this mesh of which you speak? Go ahead, ask, youâ€™re dying toâ€”I can almost hear you already.
Well, guess what? I’m not going go try to explain it here, at least not in gory technical detail. To tell the truth, Iâ€™m not qualified, and I donâ€™t want to embarrass myself. That said, I do read a lot about CG visual effects workâ€”hey, Iâ€™m a Cinefex subscriber!â€”and as youâ€™ll see that actually does apply here. So Iâ€™ll try to bring together some of what Iâ€™ve gathered from reading other, more knowledgeable sources in a brief overview. Although Iâ€™ll link back to these other sources, any errors here, in either fact or interpretation, are mine and not theirs.
Youâ€™ve all seen movies that make use of computer-generated visual effects. This work has only grown more complex and accurate (although not always more realistic) over the last several years. Fully CG characters in particular are more detailed and better articulated now than everâ€”think Gollum in â€œThe Two Towersâ€ and Caesar (or any of the other apes) in â€œRise of the Planet of the Apesâ€. Characters like these arenâ€™t just digital stunt doubles any more: theyâ€™re central characters, and they have to be able to emote, carry a story and survive a full-frame close-up.
Well, guess what? Your SL avatar is a fully CG character. Your SL self is a visual effect! Who knew? Mesh is an effort to bring to our SL avatars some of the digital technology that makes these CG movie characters so believable. I have friends who work in the visual effects industry, and I grill them mercilessly and often to find out as much as theyâ€™re able to share about their current projects. And as I mentioned before Iâ€™m a devoted reader of Cinefex. So, while I make no claims to being any kind of expert, I do have a lot of passion for the work thatâ€™s being done.
CG characters for film and TV are built as computer models with inner skeletonsâ€”think of a wire-frame modelâ€”that determine how the character can move, where itâ€™s rigid and where it can bend. They are also â€œriggedâ€â€”think of a marionetteâ€™s controlling stringsâ€”so they can be animated into realistic motion. Digital clothing and costumes (we wonâ€™t go anywhere near hair and fur) must be likewise rigged in order to fit the avatar and to flow and drape believably, especially if this is expected to happen procedurally (automatically), a must for real-time avatar animation in SL. This is fundamentally different from â€œclassicâ€ SL clothing, which is accomplished essentially by pasting the clothing textures directly onto the avatar shape, resulting in the skin-tight look we all know and love. Itâ€™s no wonder that prim and sculpted clothing items have had such popularityâ€”they can dramatically increase the level of interest and realism. A mesh clothing item isnâ€™t just a 2-D texture pasted onto the surface of your avatar: itâ€™s a 3-D sculpted object, worn as an attachment, that has been rigged to allow it to fit your avatar and move properly along with it. As youâ€™ll see, there are some limitationsâ€”this is after all a technology solution, not a magic bullet.
I think the best way to illustrate here is by example. Consider first theseÂ Baggy Pants by Ajay Giano. This is a single 3-D sculpted object, rigged to fit your avatar and move naturally along with it as you walk, run, dance, sit and cycle through your AO stands. I suppose this is actually a fairly simple example, but I can tell you that my mind boggles just at the math that must be involved. The overall effect seems very natural, without nearly the level of stretching, tearing and even â€œbreakingâ€ of fabric textures weâ€™ve grown used to seeing in more extreme avatar poses.
Baggy Pants by ajay Giano. These are simplicity itselfâ€”a single attachment that you just wear. Two different â€œfitsâ€ are provided. In basic Black onlyâ€”hey, itâ€™s a classic! L$100 at Zoobong (Millions 115, 186, 24).
See also how the jacket hem of this mesh suit by swaffette Firefly (fabric textures) and Damien Fate (mesh)Â flows and skims naturally over the avatar surface, even in this rather dramatic pose (which for that very reason I don’t break out all that often). Even with some slight imperfectionsâ€”note the occasional bit of unnatural “show-through” from belowâ€”the effect is really quite impressive. As I mentioned before, this is a technology solution, not a magic bullet. Itâ€™s not unlikely that youâ€™ll notice the occasional imperfection here and there, particularly where a mesh item intersects (or rather shouldnâ€™t intersect) with another mesh item or your avatar itself. So far, at least for me, this seems to occur most often in more extreme poses, and in general itâ€™s no worse than Iâ€™ve seen with some skirt-layer jacket extensions.
Menâ€™s Suit by swaffette Firefly and Damien Fate. This is a casual two-piece suit only, so youâ€™ll need to provide your own shirt. Two different â€œfitsâ€ are provided, one for more muscular avatars. You also get two versions of the slacks, one without belt for wear with the jacket, anotherÂ with belt for moreÂ casul wear without. In Grey, Blue and Taupe. L$200 at SF Design (Penryn 67, 87, 36).
Okay, since so far that all sounds like good news, what about those limitations you mentioned? Whatâ€™s the bad news? Get ready, because here it comes. I was chatting the other day with Mr. Oh on this very topic, and our conversation was very helpful to me in gathering and organizing my thoughts, so credit where credit is due. One of the best plain-language explanationsÂ I’veÂ read on the essential limitation of SL mesh was published in a blog post by clothing designer Vivienne Daguerre. Basically, mesh clothing can be rigged to fit itself to your avatar according to the settings of â€œskeletalâ€ sliders such as avatar height and limb length, but not according to â€œmorphingâ€ sliders such as chest/breast size and thigh thickness. What does this mean? Unfortunately, in practice it means that mesh clothing objectsâ€”which are not conventionally moddableâ€”canâ€™t be tweaked and fine-tuned to fit your personal shape. Youâ€™ll have to alter your shape to fit the mesh, or make use of an avatar alpha to render invisible appropriate portions of your avatar.
If this sounds like a lot of trouble…I suppose it could be. Itâ€™s certainly a problem that calls for a solution. Some possibilities include keeping a properly tweaked copy of your shape in the folder along with the mesh clothing object. In addition to an appropriate avatar alpha, some designers are providing a few different â€œfitsâ€ of mesh clothing items, so you can choose the one that works best with your shape and then go from there. In some cases, simply wearing the alpha may be all you need. In any case, youâ€™re restricted to the body shape imposed by the mesh itself. How big a deal this is, and how well this works for you as a trade-off, may depend on how much you love your personal shape and feel that it reflects the “you” you present in SL.
Itâ€™s worth mentioningâ€”and keeping in mindâ€”that Viewer 3.x is required not only to wear mesh but also to see properly others who are wearing mesh. This differs from avatar-layer alpha and tattoos, which (because these textures are rendered by the viewer as part of the overall avatar texture that is uploaded for others to see) can be seen properly even by others who are not themselves using a compliant viewer. If youâ€™ve been less than thrilled with Viewer 2.x (and believe me, I feel your pain), youâ€™ll need to wait for a compliant alternative viewer or give the current official viewer another try.
So, what does all this mean? Mesh brings some fascinating and potentially exciting new options for SL clothing designs, and it provides designers the opportunity to add another tool to their creative toolbox. I was talking recently with a couple of friends who are designers of menâ€™s clothing, and theyâ€™re both excited by the possibilities of mesh and canâ€™t wait to explore them further. I donâ€™t expect mesh to replace standard clothing or prim clothing enhancements, certainly not any time soon. I really do see it as another tool in the designerâ€™s toolbox, one with intriguing potential. As always, time will tell.
These arenâ€™t the only mesh clothing items Iâ€™ve tried on so far, but so far theyâ€™re the only ones I recommend to you as worthwhile, if youâ€™re interested in taking the arguably as-yet experimental plunge. These are both well executed and artistically textured. The same cannot be said of everything Iâ€™ve seen, including another suit (at twice the price) that appeared to have a good sculpted shape, but was in desperate need of realistic fabric texture. I will also mention a freebie pair of bootcut jeans by Siddean Munro, available at Slink (Sanctum 83, 93, 503). These are designed for female avatars, but the slim fit works pretty well for men, and after all they are free. If you’ve seen or picked up a mesh creation for men that’s worth checking out, please leave a comment and let us know!