Of avatar height and size

Height has always been an issue within Second Life. Not only are default avatars unusually tall compared to the rest of the in-world scaling (most top-out in the 7-8ft range), the camera is offset at a difficult – if not unnatural – angle – which forces people to build oversized  structures in order to be able to accommodate it.

I’ve been solving the camera issue for the last couple of years using Penny Patton’s excellent camera offsets, which she first kindly allowed me to reproduce on this blog almost two years ago. Penny has also written extensively on getting a decently scaled avatar, and on the benefits of having realistically sized avatars in-world.

Avatar height issues have long been compounded by the fact that the height display in the viewer’s appearance editor does not accurately reflect the avatar’s height when compared to in-world scaling, with the avatar being around 15 cm (6 inches) taller in-world than is reported by the edit shape height display. This means that even when someone is trying to scale their avatar more realistically using the shape editing tools, they will, at the very least, invariably end up taller than they intend.

The good news here is that there is a good chance that the edit shape height issue may be addressed as a part of the avatar baking project. Nyx Linden will be “diving into” the code for the appearance editor as a part of that project, and may have time to do something about the inaccuracies in the height reporting. Assuming this does happen, it will still leave the problem of starter avatars still being abnormally tall / large, but it’ll certainly be a step in the right direction for those who do wish to size and proportion their avatars more realistically (something which is growing in popularity within SL).

I’ve actually been working on adjusting my own avatar since altering my overall appearance back in August 2010, gradually reducing my height to get down to something which might be regarded as relatively “normal”. Of late, however, I’ve noticed that even with my own downsizing, I’m starting to stand a good head or more taller than friends, and that at a touch over 2 metres in height in bare feet, I’m not always comfortable with my avatar’s height.

The problem is, how does one correctly scale one’s avatar, given the fact the editing tools are so very rough-and ready? Even allowing for the inaccurate height reporting noted above, the sliders are entirely abstract in meaning and at best relate only to an arbitrary start point. The abstraction is made worse by the fact that changes to one slider can impact the proportions controlled by several other sliders, reducing everything to a series of guessimates if using the sliders alone to define your shape.

Penny Patton again comes to the rescue here, providing a superb guide to defining a properly portioned avatar of almost any height and size, which in valuable whether you’re trying to get your avatar sized to realistic proportions or whether you wish to have an abnormally tall or short avatar that is properly proportioned of itself (such as a role-play giant or dwarf, for example).  I’ve been meaning to try her tutorial out for a while, but after tripping over a couple of friends recently, thought it was about time I did so :).

I like to think my avatar wasn’t abnormally sized to start with – but I have to admit, the results did startle me, and I’ve yet to see how things stack-up as I wander in-world.

My “usual” height has been just over the 6-foot mark (6 ft 3in, in fact), as mentioned above, and has been that way for a while. This is actually quite moderate in SL terms – or has been – a height which mostly leaves me looking reasonably-well proportioned against many in-world objects.

Me at 6ft 3in (+ heels…)

Using Penny’s tutorial I opted to scale my avatar to something approaching my real-world height and size (I’m 5ft 8in in real life, so a little bit on the tall side here as well :)). If I’m honest I did have a small problem with one section of the instructions, which I found a tad confusing to read (but then, put three shovels against a wall then ask me to take my pick, and I’m confused; so the fault is as likely to be mine as much as anything else), but, with a little trial and error, I ended up looking like this…

Me at 5ft 8in

The difference is perhaps a little hard to see, until one compares the two side-by-side (and allows for a slight perspective issue which does actually exaggerate the difference somewhat).

Me at 6ft 3 and me at 5ft 8 (there is a slight perspective exaggeration in the two photos when combined like this)

The finished result, if I’m honest, has me leaning two ways at once. On the one hand, and combined with Penny’s camera defaults, It does give a much better perspective of things in general, and does have major benefits building-wise; were we all properly scaled in-world, we wouldn’t need houses the size of the Royal Albert Hall in which to live. Even my Linden Home now has church-sized proportions about it from my new perspective!

However, on the other, realistic avatar heights open up a world of issues of their own. Take no mod furnishings, etc., for a moment. Adjust your avatar height and proportions and it’s easy to find you have a bed you need a car and a guide-book in order to find your way across from one side to the other. That said, I do more naturally “fit” my piano now, and my feet don’t vanish into the floor when seated…

I’m still adjusting to my new height, and confess to having my “old” shape sitting ready for recall. Even at 6ft+, it still works with Penny’s camera offsets; but I’m going to see how things go with the new economy-sized me for a while – and see how people react as I let her be seen more in-world.

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23 thoughts on “Of avatar height and size

  1. Once they get the height right LL can start working on breast size for females and arm size for men :-). I have a friend and she is well over 8 feet tall. It looks normal until I stand beside her as a male and it then I look like a dwarf at 6’6″. I like the smaller avs as they look “cute”. Now what happens if you build structures “normal” height. Avatars will be banging their heads? Do you have to now build for 5’8″ to 9′ avs? I guess SL is big enough for everyone to be accommodated.


  2. Cool. But don’t forget the testosterone-poisoning factor. A couple of years ago I started gradually shrinking myself because I personally find the gargantua look comical. After a while it became apparent when I was in gay clubs that I was becoming the runt of the litter (proportions are very erratic in SL depending on even slight differences in camera angle). From MY point of view I looked a much more natural height and proportions and most of the other guys looked ridiculously tall and over-muscled (still do). However, if I ever dared to mention that maybe at a relative 8+ feet tall perhaps someone was a bit on the large side I was usually met with defensiveness and disdain. Guys go into crowds and start feeling insecure if anyone else seems bigger, so they bump the sliders up to assuage their egos. Pretty soon you have a room full of (silly-looking) Hulks. 😉

    I still think I’m slightly larger than I should be to be more normally proportionate in-world. I’ll take advantage of those links you provided and give the ‘scientific’ approach to shape tweaking a try (keeping my usual self handy for recall, of course). Very interesting. Especially with regard to all the vehicles I use.


    1. I feel for you. I’ve stuck at the 6ft / nigh-on 2 metre mark because there are an awful lot of women in that height range. However, among women at least, more natural proportions seems to be becoming more widespread, and as noted, a number of friends of later have cut down on their avatar height over the last few weeks / months – so I’ll see how it goes.

      If nothing else, I do have one advantage over you height wise – heels! :).


    2. Okay I spent time today following all the proportion instructions and got pretty close to my goal of 6’4″ (which is my RL height). Still have some tweaking to do on facial features and some other areas yet. In any case I’m a head shorter (about 10″) but it really does make a big difference. My house got noticeably bigger. 😀 Also I fit better into some vehicles (for example, when riding Cubey’s Cirrus balloon I had to take off my shoes before or they would poke through the bottom of the basket — now my AV is about 2″ ABOVE the bottom). Of course, if I stay this size nearly everything will have to be refitted – shoes, belts, jewelry, hair, yaddah yaddah. I’m a fanatic about perfection of worn items and I don’t even want to know how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent fitting things over the years (crikey). Now I’ve made everything too big and have to do a lot of it over (luckily I’ve had lots of practice – hah hah). Anyhow, interesting experiment.



      1. LOVE the “new you”! I have to admit, I’ve slipped my proportions up very slightly so that I’m effectively 5ft 10in tall :(. The reason for this was that at 5ft 8in, I was just a *tad* to small for decent resizing of some of my footwear (I wear boots in SL almost exclusively nowadays, as the deferred / invisiprim problem means I need to have shoes with feet, and I’ve yet to blend the “foot” skin tone with my skin to to my own satisfaction). At 5ft 8in, I found that my preferred ankle boots all looked like they are 2 sizes too big for me, and they poked through the cuffs of several pairs of pants I wear; at 5ft 10in, the boots no longer poke through, and the pant cuffs hide what’s left of the resizing option.

        At some point I’ll go a-hunting alternative footwear, which will hopefully resolve my current problem. I actually had a look around the other day….but ended up looking at petites. That, however, is another story!


  3. My expoerience. many are oversized. I scaled my own. but i dont get it bigger then around 5.2″ everythig above that feels wrong, loooks wrong. 6″ is really the max. size for a good avatar.
    With this size my home ceiling dont need to be heigher then 3.7meters. if i would change camera position it could be much better. small problem is ower camera dont make the llook better.

    mouselook is bets for many things to :O


  4. Camera position is a compromise. If it is ideal for walking, exploring, and shopping then it is a problem when you sit.

    I shrunk my avatar from the 6′-2″ recommended for models when I joined SL down to 5′-10″, still a big woman. But, with 4″ heels I’m back to 6′-2″…

    After reading Penny’s articles I started changing my avatar. To get the arms and height proportional I ended you making a Model Shape Tool. I can set it to the height I want and easly adjust the avatar shape to match it.

    One can get a copy of Leonardo man in a circle/square image and use it to texture a cube and build their own guide. Make the cube phantom so you can walk into the image, which when the image is in the middle of the avatar saves you having to keep checking camera angles.


    1. I’ve found Penny’s camera offsets have a minimal impact on sitting – simply because when I’m sitting, it is generally with a group, and I’m going to alter my camera position simply to ensure I can see (/hear) everyone. But yes, camera position in the broadest since is a compromise.

      For resizing / re-proportioning, I found Penny’s approach and use of proportions to be relatively easy to follow (with one small issue where a specific description wasn’t clear to me). In all it took me about 15 minutes to get my avatar from 6ft 3in to 5ft 8in and with a reasonable set of proportions. From there it was a case tweaking elements such as eyes, mouth, nose, etc., to retain those proportions without losing what I feel make my avatar unique.


  5. I’m one of those who wants to see more realistic sizes for another reason – I like giant avatars. I go to some effort to keep my avatars proportioned well (unless I’m intentionally exaggerated) but 12 feet of hill giant just doesn’t loo as impressive in ‘max height slider land’.

    It does, on the other hand, look awesome in a room full of mesh “petites”. 😉


  6. “Oversize”? “Normal”? Compared to what? RL? Second Life is our fantasy world! Have you looked around? 50% of breasts are nothing like RL either in size or defiance of gravity :). Male shapes are no better, many are built like Bison!
    We all have our fantasies, height is the least of them as far as I can see.


    1. I think your reply is kind of missing the point; the *baseline* – as in, the sizes encouraged by the software itself – are somewhat out of whack compared to reality. People who *want* to have an average-height, normal-looking avatar wind up looking like midgets and STILL wrong because avatar shapes literally cannot be as short as people in reality!

      That isn’t at all the same as saying ‘weird people are bad, and should feel bad’. I hope not, considering I’m very much in that camp of weirdness. To reiterate: walking around as a 12-foot-tall giant is a lot more impressive in a world of people sized like real people, instead of a world where – thanks to oversized newbie avatars – everyone is eight feet tall. We can either just treat the SL foot and meter as ‘smaller’ than the real ones, or the software can be corrected to meet expectations. That’s all it is.


    2. In terms of the camera positioning – where I mention “oversize” – it’s the sheer size of houses we’re forced to build in order to accommodate it. Houses which end up taking-up the majority of 4096sq metres, etc. Just through better camera placement, houses, etc., can be built to a more precise scale and leave room on the land for other things.

      As to avatar sizes, as Aliasi states, the major problem with default avatars is that the sliders are often pushed right up to the high end of the scale with height, etc., – so when you do want a “giant” avatar, you immediately run into problems. Reducing size is often difficult as well, as proportions can quickly become screwed up.

      Yes, SL is a fantasy world, and people can be any shape or form they like, and I’m not saying anything against that – nor is Penny (although she is often wrongly accused of being on some kind of campaign). It’s simply about having the flexibility to create an avatar of a given height that is entirely in proportion with itself. Good proportions may also help with things like mesh clothing fitting (even allowing for viewer issues).


  7. Since I usually run around SL as a “furry”, and sometimes as a “Tiny” version, strict human proportions aren’t a big issue for me. I set up something that looks right, and what other people are doing isn’t really relevant. It maybe is more obvious for the ladies, and some of that is a standard CGI problem. With a clothed and unclothed body based on the same mesh, and the difference being as much texturing as any change to the underlying shape, the naked woman wearing an invisible bra just has to happen.

    The Lindens have missed a few chances, I think. The “Shape” covers everything, and I think many of us would like to be able to preserve the settings for the head when the rest of the body changes. And the Avatar mesh is terribly old. It has to be simple, but there are places that could be improved at little cost in extra polygons. It could even be done without wrecking the UV mapping.

    For something around a decade old, the SL AV mesh isn’t bad. But it is a decade old, and in that time programs such as Poser have seen three or four generations of figure.

    You have to wonder why they thought the business world would want to Avatar quality.


    1. Sorry, I must have been half-asleep…
      You have to wonder why they thought the business world would accept unrealistic Avatars as the default. Is there a different view of identity? Does a virtual business meeting expect more than consistent symbols for the participants? Display Names might have been very necessary. What sort of “masks” would have been accepted, and was SL ever set up to support that need for a distinctive visual identity?


      1. I’ve no idea on the business side of things. I do remember Amanda Linden going on something of a campaign back in 08/09 about the era of the “business avatar” having arrived, and exhorting anyone wanting to be taken seriously by the business world to dress that part – business attire, etc. But height and general size didn’t come into it, IIRC. I don’t think LL ever considered the height issue. The prevailing thought may have been that as long as avatars look reasonably proportioned, that would be enough.


  8. i’m shorter then my love for a lot (i’m 6’2 she is 7’5) and i still need, even using Niran camera, to have ceilings higher then 5 m on our buildings, cause i love to zoom in and out (is there really any who uses 1st camera view???) !
    I can’t endorse in any way is that some are trying to push now, one of the feww things where users still have freedom of choice, that is how i want my avatar to be and look in World!
    And i can really understand that is much easy to make a rule that just don’t allow small avatars then the other way around!


    1. In terms of camera POV and offsets, I’ve yet to find anything that matches Penny’s “default” positions. They’ve allowed me to find a camera position that is ideal for me, and means that, while still high, I can build ceilings as low as 3.5m in the majority of my personal builds. As most of my friends have adopted Penny’s offsets in one way or another, few few it an issue.

      And opting for realistically proportioned isn’t about limiting freedom of choice. That’s a complete misconception (as commented above). Nor is about making rules one way or the other. It’s simply about developing an avatar that maintains the correct body proportions whatever height is chosen, and being able to move our avatars to more life-life heights for those of us who wish to. In other words, it is about freedom of choice, which making “a rule that just don’t allow small avatars” most certainly isn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Inara! Avatars may be too tall, but you’ve gotta love “the long tail” for turning me on to wonderful 2-year-old posts like this.

    You wrote about the Avatar Height vs Prim Height discrepancy getting fixed — did it??? — I thought that was eternal, but I just put myself next to a prim and was shocked to see that the heights DO seem to match! Oh wow!

    Like you and many others, I’ve spent much of my time in SL getting ever shorter than my initial “Barbie” shape. IDK how I, or so many others, got there in the first place!?

    This is a wonderful post Inara, and all of the comments are equally informative and heartfelt. It IS a complex subject, both technically and emotionally. For sure when I stand next to someone 10cm Taller OR Shorter than me, I always wonder if I’m either going too short for the prevailing culture… OR… still not short enough! 😛

    I also wonder though if “Height” is the real issue? Barbie “scaled down” is still “Barbie.” Maybe it’s Weight, or Width? Avatars do, on average, seem to be getting shorter… but not as much wider.

    If you look at Berry’s awesome What’s Your Digits flickr group:

    whats my digits 2017

    And then at My Body Gallery:

    well, both collections are very diverse, so there’s no one body type in either place for sure. But the Digits Pix are still “elegant-to-the-point-of-anorexia” and the BodyGallery pix seem in what might be a more “normal” range.

    Of course I suppose we don’t want to look EXACTLY like our RL selves, otherwise we’d be using Skype instead of SL… again, it seems complicated with no Perfect or Absolute mid-point.

    And then just when I give myself a little more realistic bodyfat, I find a fantastic mesh dress that throws it all away! I feel like all mesh sizes other than the dreaded “L” (M, S, XS, XXS, XXXXS, XXXXXXXXS, etc) are too thin, and then catch-all, one-size-fits-frumpy “L” just throws all style away. I tend to wear M in most mesh since L has no style and S is really small. But then I look at myself and say, “Wait, I’m ‘Barbie’ again!” 😛


    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      I totally agree that the “Barbie syndrome” is still prevalent (together with the muscle-bound hulk who looks like he should only be crossed by a team of experienced mountaineers…). However, for me the issue is still more overall height (and camera position!), as both lead to much that is in SL being grossly over-scaled. Rooms in houses with ceilings 20ft high; sofas longer than a car, motor boats the size of an ocean-ready yacht, etc. Or the reverse: an aeroplane fairly-well scaled to its real size, only to look tiny when someone stands beside it. Granted, the issue is slowly coming down as more and more people go for more “averaged” human avatar heights, but it’s still a problem. I have a grand piano in world, and even at 5ft 10in (the height I went back “up” to after experiencing height issues the other way due to furniture, etc., size problems), my avatar’s arm span is less than the width of the keyboard!

      Clothing, thankfully, is an issue I don’t have; I’ve yet to make the move to wearing mesh clothing 🙂 .


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