Sunday, January 27, 2008


I'm trying out SLUP, which lets you upload 20 textures a month for free. I hadn't really known what I was going to use it for, and I'm still not sure how much I shall, but I figured it was a neat thing to have, just in case, someday. Maybe pictures of my cats when I'm feeling cheap.

I might use it when the Beta Grid's being a pissy beast. Like, oh, now. Eventually I plan to have real avatars exported so I don't need to do as much testing on things with the less-than-accurate models they provide for us.

Note: it's in Japanese, so my very broken and out of practice kana tells me that キャンセル means "Cancel" and アップロード means "Upload". Aside from that...just guess a lot, like I do, I suppose. Currently there is no tga or png support, although it appears planned (I tried a bmp however, and it appeared to work- but there are no options in the SLUP like upload lossless and such). When you upload, the creator will be slup Reiko, not you- they do not ask for your SL account info beyond your username. As such, I wouldn't really recommend it for anything you want to have your name as creator on, obviously- which is why I shan't be using it for real versions, but I might use it to, say, compare SLuploader and regularly uploaded versions of sculpties. (As an aside, I uploaded a couple of small textures that needed pixel perfect reproductions, and while it may be on SL's part when you see it, even with SLuploader, they are not pixel perfect, and the seams are quite obvious. Means that I will have to unnecessarily use larger textures for some things, which it somewhat irksome. I'm trying to reduce the load on your system here, and you just tell me no.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Attention designers!

My tenure at Le Cadre' (which is changing it's name to Sensual somethingorother anyway now) is coming to an end. I could petition to stay, but I've never made that place a priority, I've been far more concerned with building up the La Reina shop. However! the end of me being there is the beginning of you being able to!

Go to and check it out. Live rent free for 3 months (well, the cost of a classified ad). If you help work the area, you probably can work on being able to stay longer, as well.

(Also, the Marasmius or however it's spelled shop is gone. I'll be moving into a new place sometime, that has exciting possibilities. But I'm not immediately planning on replacing the third location again.)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Texturing the Avatar with Blender

You should know basics of texturing first- see Natalia Zelmanov's tutorials, they are quite well done.

Mostly I recommend this for seam matching and some previewing, I, at least, don't have the sort of fine control to want to use Blender to do the whole thing (especially without layers!), but seams can be a bitch (although I did just paint a sculpty in Blender, and he came out pretty nice really- but still, I did a little bit of post processing in Photoshop to make it all happy and right). I just figured out how to maybe make them less bitchy! I would have loved knowing this forever ago. But at least now I have hope with this damn corset that's been giving me a headache and still not quite working with massive amounts of guessing and zooming and pixel tweaking (stupid complex irregular pattern).

Go to the SL site and download the avatar mesh, if you haven't. Mostly you will have it somewhere, in some form, because you're using something to preview it unless you really are crazy and like working without a net (I do all my previewing with the SL Clothing Previewer- it isn't perfect by any means, but it gives me enough of an idea I can manage in most cases), but basically, you need a file that ends in .obj that has the avatar mesh (male or female, I always work on female because I find it wraps a bit more accurately to SL, although still not accurate, especially around the face).

Go to the Blender importer page and grab the Wavefront obj one, and put in your Program Files\Blender Foundation\Blender\.blender\scripts directory, as previously stated in the av painting intro.

Delete the cylinder that's probably there with the delete key (and say yes...Blender's popups sure can be annoying). Go through the same annoying importing in Blender: File->Import->Wavefront (.obj), navigate the clunky file navigation, don't move your cursor because the popup window will go away and leave you wondering why everything's broken, say ok to the popup at default values. Now you should have a teensy tiny person. Zoom in (remember nav keys are holding down alt and nothing, shift, or ctrl, and the left mouse button, as well as the middle scrollwheel doing strange and potentially useful things). You're still in Object Mode, so select the pieces you want to match seams on. For matching the waist seams, select the stomach and then shift select the pelvis to have both of them highlighted, and ctrl-J to join them into one (say yes to another annoying popup). GLEE. Now that horrible awkward seam there can be painted directly on! (Do a separate join and image for the arm and shoulder seams, so you don't have things overlapping on the UV map, since those are also one of the horrible things, same with legs.)

With your stomachpelvis selected still, choose UV Face Select Mode in the dropdown menu. In the dropdown next to it, pick Textured, the weird nobbly thing at the top. Your second window, as always, should be the UV/Image Editor, and you should see odd highlighted outlines of the stomach and the pelvis, in the places in the image that they are in the map files we get to do all of our mapping from.

Now, your choice: you probably have something that just needs some seam fixing, so take the pelvis part of that and paste it in the proper place at the top over an image that has the stomach part, and Open that image in the UV/Image Editor; or you can just paint the whole thing directly onto the avatar mesh in Blender. Me, I'll be going with option 1, because I am far more comfortable with my lots of layers and things in Photoshop. (When doing the shoulder/arm seams you can just grab an upper body texture without the splicing, since it's all in one image to begin with.)

Hit A to deselect all, so you can see what you're doing better (The light grey lines are still slightly annoying, but they do show you were you need to pay attention to, and they aren't super huge), and change the UV/Face Select panel with your 3D view to Texture Paint Mode. In the Buttons panel with all the menu options, hit F9 to go to Editting, and play around with your brush settings in the Paint panel.

I'll be importing particular layers with the parts (wrinkles, etc.) that go over the edges, not the finished product, myself (both so I can keep working with all my layers, and so it's easier to finish the fine tuning fixing). Also, note that it doesn't always do the very edge that's only a partial pixel- keep in mind that you will probably still need to clean up and expand those parts to make them work properly (especially with shrinking down, since you ought to be working at 1024, at least), as well as the fact it tends to do hard pixely edges if you've dropped your brush small enough for detail work. Once you've finished with this image, Save it off in the UV/Image Editor window menu, and then you can move to cleanup in something else. Once you've done all that cleaning, import it again to make sure you've pulled things across properly.

It might be a good idea to save your joined up avatar for later, so you don't have to reimport and rejoin all the assorted bits. You may want two copies, one with the upper all together, and the lower all together, and a second with the upper/lower joins, since side seams are also a pain to align (this might speed up my guess, import to the clothing previewer, move one part one pixel up, import to clothing previewer, move one more pixel up and one over, import to clothing previewer...etc.)

Of course, there's also the importing into SL to take into account- things will not be as perfect there as they are here. For one, avatar textures get resized to 512, for another we have to deal with the crappy JPEG2000 compression. In fact, I find to match up my waist seams, I usually have to import the lower body that connects to an upper at 1024 (i.e. my corsets- they have enough fine detail it really does matter, the coats don't), just to trick the compression into being less awful (I upload everything else at 512, including lower bodies that don't need to match up exactly).

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Importing Sculpt Maps to Blender

Say you are (an idiot) like me, and after playing around with modifying a sculpty you've been working on you remapped the UV and saved that off....and then forgot to save the file. Since Blender doesn't prompt to save new versions when you've changed something, sometimes you accidentally screw yourself.

Step one: curse profusely. Step two: do a google search and find these plug ins (if you can't see the forum post for whatever reason, here's the download link (and thank you, Domino Marama).

Drop those files in your Program Files\Blender Foundation\Blender\.blender\scripts directory (only the is required for importing, however the others may be useful!), and there should be an option in your File->Import dropdown that makes the magic happen. Yay! Once again, watch for that option popup (read the readme attached for what the options do, this time some of them actually are useful to change sometimes, although it defaults to what you usually want to work with, assuming sphere mapping and less pain with seams).

If you change your sculpt and need to remap it any, you will have to add a new material (F5), set to Texface, add three new textures set to blend (F6), and set them (F5) to: x, blank blank, red 1.0, Add; y, blank, blank, green 1.0, Add; z, blank, blank, blue 1.0, Add, and then Bake (F10) Textures, going through the normal material setup (I've gone over that in more detail before if this is too sketchy for you, however, these are the reminder for the things that need to be hit). Once the new materials are added and set up, hit that big Bake button, as you should know by now, to make with the flavour rainbow- and now we're back to just as if we hadn't lost it all in the first place. (One can also use Rokuro for the basic shape and import for making it a less regimented shape in this way, so if we wanted to not admit I'm an idiot, we would use this as the excuse for figuring it out instead.)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blender and Av painting intro

I'm still learning the ropes in texturing in Blender quite heavily, but I'm currently trying to paint a sculpty to go with avatar mesh stuff, so here are some notes to remind myself how to not be frustrated for 3 hours trying to figure out why my view is on crack.

First step is to download the av meshes- SL's website has that downlaod section with the obj files, and I think I have 7 other copies from other sources (q/avimator might have them in formats that help, the clothing previewer, who knows what else). I do basically everything on the female mesh. One part because I am one, and one part because I find the "default" male mesh doesn't wrap quite right (of course, the one in SL is somewhat of an annoying mess, I think, as well- just in slightly different ways).

Next is to import- go to Blender's importer list and snag the Wavefront OBJ Importer/Exporter, drop that file in your Program Files\Blender Foundation\Blender\.blender\scripts directory.

Fire up Blender and choose File->Import->Wavefront .obj, and a file menu will appear at the bottom. Navigate through the amazingly clunky DOS like interface to find your file, and import it- but don't move your cursor from the button! This popup happens with all sorts of options which you mostly want to ignore, and just hit ok. However, if you move your cursor it disappears and your file does not import, and you're standing there going "well, crap. I thought that was supposed to work" for a month or two.

The avatar imports really small, so zoom in to see it. It's also all detached bits, select all the ones that map together with shift, and hit crtl-J to join them into one (everything will be UV mapped properly). I haven't tried it because I just figured this all out tonight, but I'll bet you can connect the top of the lower body and the bottom of the upper, and be able to paint across those dastardly seams!

When trying to paint a sculpt with the av mesh around for reference, still in Object mode select the avatar first, then shift select the sculpt so it's last selected. This way you won't get the sculpt making the avatar invisible walls (try switching to UV Face Select just with the sculpt selected, and you will probably see what I mean. It drove me nuts for a bit until I found out how to make it not happen. EDIT: Or even with it your view may decide to be on crack with a new file for NO APPARENT REASON even when you do do this, so...yeah, I've got to find a new way to trick it into behaving). To put an existing texture on the avatar mesh (or anything else), select it in Object mode, select all in UV Face Select mode, and then import your image. You can paint directly on that in Texture Paint mode, as well.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Freebies and SL

There has been a freebie explosion in SL lately. There's a bit of controversy over it, some shopkeepers throwing fits because people are taking their freebies but not buying.

You will never sell as much as you give away. It's just a simple fact, people will take things that are free, whether they like them or not. Some will try them once and throw them away because they don't like them, but there's no way for you to know that. Expecting to see the same number of sales as freebies is completely unreasonable.

Freebies can be a good marketing tool. I timed the stockings to my first clothing release, and more people came with the announcement of "hey, get the free stuff" to actually look at what I had, and yes, some people bought as well. I attracted people who would not have come to the store, including a few who did buy things, by pimping the free. Freebies also can get you blogged, so you have another chance of sticking out amongst the crowd- because there is an insane amount of competition in SL, as well as the world itself being so huge that people aren't going to know you exist. By adding more freebies irregularly during the season, I had a little bit more traffic trickle back, as well.

Comparing my sales (although it isn't a completely legitimate comparison, as many things converged in one case to all make it better), being blogged by a high profile fashion blog is better than freebies, but you can't count on that- I got an amazingly awesome review, and this one was cold because I found sending things off to reviewers didn't really work. However, the way for bloggers to find you if they aren't going to pay attention to their inventories is to see your name somewhere else. Grabbing attention with freebies gets your name out there!

Of course, there are a lot of people who simply won't put money into the system. New accounts start with 0 Lindens, which is pretty daunting, especially when you're talking the influx from CSI, people who aren't there for the SL experience, but for the TV tie in, who may be sucked in...but it may take a while. They get a lot of freebies to try to hold their interest! If good things are thrown at them, they may say "gee, this is neat, maybe I'll stick around" and eventually end up with money to spend, as well. But, there are people who won't buy things because they're cheap (or, very rarely). I don't buy things often, most of the clothing I wear cost me 10 Lindens a piece...for upload fees. This is for a number of reasons, partly Allegory is hard to outfit because she does have such a concrete style and attitude in my mind, but partly it's that whole DIY thing, I like making my own clothes (I also don't buy skins because I like Alle's ridiculously pale skin and wacky makeup whenever I get bored). I've often considered funneling money into an alt who could wear pretty dresses...but then, I spend a lot of my SL time building, not showing off.

The vast majority of people who would have bought your products, without all the freebies, still will. You are not losing out on a customer base. If you've got a lot of traffic and nothing is moving, maybe you should re-evaluate: is what I'm selling of a good enough quality people will want it? Is it universal appeal enough (and do I want to make things I don't want to make it be)? And, in one particular case: am I trying to sell things based upon my "celebrity" and then deciding people suck because they don't all run to throw money at me? The Paris Hilton phenomenon isn't as prevalent in SL, THANK GOD.

Some getting started in Blender

SL is being a crashy little bitch tonight, so I might as well get to some of this finally.

Work smarter, not harder: download the premapped sphere. I have my own that I did the hard way, with a bit different window set up, but this means you don't have to go through all that! And really, my setup is not much different. One less window on the side (I just have one 3d view and the texture on the side, then the panels at the bottom). But, this gets you what you need, so run with it!

Spheres are the most useful to me. Nine times out of ten, I'm using a sphere to start. Occasionally another shape is better, and for that you will have to prep your own- this tutorial gives you a pretty good rundown on that, just choose a different shape for starters if necessary (remember to prep your seams: it has to be able to unmap into one big flat square, so you need a top, a bottom, and 2 sides. Also keep in mind that it has to be a perfect grid).

In the big window with your rainbow sphere, switch from Object Mode to Sculpt Mode in the dropdown. You may find switching to Solid in the dropdown next to that is more useful, since otherwise you can't really see highs and lows and shadows so well. Hit F9 while hovering over the Panels at the bottom to bring up the Editing Panel, and the third block of things over should have tabs: Multirez, Sculpt, Brush. Hit up the Sculpt tab, and start playing with brushes! I start off by blocking out my basic shape (the wireframe view may even be of use here, so you can see your vertices: where your vertices are counts! Textures will map differently, you'll have different amounts of detail, and you may need to cluster vertices in certain areas and leave others as large expanses to get the detail in the model you need) with grab, draw, and even hopping over to the Edit Mode and grabbing points and shoving them where I want them. First run of my sculpts are usually very rough sketches, just to get everything in vaguely the right vicinity. I go in and clean them up with a lot of the smooth tool, white still flipping back and forth with the others to keep detail. Some things require hopping over to Edit to pull individual vertices where they ought to be. Select with the right mouse button (hold down shift for more than one), then hit G to move them around. I cannot tell you how long it took me to stumble across the right thing to find that.

Watch your poles. Depending on how you're going to map, they may make a huge difference. Because you're starting with a mapped sphere, there are no end points. Look in wireframe to see the fact you've got open circles at each end. This causes some problems. If you're not mapping sphere, these ends are going to do other things, but in that case you know what they'll do, so I'm ignoring it. If mapping sphere however, those ends are going to be somewhat messily filled in, with textures pulled off the other side of the model if the texture is mapped 1x1. I've talked about it before at more length, this is just a reminder- grab the whole line of them, and shrink them down to one point, and work with them that way. I usually do that earlier _and_ later in the modeling, as I generally end up pulling them out of whack when prodding at my shape. Select two vertices next to each other, hit ctrl-E and select Edge Loop Select to highlight the whole circle of them, then S and scale it all down to one little bit. Now you don't have to worry as much about texturing (but keep in mind, if either end is massively different in texture, you're going to end up with the dotbleed you already get on spheres at 1x1 texturing).

Switch brushes in that bottom panel, type and size both, to achieve different effects. There are easy peasy symmetry buttons at the bottom of that too- if your model needs to be symmetrical select what you need- you can do a lot of your modeling with symmetry to get the basic shape, and then take it off to do more detailing on either side as well.

Basic camera controls: Hold down alt and left mouse button rotates. Alt+crtl+left button zooms, alt+shift+left button moves. The scroll wheel does odd things in these modes as well that you may or may not find useful.

At a glance, I think the map you come with is 64x64, which is what you want, so you can even just bake over that and save it off. Once you've got your sculpting all happy (for starting out, try something simple so as to not get frustrated: I have a long line of wacky melty skulls I played around with, only some of which I've bothered to keep, but basic construction is one direction symmetry, poke some holes for eyes, poke a nose hole, and shove around the jaw. I wasn't going for realism, because I knew I couldn't attain it, as well as not really caring to achieve it), hit F10 in the Panels, and press that big Bake button in the Bake tab. Your rainbow image should now look like a different rainbow image, save that off as a tga, and ta-dah! you've got a sculpty!

Of course, make sure you save a new file often during this process so you can go back when you've messed up when trying to make it better and suchlike. I usually have 10 or 20 versions of even reasonably simple things, just in case I need to go back. Once you've got it sculpted, save off your final version, trash the earliers unless they have potential to turn into something else, and then you can move on to some of the evils of texturing. You've already gotten enough of a crash course here in the tools that you should be able to sort of muddle your way through it, I think.