I’m prefacing this article by saying I’m not a fashion blogger, nor am I particularly fashion-oriented SL purchaser. So this piece isn’t an examination of “Liquid Mesh” clothing from a fashion / fit standpoint. Nor is it intended to be an in-depth technical examination of the technique and how it deforms, its pros and cons, creation issues, etc. It is simply intended to offer up general information on what the technique is, what the concerns are, and how people might best determine whether it is an option for them.
A Little Bit o’ History
When the capability to support mesh within SL was first being developed, that it could be used to create clothing etc., didn’t appear to factor into the Lab’s thinking, and so how such items might be made to fit avatar shapes properly wasn’t of major concern to them. However, during the Mesh Closed Beta, a method was proposed whereby wearables could be weighed to the avatar’s collision volumes, a technique which, if used, would allow them to deform somewhat to the avatar’s shape.
AshaSekayi Ra notes that at the time, Prep Linden requested clothing samples weighted using the technique be passed on to him so that the Lab could take a look at the idea. However, she didn’t hear anything further on the subject, despite supplying samples herself. Asha also thinks that Prep may have heard of the technique as a result of a conversation with RedPoly Inventor.
Collision volumes are essentially a simplified version of the avatar form primarily used to between your avatar and other avatars / objects. As Gaia Clary recently explained, they give a rough approximation of an avatar’s shape and they can be adjusted via the Edit Shape sliders. So, clothing items weighted to them can be adjusted somewhat in line with the avatar’s shape.
That said, there are limitations. For one thing, there are only 19 collision volumes; and this limits how and where they can be weighted by default, and how well clothing using them can deform with changes to the avatar’s shape. For example, there is no collision volume for breasts, so clothing using the technique won’t deform to breasts or breast size changes.
In June 2012, RedPoly Inventor again drew attention to the idea during a Content Creator’s meeting, releasing a video of the technique, as well as a demonstrator dress.
By his own admission, the solution was not perfect due to the lack of suitable weighting points in the collision volumes, as noted above. To overcome this, he suggested the development of addition “bones” (weighting points), which he called “cbones”. However, given there is generally little appetite within the Lab to tinker around with the avatar to any great extent, it was unlikely this latter idea was going to be taken-up, and after a while the use of collision volumes for mesh weighting / deformation seemed to quietly slip away.
Since then we’ve had yet more delays with the development and release of the mesh deformer for a wide variety of reasons. That no official deformer has appeared has seen a number of content creators producing mesh wearables which use collision volumes for weightings / deformation in a manner similar to that demonstrated by RedPoly Inventor. Perhaps the first on the scene was Redgrave, back in late 2012, with their Liquid Mesh range (the name which is now synonymous with the technique), with others such as Egoisme and Bax also producing their own items as well. As such, the debate around the approach has been ebbing and flowing for a while, and has recently seen renewed discussion.
The system isn’t perfect, as noted above; the need for alpha layers isn’t necessarily eliminated for example, and because collision volumes are only a rough approximation to the avatar shape, problems can still be encountered when making shape changes even where the two do align. But even with the potential shortfalls, the fact remains that in many cases, this method can result in clothing items which do fit an avatar’s shape more reasonably than by purely relying on a set of “standard sizes”, as Strawberry Singh demonstrated in a recent video which accompanied a blog post on the subject.