Dem Bones

rockDidn’t have any ideas for what to write about today, and then good ol’ Linden Lab solved the problem for me by announcing the implementation of fitted mesh in the main release viewer. This is a big deal, by all accounts, and the journey up until now has been fraught with difficulties, frustration, fallings-out and false starts.

It all started way back, when Qarl’s parametric deformer began to pave the way forward for mesh clothing that matched body shapes, only to be beset with difficulties, delays and obstacles. It didn’t help that only a tiny fraction of content creators took up the call to submit clothing for testing – resulting in the Lab itself giving out stern warnings that we might never see results. Then liquid mesh made an appearance – a resident-created, non-standard, unsupported, but very clever hack that made use of the existing avatar collision bones to rig mesh in a way that could conform to a much wider variety of body shapes – but, it wasn’t perfect and there were more dire warnings that whatever the Lab decided to do about mesh in the future, there was a good chance it would break liquid mesh.

More recently, and somewhat surprisingly, the Lindens dealt a new card: fitted mesh – a similar concept to liquid mesh, but with the showstopping news that the base avatar would be given additional collision bones, making it much more forgiving when it came to those hitherto difficult nooks and crannies. Boob bones and butt bones were in, and with them, the possibility of mesh clothing that didn’t require a change in body shape and the loss of those carefully tailored physics, just to wear it.

The big question is, was it worth all the effort?

That depends entirely on your point of view. As a collaborative effort, the creation of fitted mesh has been a mixed bag – with the early problems, lack of communication, internal politics and publicly-aired frustrations, there was certainly a great deal that could have been done better. However, this has been one project where the Lab has worked with sl content creators to achieve something that can potentially improve the lot of the average sl user. Without that collaboration, any attempts to create a universal form of fitted mesh would have, long ago, been abandoned.

However, what will be disappointing to many, is that even fitted mesh doesn’t solve all the problems we’ve learned to love and loathe about mesh in general. The most notable of which is that fitted mesh certainly does not sound the death knell for alpha layers – the more your avatar’s shape departs from the ‘standard’, the more likely it becomes that alphas will still be part of your Second Life wardrobe. Whilst fitted mesh, and those extra bones, will go a long way towards fixing unintentional boobie and butt flashing, the chances are, if you’re particularly well-endowed, wide-hipped or just plain weird, you’re still going to need some discrete camouflage where it matters most.

Then there’s aesthetics to consider. Before you plunge into the video below, take note of the decidedly odd upward plunge of the model’s dress, in relation to her décolletage. That’s just wrong! It could be that it’s simply the way in which the clothing has been designed – i’m no designer and i’m no expert on meshes and weight-painting, so it’s not my place to comment – but if that is how clothing will look when rigged to the new bones, i really don’t like it; it’s unnatural and not the way i expect to see clothing hang.

Before i completely cross to the dark side and submit to the evil fashion blogger that lurks within, let’s retreat for a moment to the safer ground of geek speak! One of the less satisfying aspects of mesh for me – and it also applies to sculpties, for that matter, although i don’t see the issue quite so often with sculpts – can be seen towards the end of the video. OK, so it’s a case of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ in this instance, but once i’ve seen it, it’s glaringly obvious.

meshTake a look at this screen grab, at the right hand – yep, there’s a hole. This isn’t, as you might initially think, a stray alpha; it’s an unfortunate failing that both mesh and sculpts suffer from: only exterior faces are visible in sl, interior faces are invisible. There are workarounds, but these drive up graphics processing requirements and, ultimately, can increase client-side lag. It’s a small gripe, but it niggles me!

Personally, although i think mesh is brilliant for building and there are a lot of very strong positives in favour of mesh clothing, i’ve never been a huge fan, although i’m slowly coming around to the idea. Fitted mesh is definitely a step in the right direction and i look forward to see what comes out of it, but – for the time being, at least – i’m going to hold back on a wholesale wardrobe clearout!

(P.S. Sorry TPV users, you’ll have to use the official viewer to see fitted mesh properly at the moment – but most TPVs are ready to roll with compatible viewers and i doubt we’ll have much of a wait before we see some new releases.)

s. x

So what becomes of you my love
When they have finally stripped you of
The handbags and the gladrags
That your Grandad had to sweat so you could buy
Mike D’abo – Handbags And Gladrags

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4 Responses to Dem Bones

  1. What amazed me very early in the mesh clothing melodrama was a comment by one of the Lindens to the effect that they never anticipated it being used for clothing — simply an amazing disconnect.
    In spite of the fact that LL went in a different direction (and regardless of why), we owe a huge vote of appreciation to Qarl and the residents who financed his work. Without that show of interest I doubt LL would have done much of anything.

    • Absolutely – couldn’t agree more – without Qarl it may never have happened, and you have to admire just how hard he worked on the deformer, despite the massive uphill battle he had.
      The comment about not anticipating mesh being used for clothing just goes to underline why we need Lindens inworld, engaged in inworld activity and involved with residents – Second Life’s greatest strength has always been residents’ ability to innovate, adapt and make things work, and that’s something the Lindens have never seemed to be able to understand fully.

  2. Remember, the emphasis when mesh first came out was on completely new, mesh avatars? They had custom designs available: you could be a robot, animal, even a taxi. It’s very hard to swallow the argument that they hadn’t anticipated mesh being used for clothing since that would be the only way to clothe these new mesh avatars.

    Onward and upward!

    • Digging deep into the dark recesses of my memory, i seem to recall that those new system avatars were – at least in part – created by residents… i could be wrong – i do remember that Rodvik, at the time, seemed to have a lot of fun zipping around sl as a rocket, although few others seemed to share his enthusiasm for the non-human avatars!

      Whether or not LL expected mesh to be used for clothing, i don’t know, but it’s clear they were pushing mesh avatars at the time – probably not so much as a means of showcasing the possibilities, but to appeal to a broader user base, (am i being too cynical?). It’s surprising that – even now that mesh is commonplace – mesh avatars are still a bit of a niche market, since unlike clothing, where preserving body shape is pretty important, it’s less likely to be an issue for an avatar ‘wearing’ a mesh body. Then again, i’ve no idea what effect changing body shape has on the skeleton, and it may well be that the complexity of rigging mesh to the collision bones of a much deformed body shape is extremely challenging.

      As you say though, onward and upward… always!
      s. x

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