At the time of writing, I’m around three-quarters of the way through, what has been a somewhat challenging, but nevertheless enjoyable building project. Almost all the actual building has been completed and I’ve reached what I’ve sideways considered to be the most difficult phase – texturing all that plywood.
I don’t know how others go about this critical aspect of building – do you treat it like a plastic model kit, ‘painting’ the various components before assembly? Do you throw textures onto surfaces haphazardly, whenever you feel the need to get artistic? Do you slap textures on with a broad brush as you go along, then fine tune later? We all have our own particular method, and I don’t think there’s a ‘proper’ way to do things: As long as it works for you, it’s all good!
Myself, I tend to decorate my interiors first, leaving any fiddly bits for later, then exteriors, and finally it’s back to those trickier elements, to finish off. Often I’ll use stock textures, or knock up some simple designs of my own; when I have to, I’ll make the effort and put together something a little more complex, but the truth is, I’m no expert. I’m pretty good at manipulating photos, and I’m pretty nifty when it comes to finding my way around Photos hope, but when it comes to creating decent, realistic textures from scratch, that’s another thing entirely.
Sometimes however, there’s no choice. This particular build demands a large number of bespoke, original textures, and I’ve had no choice but to bite the bullet and start from scratch on most of them.
The writer’s nemesis is the pristine blank page, but that is nothing in comparison to the empty base layer you face when creating a texture from nothing! Mostly I’ve been working from photographs – not the best photos either – weird angles, dodgy colours, poor contrast, and a large number of them monochrome, almost all focusing on people rather than the building I’m interested in. And, of course, architects and designers don’t have SL creators in mind when they do their thing: they add frills and filigree, unique little touches that are almost impossible to replicate from a faded old photograph – I think they do it just to be awkward! Neither does nature help – all those shadows, weathering and subtle touches… It can be a nightmare.
However, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve struggled to get to grips with my little project. I’ve been forced to experiment with unfamiliar Photoshop tools and settings to get the results I’m looking to achieve, rather than simply using those I’m familiar with in the same familiar ways I’m used to, and it’s been a really interesting experience. I’ve learned techniques through trial and error that I would probably never have mastered otherwise, and I’ve discovered how to do things that, until now, have always previously eluded me. And, finding that I can achieve more than I supposed, has spurred me on to push further – so this will be the first materials-enabled build I’ve created, featuring both specular and normal mapping of my textures. I’m rather proud of this little achievement!
It’s one of the hidden benefits that digging that little bit deeper into SL can realise. Most of us have dabbled at a basic level, but there comes a point where we want to do something more – relying on other people’s work and efforts feels like cheating, or simply doesn’t fit the bill, and so we’re forced to go it alone, learn new skills and put them to use in order to achieve our aims. I imagine this is how many people develop their inworld skills – and often skills that are eminently transferable too. I’m guessing that relatively few of us join SL fully equipped with a skillset that will work to our advantage… These are things that only develop after we start to mature as virtual citizens. I’m sure that many 3D modelers, scripters, virtual designers, and inworld entrepreneurs either learn – from necessity or a desire to be creative – new skills and abilities, whilst others find that SL provides a perfect environment to build on and hone existing skills to meet the challenges that SL sets.
Certainly, I know that SL has encouraged me to become adept at things that i’d never have attempted in RL and I’ve picked up skills that I can apply outside the remit of the virtual environment, and for that I’m extremely grateful, but the best thing about it is that it’s been a whole lot of fun along the way!
I’m heading back into Photoshop now to tackle some more textures, but it’s no longer as daunting as it once was… Just as writing about SL means that the blank page is no longer something I face with trepidation, I’m starting to feel the same way about that blank base layer too!
I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black