What is mesh, and how will it affect SL? FAQ

I’ve noticed a lot of the same kind of questions being asked about the upcoming release of “mesh” in Second Life.  There is a bit of confusion about it, how it works, and how it will impact on SL.  I’ve compiled some of the questions and answers here in a huge braindump!  Feel free to ask questions in comments and I will add them to my list and do my best to answer them, or find answers to them.  Also if I have gotten anything wrong or missed anything here, let me know 🙂

There is a wiki here about mesh specifically in SL that will provide much more information.

Q: What is a mesh?

A: A “mesh” a collection of points, edges and faces used to define the shape of a 3 dimensional object in virtual space (wikipedia) It is built in polygons (quads are 4 sided polygons, tri’s are 3 sided polygons, ngons are 5 sided polygons) in a program like Maya, 3DS Max, Zbrush, Blender (there are several other options, but those are the most used)

Sculpties are technically meshes.  The ground you walk on in SL is a mesh, your SL avatar is a mesh.  The template used to paint SL clothing on is the “UV layout” of the SL avatar mesh.  Your World of Warcraft or (insert other game here) character is a mesh.

Q: Why do I need it?

A: technically you don’t.  But fair warning, after August, your SL world might start looking a little strange as people start to incorporate meshes into their builds and products.  Meshes viewed on an incompatible viewer rez as little planes, or little pyramids (like unrezzed sculpties appear as spheres).

Q: How does a mesh differ from a sculpty?

A: A “mesh” is an industry standard method of building 3d models.  A sculpty is a SL specific workaround and extremely limited.  A sculpty uses the RGB map (sculpty map) to tell the SL engine where to calculate the surface of the shape in 3d space.  Sculpties are limited to 1024 faces, and cannot be cut, extruded, merged or anything else that changes the shape geometry.  Meshes do not have this restriction.

Q: will meshes make my entire SL inventory (clothes and skins etc) obsolete?

A: not unless you want it to.  Nothing is going away, we are being given a whole new toolkit to work with instead of simple SL prims and sculpties.  Meshes open up a new world of possibilities from houses, to horses, to hair to replacement avatars.  But the most important point is that if you don’t want your skins collection to become redundant, don’t buy a replacement avatar mesh.  I am positive there will be quite a number available from various SL designers, that is a choice only you can make, and while we don’t have all the information, it’s impossible to make a call.

Q: will meshes mean I have to leave my beloved 1.23 viewer?

A: I’m afraid it will, mesh is not supported in 1.23, and I doubt it ever will be.  This is the cost of progress.  There are a number of great viewers out there that will support mesh, from the Official SL viewer (my viewer of choice), to Kirstens, to Cool VL Viewer, to Firestorm, Astra Viewer and Exodus Viewer.  Phoenix will be updated but is not currently supported.

Q: Is mesh going to make my computer crash and burn?

A: This depends on your computer specs, how old it is etc, but it shouldn’t.  There are still graphics preferences in SL that you can turn down, you don’t have to run on ultra settings to see meshes.  The LOD setting (advanced, debug, rendervolumeLODfactor set to 4) works to display meshes nicely just as it does to display sculpties now.  Meshes built and textured properly, with efficiency in mind, will be MORE efficient and easier on your computer than sculpties which can sometimes require your PC to render tens of thousands of faces for a single hairstyle.

Q: can I edit meshes in SL?

A: this answer has 2 parts:

1: is the mesh worn/skinned?

If the mesh is skinned to the avatar skeleton, provided you have mod permission, or the mesh is scripted to respond to certain commands, you have limited mod abilities.  You can change the colour and texture of skinned meshes (caveat – your texture needs to exactly match the UV layout of the mesh or you will get strange distortions and seams), but you cannot change the size, position or orientation of the actual mesh when it is worn, other than by editing the avatar shape via the appearance menu sliders.  If you rez the mesh on the floor, and resize or rotate it, it will snap back to the default position when you wear it again.  The size, position and orientation is determined by the creator when he/she attaches it to the SL skeleton before it’s uploaded.  This gives the added advantage of not having to use specific attachment points for specific articles of clothing.  Eg: a corset, skinned to the skeleton, could use your upper leg attachment point, keeping your spine and chest free for jewellery.  Skinned boot meshes could be attached to your ear attachment point, leaving your lower leg available for sculpty jean cuffs.

Examples of skinned meshes may be clothing items like jeans, jackets, avatar replacement models, hairstyles, shoes, dresses, animal or fantasy avatars.

2: is the mesh static?

If the mesh is NOT skinned to the SL skeleton – say in the case of a mesh belt that is just worn as a normal attachment, then provided you have mod permissions, and depending on how the belt was created, you can move it around, resize it just like any other prim attachment – eg: a sculpty belt now.  The only difference I can see (and again this depends on whether said belt is created as a complete mesh, or a linkset in SL) is that you may not have to “edit linked parts” to resize the mesh on only one axis.

Other examples of static meshes may be sculptures, buildings, caves, doors and windows, furniture.

Q: How do you make a mesh move with the avatar?

A: this is a process called “skinning” which the creator does in their 3d program of choice.  It involves taking the SL skeleton or “rig” and importing their mesh “skin” over the top.  Then they use a series of steps to attach the skin to the rig.  Once it’s attached, they will probably edit the “bone weights” which is the amount of influence each bone in the rig will have over the mesh.  Standard SL avatar bone weighting is very rough, this is what causes the stretching texture at the groin of your jeans!  Well made meshes will hopefully be able to work around these issues and give us nice smooth clothing!

Q: What about fitting a skinned mesh to my avatar?  Must I lose my curvy booty?

A: this depends on you, and the designer who made the thing you are interested in.  My hope is that designers will offer several size options and perhaps even a custom fitting service with their mesh clothing designs.  The SL skeleton bones will influence the meshes in some aspects, but not others.

The things you can change using the appearance sliders are: Head size, height, body width, arm length, hip width, leg length and I think foot size.

The things you definitely can’t change using the appearance sliders at time of publication are: Breast, belly and butt size.  Body fat, body musculature and anything related to the shape of the face and features.

This is simply because no bones exist in the SL avatar rig to attach a mesh to, it’s all done in SL with morphs.  If at some point we gain the ability to add extra bones to the default skeleton, then these things may become possible.  What this means is that you will have to utilise alpha layers, wear different sizes, change your shape, or possibly get a custom fitting.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I plan to offer the custom fitting option, although I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Q: Does mesh mean we will finally have real fingers and toes that move and wiggle naturally?

A: unfortunately no, for the reason stated above.  The default SL rig has no bones in the fingers or toes, beyond the most rudimentary bone to move the hand and foot.  Enterprising designers may come up with workarounds to this problem 🙂

Q: If I do buy a custom avatar replacement, can I still use my texture clothing layers?

A: in a short answer – no.  A custom avatar replacement will mean you are hiding your SL body from view with an alpha layer, and wearing whatever the creator of the custom avatar has provided.  You can probably still wear mesh clothing, and full prim sculpty clothing, but again, you may have fitting issues with a custom avatar.

Q: I want to make my own mesh for SL.  How do I do that?

A: there is no easy answer to this, mesh isn’t SL specific like sculpties, and there are not a lot of tutorials around making meshes for SL *yet*. This will change as the mesh project is released and people start making content.  In the meantime, I recommend you find a modelling package that works for you and is in your budget.  Blender is free, fairly easy to use once you get used to the rather odd interface (though Blender 2.5 is better from all accounts) and will help you produce very satisfactory results.  It has all the tools you need to make meshes for SL.  Maya and 3dsMax are both very good programs, but also expensive, and may be overkill for an SL hobbyist or small business.  They are more for the serious career modeller, as is blender, but blender has a lower barrier of entry due to it’s price.  Zbrush is a completely different kettle of fish, a totally different method of modelling.  It may or may not suit you, all you can do is get the trial and play with it.

Key things you should be looking at learning are:

  • basic box and polygon modelling
  • Uv unwrapping
  • texturing in your program of choice
  • skinning and rigging processes
  • how to created decimated or low polygon meshes for your LOD uploads
  • how to actually upload and use the mesh in SL (you need to connect to the Aditi grid using the latest SL mesh beta viewer)

Tutorials for meshes exist at Machinimatrix and Gaia is working on a whole range of SL specific mesh tutorials.  Aside from that, once you have picked your software of choice, type it’s name into youtube and go nuts 🙂

Q: I feel like I am going to get left behind in content creation without mesh

A: there’s no easy answer to this either.  You need to get in and learn it, just like you learned how to paint on the template, or make sculpties.  Once you get the basics, it has a snowball effect and you will find it gets easier.  The first steps are the hardest, but there are people willing to share what they’ve learned.

Q: I found a mesh on (Turbosquid/Gnomology/Renderosity) and I want to upload that and sell it in SL, can I do that?

A: Yes but ONLY if the licence of the model you are using specifies that you can use it for that purpose.  Otherwise you are breaching the licence agreement laid out by the creator, and may open yourself up to legal issues, not to mention that people in SL may recognise that model as someone else’s and dob you in!  For the amount of work you may have to put into a mesh to make it work and be fairly efficient in SL, you may as well make it yourself.

Q: Will meshes cost more to upload than textures or animations?

A: Yes.  Though I don’t know the exact price, I do know it varies depending on the size and complexity of the mesh, and whether you have specified LOD and physics shapes.

Q: What is stopping professional modellers from coming into SL and taking over all the content creation?

A: nothing at all, except the limitations of SL, and the relatively small market.  They can probably make more money selling their models on Turbosquid or working for hire than they could in SL.  It’s not something I’m especially worried about.

Q: what is stopping people from copybotting my meshes?

A: not much.  If it can be seen on someone’s screen, then there are probably ways they can get the mesh downloaded.  The upside to this is that they will then have to reupload it themselves, they (currently) can’t just make a copy in SL.  This means that they have to pay for it.  This isn’t much deterrant, but it’s at least something.  The same DMCA process applies to mesh as applies to any other content hosted by LL.  And by the same token, if you see someone infringing the copyright or trademark of a third party eg: Blizzard, then you may want to report that infringement to the copyright owner so they can take care of it.

This is a simple pair of mesh jeans I made for testing on Aditi.  Pretty swish, no? 🙂

And that is about all I can think of in the initial post!  If you have questions pop them in the comments section and I will answer what I can 🙂

*additional questions*

Q: Mesh clothing will be completely modelled?

A: currently yes, until someone develops a tool to make SL prims into meshes the way that Sculpt Studio and it’s counterparts work for sculpties, meshes are made externally to SL.

9 thoughts on “What is mesh, and how will it affect SL? FAQ

  1. Kiki Daniels June 12, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Thank you so much for this incredible info. I read what you wrote about SL avatar replacements, but am a bit curious and maybe I misread part of this or missed it completely in the above post: How will this affect shape makers in SL? Will it basically put them out of business?
    And a 2nd question, so many of the meshed avatars I’ve seen created and for sale around the web all seem to have a similar look, does this mean that everyone in SL will look like each other since there are no bones to adjust the face shape like you said?
    Sorry if I’m asking a silly question lol.

  2. Siddean June 12, 2011 at 8:41 PM

    Thanks for your questions Kiki, as to the answers: 1) currently I can’t say for sure one way or another. I do highly doubt that meshes will put anyone out of business, the decision to replace your avatar with a mesh one is a personal one, and at this stage we just don’t really know how many people will make that decision. One thing is for sure, replacing your body with a mesh body will limit your options in terms of skins, texture layer clothing, shoes etc, at least initially until people figure out what the hell they are doing and start working with the options that become available.
    and 2) this depends on the designers, and what kind of options they want to make available. Despite the fact that all SL avatars are based on the same mesh, and the same fairly limited set of morph sliders, we still manage to pull off something unique through skins, body and facial settings, and I think this will be the case as mesh avatars make their way into mainstream SL. This is the grand thing about mesh in SL. There are *no* rules. 🙂

  3. […] going to be flooded with people explaining mesh over the next few days.  Siddean Munro has a great FAQ about mesh and how it affects SL so rather than share potentially incorrect information because […]

  4. Meshes: a Revolution? « Dunes August 25, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    […] prims were used to get around them. For more detailed and better explanations, please read this article By Siddean Munroe of SLink or the Second Life Wiki. You can find free meshes jeans at SLink if you […]

  5. Meshy Stuff « September 20, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    […] was sending me his first mesh release!! On the off chance that you don’t know about SL mesh, here’s a link to bring you up to speed. Mesh items can only  be viewed with certain viewers: the official SL 3.0 viewer, the Firestorm […]

  6. […] older SL viewers, too. If you aren’t sure what this “mesh” thing is all about, Siddean Munro of SLink wrote this great FAQ. Also, she makes amazing shoes. you should go to her store. after you go to mine! Like this:LikeBe […]

  7. opal beresford September 28, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    Thanks Sidd this is really helpful information and I must say a bit soothing! I have a lot invested over a long time in SL assets, including my hand made avi shape, that i would not want to loose. If I read you correctly, I’ll still be ok though some mesh clothing may not fit my custom avi. Still at least my existing assets will not be pooched.

  8. kimmy kit September 30, 2011 at 10:13 PM

    hey sidd
    thanks for all the info..and i hope your right that not all designers will stop their buisness.
    i already know a few who did tho i think about 15..me myself well i only started like a year ago with clothes..and i invested alot..But now when i look at some prices off mesh templates..from 3000ll to 12.500ll..then sometimes i think too oke this is over for me too.
    Or i should learn to make mesh myself..even harder for me cos im not english and would take me verry long to learn everything..anyways dont think many designers will invest like 100.000ll just to start with mesh..oke i saw already a few but they sell all the same..And now when i start something new i have this dillema..starting with it or stop my buisness to learn al about mesh..so i think many designers feel this now..and many will go out off buisness..or just dont have the money to invest in this..

  9. Siddean October 6, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    When I still had a lot to learn about creating meshes, I just devoted one night a week to it, learning the workflow, terminology, watching tutorials etc. Don’t feel pressured to get your mesh products out straight away, there are still a lot of people not using a mesh capable viewer, and there are still bugs to be ironed out. Just spend a little time every week to learning what you can, pick up a copy of blender 2.59 and start with a cube and some good tutorials like the ones at Machinimatrix.net. You don’t need to start with the few templates that one particular creator has made available, there are plenty of people doing that already. Better to join the blender group and try to learn to do it yourself. At least then your creations will be unique 🙂

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