Clothing: The Resurgence of Texture

It’s been quite a long time since I blogged about the state of the clothing market. It was back in January 2014 in fact.

Back then I predicted that clothing would get ever more difficult to make and that more and more clothes would end up being made by fewer and fewer designers, and that we’d get a stagnation of the clothing market. However, when I wrote that, Fitted Mesh was in its infancy and it was unclear where it would go. And where it went was Mesh bodies. Of course this is probably not news to you as Mesh bodies have been ‘mainstream’ for over a year, apparently. I say ‘apparently’ as I haven’t been very active on SL for the past year so I am playing catch-up.

As you are probably aware, there are now a number of competing Fitted Mesh bodies available from designers like SLink, Maitreya, TMP (The Mesh Project), Belleza, and the like. A Fitted Mesh body is essentially a bodysuit that completely replaces your body (which is now being referred to as ‘Classic body’) by using an Alpha Mask to make your Classic body invisible from the neck down. Unlike with Rigged Mesh, the Fitted Mesh responds to the sliders for modifying your body (no more “standard sizes”), which in theory should mean that you still have full control over your shape and look. However, it is of much higher quality and much more realistic than the Classic body shape. In short, it is what Linden Lab should have done themselves with the Classic body.

Mesh clothing compatible with these bodies is available, and older Rigged Mesh clothing will still fit, albeit with some tweaking and the use of additional alpha masks to mask off parts of the Mesh body. How this is achieved varies by body, and some are more clunky than others. I’ll leave it up to you to research further.

For tattoos, skins, and indeed any other texture (which of course includes System Clothing textures), the designer has to  provide an “applier” that is compatible with the Mesh body. An applier is essentially a script that tells the Mesh body how to paint the texture onto it. You’re probably no stranger to appliers if you have used Phat Az, Lola’s Tango and other body modifications that pre-date Fitted Mesh.

Without an applier, the texture will be worn by the Classic body which of course is hidden when you are wearing a Mesh body.

There is an applier specific to each designer’s body, but there is also an ‘Omega’ applier system which is a universal (and free) system understood by many Mesh bodies. If your body is Omega compatible (many are, with the exception of a few such as TMP and SLink Physique) you can use Omega appliers on your body.

So, with all that background information out of the way, it is time to talk about the actual subject of this post. Which, ironically, will take far fewer words to achieve than the preamble.

I recently made friends with someone and she was showing me some of her outfits, and I noticed that some of her clothes were what only a few years ago would have been dismissed as rather out-dated pre-Mesh texture clothing. Only she had fairly recently bought them because they looked ok to her, but crucially had appliers for her Mesh body.

And this got me thinking about my old post where I said that texture-only clothing designers were being left behind. Suddenly this is no longer the case. All a texture-only designer needs to do now to bring their clothing to a whole new audience is to master the ability to provide appliers. From what I can see, this is fairly straightforward and is certainly way easier than making Rigged Mesh.

My personal feelings on texture-only clothing haven’t really changed – I still think it is immensely hard to make it look realistic and even harder to give the impression of 3D shapes with only a 2D texture – and this is never more the case than with things like buckles, clasps, and the like. These will always look better implemented in a 3D medium such as prims or sculpts (in the past) and Mesh (now), but as I have previously pointed out this is much, much harder to achieve. However, traditional 2D texture clothing applied to a Mesh body certainly looks better than when applied to a Classic body – there is less of that awful distortion and glitching that really ruin it, and it definitely gives it a new lease of life to the extent that you could feel happy to wear it.

So, in summary, I think that the clothing market may have opened up somewhat because right now there is a big demand for reasonably-priced texture-only clothing that can be applied to a Mesh body. And, furthermore, texture clothing simply looks better on a Mesh body than on a Classic body to the extent that it is acceptable to wear again.

Maybe there is a place for the small hobbyist designer making texture-only clothing after all. And that has to be a good thing, because the vitality of Second Life depends on user-generated content.

Edit: Just to clarify, the creator of texture clothing must produce an Applier for you. There is currently no way of simply applying existing texture clothing to your mesh body, so unless the creator of your old pre-mesh texture clothing makes an Applier available, you’re out of luck.

Further reading

WARNING: Many of the these links contain digital nudity and are NSFW.……

Mesh Deformer and Fitted Mesh

Before I start this post, I’d just like to point out that this is old news. I’m not adding anything new here but the reason I am writing this is that many friends and acquaintances haven’t been aware of the current direction that mesh deformers are taking, so this article is a convenient place to direct people to. It seeks to be a fairly short and easily-digested article, which links to further reading.

Mesh has been around for a while now, and  I think most people have decided where they are with it. At one end of the spectrum we have people who pretty much won’t wear any rigged mesh unless it just happens to fit them “as is” and at the other end of the spectrum we have people willing to have a different version of their shape for almost every outfit they own. And I’m not exaggerating here; two of my closest friends fall into those two extremes.

It’s clear that the Standard Sizes are far from perfect. They were a reasonable workaround to the problem of Rigged Mesh being uneditable, but they are not a solution. Many people (myself included) have been extremely reluctant to alter their natural shape, feeling that the whole point of Second Life is to be who we want to be and that clothes should fit to us and not us to the clothes.

One of the first people to propose a solution was Karl Stiefvater (Qarl Fizz) who proposed the Mesh Deformer project (also known as the Parametric Deformer), which was successfully Crowd Funded and which Karl put a lot of work into. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people know about this project and of those, a majority are wondering why it hasn’t made it into the Official Viewer yet.

However, it was by no means the only solution and Redpoly Inventor proposed rigging garments to the “collision bones” of the avatar skeleton, which is what evolved into “Liquid Mesh”. The shortcomings of this in its current state is that really there aren’t enough “collision bones” to do a proper job and because it is not officially supported by Linden Lab, it was an unofficial solution and hence prone to breakage in the future.

However, on 20-Nov-2013, Linden Lab posted an entry on their blog entitled Making Mesh Garments Fit Better outlining how they intend to officially adopt the “Liquid Mesh” approach and develop it further, adding additional custom bones in order to overcome the shortcomings of the current approach.

Where does this leave Karl’s Mesh Deformer? Well, parked up and thrown away essentially although one could argue that perhaps it spurred Linden Lab into action and Karl has said that he thinks that what LL is proposing is the technically simpler solution (although is correspondingly more complex for content creators). You can read more on an article that Inara Pey wrote, which includes an analysis of it all and also quotes Karl’s response to the news.  If you don’t follow her blog then I would really recommend it as it is always very well written and very in-depth.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Linden Lab progress this. It’s way overdue, and the sooner we get an official (and effective) solution to the issue of garment deformation the better.

Further reading

(Links are sorted newest to oldest)

External links

SL projects update week 50 (2): Fitted mesh, deformer, viewer code contributions
Inara Pey (12-Dec-2013)

Fitted mesh: “LL’s assessment here is mostly good” – Qarl
Inara Pey (24-Nov-2013)

Lab looks to make mesh garments fit better with the Fitted Mesh project viewer
Inara Pey (20-Nov-2013)

Making Mesh Garments Fit Better
The announcement by Linden Lab (20-Nov-2013)

Liquid Mesh: looking from all sides
An analysis of Liquid Mesh by Inara Pey (26-Aug-2013)

Further links are available at the end of each of Inara’s posts.

Other articles by me on mesh

Mesh convert
How few changes you need to make to your shape to be compatible with
a Standard Size (15-Nov-2013)

It’s starting to Mesh
A short update on how Mesh was working (or not) for me (07-Apr-2013)

Mesh deformer: interview with Qarl Fizz
A reblog of one of Inara’s posts, with further comment by me. (22-Jun-2012)

Oh what a Mesh!
My experiences of Mesh after it had been around for a good few months (16-Jun-2012)

Unencumbered by the trappings of real life
Immersionism vs Augmentism, and how Mesh affects it (22-Apr-2012)

My first, somewhat naive post on the subject (27-Sep-2011)

Oh what a Mesh!

Mesh seems to be all the rage at the moment, despite the fact that Rigged Mesh for clothes simply doesn’t work for many of us. With many designers throwing themselves headlong into Mesh and the awful “standard sizes” to the exclusion of all else, options feel like they are getting limited for those of us who don’t get on with it.

Why doesn’t Rigged Mesh clothing work for me? Well, the primary reason is that I can rarely get it to fit me. I’m a slim, petite avatar of just over 5ft in height, with a ‘real world’ body shape (ie. curves, hips and boobs) and none of the “standard sizes” are anywhere near similar to my body shape and I don’t want to change. I also find that many Rigged Mesh clothes suffer from an issue of being “invisible inside”. If you cam up your skirt or down your top, either you are invisible due to the alpha mask you need to wear, or the clothing itself is invisible due to the designer saving some prim equivalence by making it transparent on the inside. It’s particularly evident on long gowns where you can see it even without camming.

The Parametric Deformer that Qarl Fizz is working on (and that I mentioned in my article “Unencumbered by the trappings of real life”) promises to solve many of these issues and I’m following it with interest, but in the meantime what else is on offer?

I was shopping at GothiCatz today, a store I like very much, and I’m heartened to see that the designer Looloo Beck has adopted a different approach to her use of Mesh. She uses non-rigged Mesh attachments just like in the past she would have used sculpted prims. This has the advantage of being able to resize and move them to get a good fit and can be scripted with traditional resize scripts too. This really works for me and I wish more designers would make use of this hybrid approach rather than using Rigged Mesh. To me it seems like the best of both worlds, or certainly a good compromise.

Presence by GothiCatz, with boots by G-Field.

One area that I am finding Rigged Mesh works well is on boots. I find that boots are much more likely to fit me than clothes, and you are also less likely to suffer from the problems I mentioned earlier. Boots seem to lend themselves better to the strengths of Mesh, bending naturally at joints. Certainly they render non-Mesh overknee boots instantly obsolete. I think one of the reasons they work better is that there is less movement with legs and in less directions. On the torso you get twisting, shearing and bending that cause all sorts of deformations. In contrast, boots experience very little of this. The knee is a very simple joint and even the ankle has limited movement, so the Mesh is subjected to way less deformation.

Guns similarly gain an advantage by being Mesh. I have a number of guns from Breach by Eata Kitty which I buy because they are so beautifully detailed. However, I’m quite petite and it’s often hard to get these guns to look right on me. Their MP7, for example, looks like an Assault Rifle on me despite the fact that in Real Life it is a machine pistol. But their new Mesh pistol “Raven” is fantastic because the Mesh allows it to have a resize script that can scale the entire gun down to fit my small hands. This is simply brilliant and I so wish they would re-do the MP7 the same way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Breach bring out next.

So, as we suspected, designers are starting to find their feet with Mesh and are starting to innovate as we knew they would. Likewise, we as customers are beginning to understand what works for us and what doesn’t. Personally, I still consider the “standard sizes” to be a dead end and until Qarl’s Parametric Deformer becomes widely adopted I doubt I will be buying much Rigged Mesh clothing (despite regularly trying demos – I haven’t completely given up on it) and I think it will be interesting to see where things go.