Author Archives: Inara Pey

About Inara Pey

Eclectic virtual world blogger with a focus on Second Life, VR, virtual environments and technology.

SL project updates 8/2: Content Creation User Group w/audio

The gathering: people gather for the CCUG, including a ridable dragon, a work-in-progress by Teager (l) and a wearable dragon, also a WIP by Thornleaf (r)

The gathering: people gather for the CCUG, including a Bento ridable dragon, a work-in-progress by Teager (l) and a Bento wearable dragon, also a WIP by Thornleaf (r)

The following notes are taken from the Content Creation User Group meeting, held on  Thursday February 23rd, 2017 at 1:00pm SLT at the the Hippotropolis Campfire Circle. The meeting is chaired by Vir Linden, and agenda notes, etc, are available on the Content Creation User Group wiki page.

Core Topics

  • HTTP asset fetching
  • Animating objects
  • Applying Baked Textures to Mesh Avatars

HTTP Fetching

As previously noted, the Lab is working on moving landmarks, gestures, animations, sounds and wearables (system layer clothing) from UDP delivery via the simulator to HTTP delivery via the CDN(s). This work is now progressing to the stage where initial testing is liable to be starting soon. It’s not clear if this is internal testing with the Lab, or whether it will involve wider (Aditi testing) as well. As things progress, expect the viewer-side changes to appear in a project viewer and then progress through the normal route of testing / update to RC and onwards towards release.

Potential Project: Animated Objects

As noted in my last Content Creation UG meeting notes, the Lab is taking a speculative look at using the current avatar skeleton to animate in-world objects to provide a means for users to more easily create animated objects (e.g. non-player characters – NPCS -, plants and trees responding to a breeze, providing mesh animals which do not rely on performance hitting alpha swapping, etc) – see feature request BUG-11368. for some of the ideas put forward which helped prompt the Lab’s interest.

It is important to note that this is still a speculative look at the potential; there is no confirmed project coming off the back of it, the Lab is currently seeking feedback on how people might use the capability, were it to be implemented. No in depth consideration has been given to how such a capability would be support on the back end, or what changes would be required to the viewer.

One of the many issues that would need to be worked through is just the simple matter of how an object might be animated to achieve something like walking, running or flying. These require the simulator to make certain assumptions when handling an avatar which are not a part of object handling. There’s also the question of how the skeleton would be applied to an object.

Having animated objects does give rise to concerns over potential resource / performance impacts. for example, someone having a dozen animated pets running around them as animated objects could potentially have the same resource / performance overheads as thirteen actual avatars in a region.

One possible offset to this (although obviously, the two aren’t equitable) is that mesh animals / objects which currently use a lot of alpha flipping to achieve different “states” of “animation” (such a the squirrel which can jump from the ground and swing on a nut holder and jump back down again, or the peek-a-boo baby bears, etc., all of which are popular in gardens and public regions) could be made a lot more efficient were they to be animated, as the resource / performance hitting alpha swapping could be abandoned.

It was suggested that rather than having the full skeleton available for animated objects, it might be possible to use a sub-set of bones, or even the pre-Bento skeleton. Agreeing that this might be done, Vir pointed out that using the full skeleton would perhaps offer the most flexible approach, and also allow the re-use of existing content, particularly given that things like custom skeletons (also mooted) would be too big a project to undertake.

A closer look at Teager's WIP ridable dragon, which has yet to be textured

A closer look at Teager’s WIP Bento ridable dragon with Teager aboard, which has yet to be textured

Applying Baked Textures to Mesh Avatars

Interest is increasing in this potential project, which would allow baked textures – skins and wearble clothing layers – to be applied directly to mesh avatars via the baking service. This also has yet to be officially adopted by the Lab as a project, but there is considerable interest internally in the idea.

As I’ve previously reported, there is considerable interest in this idea, as it could greatly reduce the complexity of mesh avatar bodies by removing the need for them to be “onion skinned” with multiple layers. However, as I noted in that report, a sticking point is that currently, the baking service is limited to a maximum texture resolution of 512×512, whereas mesh bodies and parts (heads, feet, hands) can use 1024×1024.

These is concern that if the baking service isn’t updated to also support 1024×1024 textures, it would not be used as skins and wearable using it would appear to be of lower resolution quality than can be achieved when using applier systems on mesh bodies. Vir expressed doubt as to whether the detail within 1024×1024 textures is really being seen unless people  are zoomed right into other avatars, which for most of the time we’re going about our SL times and doing things, isn’t the case.

Troy Linden wears a Bento octopus "backpack"

Troy Linden wears a Bento octopus “backpack”

This lead to a lengthy mixed text / voice discussion on texture resolution and extending the baking service to support mesh avatars (were it to go ahead), which essentially came down to two elements:

  • The technical aspects of whether or not we actually get to see the greater detail in 1024×1024 textures most of the time we’re in world and in re-working the baking service to supporting 1024×1204 across all wearable layers from skin up through to jacket.
  • The sociological aspect of whether or not people would actually use the baking service route with mesh avatars front , if the texture resolution were left at 512×512, because of the perceived loss of detail involved.

Various compromises were put forward to try to work around the additional impact of updating the baking service to support 1024×1024 textures. One of these was that body creators might provide two versions of their products if they wish: one utilising appliers and 1024×1024 textures as is the case now, and the other supporting the baking service and system layers at 512×512, then leave it to users to decide what they want to use / buy. Another was a suggestion that baking service support could be initially rolled out at 512×512 and then updated to 1024×1024 support if there was a demand.

None of the alternative suggestions were ideal (in the two above, for example, creators are left having to support two product ranges, which could discourage them; while the idea of leaving the baking service at 512×512 falls into the sociological aspect of non-use mentioned previously). Currently, Vir appears to be perhaps leaning more towards updating the baking service to 1024×1024 were the project to be adopted but, the overheads in doing so still need to be investigated and understood.

Other Items

.ANIM Exporter for Maya

Cathy Foil indicated that Aura Linden has almost finished working on the .ANIM exporter she’s being developing for Maya. The hope is that the work will be completed in the next week or so. She also indicated that, in keeping with Medhue Simoni’s advice from a few weeks ago (see .BVH Animations and Animation Playback), she was able to overcome some of the issues being experienced with fine-tuning .BVH animation playback, although there are still problems.

The .ANIM exporter will be available for anyone using Maya, and is not something dependent upon Mayastar.

Avastar 2.0 in RC

The upcoming fully Bento compliant version of Avastar is now available as a release candidate.

IK Constraints

Tapple Gao has been looking at IK (Inverse Kinematics) constraints within Second Life. These aren’t widely used within existing animations – although up to about eight constraints can be defined – largely because the documentation doesn’t appear to be too clear. Tapple hopes to improve this through investigation and then updating the SL wiki.

Next Meeting

The next content Creation meeting will be in two weeks, on Thursday, March 9th, at 13:00 SLT.


Hidden Faces in Second Life

Hidden Faces, now open at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery curated by Dido Haas, is an exhibition of photography by Monique Beebe. While no stranger to Second Life – she has been involved in the platform for the last decade – Hidden Faces marks the first public exhibition of her photography.

On display are twelve self-studies by Monique (or Moni, as she signs herself), offered in the familiar large format at Nitroglobus, which reveal the reason behind the exhibition’s title: in not one of them does the artist fully reveal her face. The most we see in those where her face may be partially exposed is the curve of cheek, soft line of jaw, sweep of nose and flare of nostrils and most particularly, the fullness of lips.

These glimpses are tantalising, sensual, and in at least one case – Thinking (seen at the top of this article) – edged with pensiveness. They draw us into the pictures in a physical way, the desire to reach out and caress a cheek, cup and gently lift a chin, to see the eyes that remain hidden, is powerful to the point of mesmerizing.

Each of the poses offered is equally as sensual, with a couple probably NSFW. In many Moni is dressed in little more than her underwear or in sheer slips and tops; her poses nuanced, the dark backdrop to each piece further heightening its sensual feel. In two of those where her face isn’t visible at all, their sensual nature is carried in other ways: the lace ribbons tied around wrists, the drape of pearls down a naked back…

But there is more here has well. While Moni may be shy about revealing herself fully in the spotlight of an art exhibition, but because the images are so personal – both to her and in our reaction to them, they imbue a feeling of closeness with her without in any way casting us into the role of voyeur. Rather, the suggestion is that these are intimate moments being willingly shared with us, because we are trusted.

Hidden Faces is a beautiful portfolio of work specifically created for this exhibition by an artist who may well be new to the SL exhibition circuit, but whose work is fully deserving of being seen by a wider audience. As such, I hope we’ll be able to see more of her work displayed at galleries in-world in the future. In the meantime, Hidden Faces will remain open through until late March.

SLurl Details

Space update special: the 7-exoplanet system

An artist's impression of the sky from the outermost of the three TRAPPIST exoplanets in the star's habitable zone (see the 360-video below)

An artist’s impression of the sky from the outermost of the three TRAPPIST exoplanets in the star’s habitable zone (see the 360-video below). Credit: NASA

On Wednesday, February 22nd, US space agency NASA, working with a team of European astronomers, confirmed no fewer than seven extra-solar planets are orbiting a star some 39 light years away – with three of them within the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of habitability.

The star in question is TRAPPIST-1, named for the instruments used in its discovery, the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST),  and more formally known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Regular readers of my Space Sunday column might remember that I referred to the system back in November 2016, whilst discussing the James Webb Space Telescope and the hunt of exoplanets. The NASA announcement, which coincides with the publication of a new paper by the TRAPPIST team, adds dramatic new information to the distant star system.

The first two of the planets orbiting the star were located in May 2016, after the TRAPPIST team had studied the results of a continuous series of observations of the star between September and December 2015 using the telescope, located at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Artist’s concept showing what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like, based on available data about their sizes, masses and orbital distances. Credit: NASA

Artist’s concept showing what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like, based on available data about their sizes, masses and orbital distances. Credit: NASA

What was intriguing about the two world was that not only were both within the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of their parent planet, where conditions might be “just right” for life to start, but both were roughly comparable to Earth in size, and therefore likely solid bodies, and spectral analysis suggested both have atmospheres.

A third planet, TRAPPIST-1d was also discovered the the same time, but it was behaving oddly. This prompted a further extended period of observation between September and October 2016, using both the ESO’s ground-based Very Large Telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. This work revealed at “TRAPPIST-1d” was not one, but three worlds, again, all roughly in the Earth-sized category. Spitzer’s data additionally revealed two more planets of roughly the same size, taking the total to seven. Following this, Hubble turned its attention on the planets, looking for signs of hydrogen and helium – the chemical signatures that would indicate if any of them might be gas giants. It found none, further confirming they are likely rocky in nature.

The size, mass and density of these telluric worlds were obtained by measuring the periodic dips in TRAPPIST-1’s luminosity as a result of each of the planets passing in front of it. This allowed the international team studying the system to further assess whether each world was rocky, icy, or gaseous and determine which might be habitable.


Via: Click for full size

TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool red dwarf star only slightly larger than the planet Jupiter, and about 2,000 times dimmer than the sun.

Such stars, designated Class M, are the most frequent type of star in the Universe – making up an estimated 70% of stars in our galaxy alone. However, they do not radiate energy like our own sun, instead they are very volatile; all activity within them is entirely convective in nature, giving rise to massive stellar flares.

Given TRAPPIST-1 is so small, all of its planets orbit in very close proximity to it – closer than Mercury is to the Sun (the nearest orbits its parent star once every 1.5 terrestrial days, and the outermost, about once every 20 terrestrial days). This makes them very vulnerable to violent outbursts by the star, and could affect their surface conditions and their ability to retain an atmosphere.

This close proximity also means all of the planets are tidally locked – they always have the same side facing their sun. Thus they all are likely to have extremes of temperature, and those with an atmosphere are likely to have quite extreme weather as well. However – and conversely – it also means they could have the potential for liquid water to exist on their surfaces.

The innermost of the three planets in the habitable zone, TRAPPIST-1e, is very close in size to Earth, and receives about the same amount of light as Earth does, and may well have similar day time temperatures. The middle planet of the three, TRAPPIST-1f, meanwhile, might be a water rich world, also roughly the same size as Earth. It has a 9-day orbit, and receives about the same amount of light from its sun as Mars does from our own.

Another artist's impression of how the TRAPPIST system might look from the surface of one of the worlds - assuming they have liquid water present

Another artist’s impression of how the TRAPPIST system might look from the surface of one of TRAPPIST-1f, the middle one of the three planets in the star’s habitable zone – assuming it has liquid water present. Credit: NASA

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An appeal on behalf of Second Life creator Elicio Ember

Cerridwen's Cauldron; Inara Pey, January 2016, on Flickr Cerridwen’s Cauldron – Ground Level

Elico Ember is a brilliant Second Life creator and a friend, I’m therefore posting this article in support of him and his family, after learning via Saffia Widdershins about a familial health crisis he is facing, and a call for help he has put out via Facebook.

You can read the full details on Saffia’s post. Suffice it to say here that Elicio’s father has suffered a stroke which has left him with neurological damage. As Elicio explains in his Facebook post (which Saffia provides in full on her blog), circumstances mean that his father is without health insurance, despite having been employed by the state teaching languages at a local university. In order to ensure he gets the required treatment, the family has been forced to turn to private medical assistance, and thus are facing exceptional medical (and potentially other) bills as a result.

To help them meet these costs, Elicio is making a simple request: that people consider buying his Second Life creation, and thus boost his available income.

Cerridwen's Cauldron; Inara Pey, January 2016, on Flickr Cerridwen’s Cauldron – the skyborne store

For those of you who may not know him, Elicio is the man behind the incredible Cerridwen’s Cauldron, which I wrote about in 2012 and again in 2016. He is a regular designer of regions for Fantasy Faire and – if I may repeat some of Saffia’s words, is one of the warmest, kindest and most giving hearts in all of Second Life. His warmth and generosity simply know no bounds.

Elicio creates beautiful plants with an otherworldy feel (indeed, “Otherworld” was the name of his 2016 Fantasy Faire build). His work can be found in many fantasy regions, art installations and gardens looking for and exotic look. Those who have come across his work tend to find it unforgettable.

So – and to again borrow from Saffia – if you only do one thing in Second Life today or over the next few days, please consider making it a purchase of Elicio’s marvellous creations, either from his in-world store or via the Marketplace – and do, please, tell friends, share this and Saffia’s posts, and help one of the kindest people you might ever hope to encounter in Second Life.

To remind you of his incredible talent, I’ll close with a video of Otherworld I recorded at 2016’s Fantasy Faire.