Animated Mesh Heads May Be the Expressive Face of Tomorrow's SL Avatar
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
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!Tweet
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.