Exclusive to NWN, Iris Ophelia's ongoing showcase of all things stylish in SL
Avatar photography is a wildly popular hobby in Second Life. Between sites like Flickr, Koinup, and even NWN's own New World Tableau feature, it's clear that photography in Second Life is advancing dramatically. But something that has always held us back is the lack of facial expressions, which take the form of "morphs", like the avatar's hands, controlled on the animation level. This makes human facial expression as we recognize it a very elusive thing, which was explored in Hamlet's Uncanny Valley Expo. The expression morphs (commonly activated through Gestures or EmoterHUDs) give is the choice of a calm-faced avatar or the complete opposite, a hyperbolized and rather cartoonish mask. Thankfully, a gift to SL's photographers has come in an unexpected form: the Lip Sync feature. Read on for more details about making the most out of this new tool.
The Lip Sync option can be activated through the Advanced menu (which you may have to enable by holding Ctrl+Alt+D on Windows, Ctrl+Opt+D on Mac). From there, go to Character, then click Enable Lip Sync. The purpose of this feature is likely to make voice dialogue less detached from avatars themselves (which can work against immersiveness), and it's undoubtedly a boon to machinima directors and live performers, but I think it has the potential to be just as key a development for the photographers.
To test it out, you (or your model, if you're using one) will need to turn voice on and speak. Some models will be uncomfortable speaking, so it works just as well to tap the microphone or play some music into it. This will make the avatar's lips move, whether in a voice IM or public voice channel. You will only be able to see the lips moving if you have Lip Sync enabled, and once you do you will see any speaking avatar's lips move, whether they have it enabled on their end or not.
I've enlarged the expressions on my model, Haver Cole, from the header to illustrate the subtle changes Lip Sync offers in avatar expression. The closed lips are the default expression of her avatar, the gaping mouth is the "shocked" setting on an EmoterHUD, and the two in-between steps were achieved while taking snapshots of Haver with Lip Sync enabled while she spoke. While the differences may seem small, subtlety is the reason this is such an interesting tool for photographers, who until now have had to work with one of two extremes with only Photoshop to bridge them. I've personally been jealous of Launa Fauna's photography in Second Life for her mastery of lightly parted lips, which add a very sensual note to her work. The idea that a similar look is a few microphone taps away from myself and the amazingly gifted avatar snapshot artists in the community is thrilling, like an Uncanny Valley Renaissance. The full range of Lip Sync motions runs from gently parted lips as pictured, to a natural looking kiss-pout.
It takes a little patience to get the right pout, so if you're a one-shot snapshotter like I usually am, you'll have to get used to taking multiple shots to get the best results. It can be inconsistent and frustrating, but I have no doubts that the payoff to the artistic community will be well worth it. So what do you think of the Lip Sync feature? Take it for a spin and tell me (or show me) how it goes!