First Steps with Avastar

About this Document...

Content:

  • Create a Basic mesh character
  • Import a Mesh to your online world.
This guide is focused on creating content for Second Life, but it also works for other online worlds like OpenSim.

 The first Video (above):

  • Create a Character.
  • Use the Shape sliders.
  • Use the Collada Exporter.

The second video (further down):

  • Use the SL Importer for Upload

What does Avastar provide?

Avastar basically supports the creation of animatable Models (Avatars&attachments) and the creation of animations. Therefore the tool adds various functions and user interface elements to Blender.

The full functionality of Avastar can be a bit overwhelming on first sight. You should be prepared to spend some time and patience to get it all working nicely for your projects.

What does this Document provide?

This document is a quick start into Avastar. You should get comfortable with the tool within a very short time. In this section you will learn how to prepare Avastar for your work on attachments, custom characters and custom animations.

However this article only scratches the surface of Avastar’s feature set, so there is a lot more to detect and we invite you to make your own experiences as well.

We expect that you have basic knowledge about Blender.

Before you start


If you are very new to Blender, or do not understand the terms, then this video may be helpful. Take your time and keep patient!

The Cheat Sheet

  1. Startup Blender.
  2. 3D-View: add -> Avastar
  3. Toolshelf: Avastar -> Avatar Appearance
  4. Shape your character with the SL Sliders.
  5. Toolshelf: Export your character
  6. SL: Import the model.

Some useful Hints

  • Is Avastar installed.
  • Get started with Blender?
  • Check Blender’s Help section.
  • Find online docu: RMB -> Online Manual.
  • In SL: Create a fresh Shape.
    This Shape matches with Avastar’s default shape.
  • The gender setting is supported as well.

Create an Avastar Character

We first create a default Avastar character. This Object is normally used as a reference for your Avatar attachments. But it also can be used to create your own Mesh character.

For what you can use the Avastar

  • As dummy model for your clothing attachments
  • As Model for your Animations
  • As Basis mesh for your own character
  • As Basis for your non human character creations (Create Avatar with “rig only”)

How to add a new Avastar Character

In Blender

Navigate to:

add -> Avastar -> With Triangles

The Avastar character is based on the
SL Avatar definition files
from Linden Lab.

The Avastar is fully compatible with the character from Second Life and all similar online worlds like OpenSim for example.
Create as new Avastar

Create as new Avastar

After a short time (typically 2-4 secs) a new Avastar character is created in the 3D View and at the current 3D cursor location .

AvastarObject

Avastar’s default Shape is compatible with SL’s default Shape.

Back in Second Life

When you use Avastar’s default shape then you also need to test your work with a fresh created shape in SL.

We do not use any of the Ruth shapes, because there is no clear definition what Ruth is. While there is an official definition of the default shape.
default_shape

The SL default Shape (Create new Shape).

In SL you create the default shape from your Inventory: (See image)

new_shape

What else you should know

  • New Avastar characters can only be created when you are in Object Mode!
  • A new character will be placed at the current 3D Cursor location.
  • You can hide (‘h’) or remove (‘x’) not needed parts of the Avatar meshes (like the skirt or the hair for example) without breaking the tools.
  • You can create as many characters as you like aside each other and so you can create multi-character animations.
The character that you know from avatar.blend or from the workbench (sometimes also named “ruth”) looks different from the default Avastar character. this is not a mistake. Further explanations can be found in the Avastar vs. Workbench Skeleton article.

Adjust the Character Shape

After you got your Avastar character you might want to change its shape, or maybe you prefer to work with a Male character instead of the default female Avastar? This is where the Appearance Sliders Section comes into play:

How to use the Appearance sliders

The Appearance Sliders

We support the same appearance slider system as you can find in SL, OpenSim or other compatible worlds. You find the sliders in the Object properties of the Avastar Character:

  • Go to object mode.
  • Select the Rig (RMB on the yellow circles around the mesh).
  • Open the Tool Shelf – Avastar Tab
  • Here you find the Appearance Panel (see image).

  • Shape Presets: Here you can add your own Slider configurations. When you click the white + sign the current shape slider values get stored as new Preset (see also below).
  • Orange Stickman: Reset the Shape to the SL Default Shape (like create new Appearance)
  • White Stickman: Reset the Shape to the SL technical Rest pose (may be useful when you bind to a mesh that used the default SL Skeleton (like workbench or avatar.blend)
  • Male: When enabled, the Shape switches to Male gender. The current absolute Avatar Height is displayed in parantheses)
  • Sections: A popup Menu for the different Shape Sections (In the Image the Body Section is displayed). This is equal to the Appearance Editor in SL or OpenSim.
  • Section Reset: The icon on the right side of the Section Selector allows to reset the entire Section to its Default values.

The Shape Presets Selector

The Preset Selector can be used to store your custom Shapes. For example when you attempt to work with a fixed set of Standard Shapes, you can add these shapes as Presets: All you need to do is:

  • Define your shape (by moving the Shape Sliders, see below)
  • Create a new Preset

Presets are stored globally (outside of the current Blend file), thus all defined presets are available at any time in any project. Avastar is not shipped with any character presets

The Section Sliders

The section subpanel of the Avatar shapes panel contains the Sliders for the section specific shape keys. The values assigned in SL match exactly with the slider values in Blender.

  • Some sliders have a small Bone icon on their left side. This indicates the slider affects the bones (bone sliders).
  • Some sliders have a small magnet icon on their left side. This indicates the sliders affects a fitted Mesh bone (Collision Volume bone)
  • All other sliders affect only the mesh (morph sliders).
  • The icons on the right side indicate that the slider value has been changed. Click on these icons to reset the corresponding Slider Value to its default.
  • Note: The Reset icon on the Top Right of the section panel resets the entire Bone Section to its Default Values.

Fitted Mesh Sliders indicated with a magnet

The Special Sections

  • We have added 3 extra sections (Changed, Fitted and Skeleton) which do not appear in the Second Life Shape editor.
    • The Changed section is empty by default and will be populated by the list of changed Shape sliders of your Avastar.
    • The Fitted Section contains all Sliders which affect Fitted Mesh Bones (Collision Volume Bones).
    • The Skeleton section (see image) contains all sliders which affect the bone length of the Avastar character.
  • On top of the list (in the Section Header) you see a Reset button. This button will reset all shape sliders of the current Section to its factory defaults.
  • Each slider can be dragged, or you can click on it and then type in a number.
  • If a slider has been changed then you see a reset icon right to the slider. Clicking on that icon resets the slider to its default value.

Bake to Mesh:

This function makes all slider changes permanent for the active (and selected) Custom Mesh. Take care: This function deletes all Custom Shape keys and the Mesh gets changed!

Hint: This option is not available (greyed out) for the Avastar Meshes.

Special Feature: The Mesh deformer

The Mesh deformer is an old development that came to live a couple of years ago. But the project has never been going public in Second Life. However we keep basic support for the Mesh deformer available, because other compatible online worlds might possibly support the Mesh deformer.

Hint: If you plan to create Meshes compatible to the Mesh Deformer, then you will want to reset all bones in the Skeleton Section to their default values (Reset Section to defaults).
All of this can be done easily, but you need to prepare the meshes first as described in the “Editing Avastars” workflow document.

Export your Work

After you have changed your Avastar character’s shape to your likes, you are ready to begin with working on your mesh attachments. However, this is a first step document, so we will take a moment and demonstrate how you can take the Avastar character back into Second Life. And what you see here is the very same procedure that you will later use for exporting your attachments (see “Create an Attachment”):

How to use the Collada Exporter

Export your Character as Collada

The Collada exporter exports your Mesh character or mesh attachment to a form that is recognizable by the target System (SL, OpenSim or any compatible online world). You find the Mesh Exporter in the Tool shelf. The Collada Panel has quiet a few options. we explain all of them now.

Hint: You usually can keep the default settings and just click on the “Collada(Avastar)(.dae)” button. A File Selector will pop up. Here you can navigate to your export directory and then export your file as a Collada file (using the file extension “.dae”)

reference-039

The Collada export Options

The Export option Subpanels

The Exporter provides a couple of export options for special cases. Please use these options with care.

Modifiers

By default Avastar applies all mesh changing Modifiers except the Armature Modifiers to the exported meshes. However, some modifiers have 2 sets of options, one option set is for rendering, the other option set is for the Viewport. We provide 3 options here:

modifier_export
  • Apply according to the View Settings (the 3D Preview settings)
  • Apply according to the Render Settings (the settings for Blender’s own Renderer)
  • Don’t apply modifiers and only export the base mesh

The View settings will be applied by default. These settings are very closely related to the Blender Render System. In most cases you can actually just use the defaults. We will get back to this when we talk about how to use (or not use) Modifiers.

Armature Modifiers define a relation between your mesh and your Skeleton (Armature). You find the Armature modifier in the Modifer Stack (see image). Armature modifiers are always defined for the mesh. Armatures them self have no Armature modifier.

We will get to armature Modifiers in the “Create an Attachment” tutorial.

modifiers

Hint: You want to display the modifier in edit mode and adjust edit cage to modifier result

Textures export (advanced)

You can export images along with your models. In that case the images will be stored as extrafiles and a reference is added to the Collada file. The SL Importer knows how to read and import these images for static meshes.
Note: But for rigged meshes the images are not recognized.
texture_export
  • UV Textures & Material Textures: Blender supports Material based textures and UV textures (which are directly assigned to polygons). Normally you want to export only the UV textures. In rare cases it is more desirable to export the material based textures instead. But beware, Blender does not export the render results, but only the source images!
  • Image Type: The image format is typically predefined in the Blender Render settings. However we found it convenient to provide an immediate setting in the Exporter. By default the image type will be applied ONLY to generated images.
  • Use ‘Image format’ for all images: If this option is set, then Blender will use the selected image format for all exported images. If the option is disabled, then only the generated images will be affected.
  • Use RGBA: Blender can export the Alpha channel for images. Normally this is controlled in the render settings where you can specify to use either RGB or RGBA for image exports. If the currently selected export format supports Alpha then enabling RGBA here will export images with Alpha channel even if the render settings are set to RGB and vice versa.

Hint: You may want to NOT use RGBA because of the Alpha glitch. However this is not a general advice. There are many situations where using Alpha images is even recommended (for example when you want to create an Alpha mask).

Hint: If the format of the exported image(es) does not support an Alpha channel then the “Use RGBA” option is simply ignored.

Advanced options

The Advanced Options are related to some special issues. You should normally keep the options set as they are. This ensures your exports are well suited for SL. However in some situations you will have to get back here and set the options according to the descriptions below:

reference-059

Apply Armature Scale: If you have scaled your Armature in Object Mode for making a tiny or a giant you should not apply the scale to the armature because then the entire Avastar Animation system may no longer work (details need to be documented). But the Object Scale must be applied when you export the mesh.
Otherwise your scaling will not be recognized in your target online world and the giant shrinks back (or the tiny grows back) to normal size. The Applay Armature Scale option ensures that the Object scale is applied in the exported Armature.
Apply Rotation & Scale: If you have Scaled or rotated your Objects in Object Mode then this Scale&Rotation should be applied to all objects of an export to avoid unexpected scaling and rotation issues within the target system. However this is all so often simply forgotten and sometimes even unknown.
Hence we have added an automatic apply Rotation&Scale to the exporter. This setting does not affect the original objects.
Weld Edge Normals: When two separate objects share a boundary line, then you typically see a boundary seam in the object texture. This happens because the vertex normals differ even if the adjacent objects share the exact same vertex locations.
This option recalculates the vertex normals at the adjacent boundaries of the selected objects.
Weld to all visible: Sometimes you want to only export one part but still want the vertex normals be fixed.
This option lets the exporter take all visible objects into account when calculating the vertex normals at object boundaries.

Unsupported Options

 Avastar also provides some advanced export options. However those options are noy shown by defauilt as they are only rarely used.

You enable these options in the Avastar Addon Panel (where you initially enabled the Addon after you installed it):

reference-060

Tick the advanced export options to get the buttons in the UI

 reference-046

Limit Weight Count: In SL the number of weights per vertex is strictly limited to 4. We believe this number is sufficient for all weighting tasks. In cases where this limit seems to be too low we always found the real problem was due to bad mesh topology and bad rigging.

Setting this number affects the maximum number of weights which are exported by Avastar. We strongly recommend to keep this number set to 4.

Include Deformer Shape: Some virtual worlds support the Mesh deformer which was originally developed for usage in Second Life.
When this option is enabled, then an additional xml file is created that can be used as reference shape if the Importer supports this feature (currently used with OpenSim)

With Attachment Weights: SL does not allow weighting of attachment points. Hence we suppress the export of weights for attachment points by default.

This option should indeed never be used for SL! Handle with Care. It is very likely that the import of meshes with attachment point weighting will be rejected in the near future (by end of 2015).

Note: The Avastar Collada exporter automatically applies scale and rotation to your mesh attachments. However it is still a good idea to apply scale and rotation also in blender, because some blender tools are affected by these settings as well!

Important: In some cases you may want to modify the Avastar character beyond what you can do with the Avastar Shape Sliders:

  • Create a tiny or a giant.
  • Add extra shape beyond what you can do with sliders.
  • Modify the Avastar Meshes into something totally different.
  • Joint the character parts to have one single mesh body

The reason for this behavior is: Blender does not support editing Meshes which have Shape keys defined. The Avastar Meshes make heavy usage of Shape keys. Hence you get major fail as soon as you touch the meshes.

If you do not know what you are doing here, You have a good chance to break Avastar and create wild results:

broken_avastar

Unexpected results after small edits in the Avastar meshes

 

All of this can be done easily, but you need to prepare the meshes first as described in the “Editing Avastars” workflow document.

Import your Character to SL

Once you have exported your Mesh character, you only need to import it to your target System (like SL or a compatible online world). Although this is easy in principle, there are a few pitfalls in your way. So let us take a deeper look into the Mesh Importer.

The Video explains:

  1. How to import a rigged Mesh to SL, OpenSim or similar online worlds.
  2. How to use an Alpha mask for hiding the default character
  3. How to use image textures to texturise your character.
  4. Potential problems with your meshes (visible seams, wrong shape, missing face animations)
This video has been made in SL. But it applies also OpenSim or any other OpenSim based world as well. Also the video does not depend on Blender, but it is a general purpose tutorial for the SL Importer. Below you find the import procedure explained in pictures.
Hint: Did you know that Linden Lab provides another world very similar to Second Life, where you can upload your meshes for free? The Beta Grid is a perfect way to test your mesh creations before you finally upload them to Second Life.

The Upload Panels in detail

Upload the model (import the Collada file to SL)

You can start an upload directly from the main menu bar as shown in the image above.You also can start an upload from within the repository view.

The LOD Panel (The entry page)

The model uploader starts in the LOD panel. Here you can define all your levels of detail or let them calculate automatically. We currently have no LOD files, so we keep this panel as it is.
Note: You always can get detailed help from the help button in the upper right corner. For now you can proceed by switching to the Upload options tab.

The Options Panel (Here you enable rigged mesh)

Normally the uploader will only upload the mesh, but no animation data. If you want to also import the rig data (the mesh weights), then you have to include “skin weights”. Please keep the button “Include joint positions” unchecked unless you know exactly what you do. we will get to this advanced feature later.
Also note that you can checkmark the “skin weights” below the Preview window to see if your mesh is properly weighted. But checking the skin weights here has no influence on the upload! This is so common mistake! If you ever are “sure that your mesh is weighted” but remains stiff when worn, then there is a good chance that you forgot to enable “Include skin weights” on the left side!

Now we are done with our first Mesh creation. You can simply wear the mesh and see how it moves with the default animations..