New Residents Tutorial – How do I modify my avatar?

(Note: For this tutorial I am assuming you’re using the official viewer from the Second Life website, however the instructions are pretty much the same for some third party viewers too, such as Firestorm and Catznip.  If you are using Singularity, you will need to skip the paragraph about the Avatar Selector and go straight to the section about the Library).

If you started Second Life on or after 15 May 2014, you will have started with one of the new all-mesh avatars so you will need to read the first section first.  If you joined before this date you will have started with a Classic avatar, so skip right ahead to that section below.

Mesh Avatars

These avatars are not modifyable so if you want to change your appearance more than just switching from one whole avatar to another, you will need to start from scratch.

First of all, click the Avatar Selector button, which looks like this: avatar_but  Then pick the Classic tab, and choose one of the avatars from this list.  Don’t worry if they aren’t exactly what you want; you can modify them later.  Pick one of these avatars and your mesh avatar will be replaced my all the components of your chosen Classic avatar. Now skip ahead to the “Classic Avatar” section below.

If you really don’t want one of those, there are a few more hidden in your Library.  here’s how to find them:

Click your Inventory button: invent_but

In the inventory list, scroll right down to the bottom, where it says Library. Open this folder and then open the Clothing subfolder.  There are a bunch of old avatars here, but the ones to look at first are the ones in the “Older Outfits” folder – they’re not actually older at all.  They are divided into sections: Female and Male speak for themselves. Animals are kind of cartoony things, resembling cuddly toys more than real animals.  There are also Vehicles, Robots and Vampires (which also includes non-modifyable mesh wolves and werewolves).   If you want something humanoid, pick one of the Female or Male avatars.

Open up that subfolder, and you’ll see a list of components with names like Shape, Pants, Boots, Hair etc.  Select them all and then right-click the selection and choose “Wear” from the dropdown menu.

Your mesh avatar will now be totally replaced by the classic avatar of your choice.

Note the difference between using the Avatar Selector and the Library; if you use the Avatar Selector, every component of the new avatar will be neatly sorted into its own folder. Using the Library, the components will be scattered all over your inventory, making it harder to organise later.

Classic Avatars

Now you are wearing a Classic avatar, you can really go to town with modifications.

To change your shape:  Right click your avatar, select “Edit My Shape”.  Here you are presented with a number of sections for changing various aspects of your body and face shape.  You might want to start by making yourself shorter; all avatars start very tall and you are actually about 6″ taller than the official viewer says you are.  Changing things is easy, just slide the sliders until you get the look you’re after.   If you mess up, don’t worry, you can always revert to the original shape by choosing it again from the Library.

Changing Skin and Eyes: Although there are options in the viewer to change skin and eyes with sliders, these generally don’t have any effect because eyes and skin are made outside of Second Life, in a graphics program like Photoshop and they are uploaded in a non-modifyable form.  Additionally you cannot detach or take off the ones you are wearing unless you replace them with new ones.  For now, if you want to change them you can swap them with other skins or eyes from the other Classic avatars.  Again, to do this, open your Library, go to Clothing, open up a few folders and try on a few different ones.  Each one you try will be added to your main inventory under “Body parts”.

Note that most of the skins in the Library have underwear painted on and you cannot remove it. If you want to get naked you’ll have to acquire a new skin from elsewhere – see the section on Freebies and Shopping below.

Changing Hair:  There are three kinds of hair in Second Life.  System hair, which can be modified using the sliders, is old, ugly and almost no-one uses it.  But you still need to wear one because like skin, eyes and shape, you can’t NOT wear one. However they are generally set to be bald, and are often called “eyebrow-shapers” because this is also where you change your eyebrow shape.  You will be wearing an eyebrow-shaper from your Classic avatar; you only need to mess with this if you want to alter your brows.

Prim hair is what most of the hair on the Classic avatars is made of. This is an object attachment, indicated by an orange or brown box in your inventory listing, and it is made of many flexi or sculpted prims.  Most prim hair is modifyable so you can make it larger or smaller to fit your head, you can tint it to make it wild colours, you can even edit or remove separate sections of hair (but that is advanced work and will take a whole new tutorial all its own).

Finally, Mesh hair is new, it is still an object like prim hair, but it is made of one shaped piece.  Long mesh hair is usually rigged which means it moves with your body and doesn’t disappear through your shoulders like flexi-hair does, but this means you cannot change its size or shape (though you may still be able to tint it, if it is modifyable).  Short mesh hair is usually not rigged so you will be able to edit the size as well.

For now, you can just try on different prim hairs from the folders in your Library.

If you find yourself wearing two hairs at the same time, you can remove one of them by right-clicking it and selecting “detach” from the dropdown menu.  You can do this with any attachment, mesh or prim, to remove it.

Clothing: Like hair, clothing comes in three types, System (or Layers), Prim and Mesh.

System clothes are texture layers which overlay on top of your skin. They are usually used for close-fitting items like t-shirts and skinny jeans. They always fit and you never get bits of skin poking through, but the level of detail is sometimes poor.  However they are still widely used.

Prim clothes are attachable objects usually used for things like cuffs, collars and belts rather than whole garments. Thus, a shirt might consist of a system layer plus prim collar and sleeves.  A dress might comprise of a system layer bodice, an underpants layer and a flexible skirt. You need to wear all the parts to wear the garment.

Mesh clothes are objects too but they are a whole garment in one piece and unlike prims, they move properly with the movement of your avatar’s body.  However they can’t be re-sized so to ensure it fits properly with no skin poking through, you also need to wear the accompanying Alpha Layer that is supplied with it. This makes a part of your body invisible so it can’t be seen poking through.  Mesh is the best way to wear coats, baggy pants and other bulky or loose clothing.

You do not need to wear the starter mesh bodies to wear mesh clothes; they fit Classic avatars too, in fact they fit the Classic avatars better than they fit the mesh ones.  You can try some of them out from the starter mesh avatars; they are located in your Library, under Clothing, in the top subfolder called “Initial Outfits”.  If you want to try them make sure you wear the right Alpha layer with it: shirt alpha goes with the shirt, Pants alpha goes with the pants, etc. Don’t wear the alpha labelled “invisible”; this is for wearing with the whole mesh body.

Saving your Outfit: Once you have put together a look you like, you’ll want to save it, so you can always revert back to it at another time.

To do this, click the Outfits button which looks like this: outfit_but

At the bottom click “Save As” and give your new outfit a name. It will save in the list above, along with the avatar that you started with, which is already in the list.  In the future, any time you want to go back to that particular outfit, just right-click its name on the list and choose “Wear – Replace”.

Freebies and Shopping: Sooner or later you will decide that there’s just not enough in the Library for you.  There are a wide variety of items available to buy, many of them free.  To start with, go to one of the trusted Freebie places, for example:

White Tiger Island

Free Dove

Fab Free HQ

In these places you’ll find lots of items for your avatar.  You’ll probably want a new skin first, because of the painted-on underwear that you’re currently wearing.

When you buy something in Second Life, it is added to your inventory, either as a folder already unpacked, or as a box or bag in your Objects folder.  If it’s a box or bag you’ll need to unpack it first, and there are several ways to do this.

1) First try wearing it and clicking it. Many sellers add an unpacking script which automatically unpacks everything to a folder. Once unpacked you can detach the bag (right-click > detach).

2) If the box is not scripted you will need to find a sandbox to unpack it. White Tiger Island has a small one right next to its shopping area.  You’ll find the box in your Objects folder. Using the mouse, drag it out of the inventory window and onto the ground. When it rezzes, right-click it, choose “Open”. It may take a little time for the contents list to fill, especially if there are a lot of items in the box or if your ‘net connection is slow. When it’s finished, click “Save to Inventory”.  DO NOT tick the “Wear items now” box otherwise you’ll end up wearing your new skin – and nothing else. Your items are now in their own folder and you can delete the box (Right-click, Delete).

Now, find the folder at the bottom of the inventory. There should be at least one skin in it (assuming it’s a skin you bought). There might also be other items; a landmark to the store where you got it, an information notecard, a picture of what it looks like.  Locate the skin itself, right-click it and choose “Add”. It will replace the skin you’re currently wearing.

The process is exactly the same for clothes, hair and other things. Its always better to choose “Add” rather than “Wear”, and then remove the previous items separately if necessary. If you choose “Wear” you’ll end up wearing the new item and nothing else. However its not necessary to do that with skins because you can only wear one at a time and the previous one will be automatically removed.

If you are buying mesh clothing you will usually find that they come in several different sizes depending on your body shape. You need to wear only the one that fits you best, plus the alpha. If the item is not a freebie there will usually be a demo version; always try this first for fit.  You may also need to make minor alterations to your shape to fit mesh clothes.

One last note:  With all this trying on of Library items and freebies, your inventory is going to look a bit untidy right now. It’s worth spending some time sorting it and putting things where they belong. For instance, prim clothing will be sitting in the Objects folder, you may want to move them to Clothing and put them on a subfolder along with any accompanying system layers.  Prim or mesh hair will be in Objects too; move that up to Body parts. You can make as many sub-folders as you want, and sub-sub-folders, sub-sub-sub-folders…

Trust me. If you don’t start organising now, you’ll regret it when you’ve got 10,000 or more items in your inventory.

Earning L$ in Linden Realms

When new residents ask me how to get money in SL I advise them first that if they really want money, the best option is to purchase it using a credit card or paypal.  However if neither of those are an option for you, and you want a small amount of cash fast, Linden Realms is the place to go.

Linden Realms is a mini-MMO within Second Life. It was created by Linden Lab about 3 years ago, primarily as a showcase for mesh objects and some new scripting techniques. However it has become an opportunity for everyone to earn a little money.

When you first arrive at the Portal Park you will see that you are surrounded by portals leading to the four main “instances” of the game. There are four, labelled “II”, “III”, “IV” and “V”.   Each instance is identical.

Before entering you will need to make sure you know how to run, and move using the mouse to steer.  Running is easy, just double-tap the forward arrow or press Ctrl-R to toggle running on and off.  Mouse-moving is a little trickier.  First of all, start running and hold down the forward arrow key, Then click the cursor on your avatar and hold down the left mouse button as well.  Now with the cursor on your back you can move the mouse to steer around and also pan up and down.

I also recommending turning off your AO, for reasons I will explain later. Although if you’re a little more skilled you may want to edit your AO to have only a nice run and walk and maybe some stands; take out all the flying and jumping animations.

Windlight: Accept the Realms recommended windlight settings as the crystals stand out bright and easy to see in the dark misty light. Alternatively, set sun to Midnight or choose another dark setting of your choice.

Crystals glow in the dark

Crystals glow in the dark

Running through one of the portals you will arrive at the Summoning Circle and be greeted by the Realm’s invisible resident, Tyrah. If you’re lucky, a HUD will attach at the top of your screen.  If it hasn’t attached after about 60 seconds, return to the Portal Park and try a different Instance. You might have to try them several times before the HUD attaches.

The HUD will offer you some quests and I HIGHLY recommend that you do them. They take about an hour to complete and you’ll earn L$28 for completing them all.  They will also teach you about the island and where everything is.  You will find lots of coloured crystals on the ground; some of the quests ask you to collect a certain number of each colour but whilst you’re doing these quests pick up as many as you can find.  Just run over them and your HUD will tell you how many you’ve collected.  Any that are left over after finishing the quests, you’ll be able to turn in for cash later.

Here is a map of the Realms with areas that I have highlighted in pink and red.

Linden realms Map

Linden realms Map

The pink areas are where you can usually find crystals in high concentrations.  The best zones are the north-east corner of Whisper Hollow (LR183 on this map) and Tyrah’s Peak (LR184 and LR187).  Banshee Peak (LR181), the southern half of Whisper Hollow (LR185 and LR186) and the area outside the Portal Workshop (LR188) will often, but not always, have good concentrations of crystals.

The areas shaded in red often have a lot of crystals too but these areas have issues. First of all the Devils Canyon (LR190) is full of fireballs that make collecting difficult. And Dark Moon Bay (LR192) has a lot of crystals you can’t pick up because they’re stuck under plants or up against the roots of trees.  This happens a lot but more in Dark Moon Bay than elsewhere.

Shattered Caverns (LR189), the Sunspire (LR191) and the north-west corner of Whisper Hollow (LR182) usually have no crystals.

Crystals come in five colours of varying rarity and value:

Red = very common:  50 crystals = L$1

Yellow = common: 50 crystals = L$2

Orange = uncommon: 50 crystals = L$5

Green = rare: 1 crystal = L$1

Blue = very rare: 1 crystal = L$2

Once you’ve completed the starting quests, all you need to do is collect as many crystals as you can. You should be able to earn L$30 to L$50 in an hour, depending on how busy it is and how lucky you are with greens and blues.

Turn them in at the places marked 1 and 2 on the map: 1 is in Basecamp where you will find exchange platforms for green and blue crystals. 2 is the Portal Workshop where you can exchange red, yellow and orange crystals.  Reds, yellows and oranges must be in multiples of 50. Greens and blues can be singles.

HAZARDS:  There are a few hazards to watch out for.  Rock Monsters are the main one. You cannot die or lose health in Linden Realms but if you’re “killed” you will be teleported to the nearest Resurrection Circle.  These are safe areas where you cannot be attacked.  You cannot fight Rock Monsters, all you can do is run away and avoid running into them. As long as it’s directly behind you you’re safe as it cannot move faster than you do.  While you’re being chased, run straight or in big sweeping curves, don’t zig-zag or you’ll run into them.  Once you move out of their “home range” they will leave you alone.

There’s a trick; if you can aggro two rock monsters at once you can get them both chasing you and they will collide with each other and disappear.

Fireballs: These are nasty because they are MUCH faster than you and by the time you’ve seen it, it’s too late.  Sometimes worth running the Canyon despite them though, as you will occasionally find blue and green crystals in there.

Falling Rocks: In the Shattered Caverns rocks fall from the ceiling and squash you. You can avoid them by sticking to the sides of the tunnel rather than running through the middle. Not worth dealing with these, there are never any crystals in the Caverns.

Toxic Water:  All rivers and ponds in the Realms are polluted but the sea around the edges is safe.

Nasty Blowing Clouds:  There are some nasty clouds in the sky all over the Realms. These are the Realms’ “Enforcers” and it’s how cheats are dealt with. If you try to cheat by flying, jumping, teleporting, or moving faster than an avatar can normally run, one of these clouds will come down and teleport you Home.  You cannot avoid them and once they’ve started tailing you, you have about five seconds. I gather they can also detect bots by their movement patterns so they can detect automated crystal-hunting, but I’ve never seen that in action.

Here’s where the AO advice comes in;  some AOs, in particular a couple of well-known freebies, have some jumping and falling animations that involve high and fast somersaults, and these animations trigger the clouds to attack you because they think you’re moving too fast.  If your AO contains animations like these, turn it off or remove those animations before playing.  You will also be teleported home if you try to add or remove any attachments so make sure your appearance is as you want it before entering through the portals.

On the whole, playing Linden Realms for L$ is pretty boring; if you’ve ever been “grinding” in World of Warcraft or similar games, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s nothing but grinding and it’s easy but boring and the rewards are low. But if you have no means of purchasing L$ with real money, it’s by far the easiest and safest alternative.  Guaranteed spam-free and legitimate.

Advice for Newbies

I recently stumbled across a nice little blog post by Ella Brightside, about her adventures as a newbie in SL. I left her a comment with a little advice, and I have decided to expand on that, into a full post.

Second Life isn’t an easy thing to learn, much less master. And if the truth be known, it’s not for everyone.  It has flaws, many flaws, and it requires a pretty hefty computer to get the best out of it. So here’s my advice for newbies.

First of all, Second Life is not a game (though there are plenty of different games within it).  It is a virtual world in which nearly everything is created and provided by users.  The amount of regions add up to an area about the size of Luxembourg, but the population in-world at any one time is usually around 40,000 which means that the majority of the grid is empty most of the time.  And because there are no quests or tasks to do, you need to be able to entertain yourself without set goals.  You need to be comfortable chatting with people (unless you intend to spend your SL-time completely alone; some do that, and that’s fine too).

There are generally two approaches to SL.  For some (often called Immersionists) it’s a completely different world and their avatar within the world is a separate character from themselves.  For others, (often called Augmentalists), SL augments their real world and is a tool for interaction, in much the same way as Facebook or Skype is a tool. For these people, their avatar is an extension of their real selves. In recent years the latter group has become the most common.  However, problems tend to arise when a relationship forms between two people of opposite persuasions, so it’s worth spending a little time to think about your avatar and what it represents before you begin.  Of course as with anything else in SL, you’re free to change your mind about that too (as I did), but it helps to know where you stand in relation to others so that you can be honest with them.

So you think Second Life is a fit for the type of person you are, now make sure you can run it.  The system requirements are here but in all honesty, if you have just the minimum, you’re going to be in for a pretty poor experience.  One thing not mentioned on the list is your internet connection. It needs to be cabled; SL does not play well on wireless. And you need to be achieving a regular download speed of at least 2mb/s. Ideally you need an “unlimited” data package from your ISP, with no monthly bandwidth cap, as you might find that you’ll burn through your monthly plan in a few days.

Assuming your hardware is up to the task and you’ve signed up and downloaded the viewer (this is the program on your computer that runs Second Life), you’ll find yourself first in “Learning Island”, which teaches you the very basics, how to walk and not much else.  After that you’re sent to “Social Island” which is anything but sociable. My first piece of advice is teleport out of there as soon as you can, and never return.

You’ll find a button on your toolbar on the left that looks like this: Image  This is the Destination Guide and here you’ll find some selected places of interest.  Go to the “Newcomer Friendly” category and you’ll find a list of places dedicated to helping newbies. Four in particular are worth going to.

White Tiger Help Island also called New Resident Services. Go to this one first, before you even look at any of the others. Here you will find a proper self-paced tutorial to teach you the basics of using SL. There is always someone available to help and answer questions. They also have a freebie shopping village which has recently been upgraded with some nice new stuff to get you started. There’s also a nice chillout area, a sandbox to learn building, and they have events on from time to time.

New Citizens Incorporated The best things about this one are the classes and the sandbox. The sandbox is always busy and if you want to learn to build this is one of the best and most fun places to start.  Classes are run daily; go to as many as you can manage to fit into your schedule. There are freebies here but they are mostly old and outdated now.

Caledon Oxbridge Like White Tiger Island it has a self-paced learning tutorial and like NCI it also runs daily classes. Again, go to as many as you can manage. Oxbridge is part of the Caledon continent which is Victorian/Steampunk-themed. There are a few freebies, all in the theme.

The Shelter If kicking back, dancing and socialising is more your thing, the Shelter is a great place to visit. It’s where I started my SL adventures back in 2008 and it’s been running since 2004. Its a little quieter these days than it used to be but there’s usually some friendly “oldbies” (sometimes even me) who are willing to help.

Image

Me at the Shelter in my first week, 2008

The most important things you need to learn how to do in your first day or two are, in no particular order:

  • Movement; walk, fly
  • Landmarks: using them to teleport, making them
  • Talking to others; local chat and IM
  • Using Search
  • Wearing and detaching clothing and other items
  • Shopping (even for 0L$); how to “buy” an item, how to unpack it.

Speaking of shopping, here’s my advice on Linden dollars and getting money in Second Life.

First of all, you don’t NEED money at all; you can make yourself a decent looking avatar just on freebies.  If this is your plan, use Search to find things like Hunts, Lucky Chairs and Midnight Mania boards to get the best quality freebies. Don’t bother with the big freebie stores like Freebie Galaxy; they’re full of mostly old rubbish that’s been knocking around since 2007.  There are one or two places that still have decent quality freebies; I already mentioned White Tiger but also the Free Dove and the Fab Free HQ have some quality stuff.

Sooner or later though, perhaps sooner if you want an avatar that’s a bit out of the ordinary, you’ll want some money to spend on better, more unusual things.  By far the best way is to purchase L$ with your credit/debit card or Paypal account. US$10 will get you about L$2500 which is more than enough to get yourself a top quality skin, hair and a few outfits.

If purchasing L$ is impossible for you, your options are limited. You can play Linden Realms and earn around L$40 an hour if you log in early when its quiet.  There are some jobs in SL but as a beginner they’re not available to you until you’ve learned how SL works and are comfortable and familiar with it.  Clubs often employ hosts and dancers as well as DJs and these are jobs you could do with little financial outlay – though you may be required to dress in-theme for events so you’ll probably need some money in your pocket already, even for those. Even hosting is not easy, if you do it properly. If you have skills as a salesperson, land agents often employ staff to market, advertise and manage their properties. For that you’ll need to learn the processes for buying, renting and managing land.

Content creation used to be the way for anyone to earn money in SL but with technological advances over the last couple of years, the bar has been raised beyond the reach of most users and you won’t be able to make a profit at content creation unless you are already skilled in something (such as 3d modelling, texture-making, motion-capture animation, scripting) to an already-professional standard.  If you have come to Second Life because you heard it was a way to make money, you’re about five years too late.

Finally, if you’re offered an “easy” way of earning “free” L$, avoid it like the plague.  Such things are usually scams; either they take more money off you than you earn, or they are a way of harvesting your details for spamming you in RL. Worst case, those L$ they’re giving you were purchased on a stolen credit card and accepting them could get your account permanently banned.  The only legitimate and approved source of free L$ in SL currently is Linden Realms.

So for the majority of us mere mortals, your best option is simply to buy L$ with real money from your usual entertainment budget.

Once you start exploring there’s plenty to do; shopping and putting your avatar together, building things, playing games, roleplay, sports, live music, theatre, education, art, support groups, religious groups, clubbing and, of course, sex.

Quick Windlight Tutorial

The difference between a good snapshot and a great one is lighting. Fortunately in Second Life that’s easy to customise to get the best effects.   One of the most important things to get right is the balance between Sun/Moon light and Ambient light.   Compare the two images below; both showing the same avatar in High graphics with advanced lighting/shadows off.  Note the first one is spoiled by ugly shadows whereas the second makes the avatar crisp and clear.

131017_001131017_002

The reason for this is the balance between directional light from Sun/Moon, and Ambient (diffuse) light.  In the first image, the Sun/Moon light is brighter than the Ambient light (by quite a lot – I’m trying to make a point here).  In the second image, Ambient light is brighter than Sun/Moon.  Note also that if you set your Ambient light high enough, you won’t need a facelight to bleach out those nasty ugly shadows.

Now, if you are running in Ultra graphics or you have turned on Shadows, also called Advanced Lighting,  you need a different tactic, because if your Ambient light is too high it will wash out the shadows and you won’t see them.  Observe…

131017_003131017_004

As you can see, the shadows are barely visible in the first image and the whole scene looks flat and washed-out.  Bring down the ambient light and raise the sunlight, and the shadows become much more pronounced. These are good shadows, not the ugly ones we had before.

If the final image is too dark or too light, you can raise or lower the Gamma without affecting the balance between directional and diffuse light.

So how is it done? Easy.

Go to “World” in the menu, then “Environment Settings” and either “New” or “Edit”.  The image below shows the dialog box and the parts that you need to edit.

windlight_tip_001

Clicking on the coloured boxes brings up the usual RGB colour editing window, so not only can you change the brighness of the light, you can change the hue as well.  The one on the left is Sun/Moon directional light and the one on the right is ambient diffuse light. (The two similar boxes at the top affect atmospheric light; they will change your sky without affecting the light that is shining in-world).  Play around with them to try different effects and if you stumble upon something you like, give it a new name and save it.

Here is an example making the best use of Shadows in-world. Here, I used a strong Sun with a slightly yellow tint, with a grey Ambient light that was still fairly strong; that’s what makes the background look lighter as a contrast against the shadows from the tree on the avatar.

130930_001s

Server-side baking and a Firestorm Tip

A date has been set for Server-side Baking to go live on July 9th, and the Firestorm has an update available for their viewer.

One of the things I’ve always found frustrating about doing an update is how all my toolbars and preferences get re-set to default and I have to start over and do them again for each acount.  The Firestorm team have listened and introduced a settings backup feature which is explained in this video:

If you are currently running on 4.4.0 you can do a backup before uninstalling, then do a clean install of 4.4.1, and then restore your settings backups.

For those of you who are unable to use Firestorm or the official viewer, and need to stick with a 1.23-style viewer, I can reccommend Cool VL Viewer;  go for 1.26.8 for the most up to date SSB version or, if you are feeling adventurous try 1.26.9 (beta) for additional Materials support.  Cool VL Viewer will work on low-powered computers that cannot run the heavier ones.

If you don’t update in time, then your in-world experience is going to look something like this:

Un-textured avatar

Your avatar without SSB

Alpha Layers – Paintshop Pro Tutorial

Here I will explain how to make alpha layers in Paintshop Pro, for use in Second Life. I am working here on a texture for a simple picket fence to apply to a prim, but the technique is identical for clothing layers also.

First I have drawn a very simple picket fence texture. As you can see it has a white background, which is no good: we want to be able to see through the slats.

Next, I duplicate the layer as shown (this is because you cannot make part of the background layer transparent, you can only put transparency in the upper layers).

Hide the background layer by clicking on the eye to make it invisible.

Make sure you are working only on the upper layer. Use the Magic Wand tool (shown on the left) to select all the white parts and delete them. This shows the transparent “checkerboard” pattern behind. Any part of the image showing this checkerboard will be transparent when uploaded into Second Life.

On the Layers menu, click “New Mask Layer” and then “from Image”.

A dialog box will pop up. Leave everything as it is, and click OK.

Make sure the Mask layer is selected (see arrow on the right). Then click Layers menu, “Load/Save Mask”, then “Save Mask to Apha Channel”.

Another dialog box will pop up showing your fence in black and white. Black parts will be totally transparent. White parts will be totally solid. If you have areas of partial transparency these will be various shades of grey (as you might have for smoke, sheer fabric etc – however there are no such areas in this simple texture).

Save the image now as a PNG file. DO NOT MAKE THE BACKGROUND LAYER VISIBLE AGAIN!  You will get a dialog box warning you that you can only save one alpha channel. Click OK on this: there is only one here anyway. Give your texture a file name that you will remember.

Now go into Second Life and upload your texture (Build menu, or Ctrl-U). I am showing Firestorm here, and I’m using the free temporary upload feature but if you are uploading a texture you want to keep, you’ll use the ordinary pay-for-upload option.

You will see on the texture preview window that it is showing transparent between the slats instead of white. Click “Upload” to confirm and click “OK” when the dialog pops up to say that it’s complete.

Rez your prim, stretch it out to the desired shape and apply the texture to it.

As you can see, the areas between the slats are transparent, so you can see the pretty horsie. 🙂

Adding a Matte – Paintshop Pro

My internet connection is having issues and is too slow for doing much on Second Life at the moment, but I’ve still been able to work on some graphics projects. Here’s a little tutorial to help you add a realistic looking matte to a picture. Click on the thumbnail images to see the work in progress.

First choose the picture and add a new raster layer to the top of it, by selecting Layer > New Raster Layer from the top menu. The default settings, as shown here, are fine. Fill this entire layer all in black.

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Now we want to delete most of this black except for a slight shadow round the edge. Hit Ctrl-a to “Select All” then on the Selections menu go to Modify > Contract. The amount will depend on the size of the image but it doesn’t want to be much. On this 1600×1200 picture, I contracted the selection by only 10.

Now go back to Selections > Modify and this time choose Feather. This will expand your selection again but make it blurry. Whatever number you picked above, double it. So I feathered this by 20.  Now you can just hit that delete button, and voila. Most of the black disappears except for a shadow around the edge.

Now we’re going to add the cut white edge of the matte which shows closest to the picture. (Mattes are cut at a 45 degree angle so you can see the white all the way around).  Go to Image > Canvas Size, and increase the image size by 20 all round, using a beige-ish colour. Not too light – we’ll lighten it in a moment with a texture. This will add the border to the bottom layer but we want to promote it to a layer of its own. So, select it with the Magic Wand, copy with ctrl-c and paste to a new layer using ctrl-l. Move this layer to the top (Layers > Arrange > Bring to top) if it’s not there already. Keep it selected.

Now go to your colour-picker and choose a lighter, almost-white tone of the same beige hue you used before. Also select a texture pre-set: I chose Paper Coarse. Make sure the texture button is on – this is the middle one of the three buttons beneath your chosen colour in the colour picker window.  Now, making sure that the top layer is selected, fill this area with the lighter beige.

Next, we work on the main body of the matte. First, use the dropper to sellect a dark colour from your picture. I’ve chosen a dark red from the umbrella – I think this will complement the tone and hues of the image as a whole. Again we’re going darker than we really want, because we’re going to lighten it with texture again later.

Again increase the Canvas Size, this time by about 150 pixels on each side. As before, it will add this border to the background layer but we want to promote it to its own new layer just as we did before. So, select it with magic wand, crtl-c and ctrl-l and move this new layer to the top again. Keep it selected. You should now be working on this top layer.

Go to your colour picker and select a slightly lighter shade of the same red hue, make sure the texture button is still on, with your Paper Coarse preset, and fill in the whole red area to lighten it and give it texture. It looks good – but we’re not finished yet.

We’re now going to work on just the matte, to add some more shading and solidity to it. First you need to make the bottom two layers invisible, that’s the image itself and the shadow. Do this by clicking on the eye in the Layers panel on the right. Now you should have only two layers visible: the white edge and the red border. Go to Layers > Merge > Merge Visible to merge these two layers together.

Working on this new merged layer only, go to Effects > 3D Effects > Inner bevel. This is the dialog box that opens up. You’ll want to change the settings to those shown here. You may wish to play around with Ambience and Intensity to affect how light or dark the matte goes. Hit OK when ready.

Here’s the finished matte. You can see how much more solid it looks now.

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Now you can turn those two invisible layers back on by clicking the eyes again, and here you can see the finished piece.

Save it, but before you close it, there’s something else you can do. Delete the bottom layer only (your picture), leaving the shadow and matte. Save these as a new PSP file with a name like “matte” or something like that.  This means that you will always have a blank one, that you can simply overlay on top of any image.

You can also use Adjust > Hue/Saturation/Luminance to change the colour of the matte so you can use it again with any picture.

Paintshop Pro Tutorial – Warp Brush

I use Paintshop Pro instead of Photoshop (because it’s cheap, hurr) and one of the things that sometimes frustrates me is that nearly all the tutorials out there, especially those targeted at SL users, are for Photoshop only. However, most of the things you can do in Photoshop are things you can do in PSP as well.

Here is a picture of my feet (in J’s Sandals, which show off the fact that men can have real toes too). However the ankles here show everything that’s wrong with the avatar mesh, We just have to get rid of those cankles, but how?

One of the things that Photoshoppers use regularly with SL pics is the “Liquify” function, which can be used to iron out kinks and distortions in the avatar mesh. There is a similar tool in the PSP toolbox, and it’s called the Warp Brush, and is dead easy to use.

The first pic below shows the PSP screen (I’m using PSP 10 here but the warp brush is present in at least 8 and 9 as well). You’ll find it near the bottom of the toolbox – Item 1.

In the top menu you can choose the type of warp you want. The default is that it will warp in the direction of the brush stroke, but for ironing out those cankles we need the Contract option. (Item 2).

The additional options at Item 3 will control the degree of effect. You can play with these as you wish to get stronger or more subtle effects, but for the purposes of this task I left everything except Size at default.

Now if you look to the cursor position I’ve placed it just inside the knobbly part of the cankle. Hold it there and click, the jagged line will smooth off – it’s a lot like the “smooth terrain” effect when you’re terraforming. The longer you hold it down the more pronounced the effect will be. So you can gently “paint” up and down the ankle to smooth it off.

If you make a mistake, you can use the iron option to undo it. That’s 4 buttons along from the Contract button at the top.

Finally we have the finished result, not a cankle to be seen.

Tips and Tricks: Dealing with Lag

The commonest thing I see in chat during Hair Fair (and often elsewhere) is "OMG The LAAAAG!!! I can't move!!!"

But the word "lag" is this very nebulous thing – it's more an effect than a cause, and the word is often used to mean lots of different things. So here, I'm going to explain a little bit about lag and what you can do to improve things a bit.

First of all, you need to activate the Advanced menu, if you haven't done so already. To do this, hit Ctrl-Alt-d. You only need to do this once; once open the menu will be there every time you log in (until next time you update your viewer).

Lag1  Lag2  
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Next, you will want to open two very useful tools that will tell you something about the possible cause of any lag you might be experiencing. These two tools are the Lag meter and the Statistics panel and they are both found under the Advanced menu > Performance tools, as shown. (Click the thumbnails above to open full size).

Let's look at the Lag Meter first (Pic 2).  This one shows "traffic lights" for three possible causes of lag. basically, green is good, amber means running below optimum and red is bad. These scores are shown for three separate things: client, network and server.

Client is your computer, your viewer. If this is consistently red it usually means that your graphics settings are too high, or your computer hardware is not good enough. This will manifest in such ways as textures taking a long time to "rez" – objects appearing grey or blurry for a long time, sculpty objects remaining as spherical lumps instead of resolving to their true shape, animations being jerky, etc. You can help here by going to your Preferences (Ctrl-P or Me > Preferences), clicking the Graphics tab and knocking the graphics slider to Low. If you click Custom you can tweak things more specifically, for instance lower the draw distance, turn off Atmospheric Shaders, etc. Basically, turn everything as low as you can cope with, and then try turning things back up one by one to see how high you can go before the lag is a problem again. I'll talk more about Preferences settings later.  If you're getting persistent client lag and your graphics settings are already as low as they can go, then I'm sorry but you're going to need a hardware upgrade if you want to enjoy your Second Life experience. SL requires a GOOD computer, and most laptops, especially ones with on-board or Intel graphics cards, just can't cope.

The next item on the meter is Network, and this is the one that is usually poor for me. To put it simply, Network refers to the traffic between you (the client) and the sim your avatar is standing in (the server). Every time you move or do anything, information is passed, via the internet, from one to another and back again, and interruptions to this flow will cause lag. A typical symptom of network lag is "rubber-banding" – when your avatar is walking fast but moving slowly, as though pulled back by a rubber band, also you may find you walk and walk in one direction and can't stop or turn around, then as the connection improves you "snap" back to where you were before.  The commonest cause of Network lag is trying to play Second Life on a wireless connection. If you're trying to do this and the Network light is persistently red, don't. Get a network cable and sit closer to your router. You may also have problems if there are other computers on your home network also accessing the internet at the same time, or if you are simultaneously streaming media or downloading/uploading. Some other causes are beyond your control; Network is usually poor for me because my local infrastructure isn't great, and I'm a long way from my nearest telephone exchange, so my broadband speed is slow. Short of moving house, there's not much I can do about this. But you can get a rough idea how good or bad your internet connection is by checking your broadband speed on a speed test site. If it's below about 1500kb/sec then you're going to struggle.

The last item is Server lag, and this is the one that depends on everyone helping out. The server is the region you're standing in and lag here is caused by a few factors: many large textures to be loaded, many scripts (or poorly-written scripts), many avatars in the region (all carrying their own attachments and scripts), and physical objects such as vehicles or moving animals.  Server lag is reduced by efficient building, by using fewer and smaller textures, by using fewer and better-written scripts, and by avatars stripping off their scripted attachments (or even all attachments). If you are at a place like the Hair Fair and experiencing server lag, as I was here, you can help by removing all your attachments whether scripted or not. This includes hair, shoes, jewelry, face-lights, and also HUD items such as your Animation Overrider.

You may also see people at events like Hair Fair talking about "Avatar Rendering Cost" and this is a feature also found in the Performance Tools menu. I advise ignoring it, as it's not an accurate way of measuring how laggy an avatar is; it measures only prims and textures but it doesn't count scripts, and it is quite misleading. A very  low score is always good though, because you can't get low without taking everything off. Ironically, the Avatar Rendering Cost feature is itself heavy on resources and is itself a cause of lag.

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Finally, let's take a look at some of the key parts of the Statistics Panel. I've highlighted some items here.

#1 FPS: This stands for "frames per second" and is a measure of how often your client is re-drawing the screen. If your score is above about 25 then you're doing absolutely fine, this is about the same frame-rate as television. At under 20 the movement and animations may appear a little jerky and not so smooth. Below 10 and it gets very jerky and if the number drops very low it may be impossible for you to move at all. (Or, rather, you are moving but your screen isn't re-drawing so you don't see yourself move). FPS is mainly client-side and can be improved by dropping your graphics settings lower and by turning off Anti-Aliasing. You will also take a FPS hit if you have altered your UI side to be anything other than 1.00.

#2 Bandwidth. This measures how busy the network is. If you are constantly maxing-out you may need to raise your bandwidth in Preferences (Network tab) but it cannot possibly be higher than your total broadband speed, which you measured earlier on that speed-test site. If Bandwidth is dropping to zero, this means that your internet connection is unstable and you are losing connection completely. In this case you may need to call support for your Internet Service Provider.

#3 Packet Loss: This is related to Bandwidth. Data is sent across the network in "packets" and this statistic measures how many of those packets go missing in transit. It should ideally be zero; a score of up to about 2% probably won't be significant enough to even notice but at higher numbers you will find such effects as prims and even terrain not rezzing. You may also have difficulty moving and have the "rubberbanding" effect I mentioned before. If your packet loss is consistently high you can improve it by lowering the bandwidth setting in Preferences.

# Sim FPS and Time Dilation.  Ideally the Sim FPS should be at maximum which is 45, and Time Dilation should be zero. This means that instructions to and from the sim are taking exactly as long as they should. Time dilation means that things are taking a % of time longer than they ought to, and as this number rises, Sim FPS will fall. As Sim FPS falls, moving gets difficult (if not impossible). It was down to 13 at the time I took this snapshot in the Hair Fair and I could barely move at all. This is basically a measure of Server lag; too many textures, too many avatars and too many scripts in the region. If it is persistently low in a sim that is not overloaded as Hair Fair was, it can generally be helped by a Sim reboot, which has to be arranged by the owner of the sim.  But at Hair Fair there isn't really much any individual can do, unless you can persuade everyone else to take off their bling.

So hopefully now you have a bit of a better idea of how to identify the cause of lag and what steps you can take to improve it.