Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Last November I wrote about a teaser video from Japanese skin designer Shirousagi Noel of Snow Rabbit advertising an upcoming animated head for Second Life avatars. The head was due to be released in early 2013 and, true to her word, you can head to The Skin Fair (which opens today and runs until the end of the month) to pick one up at her booth right now.
I've talked about mesh heads and hybrid mesh avatars a lot lately, so what makes Shirousagi's different and, more importantly, is it for you? I've got all the info you need to decide:
Most hybrid mesh avatars and mesh heads so far have had limited or no animation, or relied on HUDs to set avatar expressions. While this is perfect for photography it looks pretty static in-world. The goal of Snow Rabbit's Nea is to change that by giving the avatar a little more life through smooth and more or less random facial animations.
In the video above you can see all of the features that have been incorporated into the release version of Nea including makeup, eyelashes, eye color, skin tone, and even mesh tears by NODe+ (which I've written about for vanilla avatars in the past.) The option to set the head "full bright" may seem odd at first, but there is good reason for it. As mentioned in my previous post, Shirousagi has explained that the head animates by adjusting the transparency of layers of textures. This allows for the smoothness of the animation (and yes, she does have a full 3d profile without a flat or painted-on look), but there has also been concern that this effect might interfere with dynamic lighting and shadows (which have a history of not playing nicely with alphas and transparencies). Although I didn't personally experience any issues with how shadows interacted with the face, Full Bright mode is a perfect way to deal with them if you do.
It goes without saying that this head is absolutely adorable and beautifully textured and detailed (right down to the eyes moving separately from the shine effect over them, as Damien Fate pointed out to me in Plurk) but there are a few issues to be aware of... Even though most of them could be chalked up to user error. I have had some issues with the back of the neck blending in properly, but since I was wearing it with my own shape I suspect it has more to do with my avatar's body fat number or possibly my windlight settings than a fault in the head itself. After talking to some other bloggers, some have the same issue and some don't, so I suspect that tweaking on our part could probably eliminate it. I also found the head seemed a bit small for my avatar's body-- but Iris is a tall lanky monster with larger than average hands, so this isn't too surprising, and once I put a hairstyle on it stopped bothering me altogether.
Ultimately I adore this head and it will definitely become part of my regular wardrobe, but the real question is will you? Here are a few things to consider that will be roadblocks for some, and selling points for others:
She's SO Kawaii
Brace yourself for some somewhat sweeping generalizations, here... Nea is a distinctly Japanese head. I don't mean that she looks Asian necessarily, but rather that her face looks very young, bright, fresh, innocent, and yes, kawaii. Circle lenses, fluttery eyelashes, glossy pouts, button noses, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and sparkles and hearts, the whole deal. Although my penchant for all things kawaii means I find Nea utterly irresistible, this look is not for everyone. I'm sure someone is rushing to the comments already to tell me how creepy it is, even though I completely disagree.
It's a matter of taste.
I do think it's possible to style Nea to look a little older if that's what you prefer, but if you're looking for a mature face this is probably not the head for you... Unless you're truly curious about the innovative animation effect. Just because something doesn't make it into your daily rotation doesn't mean it's not worth playing with, right?
She's SO "Milky"
Another thing to bear in mind is that while western skinmakers often oversaturate their darker tones to the point of making them orangy, Japanese skinmakers (in my experience, and there are exceptions) often opt for a more desaturated look. This gives a lot of beautifully milky pale tones but slightly ashy tans and dark tones. Some people prefer this style and others don't, so it's absolutely another matter of taste.
She's SO... Busty?
Japanese skins also often feature much different-looking cleavage than you may be used to. While the typical trend for SL cleavage is about a B or C cup held very high and close on the chest (seemingly by an army of tiny push-up bras) Japanese brands usually offer cleavage closer to a D, and the effect itself is often more of pressing them against the chest than lifting them high. Once more this is just my experience and there are always exceptions, and again there are plenty of people who prefer this style. Obviously the cleavage-enhanced skin is just one more option, and if it's not to your liking then you can either opt not to wear it, or use a tattoo-layer cleavage enhancer instead.
She's SO Demo-able
Remember to always try the demo before you buy, especially when it comes to something as important as a body part! Things that bother me may not bother you, and vice-versa, but you won't know until you try.
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Iris 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.