Liquid Mesh: looking from all sides

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.

Avatar Collision volumes (image courtesy of Gaia Clary)
Avatar Collision volumes (Gaia Clary)

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.

Moving Forward

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.

 

So what’s the issue?

The issue is that the technique is regarded as “unsupported” by the Lab, and this potentially opens it to the risk of content breakage at some point in the future, and this has given rise to the most recent round of debates on the technique.

On the one hand, because collision volumes are in many respects a core part of the SL avatar, it seems unlikely that the Lab will do much to change them, unless they opt to overhaul the way avatars are implemented, something they have shied away from in the past. Also, the Lab has, historically, always been loathe to break in-world content (or at least, what they regard as  content utilising supported capabilities – and even this may not by an absolute), so again, the risk of breakage might seem remote.

On the other hand, however, we have no idea as to what plans the Lab has for the future of SL and if those plans might at some point alter the manner in which collisions with the avatar are handled, and so result in breakage. Similarly, we don’t know what else might occur in the future which may either directly or indirectly lead to breakage.

Because of all the various what/if situations, there have been recent calls for the Lab to either step forward and declare the technique as supported, or to be pro-active and block the ability to upload content using the technique. It’s unlikely the Lab will do either.

There is another aspect to the debate; one which doesn’t seem to be getting quite the same air-time as focusing on all the “ifs” surround the technique. And that is the position of those content creators who are using this technique in their products.

Content creators are not unreasonable folk; as such there is no reason to suppose that should something happen which breaks this kind of content, they won’t simply step forward themselves and mitigate the problem in the best way they possibly can under the circumstances.

This is pretty much the stance Bax Coen has taken. Responding to comments following my initial report on the calls for the Lab to clarify their position, she said (and full kudos to her for doing so):

I am quite well informed about the matter and I have yet to see a proof of LQM going to be killed anytime soon. I have been waiting for a better solution way too long already. LQM is here and it’s working reasonably well for boots and it’s a great convenience for my customers, thus my decision to use it. If LL is ever deciding to kill it, I’ll provide a free update using whatever best alternative method is out there at that time.

In the meantime, where does this leave the SL consumer?

And this point in time there actually doesn’t appear to be any reason not to purchase items which use this technique – so long as one is aware of both the limitations and the possible risks. The essential thing is to be informed and to weigh-up (no pun intended) the pros and cons first. Remember, even outside of “what/if” situations over the future of the technique, it may not offer any advantages for your particular avatar shape when compared to mesh clothes which don’t use it. So try before you buy; most items appear to have demo versions, so see how well they work with your avatar shape, how they look, etc., beforehand, and factor that into your decision.

Also, if you have doubts / concerns, talk to the relevant content creator. They aren’t ogres, and like Bax Coen, they are also unlikely to be unsympathetic to concerns about anything happening which might break things. Finally, keep yourself informed; there’s a wide range of fashion blogs out there, many of which are liable to report on things like Liquid Mesh, and other bloggers like myself who try to cover the essential news.

The one thing one would hope that comes out of this situation, and the concerns that are being raised, is a greater willingness from within the Lab – particularly Battery Street – to push more effort into getting a supported means of wearable mesh deformation into Second Life. While blame for the various delays in this project cannot be entirely laid at the Lab’s door, the fact is that given the project currently does need resources only they can supply to work on it, the ball is squarely in their court to make sure this happens.

Related Links

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Liquid Mesh: looking from all sides

  1. As I have suggested before: I suspect LL (in the spirit of “do-it-the-right-way even if it hurts) is looking into merging the deformer project into a greater avatar improvement project (Avatar2?). There is a lot of work that should be done with the avatar we have now, it is after all more than 10 years old! Not an easy or painless project but as they showed with SSA, LL is capable of changing SL in pretty profound ways when properly motivated.

    Like

  2. One additional aspect you have not touched upon here is if collision-rigged mesh becomes so much of a defacto standard that LL will not *dare* break it in the future, blocking potential better solutions and updates. That is the flip side of “will it break in the future”.
    Personally, I have a hard time imagining the collision bones going away or needing an update unless the entire avatar system is redone anyway, but it could conceivably become a liability.

    Like

    1. I don’t think anyone can court the “would not dare” argument. Look at invisiprims. Regarded as never officially supported, became a de facto standard for a variety of different uses, not all of which can be replaced by alpha layers (including in a number of LDPW builds), but “broken” under deferred rendering.

      Like

      1. That is a good example, though in many other cases (LSL in particular), LL has been jumping through hoops to maintain compatibility with “misfeatures”, as they are often called.

        Like

        1. But surely LSL is somewhat “easier”, isn’t it? Inasmuch as if something can be done one way with scripting, the chances are that it can be done another way, even if someone has to get a headache (either through trying to figure out how or through head butting their desk – or perhaps both!) figuring how and then coding the required function / parameters / capability. And there is still the risk that the Lab could say, “Well, we told you way back when not to use these functions in this way. Sorry.”

          Either way, I think we agree on the basic point that LL at least don’t go out of their way to break something unless there is just cause (again, Temp Textures being the case in point. LL could have stepped on these at any time, but chose not to until something came along which incidentally broke the capability).

          Like

  3. I think that the best solution for any creator deciding to use this method is to also offer sizes along side it. This is the current “standard” way of offering mesh fashion in SL and would mean that should the “liquid mesh” option ever break those who purchased the product would still have a workable product. I would personal also include a notecard outlining this if we ever went this path.

    Like

  4. This is one of the best written article I read on the argument. Anyway I’m not feeling comfortable with Liquid Mesh, even if I admire the clever technique.

    1) OK, they won’t break easily, but it could happen. LL isn’t supporting it and if they need to do changes, they will, not feeling like to have to not break it. Invisiprims is an example: they are around for many years, but not supported, and now they are broken under deferred lightings (and the new lights will be more and more used, as the hardware of the users improves). Also changes and new features, some of them even deep changes (mesh, ssa, shadows, … ) are coming faster now (just look at the 2 past years).

    2) OK, if it happens, Bax Coen and other will provide an update, right? Well, I’m not feeling reassured, and I tell you why. First not all the sellers are like Bax. Second, look again to invisiprims and lets say, back in the year when they were introduced, that the content creators told they would provide updates. If I look at the stuff I have, many of those creators no longer exists now. And these days I see shops closing easier, even long established brands. Of course now many of the invisiprims items are obsolete stuff anyway, but some are still nice or are quite unique, for which I can’t find a true replacement. In the case of invisiprims the situation is better though (at least if you know how to edit prims a little): where the creator made them mod, I was able to fix them by myself in many cases. This won’t happen with LQM, if they broke.

    So, unless LL officially support this hack, I could buy maybe few of these items anyway, but just few: I won’t rely on them too much for my clothes. And I agree with the comment above, saying that it would be better if they provide both the standard sizes and LQM version in the same product package: I’ll fell much more comfortable.
    I hope LL will find a way to improve the avatar and a robust deformer that doesn’t need alphas.
    Sorry for the long comment and thank you again for the great post.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      Your point about updates being a problem as a result of the passage of time & people departing SL is a fair one to make.

      Like you, my overall feeling is the best way forward is for LL to get the ball rolling again with the official deformer and get something out to creator and users. A robust, working deformer would likely cause “Liquid Mesh” / LQM to die a natural death as creators switch over (not that there is any technical reason the two methods couldn’t co-exist, indeterminate breakage risks notwithstanding). Sadly, the cynic in me doesn’t think we’re going to see the deformer any time soon. It just doesn’t seem to factor into LL’s management / product development thinking.

      Don’t worry about the length of your comments here. It’s good to read want people are thinking about the situation (and SL in general) and that you’ll willing to take the time to give considered comments is always appreciated.

      Like

Have any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s