Make Human is an open source avatar creator which longtime avatar expert Connie Arida just pointed me to via Comments. Noodling around on the site for the first time, the platform's skeleton and musculature system seems pretty impressive (as above, from the gallery), but falls short when it comes time to create vividly human avatar faces. (Hello Ms. Uncanny Valley.) But maybe that just means they need some help from folks in the SL avatar community, who are working a pretty high level now. Speaking of which:
Second Life blogger Aemeth Lysette, who has African-American heritage in real life, recently noticed something fairly disturbing in Second Life's web-based Marketplace and in its in-world search engine: Racial slurs usable as search terms, and fairly commonly so. (See screengrab, which I'm leaving blurry for obvious reasons.)
This is also surprising, because hateful speech is explicitly banned by Linden Lab's own Community Standards:
Intolerance Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life's Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as a whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.
... and only last year, the company had a similar controversy when users discovered the racist Confederate Flag being openly sold in SL -- after which, apparently removed these items without discussing it publicly. I just double-checked you can use slurs in the Marketplace, and sad to say, I can confirm you can.
The solution, as Aemeth writes, is pretty obvious:
After posting about Black Desert's free character creator, longtime avatar photographer Connie Arida whipped this above pic up in about 30 minutes. Pretty impressive in such short a time, though IMO Black Desert's hair modeling is not ideal. And while I like the emotional expressiveness here, the smile seems a bit off -- not engaging all the facial muscles we'd associate with a genuine smile. Connie created another version that works a bit better in my view:
Black Desert's avatar customization system definitely seems impressive, but I gotta say, the latest user-made mesh-based heads in Second Life are giving it a run for its virtual money:
Video demo via Strawberry, who has the details on her blog. Too bad this level of customization is only going to be available to established SLers who know where to get their heads.
Both the characters and the world look so polished and realistic that its screenshots could easily be mistaken for renders from 3D software like DAZ or Poser (seriously). But yesterday, in advance of their second closed beta test phase, the developers of Black Desert released a new video to flaunt the game's unique character customization system.
You can try it for free without necessarily playing the actual MMO it's been created for, so give it a while. If you do, all you masters of avatar customization, please share your character selfies in Comments!
Sure to enrage a certain set of male gamers for no rational reason whatsoever, here's Anita Sarkeesian's latest look at the sexist tropes in most mainstream videogames:
The core of her argument is interesting and should be pretty obvious to gamers after she raises it: Game developers consistently sexualize female player characters' and female NPCs' butts, while also taking massive pains to non-sexualize male player avatar asses -- to the point of covering them up in physically implausible ways. And in this way, consciously or unconsciously, straight male players are told that games are catering to them, while pushing almost all female gamers away.
That said, I somewhat disagree with Sarkeesian that the solution to this is to non-sexualize all avatar butts, as opposed to exploiting them equally --mainly because in MMOs and other multiplayer games, her on-point analysis runs up against some interesting variables that may change the dynamic.
Here's some thoughts and citations on that theme:
We once thought that virtual worlds would help diminish racism, since people inside them would be judged by the behavior of their avatars, not the color of their skin. Sad to say, the exact opposite is the case: Hiding behind an anonymous avatar, many racists act even more racist, while many people of color, targeted by a wide array of explicit or implicit prejudice, feel pressured to disguise their real life race. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here's some classic posts to help contemplate that reality -- and contemplate ways we can all be better:
She spent three months in the skin of a black woman. Some of her friends shied away, she believes. Then there were the "guys that thought I was an easy lay, for lack of a better term. It scared me honestly, some of the assumptions made. Especially here where everything [in avatar appearance] is changeable with a click. I lost a couple of what I thought were good friends [who] stopped IMing and chatting. They were polite to a fault when I showed up, but [it] was weird. You know how you interact and something changes and no one tells you. Some were subtle, some weren't." She laughs without mirth, recalling how some friends would ask her questions such as, "'[L]ike, when you going back to being you?'"
"I wish people knew how much it hurt to see the flag on TV and in places which are supposed to represent everyone in a fair manner, like court houses. I have been to places in Second Life which had the flag up. We always knew what it meant. That we and others with our color are not wanted around that area. It is like putting up a 'Caucasian only' sign. I have a lot of bad memories with that flag. Like walking past homes of people who have them proudly displayed in front of their homes...
He recounts a time when he agreed to meet with someone about a machinima project, but before he saw Fall's photo in the First Life tab in his avatar profile. When he arrived for the meeting, Fall remembers, "him and the cast were just immediately quiet. No one spoke to me directly. And when they started talking on voice, I heard many Southern accents. I figured, 'Here we go, kinda.'" One of the cast members started telling racially tinged jokes. "After that I just left." Rysan Fall acknowledges that the behavior may have been coincidental. "But sometimes... you know."
This is pretty impressive technology for creating a 3D avatar modeled after someone based on their smartphone selfies:
Usually, photorealistic 3D avatars are created in a motion capture studio, which is hardly the best way to make that tech mass market. But most everyone has a smartphone, and these developers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (a Swiss university) have figured out how to make the smartphone act like a mocap studio:
Using a smartphone to replace studio conditions – which include proper lighting and numerous cameras – was a real challenge. “We begin by assuming that people will take pictures of themselves in conditions that are impossible to control,” said Alexandru. The main difficulties: changes in the light, blurry shots without a tripod, and limited picture quality depending on the smartphone's camera.
No word on when this will be available to consumers, and I'd love to see how well this actually works outside the school's demos. But it's definitely tech worth following.
Via Medhue Animations, here's a pretty mesmerizing timelapse video of a fully articulated 3D penguin avatar, created from a screengrab of a real penguin, lovingly modeled in Blender, and then brought to life in the virtual world.
RIP Lumiere Noir, Dedicated Educator in Real & Second Life UPDATED: Added New World Notes' Original 2004 Profile
Update, 2:22pm: Thanks to reader Graham Mills, who found my 2004 profile of Mr. Noir on my defunct Linden Lab-sponsored blog, I added the full text and some pics below -- a tribute to Lumiere and a fascinating glimpse of sL's earliest days. Click here to read.
Sad news for the SL community: The man behind Lumiere Noir, one of Second Life's very first members, unexpectedly died in recent days. There's a memorial page for him on Facebook here, and he's survived by his SL partner Tosha Tyran, whose deep condolences I extend. I also recommend paying your respects with a visit to his Ivory Tower of Prims, which he built back in 2003, and which still exists in SL, looking even more impressive in SL's latest generation of graphics: Here it is on the SL web map, in the ancient sim of Natoma.
Lumiere built his tower to teach new SLers all the complexities of building with prims, and I vividly recall getting a tour from him shortly after he built it, being duly amazed at how creative he himself was with prim-based construction. (I'm unable to find my original post, but I recall he also had a seriously cool avatar - maybe a LEGO-man? Help me out, friends of Noir. [UPDATE: Actually, a cartoon devil in tightie whities -- see below.])
Lumiere was dedicated to educating people in every aspect of his life, as his RL obituary attests: