Monday, February 25, 2013

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Creepy or Cool? SL Brand Redgrave Previews Their Upcoming Animated Mesh Head With Musical Machinima

Redgrave mesh head test
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Redgrave (an incredibly popular avatar fashion brand in Second Life) recently shared a pretty impressive clip on their Facebook page, where they often share previews of their upcoming releases. It's an animated mesh head, and it animates much more dramatically than others we've seen so far, and it may even conform to your avatar's facial shape. As interesting and technically impressive as it is, I can't decide if it's stumbled a little too deep into the uncanny valley or not for my tastes. Take a look for yourself:

It's a well done machinima, and a beautiful head that must have taken ages to perfect... But don't the mouth animations seem just a bit... Uncanny?

The technical aspects of this head are impressive regardless. Shirousagi Noel's mesh head (which, rumor has it, might be launching within the next few months) animates using layers of textures of varying opacity, while Redgrave's head seems to animate through "specially made animations" (according to their original post) for the avatar. Noel's head is much more stylized than Redgrave's but I have to admit that I find Noel's animations a lot more smooth and natural looking. (Edit: As Damien Fate pointed out to me on Plurk, much of this has to do with the fact that the jaw on Redgrave's head doesn't pivot as a natural jaw would, but rather seems to unhinge when opened.) Given that we've only seen alpha footage of each head it's hard to say if that will still be the case by the time they're both released.

And how the animations will be controlled, beyond the "specially made animations" Redgrave mentions in their original post? Voice-activated lip sync? A HUD? Maybe even gestures?

This head is also made using Redgrave's brand of special shape-conforming mesh, a technique pioneered by Kesiika Markova of RedPoly which they've dubbed "Liquid Mesh", that fits to aspects of your shape beyond just the skeleton, so I'm anxious to see how much it will vary based on the underlying facial shape. Will it be able to mirror or translate certain facial features, even? It's probably nothing that complicated, but there may be much more variation available with this than there is with what's currently on the market.

It's hard to say what the final product will look like and how many rough edges still need to be smoothed, but what do you think? Is this high-tech head ultra cool or uber creepy?

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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, 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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Adeon Writer

Most of the uncanny valley, I think, comes from the texturing and lighting. The tech behind it, though, (the appearenve slider conforming) can change everything, though, weither or not you care for this particular model. (I don't because it's the wrong gender, but this is still great news.)

Damien Fate

I appreciate the technique but the execution needs work. Mainly because of the way the jaw unhinged to open the mouth rather than pivoting. Also the jaw seems to be rigged to the eyebrows slightly. Still, pretty cool.

Pulling off animating the head is tricky, and I am guessing the animations are not multiple meshes swapping visibility like the other head but rather rigged to attachment points that are animated. So kudos for that

Animating a face almost always pushes it into uncanny valley territory, especially when you're dealing with the limitations of SL.


uber cool or uber creepy?

On just the basis of the gaping mouth and its cooked-flesh colored tongue, I'll go with creepy.

Metacam Oh

Its too bad SL wasn't so outdated that people have to make entire mesh heads to keep up with expected function.

Timmi Allen

This was a first test. The technology has more potential.

Arthur, King of the Britons

The eyes are not dead, and that means no Uncanny Valley. The rest of the head is very good.

But the jaw movement? Think Monty-Python God in Holy Grail.

But this head points the way to natural-looking avatars. Linden Lab gets some great folks to do work that it should have done itself.

Seven Overdrive

Looks great until her jaw unhinges. Then it becomes creepy. Most mesh avatars I have seen look odd or not quite right.


Creepy. Reminds of nutcracker toy.

Connie Arida

The jaw movement is a bit off as mentioned. IMO the avatar's arms are too short and legs too long so no realism there.

Ferd Frederix

Shape keys and weight paints needs more work. Uncanny valley to me. It takes a lot of work to get this right, weight painting is tricky tricky tricky.

Tracy Redangel

It's an interesting concept, and kudos to all the hard work they've done.
So we have mesh heads, boobs, hands, feet, manly bits (well LL never supplied those anyway) wouldn't it be easier if we just had a new basic avatar body? O.o. Maybe it would require a serious undertaking on LL's behalf, but c'mon...the default body is over 10 years old. It's LONG overdue.

Tracy Redangel

Scratch out the "10 years old" ....not quite that old...but still old and outdated.

Arcadia Codesmith

When I see the uncanny valley, I hit the accerator and look for a ramp...

AJax Manatiso

I really didn't have any problem with the jaw, it was close enough, but then the mouth and eyebrows are animated but not the eyes. Its a glassy zombie stare as it talks. Just random narrowing of the eyes would be good enough to give it a non-thorazine look. As it is, the total impression is still on the creepy side.

Tessa Harrington

The thing that makes the sl avatar so addictive is its response to its environment. I've long held that the 3D eyes and its unique tracking system -a one of a kind that I've not seen done anywhere else so far online for real time avatars after over 17+ years experience in virtual worlds- is still state of the art if not blocked by an AO *rolls eyes* And the fact that the eye's response to its environment corresponds with the avatar's body movements is one of the reasons I think people get so very attached to their avatar, i.e., the avatar looks over its shoulder when another avatar walks up behind it, again as long as its AO doesn't block it.

That's another advancement I'd like to see worked on - how AO's work with the backend so that they don't cancel out these incredibly realistic movements and responses.

The SL avatar, even as old and outdated as it is, is still heads and shoulders above 99% of the avatars used in games and simulations. I think if Dean and his team restore the SL eyes to the facial mesh, using open eye sockets, as some of the baby makers do with their mesh avatars, this could be key to ridding their beautiful head of its creep factor. It would be nice to see the mouth move more naturally too. At times it looks a bit like a puppets hinged mouth and jaw, instead of a mouth opening up like normal.

Despite these hopefully constructive criticisms, I think the Redgrave and Noel teams have taken a step in the right direction. They are making new avatars for the community that give more refinement.

At SpotON3D we've had a modeler working on creating a new avatar to load into the backend, replacing the old outdated Sl avatar and are confident it will be able to still wear existing wearables, reduce poly counts and give better granular support for animations without so much skewing of the avatar's textures. My question is, why isn't LL doing this by working with companies like Redgrave to make a morphable better base avatar? That would seem to be the optimum option. The option to purchase and activate these new avatar could be embedded in the Appearance menu instead of just the one we have to choose from, and link to the creator's store on the marketplace so the user could see their selection of content available for that mesh avatar. This is where SpotON3D hopes to go with our avatar upgrades in the next 12-24 months, thought its not an easy task. If anyone reading this is interested in this idea or knows someone who is and wants to jump in and help with this open source project give us a buzz at

latest technology

Ophelia is a fictional character in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet.


SpotON3D would probably try to patent it!

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