Avatar customization and Fashion in Virtual Worlds


#1

Hi Alphas and HF developers!

This is my first post here and as a Second Life user since 2006 and owner of a quite known fashion store there, I would like to start a discussion about avatar customization and fashion in virtual worlds. These subjects are, in my opinion, very important pillars of any want-to-be-successful social virtual world. Not only because of the user experience but also for the business and commerce side.

Why do I think that? Because almost all users want to be unique, different from other avatars and a very important way to express this is through fashion and customization. This simple fact makes clothing and avatar customization accessories the most sold items in Second Life, creating a big and strong economy and a huge incentive for content creators to bring more and more content into the virtual world, filling it with a diversity and richness which at the same time attracts new users as they see tons of cool and different content to buy and through which express their personality.

I remember my first years in Second Life. There were no sculpts, no mesh. Only texture clothing applied over the avatar UV and native prim accessories. Even with such a primitive state of things, you could shop in many stores and combine all your items quite easy. This was really cool but sadly it didn’t look too modern compared with contemporary games graphics. Enter sculpted prims. Clothing looked so much better. You could combine sculpts and texture clothing giving things a more realistic look, but then it started to become a bit more difficult to match things from different stores. Enter mesh. Clothing and avatars now could look really cool and realistic, but at a very high cost. It became almost impossible to match items from different stores. You could buy a great looking jacket, but forget to use that t-shirt you loved under it. Not to mention mesh avatars. They might look great but won’t work with almost any clothing items.

This is very bad for the fashion business and in consequence for the virtual world itself. People gets very frustrated, specially newbies. They enter the virtual world, see a lot of very cool content, buy an awesome jacket somewhere then a very realistic shirt somewhere else, only to find they can’t wear them together, even using a “standard” human body shape. They ask the store owner “hey, your shirt gets through my jacket, how can I wear both correctly?” and sadly, you have to tell your customer “I’m sorry. You just can’t.” and then start explaining them (in case you have time and patience to do this with a lot of new customers) about mesh limitations, rigging issues, standard and not so standard sizes and so on. I can tell that most people will think it 100 times before buying something after such an experience. Sometimes you can’t even use a shirt and a jacket from the same store! Not even some boots and a jean. Fitted mesh tried to solve this but was not quite successful. Im quickly touching the surface of the topic because I don’t want to bother you with all the problems of clothing and customization SL have right now.

So, enter High Fidelity and I ask myself: A new virtual world, a new chance to make things right from the beginning. A chance to make a more realistic world, where you can buy stuff in any store and combine it at your pleasure. A world were you can modify your avatar to your liking without having to worry about making most of your inventory useless. Will HF stand against this challenge? Will they value these issues as important as I think they are?
I know we are at an alpha stage, but so far, from what I see. This is not happening. Full mesh avatars (clothing and body combined in a single file) even with attachments, are definitely not the way to go. Full mesh avatars could work if you want to be a robot or a dragon. But there should be something better if you want to be a simple human.

What would I like? In my imagination, I dream of something like Mixamo Fuse (https://www.mixamo.com/fuse) but in-world. A standard where I can change my face, skin, combine layers of mesh clothing and while modifying all the avatar body values clothing would follow deforming with my body. No matter if im a bit overweight, if i have big breasts. No worries. Clothing will adapt and look great or almost great.
I could endlessly and carelessly shop anywhere knowing that at least most of the items will work on me.
I could develop things that everyone could try on themselves.
I’m not a programmer. Don’t know how to develop such a thing, but I think I’m speaking in behalf of a lot of people here. This is what most poeple want.

I think if HF gets to solve this somehow, a very bright future will follow. It will attract content creators and shoppers like never before.

What do you guys think?


#2

This is something that has been prominent in my mind, too. Early on in the period when LL were planning their implementation of mesh avatars and stuff, one of the Lindens had said something about potentially implementing a layered mesh clothing system, but also said something about wanting a clothing system that would adapt itself around the avatar, even if that avatar was not the standard human one. I.e. you’d be able to wear a regular mesh shirt on, say, an elephant avatar. (I’m not really sure about the first part of this, but I distinctly remember seeing the second part mentioned.) The mesh clothing-layers thing would have been implemented as some sort of nested-shells thing, though he didn’t elaborate on the details. Then someone higher up the chain said, “Nope, too expensive to pull off.”

It strikes me that mesh clothing-layers could probably be done as something akin to Russian dolls, and I’m guessing this is what that Linden tech had in mind. My own imaginings of it would be, the av itself would include something that describes how thick and thin parts of it are from top to bottom as a series of height numbers (i.e. “thickness”) coming outward from the centerline of the av and along the centerline of the various limbs, representing how thick or thin the shape of the body is in relation to other bodies, information which would then be encapsulated into the avatar in some way, and that would constitute the innermost layer of the inside-most clothing layer. And then that clothing layer “zone” would have its own upper (outer) surface set of numbers that would then influence the clothing-layer “shell” above that.

You’d then bake into the mesh clothes a similar sort of thickness map that, among other things, tells how “compressible” and such this or that part of the garment is, how thick it is, how flexible or rigid it is, etc, etc. This garment would then fit “inside” the appropriate shell of the “Russian doll,” causing that partcular doll’s shell to thin or thicken accordingly, while also communicating its new thickness-numbers up the level to the next clothing layer so that THAT one’s inner-layer shifts outwards accordingly. This system would also allow one to insert other objects between or into the clothing layers, or under them for that matter, so that one could add other additional body parts to the underlying avatar that would also effect the clothing around it. I.e. you’ve made your female avatar pregnant and the baby in the simulated womb is getting larger, or your male avatar is getting… er… excited down there, if you know what I mean, the garments would bulge accordingly, or you could have a babyfur fill its diaper and have the clothes on over it bulge outward as needed. Or for that matter, you could insert an object into the pocket of your mesh jacket, and that object would influence the shape of that pocket.

I’m guessing Maximo does at least some subset of the above, but I haven’t looked. I think I vaguely remember watching a video about something called Maximo some while back, though.


#3

I’ve been looking at a potential pipeline for avatar creation that uses Makehuman as a starting point. Makehuman is a free and open source software used to create realistic 3d humans using sliders, much like the SL avatar design dialog, but with what looks like more options.

Makehuman has an easy export path to Blender, so in theory it should be possible to create an avi in Makehuman, export to Blender for sculpting, rigging and some poly reduction before uploading to HiFi. However, as far as I know, there isn’t a clear specification for exporting a HiFi avatar from Blender yet.

There is a Blender rigging system called Rigify (as mentioned elsewhere in these forums) that significantly cuts down the time and complexity of rigging. Furthermore, Rigify is extensible, so it may be possible to create a custom HiFi Rigify plugin for Blender, much like the Pitchipoy Rigify extension plugin that supports finger and facial bones.

Eventually, it would be nice to be able to easily produce the necessary blendshapes (shapekeys in Blender) for facial animation too, but I’ve not got as far as looking into that yet.

  • davedub

#4

Actually, I’m guessing there will eventually be a dedicated, stand-alone, easy-as-pie avatar-maker system made specially for HiFi users that is free or at least inexpensive. That is, something that makes it really easy to rig a body you’ve create or acquired. Something where you tell it, say, where each of the joints of the skeleton are inside it and it takes it from there.

But even more so, though, we’d need something that makes it easy as pie to make clothes within some free or really inexpensive program, that work with whatever standard avatar system HiFi winds up using. It needs to be something that Joe Sixpack and Jane Soccermom can do without having to wade through a 500 page manual first. Something where they download it in the afternoon and are uploading nice jackets by evening.


#5

The point i’m trying to make here is that I think the success of any virtual world is tied in some way to this customisation possibilities. I think it was the chance to fully modify the avatar and combine clothing items that gave Second Life a huge part of its success in its beginning. Sadly as years went by, its possibilities became quite limited and outdated compared to what people is now expecting. LL couldn’t manage this and this is one of the reasons they are working on a sequel to SL.

If in HF avatar customisation becomes too difficult or limited to pre-made full avatars with a few attachments to which you can’t entirely change their face or body properties or do very basic or limited changes, it won’t be very attractive and as soon other world offers this, most people will switch to this new world.

People want to be social, see nice graphics, have fun, listen to music, but I dare to say everyone has the NEED to be unique. And this means they need an easy and fast way to highly combine items and modify all aspects of their avatars body and clothing.

I hope HF developers understand how important this is to any virtual world user base and economy.

If they don’t, then someday other will and they will have to catch up or close the door.
So I hope HF don’t miss this chance now that we are on a fresh new beginning.

What do you think about this?