Project Bento: avatar skeleton enhancements for Second Life

On Wednesday, December 16th Linden Lab officially announced Project Bento which brings a range of avatar skeleton enhancements to Second Life.

The project has been in progress for the last several months, with the Lab working in collaboration with a number of noted Second Life content creators who specialise in avatar shapes, bodies, and animations. I’ve been fortunate enough to be very peripherally involved in the project myself, with the aim of documenting some of the process involved – and I’ll be providing more on that in an upcoming article.

The blog post announcing Project Bento explains the reason and focus of the work thus:

We know how much work, value, personalization and emotional investment goes into a Second Life avatar, so we have always been careful when considering avatar changes. While we want to make improvements, we also want to maximize backward compatibility. Get ready for the biggest thing that’s happened to avatars in years …

Ever wish you could incorporate a tail, wings, or second set of arms into your avatar? How about having animations for facial expressions and finger movements? Yes, we know that there are some incredibly creative workarounds that give you some of these, but they can’t leverage skeletal animation, so they have been very complex, often fragile, and very expensive in performance and resources both in your Viewer and the Simulator.

We are introducing extensions to the standard Second Life Avatar Skeleton that give you dozens of new bones to support both rigging and animation, and accompanying new attachment points! This extended skeleton, which is fully backward compatible with existing avatars, rigging and animation, gives creators the power to build more sophisticated avatars than ever before.

Project Bento has involved staff from Linden Lab, notably Troy Linden, Oz Linden and Vir Linden, together with assistance from Alexa Linden, Simon Linden, Rider Linden, Aura Linden and others. It has also involved SL content creators including the folk from Avastar, Cathy Foil, Toady Nakamura, Siddean Munro and Flea Bussy
Project Bento has involved staff from Linden Lab, notably Troy Linden, Oz Linden and Vir Linden, together with assistance from Alexa Linden, Simon Linden, Rider Linden, Aura Linden and others. It has also involved SL content creators including (but not limited to)  the folk from Avastar, Cathy Foil, Toady Nakamura, Siddean Munro, Tyr Rozenblum, and Flea Bussy

In particular, Bento sees the introduction of the following Skeleton extensions:

  • 11 extra limb bones for wings, additional arms, or extra legs.
  • 6 tail bones
  • 30 bones in the hands (all 10 fingers!)
  • 30 bones for facial expressions
  • 2 other new bones in the head for animating ears or antennae
  • 13 new attachment points associated with the new bones

The changes involve both simulator updates and changes to the viewer. The former have already been deployed to the grid, being the “secret” update made in week #48, alongside the need validation enforcements for attachment point IDs and to prevent the upload of animations and meshes weighted to invalid attachment points; however, they are not yet active.

To mark Project Bento, Alexa Linden has updated her Linden Bear, now available on the Marketplace
To mark Project Bento, Alexa Linden has updated her Linden Bear, now available on the Marketplace

This is because the Bento work is still in project status – the announcement is intended to inform people about the work and seek feedback from more creators / animators. This can be given via the Project Bento forum thread, with specific bugs bugs or issues reported by the Project Bento JIRA class.

To try out the new skeleton updates, you will need the  Bento project viewer (which sees the viewer iterate to version 5.0), and because the project is still a work in progress, you’ll need to upload any content using the new skeleton extensions to the Aditi (beta) grid – most regions on Aditi should allow this, although some may be in use for other testing and not yet have these updates. Additional documentation is also available, together with notes on testing.

Commenting on the launch of the project, Oz Linden had this to say (from 37,000 ft whilst flying across America!), in recognition of the extensive input made to the project by content creators, which has included modelling and testing the skeletal changes, advising on viewer updates, putting forwards ideas for possible future extensions to the project, and a whole lot more.

Thank you Thank you Thank you .. we could not have done it without you

Draxtor Despres and I will be covering more of the background story on Project Bento in the near future, including a Drax Files World Makers special on the project in January.  Keep your eyes peeled!

With thanks to Matrice Laville and Gaia Clary for the video.


Announcing Art at the Park: Dec 2015 – Jan 2016

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The following is taken from the Holly Kai Park blog:

The first in the new series of Art at the Park exhibitions opens at Holly Kai Park at 12:00 SLT on Thursday, December 17th, 2015, and will run through until Sunday, February 7th, 2016.

The exhibition features the work of six Second Life artists and photographers who between them offer a rich and diverse approach to virtual art: Boudicca Amat, Kess Crystal, Jaydn Firehawk, Johannes1977 Resident, Nico Time and CioTToLiNa Xue.

To mark this inaugural event of the new programme, there will be a special gala reception on Sunday, December 20th, 2015, featuring the music of Erin68 Frog. This will commence at 12:00 noon at The Pavilion, and formal attire is requested. Further details will be pushed in this blog in due course.

About the Artists

Boudicca Amat

BA - selfie - coloured 512x512“I make pictures. I hope you will like them,” is how Boudicca Amat disarmingly describes her work.

It’s a description which hides a remarkable talent for the visual and creative process which results in truly remarkable pieces of art – as anyone who has seen her Flickr stream will be only too aware.

Mixing original images with those inspired by classical artists or artistic styles, Boudicca’s work is painstaking in its composition, encompassing everything from developing poses through backdrop design, costume and accessory sourcing, building, camera placement, the shooting process, post processing, through to finished item. It’s a process which takes days but which yields incredible images, and it all originates from an initial idea which might take weeks to germinate before she’s ready to begin the process of turning the idea into a finished piece.

Art at the Park marks the first public exhibition of Boudicca’s work, and we’re pleased and honoured she accepted the invitation be a part of this exhibit, and hope that this exhibition will be the first of many for her.

Kess Crystal

Kess Profile 512The multi-talented Kess Crystal has been involved in Second Life since 2009. She is the owner of !Exodus! Rock Club, which will be celebrating it’s sixth anniversary in 2016, and she is also the Marketing and PR Manager for MadPea Games.

Kess has been an active SL photographer for some two years now, and is entirely self-taught. She focuses primarily on avatar photography, noting that “Second Life avatars are beautiful and the options are numerous; but behind each one is a person with thoughts and feelings and I try to capture some of what is going on for me personally behind the screen in each of my pictures.” The results are stunning, as can be seen from her Flickr stream and her blog.

Holly Kai Park also marks the first time Kess has been a part of a public exhibition of Second Life photography and art – we hope that it won’t be the last.

Jaydn Firehawk

Jadyn FirehawkA professional geographer and an amateur photographer, Jaydn was born in the Philippines and raised in the United States, where she has lived and worked in numerous locations: Quezon City in the Chicago area, up-state New York, central Connecticut, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Washington DC and New Jersey. She now resides in central Texas.

Jaydn’s photography, which can be seen at her in-world gallery, is informed by her training as a geographer and by the fact she suffers from bipolar disorder, which she notes has bestowed a mantle of intensity in the way she sees the world.

Jaydn’s disability has also given rise to her founding the Pixel To Pixel Foundation, which matches donors and sponsors with people in Second Life with genuine disabilities, providing the latter with a small weekly stipend of Linden Dollars to help them with their SL time. You can find out more about Pixel To Pixel through this article.

Johannes1977 Resident

Johannes ResidentJohannes1977 Resident, better known to his friends as John, is a veritable powerhouse in Second Life. His art has been displayed widely in-world, he is the founder of Windlight Magazine, operating both the Windlight Art Gallery and sponsoring the UWA Art Gallery. He is also a member of the Linden Endowment for the Arts Advisory Board.

In 2015, John co-founded Team Diabetes in Second Life in 2015, officially representing and supporting the American Diabetes Association. And if all this weren’t enough, he is also a DJ and club owner!

In the physical world, John serves as an officer in the United States Marines, and has been deployed to Iraq twice and once to Afghanistan. While on deployment, he would take photograph as a means of documenting his view of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which have been featured in exhibitions in-world.

For Art at the Park, John presents The German Collection, a set of images of his mother’s beloved Germany, which he dedicates to her memory.

Nico Time

NicoNico describes himself as a Second Life explorer and an audiophile who enjoys the amazing scenery and mesh fashions found across the platform, as well as the music scene and getting to meet people from all over the world.

His love of Second lie is evident throughout his photography (and his videos), which can be found on his Flickr stream. Nico’s work has also been celebrated in-world at a number of exhibitions and galleries.

“I’m always taking pictures here and there along the way,” Nico says of his work, “Because some of the things I see you just wouldn’t believe!”

CioTToLiNa Xue

Ciottolina XueCioTToLiNa has been involved in Second Life for almost seven years. A 24-year-old university student of veterinary medicine in Italy, she is disarmingly modest about her SL times and her growing interest in artistic expression.

With no prior graphics or 3D modelling experience, she has been learning both over the course of the last six months, and the sculptures and paintings presented at Holly Kai Park are a testament to how much she has already achieved, although she modestly feels she has much to learn, her time mostly taken up with her veterinary studies.

CioTToLiNa’s sculptures can sometimes be found among the art at the Art on Roofs exhibition area, and in August / September 2015, she displayed some of her work at Inara Pey’s Impressions exhibition at LEA-6. Art at the Park marks her further major exhibition with other Second Life artists, and her sculptures can be found throughout the park, both among the 2D artist display decks,along the boat moorings and near to the parkland paths and trails.


We’re sure these talented artists will offer something for everyone visiting Holly Kai Park during December and January, and we look forward to seeing you there as well.

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A winter’s Whispering Wind in Second Life

Whispering Wind; Inara Pey, December 2015, on FlickrWhispering Wind (Flickr) – click any image for full size

Whispering Wind is a region I’ve visited on a semi-regular basis over the years. I was first drawn to it far back in 2012, when it was in the midst of winter. Since then, I’ve tended to hop back as the mood takes, although I confess that it dropped off my itinerary of “regular” visits this year  – at least until now.

Back during my early visits, the region was the home of Tab Tatham’s Tatty Soup and Lindini2 Lane’s L2 Studio stores. Tab moved on in 2013, leaving Lindini2 on her own, continuing the tradition of a beautifully landscaped region which offers so much more than simply being the location for a store. Truth be told, unless you were aware of the L2 Studio brand of low-cost, low-impact houses and buildings, you’d probably not even be aware this was a store location on first arrival; rather it looks more like a region designed for  photography or as a residential island.

Whispering Wind; Inara Pey, December 2015, on FlickrWhispering Wind (Flickr)

I was drawn back to Whispering Wind because it has always offered some marvellous winter scenes, and I wanted to see what Lindini2 has come up with for 2015. “Well, I am changing some things,” Lindini2 told me as I arrived and enquired after things, “but it’s pretty much always open, even with the mess!”

“Mess” isn’t a word I’d use to describe things; what we have here is a region resembling a remote coastal area, the low-lying (for the most part) formed around a large natural inlet, with smaller bays scattered around. Snow covers most of the land,  although sandy beaches hug the shoreline in places, having escaped the worst of the snow, the water lapping against them looking frigid enough to discourage swimming.

Whispering Wind; Inara Pey, December 2015, on FlickrWhispering Wind (Flickr)

For those brave enough to risk getting wet, rowing boats can be found at various points along the way, offering floating cuddle spots, while there are also little sitting area nestled here and there close to the waters.

Where you roam after arrival is entirely up to you. There are some paved footpaths to follow, but for the most part it’s a case of setting off across the snow. L2 Studio itself is located somewhat towards the centre of the region, facing a boat house across one of the smaller bays. I particularly found myself drawn to the causeway running along the west side of the region, leading to a semi-rugged headland which does much to give the large inlet cutting into the region the feel of being a naturally formed harbour, and which offers excellent views back across the region to the south and to the east.

Whispering Wind (Flickr)

The delight of Whispering Wind lies within the simplicity of Lindini2’s approach, which clearly takes it cue from nature, and offers a perfectly natural environment in which her building designs are admirably displayed. There is much to delight the SL photographer here as well, the region naturally lending itself to a range of windlight settings.

Whether you’re looking for a new house, or a place to explore (with a great little store), Whispering Wind offers a suitably seasonal welcome.

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