Project Bento, the Lab-initiated, collaborative project involving Second Life content creators to bring greater capabilities to mesh avatars and – potentially – rigged attachments – is now available on Agni, the Second Life main grid.
The news – not entirely unexpected, as the Lab has been gearing-up to make the move for the last few weeks – came via an official blog post on Tuesday, May 31st.
Project Bento has been in development for over a year, the initial phases of the work being carried out by the Lab behind closed doors, before a period of closed development involving a number of expert creators and tool makes – notably the Avastar team who produce the avatar plug-in for Blender, and Cathy Foil, who produces Mayastar, a similar plug-in for Maya. I was also invited to observe this initial work – my sincere thanks to Oz Linden for the opportunity – so that I could follow the project and report on its development, which I was able to start doing in December 2015, once the project had been publicly announced, and the project opened to greater input from content creators and animators.
At that time, Bento introduced over 90 additional bones to the avatar skeleton, with no fewer that 30 being added to avatars hands to allow for finger manipulation, and another 30 to the head for facial expressions. To further support the new additions, new attachment points were added to the skeleton and – most recently of all – a good number of the bones (particularly those in the face) were hooked-up the viewer appearance sliders, allowing them to adjust elements of suitably rigged mesh heads, etc.
Net result: the ability for mesh avatars to be far more expressive and customisable than before, and much, much better support for non-human avatars. There’s also the potential for a wide range of other uses – such as Aki Shichiroji’s wyvern pictured below, or rigged attachable pets – even the potential for gowns and other clothing to move naturally with an avatar’s movement.
Many of the possibilities for Bento are highlighted in a special promotional video released by the Lab and embedded at the end of this article, made with the full support for the creators who have been actively engaged in the project for the last 6-12 months.
It is important yo note that – as the official blog post states, this still a testing release of Project Bento: making it available to a wider audience than is possible when it is constrained to Aditi, and thus allowing further testing of things like overall simulator / grid performance with larger numbers of Bento avatars operating, looking out for other issues, etc., which may not have come to light during the Aditi testing, and also further refining and improving the viewer so it might progress to a release status.
Which brings up a further important point, again as the official blog post notes:
Anyone wishing to view the new content must be running the latest Bento Project Viewer.
If you encounter Bento avatars and are not using the Bento Project Viewer, you may see some strangely behaving avatar animations and meshes. If you’re using a very old (i.e. no longer supported) viewer, encountering Bento content may even cause a crash.
Some TPVs have already starting integrating the Bento code into experimental versions of their viewers. However, if you are testing Bento, working with content which leverages Bento capabilities, you are best off using the official project viewer for the purposes of bug reporting, etc.
There is also a Project Bento User Group wiki page for those wishing to get involved in the project. However, please note that the meeting venue will likely be changing from Aditi to Agni now the project is available on the main grid.
Note, as well, that Project Bento is intended for use with mesh avatars and models – the capabilities are not intended to work with the default avatar form, as it was felt that attempting to do so risked potential content breakage and / or other issues which could impact the project.
Nevertheless, the new capabilities could herald a new era for mesh avatars within Second Life, with more realistic non-human avatars, greater dexterity with human-style avatars and even the potential for expressive, customisable mesh heads! So, welcome to the start of a new era for mesh avatars in Second Life.