Saturday, October 19, 2013

Understanding appearance and clothing in Second Life

I wrote a blog post a long time ago to try to explain appearance and clothing in Second Life.  It's still quoted from time to time, but has become very out of date due to the changes which have been introduced since the article was written.

I'm intending to write a group of articles about clothing and appearance which will help to explain the basics for those who are new to Second Life, with the caveat that it is becoming increasingly hard to cover all the basics in any how-to article nowadays, because people may be using different third-party viewers, and some work quite differently from others in the way they present menues and information.

This post assumes that you have an account for Second Life or OpenSim and have downloaded a viewer to get into the world you are using.  Part of making an account is the choice of avatar, but most of these in SL and in SL-like worlds such as OpenSim and Inworldz, are pretty basic by the standards of commercial skin and clothing manufacturers.

Your avatar

Base avatar with bars to make it SFW
The avatar is the figure which represents you in world, and for the purposes of this article I am talking about a human-form avatar.  It is perfectly possible to be a car or animal or anything you choose in Second Life but most people start out with a human and want to be able to adjust their appearance as a human-style avatar.

The system avatar comes with certain things that can't be taken off, and certain things that can be taken off.  For example, you can certainly change your skin, the surface appearance of the human figure, but you must have one, you can't be without a skin.  You can have a no-hair appearance but you must be wearing hair - even if it is just a bald avatar hair.  You must also have eyes.  Again, they can be replaced, but you can't be without them.

You can replace the basic skin you start with, and there are many to be bought on the marketplace and all over Second Life.  If you want to buy a whole avatar appearance, many of the skin makers sell shapes to go with their skins so that your avatar can look exactly like the skin models on the vendors.

If you want to make your own avatar shape, it is essential to try the demos available for the skins that are sold around the grid and on the marketplace.  If you have an unusual shape, you may find it difficult to make some skins work, and the texture for the skin may show unwanted distortion or stretching.

For shoes and clothing on the other hand, you can be wearing them, but you don't have to - it is perfectly possible to remove all clothing from the avatar and be down to the skin. 

It can be quite confusing initially to work out what is where.  I find it helps to think of the avatar in layers.  The base layer is the shape and skin of the avatar.  On top of that you can have tattoo layers, which might contain actual tattoos, or make up, or other things which lie over the skin.

System Clothing

Over that are the system clothing layers.  There's an underwear layer which can include separate garments like bra, pants, socks.  Then there are clothing layers like trousers, shirt and skirt.  And lastly a jacket layer.  For a long time these layers were all that there were, and clothing designers made clothing that worked together on the various layers to create realistic clothing.

You can create system clothing, using specially created textures. It is possible to wear both system hair and system shoes, using textures with the appearance menu too, but very few people do that nowadays, they usually wear separate mesh shoes and hair.

Base avatar with system hair, clothing and shoes
The avatar to the right is wearing system hair (with a deliberately garish colour, so that you can see the texture) and system clothing, with system shoes.  This is something which is seen less and less.  Even the starter avatars in SL begin with separate hair and shoes, which is an object attached to the avatar. An object attached to the avatar is known as an attachment.


Attachments can be ordinary prim obects, sculptie objects, or mesh objects.  A prim object is made from the objects which each avatar can create from the build menu.  Some hair and clothing attachments use flexi prims, which appear to move like hair or fabric.  Those are ordinary prims which have been set for flexi movement.  There are settings which can be changed to make something more or less flexible, and to make the object respond to wind or gravity.

A sculpty object is a special sort of mesh object created as a texture outside SL, which uses a colour map to create the shape.

The most efficient and detailed type of attachment is made from a mesh which is usually created outside SL in a 3D program, and then uploaded to SL. 

Attachments may come with a piece of system clothing which is to be worn with it.  For example, mesh or flexi hair often comes with a system hair layer which needs to be worn at the same time.  This may give a background flat texture to the skull which lies under the attachment and ensures there aren't any unsightly gaps.

Some mesh attachments are rigid objects which affix to the avatar, like hats or short hairstyles.  Some are rigged to the avatar - that is to say they will move with the avatar when the avatar moves.

When you buy an attachment, you will find that the maker has already set up the positioning of the attachment.   You should select it in your inventory and choose to wear it.  That will place it correctly.  If you choose instead to attach it, that will clear the positioning set up by the creator and you will have to position the object again.

Alpha Layers

Cali wearing alpha mask for dress and mesh feet and shoes
There are some special things to consider for mesh clothing.  Creators usually make mesh clothing in a number of standard sizes, because rigged clothing cannot be resized in SL - that has to be done outside SL by the maker.

Mesh clothing often comes with an alpha layer which hides the avatar underneath the clothing to ensure that there aren't bits of body poking through the mesh clothing.  Thus, you need to add the alpha layer for the clothing to your avatar when you wear a piece of mesh clothing.  This isn't always completely successful, and you may need to make adjustments to your avatar in order to fit into the item.  Thus, trying on the demo of a mesh clothing item is an essential part of buying mesh clothing from commercial designers.

It is possible to completely replace your avatar with a very small petite mesh avatar or a completely different shape and type of avatar, and you will usually wear a complete alpha layer in those cases, to completely hide the original avatar shape.

Multiple layers and attachments

It is now possible to have multiple layers and attachments to attachment points on the avatar, but you have to remember to add additional items and not wear them.  If you are already wearing something attached to your upper arm and you wear an item which attaches to the upper arm, the original item will fall off back into your inventory.  If you add the second item, then both will be worn.

When you wear different layers and attachments, these are listed in your "Current Outfit" folder in your inventory, along with the attachment point they are worn on.

There are now shops selling mesh enhancements for the avatar body, which also come with alpha masks and possibly other attachments on the same attachment point.  If you wear something and something else falls off, you will know that you need to add that item back to keep both on the avatar.

Cali in LAQ skin, Pulse clothing, Zero Style hair and Slink feet and shoes

1 comment:

  1. I took a long break from second life and I was confused with all the new things. This is an excellent explanation, there is so much I didn't understand now at least I am a little less clueless.
    Thank you


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