Friday, November 09, 2012

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Animated Mesh Heads May Be the Expressive Face of Tomorrow's SL Avatar

Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

SL animated head

Yesterday Gogo (of Juicybomb, one of my fave fashion blogs) shared a video on Plurk of an animated mesh avatar head still in development, and I had one of my first "omg stop the presses!" moments in a long time. I demanded Hamlet let me put the topic we'd planned for today on the backburner so that I could gush about this gorgeous item that will hopefully be hitting the virtual shelves in early 2013.

So what's all the fuss about? This head animates smoothly, rather than switching to different faces/settings like most similar products... and completely avoiding the creepily exaggerated expressions that the vanilla SL avatar makes. Emotions are currently random, making a more organic and naturally expressive looking face. Don't just take my word for it, watch it in action:

 

Curious? Well luckily I got in touch with creator Shirousagi Noel earlier today, and I've got loads of details to share about this super-cute future release!

As I mentioned this head is the brilliant work of Shirousagi Noel, the Japanese skin and body designer behind Snow Rabbit [SLURL]. Believe it or not, she's been working on it for over a year, and even in the past few months the head has changed dramatically. Just take a look at this video from last May to see what I mean:

 

What really blows me away is the extremely smooth animation. They may still hit a few viewers right around the uncanny valley, but the transition from static to smiling is utterly seamless. Not a single hiccup like you might expect from something animating in Second Life-- it almost looks like a completely different platform or game.

I had the chance to talk to Shirousagi (through a translation tool) about her methods, and she revealed a little bit of the mesh magic she uses to get this effect:

"There are many parts of SL mesh that are unknown. The main problem is a matter of OpenGL in SL. It looks white, not transparent and transparent objects overlap. By changing the transparency of the object, I'm moving the expression of the avatar. However, if it is performed normally, the problem occurs at the moment of transparency overlap. So, I thought most of the base object is opaque as ever."

Translators are far from perfect, especially when it comes to technical explanations, but I was still pretty impressed by this ingenious solution to animating mesh (and I don't think anyone can argue with the fluid and flawless results.) Shirousagi also shared that although the expressions will probably stay random for the sake of keeping the naturally expressive effect, wearers will be able to choose opened or closed eyes.

We've still got awhile before this sweet-faced head will be ready for release, but hopefully once it's out we'll be one step closer to a Second Life filled with expressive human avatars (instead of just impassive mannequins!) If you're truly impatient, be sure to visit Shirousagi's skin shop Snow Rabbit [SLURL] to support her work, and check out her blog for more pictures and commentary (in Japanese) as she continues development!

Mixed_reality_iris2010 Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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Iggy

"It's...alive!"

No Uncanny Valley here, because the face and gestures, while real, lack that fishy coldness of Valley residents. The avatar also lacks the mile-apart eyes and liver-lips that seem too common in SL for womn now. It's a great development that would get me to spend some money for a new head!

The only thing that creeps me is the youth of this avatar's face. I don't mind the typically supermodel SL paradigm, but 14 year olds? Um, no.

Cube Republic

As nice as it is, taking a year to animate a mesh seems pretty hardcore and shows just how much SL lacks in technical tools. From the translated chat I'm guessing the mesh comprises of loads of sub-meshes that are swapped using various transparency settings. Would be lovely if we could just have regular industry standard animated mesh upload, like other virtual worlds.

Eddi Haskell

Although wonderful, I shudder to think how complicated a viewer will have to be to handle this degree of graphic and instruction set complexity.

Mesh to date has been disappointing in terms of what it has added to the average viewer experience in Second Life. However, like many new technologies, the impact is overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. When I look at these animated heads, and think about other dynamic mesh applications, I can see Mesh being a foundation of Second Life 2.0 which should be with us within the next 2 years.

Pussycat Catnap

Of course the head appears to only be viable for Caucasian people, which solidly Caucasian features - you could tint that all you want and it'd still be white (caucasian).

That's the biggest problem with mesh avatars - preset features.

Not only is it only Caucasian, but its one specific person.

Unless someone can figure out doing morph dials on a new avatar, we're stuck with the SL avatar for the time being.

Adeon Writer

@Eddie: SL has no problem animating this head, it uses the same animation system you use for the rest of your avatar, it just has some custom bones hacked in and therein lies the challenge. There's no lag, some newer furry mesh heads have been using this trick ocationally to animate but it's not widely known. And it's not easy to pull off - we really need custom rig support in SL so crazy hacks like this aren't necessary.

But it is certainly a beautiful hack. I use that word "hack" sincerely and with great respect: This must have taken some disproportionate amount of loving time to pull off. SL isn't meant to be able to do this.

Bay Sweetwater

For peripheral machinimists - and I don't think I'm the only one - who look at amazing developments like this with a tinge of chagrin, as in: "I'll never have the computer power, bandwidth, viewer, or technical agility to put something like THAT in a machinima," I would like to take this opportunity to post a reminder of what Bryn Oh said in praise of Soda Lemondrop's MachV penguin entry:
"The machinima by Soda Lemondrop depicts the virtual world for me. It is quirky and funny and doesn't try to be epic and has lots of character. There is no windlight and it has low rez ground textures... and the lip syncing is off. Because of this choice it works for me and had it been a slick production it would have instead failed in my opinion."
I put this here not foremost to praise Soda's movie-tho it is grand and I enjoyed it immensely-but as a reminder that the medium is NOT the message. Hugz to all, Bay
P.S. Here's Bryn's post: http://brynoh.blogspot.com/2012/08/uwa-machinima-contest.html

Melissa Yeuxdoux

Pussycat's right. This is amazing work (and I'm sure that Eddi's right, too, and it is, as someone once said of the Selectric typewriter, a triumph of engineering over design--in this case, the design of SL), but this, and humanoid mesh avatars in general, desperately need to be customizable, either by being able to adapt to the wearer's face slider settings or by having the customer somehow specify the face/head he or she wants.

Cake

Guys, I am so personally tired of there being no Do the Right Thang version of mesh heads. I think we need a revolution here. I, as someone who hasn't seen the final product of this mesh head yet, don't feel represented as a light-skinned-black woman. And I am seriously, SERIOUSLY offended by the lack of diversity with this prototype model.

When will we overcome?

elizabeth (16)

is really good face animation this is

i hope we will get in SL proper one day

hope also we will get this kind of more natural avatar animation built into the viewer that not require a lsl script as well

Sinead McMillan

"LOGO" released some Hybrid Mesh Avatar yesterday. Maybe not that elaborated in terms of facial expression(s) as shown here but also following the meshed-head-approach.

Have a look:
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Eventide%20Far%20East/147/125/26

ohyeahitsmeagain

The avatar head is more Asian than Caucasian, you've been corrected.

OhOkahay

The avatar head is more Asian than Caucasian, you've been corrected."

Ummm..okay..so having cat ears on your head makes you Asian then? The avatar I see is Caucasian (unless the Asian in question has has surgery to look more Caucasian).
I have no Asian relatives or friends that look like that. YOU'VE been corrected.

ohyeahitsmeagain

Well its often said that white folk can't understand or grasp black culture. Let blacks make their own mesh heads I say. Grasp that.

Silverfox Rainbow

i remember being able to do expressions with mystitool though wasnt perfect - sl faces on a regular avi was kinda funny but more elecstic like a proper human face should be

the mesh expressions is cute but its in that 'grey area' its creepy cute - semi-robotic almost

also the limited choices to - what about guys??
as well as different skins??

yes - mesh is getting better, but i am not jumping on the bandwagon for it (mainly cause its not very regular sized avi friendly)

though i think this sort of expressions would work perfect with Petites - on a larger sized avi it makes them look like robots O_O

Natali

Looks sooo sweet and can`t wait to try this out. How great to hear about something after so long from Snow Rabbit, too. She may not be your average Japanese girl but she looks like she`s jumped straight out of an anime. Lovely.

Skate Foss

To the people caught up on the race of the pictured mesh avi's, the second is clearly more Asian then Caucasian. If you can only see Asian women with black hair, you must make an attempt to get out more.
I must say the animation and avi's are really beautiful. My congratulations to the creator.

Arcadia Codesmith

We could use something coded into the client like Sony's SOEmote, which reads and maps expressions from the player to the avatar. That would give us a more lively face without the need for ingenious hacks (and it truly is ingenious).

Mesh still suffers from the inability of the end user to mod it. Really, what we need is a full suite of 3D modeling tools built into the client, with a sensibly-designed multilayered interface to accomodate everybody from beginner to expert.

James OReilly

SL is a bit belated again
http://youtu.be/fBR4cT-0sKY

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Aw this is creepy... because it's Second Life :) I don't think I'm emotionally prepared to get such a high degree of realism in SL, lol

Congratulations to Shirousagi for the amazing hack. I don't even start to pretend that I understood what she's doing to accomplish that.

Meshed hands, meshed feet, now meshed heads. Gosh, what will they invent next... perhaps my only issue at this stage is that it will soon become impossible to have interchangeable parts and still be able to wear clothes (or hair...) that will fit us all. On the other hand, Tiny fans will say that this is what Tinies have had to worry about for years, so we all better get used to the idea that, one day, we will be stuck with the choices from a few selected creators who are able to agree upon standards, and everything else will be incompatible...

I suppose that this is "progress" at some point.

Connie Arida

This,the logo head and other SL mesh avatars, while impressive in their way, are to my mind an interim step until an Avatar 2.0 comes along with increased mesh resolution, rigging and higher resolution textures. These will not be popular as you are stuck with one look. Customization is what SL avatars are about.
As an aside, I wonder some people are so freaked about the "uncanny valley" when all improvements in SL are moving toward greater fidelity and "realism"..or could that be " Sur Realism".

Malakina

1. ya its one person but there are more creators lol. thousands of people would also buy a miku avatar from another creator.
2. you are so used to all the flexibility of sl and say that the technology of sl sucks but compare it to other games. there is no game you can create the world and avatar yourself and is that advanced. you have a sl avatar where you can morph everything and now you want mesh clothing that fits exactly to your morphed body without using alpha layers. which game got that? in every game these not visible body parts would just be deleted. you got so much flexibility in sl and when LL creates a new feature they need to make it fit to every feature there is which the user can actualy control and some things are not so easily to be done but as we know they are working on it and it takes a while just like snow rabbit need a year for this head. things just dont happen that fast

Jenny

I love it!!! What a beautiful face, I'll definitely will be wearing this for a while. Can't wait to try it on.

Destiny

The tech in this designed is out standing, revolutionary and puts all the naysayers in their place.

To the myopic few that can't see the tech but are focused on racial representation, I say... get .. a clue. It is a prototype a working model, a thing made to use temporarily while a creator tests theories, ideas and logic flow etc. How many 'Prototypes' are made of a thing? answer: One!

who the heck care what race, color, species, gender it is! the focus is on the tech... GET the Tech right and THEN it can be applied. to.... Every possible permutation you all are fussing about. Getting 'mad' because its not a light skinned black woman's face is beyond silly.

Get your eyes back on the ball people.

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