Mesh content creation: morph targets proposal

The Content Creation Improvement Informal User Group has started work on putting together an exploratory proposal for consideration by Linden Lab on the subject of morph targets.

Morph targets (also known as shape targets, per-vertex animation, blend shapes, shape interpolation in some 3D applications) are generally used for complex animations that would otherwise be hard to accomplish with skeletal animation – such as facial animation and avatar customisation. In this latter respect, the SL viewer already uses morph targets to a degree.  The proposal being drafted is aimed at the implementation of a more widespread use of morph targets, for use in such areas as:

  • Complex facial animations on rigged meshes
  • Additional ways for a user to customize the appearance of their avatar
  • Animating the surface of a prim without the need to use a custom skeleton
  • Fine grained control for content creators over how their clothing and avatars deform
Morph targets: animating facial features

It is with regards to this last bullet-point that morph targets are particularly interesting to content creators, as they are seen to have significant potential advantages for clothing deformation than might otherwise be offered by either the parametric deformer, or RedPoly’s alternative approach.

The proposal outlines some of the drawbacks in the latter two approaches, and covers some of the advantages and issues in adopting morph targets. One advantage in using morph targets is that they would allow a content creator to “sculpt” how a morph target should appear, directly within their 3D application of choice, thus giving them the ability to directly control over how a mesh deforms around an avatar (or how a rigged mesh replacement avatar deforms around the base avatar). A potential issue with the approach is that morph targets require additional information to be encoded either within a mesh, or within a texture. This means that additional bandwidth will be required to transmit any mesh which uses morph targets.

Morph targets: a better means of getting mesh clothing to deform?

As it stands, the proposal is in its early phase, although the intention is to complete it and submit it to LL for consideration and feedback as soon as it is felt enough information has been put together. Geenz Spad, co-chair of the CCIIUG, is aware that at the moment, much more input is required in order to get to that stage.

“There could be more input with regards to the content creator’s and the technical perspectives,” he commented to me in discussing the proposal, “The biggest bottleneck is just getting enough input to finish the proposal at this stage.” Of the two perspectives, Geenz feels that it is the technical side of things that is perhaps the more lacking of the two and he would like to see more input from those of a technical mind in terms of potential feature implementation, advantages, disadvantages, possible issues, and so on.

If you are in a position to provide input to the proposal itself, your views would be most welcome, as would your presence at the weekly CCIIUG meetings, which take place every Tuesday, from 15:00SLT at the Hippotropolis Auditorium.

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Birdland returns to SL

There have been many jazz clubs and jazz lounges in Second Life, so much so that those of us who frequent them all tend to have our favourites. There are a number I have permanently landmarks in my inventory, all of which I have enjoyed spending time at over the years.

But there is only one that has ever stolen my heart – as it did for just about everyone who ever visited it. That club was Birdland. Part of the reason many of us fell in love with it was down to the music: a wonderful mix of jazz and the Great American Songbook, spun into a wonderful and romantic fusion by Alma Fushikizoh, the club’s creator and resident DJ.

But it was not just the music that made Birdland special; the build itself was simply stunning: a true labour of love beautifully crafted to create the perfect ambience for romance and long evenings of dancing and conversation. As Alma once told me back in 2009, “Birdland is a Romantic Lounge; a place to dance with your loved one – a place to flirt, a place to meet extraordinary people”.

The original Birdland, circa 2009

There was also the fact that Alma and her partner (both in SL and in RL), Blysse Biondi, regarded everyone who frequented Birdland as being part of their extended family in SL; imbuing the club with a very special atmosphere that, for most of the clubs “regulars”, made it a genuine home-from-home in Second Life.

Sadly, Birdland vanished from the grid when Alma and Blysse had to retire from Second Life due to personal reasons – and its absence was sorely missed. For my part, I’ve never come across another club that combines the same measure of look, ambience, romance, friendliness and fun.

I was therefore surprised when I logged-in to SL back in June to find Alma and Blysse both on-line and to get a bright, sunny, “We’re back!” IM from Alma. Just having two long-time friends back was reason to celebrate – so it was with a sense of stunned surprise that I accepted an invite from Alma to be one of the first to see that not only were they both once more settled in SL – but also that Birdland itself is back as well and is being readied for a Grand Re-opening!

Birdland today

Birdland today is exactly as it was on the last day I saw it before Alma and Blysse had to depart SL; only the setting has changed. Seeing it brought back a wealth of memories; this was a place I’d spent some of the most satisfying evening of my entire Second Life, simply relaxing with the music and enjoying the company of friends in a manner that no other club has, in all honesty, managed to match for me.

Here is a place you can dance under the moonlight (the club is specifically designed for viewers with the time set to sunset or midnight), or sit and chat with friends, watch the sunset from the broad wooden deck, or sit on the beach and cuddle while being serenaded by some of the finest songs every recorded by some of the world’s greatest voices.

Touring the club in its new location with Alma and Blysse, I couldn’t help but feel I’d somehow come home again. Looking at the familiar marble-finished dance floor with the inlaid logo, lit by the rafter-fitted spotlights, wandering the deck overlooking the sea and passing among the tables and chairs overlooking both the dance floor and the sea, I felt the years melt away. With some people only too willing to spread doom and gloom about regions closing and stores vanishing in SL, I couldn’t help but feel something precious has returned to Second Life.

The dance floor and stage at sunset

There is still some work to be done before the club formally opens its doors; and Alma and Blysse are wisely not rushing things; the formal opening will take place in September, giving them more than enough time to finish-off the details here and there.

In the meantime, the club informally opened on August 2nd, and will feature a range of weekend events between now and the end of August to start warming things up. Alma will again be putting together sets for each weekend and will be mixing them with requests from patrons and guests at the following times:

  • Fridays: 17:00 SLT
  • Saturdays: 11:00 and 17:00 SLT
  • Sundays: 11:00 and 17:00 SLT

Live entertainment will very much be a part of the new Birdland as well, and updates on performers and performances as well as DJ sets from Alma will be available through the Birdland in-world group.

I’m certainly looking forward to spending evenings there with friends old and new, dancing to some of the greatest music ever written and listening to some of Second Life’s finest entertainers. I hope to see some of you there are well.

Please note that Birdland does operate a formal / smart dress code with gowns and tuxedos preferred.

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Housecleaning & an apology

I’ve been going through the blog and trying to rationalise things like categories and tags, and fix broken links (the result of websites elsewhere vanishing / blog posts on other sites being moved, etc.).

While I was predominantly using the WordPress “quick edit” tool, WP still took it upon itself to send out random notifications via RSS denoting old articles as being new posts. If you were one of the people who received such false updates, my sincere apologies.

Anyway, the core work is done: hopefully there won’t be any more spurious messages, and with the overall rationalisation, things should now be easier to search via both categories and tags.