A Stepstool to the Bar

June 8, 2015 by
Filed under: Linden Lab and Second Life 

lets-climb2There were some bumps and bruises when I first joined Second Life™ back in 2008, but I overcame them with the patient help of friends and family. Once I had reached a basic level of understanding, my preference for Scripting took hold and has remained my focus for many years now. But I’m an odd bird in that respect; most people that have the desire to make things will eventually dabble in clothing and fashion accessories.

⇒ TLDR? Click HERE

The Growth In Complexity

In the “Early Days” of Second Life™ there was a very limited set of building and designing tools available. The basic functions built in to the Viewer combined with ground-floor image editing software and a dose of patience could result in some very stunning fashions. Finding the right combination was probably more troublesome than learning to use the tools themselves. In short “The Bar” for entry into fashion design was above most folks’ head but it was easily reached by a large number of users.

But Technology moves on. Computers have gotten faster, video cards more capable and connection speeds have increased. Consumers (that is, those people using Second Life™) began to expect higher levels of sophistication, functionality and realism in their wardrobes. Linden Lab complied by adding a new type of design resource called “Mesh“. Based on more modern 3D-Modeling concepts, Mesh suddenly allowed designers to create items with their own shapes, flow and fit.

The only problem is … the skills, tools and procedures needed to create a Mesh item are a lot tougher to learn.

A Brief Sermon

In my opinion the introduction of Mesh into Second Life was a “Push”. By that I mean that it has been both benefit and detriment to the platform. While it has fantastically increased the range of expression and style in fashion items, it has also raised the bar so high that far fewer people are able to use Mesh to their own satisfaction. The knock-on effect is that far fewer people make the transition from pure Consumer to Designer/Consumer. Without that bridge to another purpose, Second Life becomes nothing more than a social chat platform with really groovy 3D graphics. *yawn*

I absolutely do not believe that Linden Lab intended that outcome. Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences. What really matters is that something must be done to either lower the bar … or raise up the Second Life user. Lowering the bar is not only not feasible, it’s not even the least bit enticing. However there are some resources becoming available that help boost people up so they can reasonably reach that bar.

Ground Level – The Sewing Dummy

sewing-dummyYou need an avatar Shape to design against before you can begin designing your own Mesh fashion items. Identical to the way a clothing designer uses a “Sewing Dummy” or basic human-like form, the avatar Shape is used as the form upon which you design your Mesh. The problem is that the Shape files created by Second Life need to be translated back and forth between the Object Model files used by 3D Modeling programs.

With the early version clothing design, the “Language” spoken between Second Life and the external image editing programs was the image file itself. Standards such as JPEG, PNG and TIF were understood by both sides of the design process.

SL2ImgEdit

The “Language” needed to work with Mesh is a lot different though. Second Life itself can speak only in a language called “XML”. Blender and the other 3D Modeling programs all understand a different language called “OBJ” (or “Object Model”). Somehow you have to find a way to make the two sides understand each other.

SL2Unk23D

The First Rung – Avastar

Thankfully there is a tool available called avastar-cutoutAvastar. At its simplest level, Avastar is a translator and bridge that translates between the Shape and Mesh Language spoken by the Second Life Viewers and the Object Model Language spoken by 3D Modeling programs. There are a lot more features within Avastar, but that is all we really need to understand at this point. Basically you “Export” an avatar shape using a Second Life compatible Viewer then “Import” it into Avastar. As you work with your new Mesh item, Avastar also helps you translate back into Second Life from your preferred 3D software.

AvastarInTheMiddle

The Second Rung – 3D Modeling

It has always been necessary to use external programs, even with the early design methods such as Clothing Layers and Invisiprims. You use most of the old tools when designing Mesh items, but also must use a whole new breed of software: 3D Modeling programs. There are some good choices available, one of the better (Blender) is even free to install and use. But they have one major roadblock to their use with Second Life, they are wickedly difficult to learn at first.

The good news is that 3D Modeling software is learnable … even by those of us without magical halos of 3D Fairies circling our heads. Probably the best way to get started is to find and watch some of the many good Video Tutorials. No matter your choice of 3D software though, you must make sure that the Tutorial either directly addresses its use with Second Life, or at least provides enough information that you can figure out the process on your own.

⇒ Skip down to the Video Tutorials

Digital Fashion Design – Forming and Fitting

The design of Mesh clothing is amazingly similar to making real clothes for real people. Once you have your Sewing Dummy (your avatar shape), you begin applying (fitting) various pieces of material to the form, sewing them in place with digital tools instead of needle and thread. But unlike sewing, materials in 3D Modeling programs do not automatically lay flat over curves and bends. You wind up “forming” the material around the shape rather than simply draping it over as you would in real-life.

As you can probably tell, it is the forming process that requires the most time and attention AND also determines the final quality of your design. It can easily become a marathon use of both technique and artistic skill that taxes you to your limits.

Or you could use a program that does the forming for you. (Saw that coming, huh?)

The Top Step – Marvelous Designer

marvelous-designer-cutoutMarvelous Designer is a 3D Modeling program with a few special features that give it enhanced capability with clothing design. In fact, their web site includes a short tutorial video on how to make a t-shirt. It takes so little time that it’s over before you really see what was accomplished.

The only real drawback is the price. Marvelous Designer is sold primarily on a subscription basis but they do offer a one-time purchase option that gets you a perpetual license. It is pricey, but well worth it if you are serious about designing clothing for Second Life. In exchange for its cost, you get back a wealth of design aids and features that simplify the forming of materials into a few quick clicks. Time is money; it’s up to you how much money your time is worth.

Learning Marvelous Designer

Adding a complicated program to your box of digital design tools is almost the same as starting out with a completely clean slate. Even the best of programs must eventually teach YOU how to run them. It is essentially training, but it’s the human being trained not the computer or program. Fortunately you don’t have to be a trailblazer to get started. There are a number of good video tutorials available that all orbit around Marvelous Designer.

Lori Griffiths of Fearless Makers has graciously uploaded a wealth of video tutorials to YouTube. Once you open her user page, you will find a fairly deep collection of videos. Some are meant just for Marvelous Designer, others have much more generic themes. As a good starting point, her videos teach you more about using the program itself and less about combining it with Second Life.

Lori Griffiths – Fearless Makers

Integration with Second Life

The next skill level you need to acquire is the ability to integrate Marvelous Designer with Second Life. Once again there is a pretty useful collection of Video Tutorials. The playlist assembled by GoonSquadSL has (at this writing) five tutorial videos that directly address the process of designing and exchanging Mesh items between Second Life and Marvelous Designer.

GoonSquadSL – Marvelous Tutorials Playlist

Another batch of tutorials comes from the generosity of Haven Ditko. Among Haven’s collection of video tutorials is a subset that deal specifically with the use of Marvelous Designer in concert with Second Life. Haven also has many other videos that you really should investigate, but the list provided here are videos that deal with Marvelous Designer.

Haven Ditko – Videos for Marvelous Designer

General 3D Modeling Help

It never hurts to have a good understanding of a tool in general, not just specific applications of that tool. To that end there are a few video tutorials that are of great benefit. Haven Ditko has assembled collections of video tutorials that range across all the most common external programs used with Second Life. Arranged as “Courses”, Haven’s videos should be one of your most frequently visited sites as you gain experience and confidence designing Mesh for Second Life.

Ditko University – Courses Offered

Final Thoughts

My goal in writing this article is to help increase the number of pure Second Life Consumers that become combination Designer/Consumers. As mentioned earlier, it is my belief that the level of complexity required to complete a satisfactory Mesh design has resulted in the unintended loss of people that might have become good designers if they just had a way to rapidly develop the skills and learn the tools. If we do not keep creating new Designers then Second Life will begin to decline into stagnation. Some would say it has already begun that precipitous slide into oblivion. Me? I tend to be too stupid to give up. (It’s one of my worst/best character flaws.)

A special thanks to Landri Aker as well. It was through her diligent efforts to learn the various programs, put them to use and ultimately reach up to the otherwise impossible “Bar” that has resulted in my understanding of the Mesh design process. She was also kind enough to share links from her favorites so that I could share them with you. If this article helps you step up to the next level of Second Life design, make sure you tell her “Thank you”.


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