Yes, This is Actually a Mesh-Based Avatar in Second Life
Yes, what you're looking at above, realistic and detailed though it may be, is a Second Life avatar, as rendered by the Milan artist known as Graphic Dix. Click here to embiggify, then boggle. And while Mr. Dix did add some post-production touches to the final product, he tells me the main features were shot in-camera in SL, capturing what a mesh-based avatar looks like when shot in dynamic lighting. As he explains it to me:
"I think many hate mesh avatars still," he notes. "Instead, I think it should be the future of SL. When almost everything you wear is made of mesh, there's no reason not to get all the avatar mesh too." That is a good point to make, made far more forcefully by the image above. Though as I said, Dix did add some post-image details; to wit, Photoshopping the tatoo, some detail to the hair, pants, and belt, and some light effects to the atmosphere. However, the rippled apps and chiseled features, set into sharp relief through light and shadow? All SL. Once again, click, embiggen, behold.