Friday, 25 April 2014

018: Clothes -- some philosophy (Part 1 of 2)


If your Second Life experience is anything like mine, you are nowhere near in the position of the guy in the barrel, above. It's more probable that your inventory makes you think of this situation:


Except perhaps a lot more messy and disorganized. At least, mine used to be.  Some people I've talked to about this issue have said that their inventory is basically about 20,000 items that are in a big heap in their inventory folder, which is kind of like having a huge empty walk-in closet and everything you own in a big heap on the floor of the spare room. Some people just don't intuitively grasp the idea of inventory. So if you haven't actually bought another copy of something because you cannot locate the first one in your inventory, you can take heart that you're not the worst-off Second Life resident I've ever met. (No names, but you know who you are.)

Cheer up! It's easy to fix. It only takes two ideas; one concrete, one abstract. The concrete contribution I can make is to give you a pattern for creating nested folders inside your inventory so that you'll have a way of finding things you're looking for. The abstract contribution is to give you a framework to think about the things you own in Second Life; what you need, why you need it, and how to stop acquiring too much stuff that you never use. Fair warning in advance, it will also take you an hour or two to get an organized inventory underway; making the folders, sorting your existing possessions into the system, etc. I know, I know, this is not why you came to Second Life. But for most of us, it costs a certain amount of money to keep our virtual wardrobes fresh and useful; if you want to get the most for your money, all you need to do is manage your inventory a little more diligently and with an overriding idea in mind.

And here's a helpful hint you may find amusing but useful, once you get the hang of it. Once you have your system in place, the best way to sequester some time to manage your inventory is by ... going dancing. Many times when you might think I was the happy guy dancing away in the middle of the floor and carrying on a bunch of IM conversations, what I'm really doing is sorting inventory and monitoring the main channel and listening to music while my av takes care of the dancing duties.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

017: An academic take on memorable faces


This isn't quite a Second Life related topic, but given my recent post on how to improve the look of your av's face -- if you were interested in that subject matter, you might be interested in this scientific paper.  Here is a link to The Scientist, where you will find a less complicated version of a scientific paper on "a way to make photographs of faces more memorable or more forgettable".

The interesting quote for me: "The photos that ranked highest on memorability didn’t have greater beauty, a bigger smile, a special gleam in the eye or a certain shape of the jaw. Rather, the computer was picking up on a multitude of tiny details and quirks that contributed to memorability but would be impossible to find and define on their own. There were no big distinct trends—instead, a thousand tiny tweaks, statistically tied to the memorability of the photos in the study."

If you look at the photographs that accompany the Scientist article -- and particularly the ones in the underlying article -- you'll be able to form your own conclusions.  For me, and I'm very hesitant to say so because I have nothing except a "feeling" to go on, no scientific evidence whatsoever, the memorable faces are the ones that look like they are registering complex emotions and the the unmemorable ones are registering simple emotions, if any emotions at all.  This is something that humans are good at reading when they look at a face but terrible at communicating, because it's a kind of gestalt experience.

So, simplified for Second Life -- to be memorable, tweak your av's face so it looks like it's experiencing some kind of emotion.  I'll bet that the most useful sliders you will find are the corners of the mouth (up/down) and ones to do with the eye opening, spacing, etc.



Wednesday, 16 April 2014

016: Home sick; back soon

I don't get sick often, but when I do, it seems to really hit me hard. I've been home taking care of myself and haven't felt up to being in SL, or blogging, or much else -- I'm on the mend and will be back soon, promise.

12 04 2014 Home sick _001

Monday, 7 April 2014

015: Notes on shape (Part 2: face and head)

This is the second post in a series. The first, dealing with affecting the shape of your SL avatar, is found here. But the face is the mirror of the soul, and it's where you should put the most work in; if you think of your own experience, when you zoom in on someone's av, what you usually look at is the face, isn't it? The face is the area where people focus their attention, and it pays off if you focus your attention at learning how to master the sliders. The most realistic avatars are the ones that get the most attention, in SL, and I have a few areas that I've learned over the years that people will benefit from looking at.


First, though, I want to share a tip that will possibly be of interest to all of you in this context, and I'll share how I learned it. Years ago, I read an anecdote in something like TV Guide about how Vanna White got her job. (The perennially lovely Ms. White is shown above.) Apparently Merv Griffin was re-casting Wheel of Fortune after a couple of less-than-perfect experiences, and was offered a series of women from whom to select for the job of evening-gown-clad letter-turner. Merv's finger stabbed down on Vanna's picture.  "Her." Why? someone asked? "Because her head is too big for her body, and that makes people look at her on television." Look at the picture carefully; you may agree.

Personally, I think that a large percentage of the avs I see in Second Life have heads that are too small -- and especially too small for the bodies they've selected. In part 1 of this essay, I suggested that  if you were going to have, say, an ectomorphic body, you should have the matching head shape (see that part for more details). So if you're designing a long slender body, have a long head. If you're designing an average body, have a round or triangular head. And if you're designing a muscular body, have a square head. Now, I venture to say that gay men who are designing avs in Second Life have one of two things in mind -- they either want to be an ectomorph, for which read slender twink, or an endomorph, for which read Tom of Finland drawing. Those are polar opposites, to be sure, but they share one characteristic; they are extreme. And if you're doing an extreme body, you need to have an extreme head to go with it. Whatever shape that head happens to need to be, whether long, round, or square, is just fine. What it should also be, though, is with "Head Size" set at about the 90 point. Yes, you run a little bit of risk of looking like an animated bobblehead, especially if you happen to have a slender neck. But given what I'll call the "Vanna rule", your head should be too big for your body because people are essentially looking at you "on television". And believe me, Merv knew what he was talking about.

This will have the not entirely unexpected side effect of making most of your hair too small, so you will have to hope that you purchased wisely and haven't impulsively deleted the sizing menu. In fact I have my head size at 90-ish, and routinely add 15% to the size of any new hair before I even bother fitting it. Because, yes, you will have to fit it, and adjust it to the massive dome that is your new large head. But the extra work will be worthwhile because it will make people look at you a lot more.

And at this point, I'd like to pause to thank my fellow blogger -- hell, blogging role model, the man posts good stuff so regularly it's embarrassing to the rest of us, and has done so for years -- Eddi Haskell. Twice. I can't find a reference to which to link, but my belief is that he has endorsed the idea of a larger head size himself; he may have put his point of view differently, though, so let's just say the two of us are talking about the same kind of thing. Make your heads bigger, guys. (The second most common fault I see is arms that are too short.) The other reason I have to thank Eddi is that today he posted a lot of nice pictures of a real-life hot guy, British rugger bugger (I wish) and fitness model Stuart Reordan.

[caption id="attachment_124" align="alignnone" width="199"]Stuart Reordan Stuart Reordan[/caption]

Now, let's just take a moment to thank a munificent providence that there is such a human being in this world that has a face like that, am I right? The man is one in a billion. That's just an extraordinary combination of genetics and environment that produced that particular heap of bones and muscles, and I for one am grateful for it.

So let's start from the mutual assumption that Stuart Reordan has a strikingly handsome face, bone structure, eye colour, hair, skin tone, beard, yada yada yada. As it happens, strikingly handsome faces are what Second Life is specialized to turn out in large numbers and real life not so much. If you want to build a SL av that looks kind of like Stuart Reordan, it's relatively easy because the sliders are there to do things like precisely hollow out cheeks or square off a jaw. In fact, there are potentially three or four components in Second Life to reproducing what we see here; skin is primary, but things like added facial hair and ears would also go a long way to verisimilitude. Underneath it all, though, you need a shape, and that's what you need to learn how to affect. I hasten to add that there are many SL designers who will sell you a decent shape, and one or two who will actually sell you a superb one. So if you're looking for the easy way to accomplish the ideal of a strikingly handsome avatar, you can do it by merely purchasing it, either as a pre-set group of sliders or a mesh body like my l'Uomo one. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, read on.

So put your av on a pose stand and zoom in, and crank up the sliders to change your face structure. You should have in front of you a couple of photographs of, say, Stuart Reordan that will be sufficient to try to copy his bone structure, much like I advised you to have photos of a body structure to copy. The easiest way to seem real is to copy real. Now, I trust you will recognize that Stuart Reordan has a head that is slightly larger than average; the Vanna theory bearing itself out. Now separate out the parts that will be affected by the shape sliders. So ignore the eye colour, the eyebrows, the stubble, the skin tone -- and focus on the bone structure. One way to look at it is to mathematically divide the face into six equal zones, then notice how one part is larger than another. In Stuart, his forehead is a little oversized. He compensates for this visually by having a very wide jaw and a strong chin; the wide jaw makes the face look more rectangular and the head size actually begins to slope outwards just above the ears (honestly, the man won the genetic lottery in every way). His eyes are quite far apart. His cheekbones are so high that in a straight-on shot like this, they actually deform his sideburns in a very SL way; a little zig just above the earlobe. His nose is straight and relatively unnoticeable, and his lips are thin. And -- an important point -- his ears are about 25% too big for his head.

So the first general principle I have to offer here is, "In SL, perfection is easy, and it's imperfection that gets noticed." The second and linked principle is that "Everybody, no matter how beautiful, has something wrong with their face. Sometimes that imperfection is what makes the face memorable."

There are lots of shapes available that will give you a face that the designers might call "classically handsome" and I would call "another SL Ken doll". In fact, I'll give you a way to get a "classically handsome" face -- go into your face shape menus and very carefully set every value to 50. It's a basic handsome face that won't offend anyone and won't really interest anyone either. There is something you can do, though, that goes back to advice I've mentioned before; if you're trying to create a look, think of a way to describe it in a phrase, and you'll be closer to achieving it. The 50-slider face only says "corporate drone". You can make a truly original face by coming to a careful balance of the sliders; deform one part, like the forehead size, and then see if you can balance it out by adjusting the rest of the face. Alternatively, you can work by trying to match a photograph of someone like Stuart Reordan. You won't get an exact match -- skin has a lot to add to this, as would a carefully chosen set of facial hair. But you can match the height of the cheekbones and the width of the jaw and their relationship.

And then the key point that I've learned over the years is -- just like Stuart Reordan has slightly large ears, you need to introduce a single flaw into your av's facial structure. Ears are a really good way of doing that; large, small, jutting, flat. Eyes that are too close together make you look slightly hard and untrustworthy; too far apart make you look mental! Making the character's lips a little too large suggests mixed Negroid ancestry, tilting the eyes adds a hint of Asian ancestry. One subtle one that's available is skewing the nose to the right or left, but I'm not clear whether this actually is interesting or merely a bit creepy. You can make the jaw a bit too wide, the neck a bit too thick, even these days the hairline a bit too receding. The point is that you need to have one thing that makes the viewer look at your face until they are much more likely to accept the kind of person that you're telling them you are. Subconsciously, people think something like "Oh, he'd be really handsome if only it wasn't for the scar in his eyebrow." whereas it's the scar in the eyebrow that makes you look 100% more real to their subconscious eye.


It's also very useful to get photographs of the same person from a number of different angles. Notice how this photograph is canted a bit so that it shows how the ear inserts into the back of the jaw, and the general neck size, and roughly how bulbous the nose is? You should be looking at your av from a 360-degree perspective, to be sure, but it doesn't hurt to have a couple of different takes on the relative sizes of each facial part.

So first make a perfect face, and then pick a trait by which people will remember your face. "The guy with the scar in his eyebrow," "The guy with the cleft chin," etc. Use the same method I told you about in part I, whereby you consecutively name each successive "save" by VER 01, VER 02, etc. Save before you start, have some fun with it, but if you spend the time to figure out the relationship between the sliders and what you see on the screen, and then introduce a single memorable fault, you will be halfway to being truly memorable.



Friday, 4 April 2014

014: Notes on shape (Part 1: body and proportions)

As I've said a couple of times, and now have a post-it saying so above my desk <grin> I need to get on with completing the articles that were suggested by an article by Angelik Lavecchia called "10 Steps to Impress" in a new digital magazine called Manshots (click on the title to read it).  All that's left is the largest topics, and I think the best place to start is with an absolutely crucial one: shape.

If you think back to your first days in Second Life, I'm betting that "shape" was the most incomprehensible idea that you had to cope with. I know that many people don't get the hang of clothes, hair, and AOs before their first 30 days are up, and shape -- well, that's something we all approached with great trepidation. When you invoke the menu, all of a sudden your av acts like it's posing for the central figure in da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" and you're presented with a whole bunch of menus and, OMG, you can be taller and shorter and have bigger pecs and longer legs and and and ... instant overchoice. I've talked to a couple of guys who said after two hours of fiddling around, they went out and bought a nice shape and stuck with it forever.  Shape is the kind of thing that we tend to do once and then never touch again.

But I started in SL quite a few years ago, when there weren't quite as many worthwhile ways of affecting your av's shape, and I was always too stingy to buy a shape when all the tools were there to do my own. (I have to say, this is about the only area of SL that I feel this way about; I probably would have trouble making any prim more complicated than a box.) And over the years, as new tools and sliders became available, I have tweaked and fiddled and played with the sliders a tich here and a tich there, and I'm fairly confident that I can put you in a position where you can affect your own shape and be happy with the results.

Now, if you're planning on purchasing a mesh body like l'Uomo, or you already have one, quite a few of these hints will be useless -- just skim through this and move to the post about how to build your face, which I'll provide in the near future.

So here are some basic hints and a couple of very important insights that I've learned over the years. First, the basics.


Just like the last post about having a philosophy that underlies what you're doing -- start by thinking, okay, what kind of person do I want to look like? The easiest way to accomplish this is to have a full-length photograph of someone wearing as little clothing as possible, much like the handsome gentleman in the green underwear immediately above. What you're looking for, though, is not his beautiful eight-pack or his gorgeous tan -- those, you get with the right skin. What you're looking for is the ability to see his proportions -- the bone structure not only of his face but his body. You're going to use this as a model.

And then that photograph also has to make you think of the kind of person that you want to look like. If you are interested in looking like a slender twink, Mr. Green Shorts is not for you; he's too well-built and too old. If your tastes, like mine, run to the l'Uomo type of pro bodybuilder, this guy is a little too slender. And if you're interested in looking like an "average" guy, Mr. Green Shorts has spent too much time at the gym and is too young, but he does have the right legs.

The good thing is, there is one thing that the Internet is very, VERY good at, and that is showing you pictures of naked people of every conceivable size and description. Some of them are beyond the capacity of the ordinary set of sliders, so if you want to look like, say, a pro bodybuilder or a Sumo wrestler or a little person, you may have to get professional help. But it will be a lot of fun looking at pictures of naked guys until you find one where you can see most or all of his body and that you say, "Oh, THAT's the guy I want to look like."


Here's a helpful hint. There are three basic body types for men: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.

  • Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are predisposed to neither store fat nor build muscle.

  • Mesomorphic: characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels and a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorphs are predisposed to build muscle but not store fat.

  • Endomorphic: characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and shoulders and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat, or chunky. Endomorphs are predisposed to store fat.

[caption id="attachment_113" align="alignnone" width="198"]Frank Zane Frank Zane[/caption]

Mr. Green Shorts is a mesomorph, but you don't have to look at his entire bone structure to be able to tell. The helpful hint is, when you're looking at photo, you can tell by the circumference of the wrist (as a rule of thumb). The  thinner the wrist bone, the closer to ectomorphic the man will be. Mr. Green Shorts has fairly thin wrists for a mesomorph, so he's probably altered his basic body composition with diet and exercise. It can be done; although most pro bodybuilders are endomorphs or mesomorphs, there are a couple of ectomorphs, most notably Frank Zane. Check out his wrist bones in the  photo. The nice thing about Second Life is that you can merely decide you want to be a muscular ectomorph and go for it.

Once you know what body type you want to be, make sure all the pieces fit. You shouldn't have an ectomorph's arms and an endomorph's waist; it just looks weird. Keep to one style of body and you'll look more realistic.

Each body type tends -- it's not an absolute relationship, but a tendency -- to have a certain shape of face and head. The key is to put the right kind of head on your body. Check out the drawing above. Ectomorphs have long thin faces, mesomorphs have average sized roundish faces, and endomorphs have blocky large square faces. Keep that relationship in mind and you can't go far wrong.

One important hint: If you intend to be a non-white-Caucasian av, start with a picture of someone who is the race that you want to be. Different races have naturally different body proportions; the differences are slight, but real.

Now that you have an idea what you want to look like, get your photo in front of you and put your av on a posing stand. (This is so you can see your feet without having them sink into the floor.) Then call up the menu and get to work.

If you've purchased a shape and it's no mod, you're going to have to replace it with a shape from the library in your inventory that you can modify. Don't worry about what you look like to start; that will definitely change.  The first thing you do is save that shape with today's date and a name, and probably as the first characters something like VER 01. This is because you're going to go through a LOT of versions of this shape and you want to be able to locate specific ones in your inventory easily, so at the very beginning of the name, put the version number.

Start with the basics; height, torso length, arms and legs. Leave the head and face for last, since it will take the longest. What you're trying for is relationships. For instance, see where Mr. Zane's knuckles touch his upper thigh? You need to balance that out when you're tinkering with the leg length and the arm length and the torso length, so that your knuckles end up there in the finished product. That's why you need a good photograph, so you can see all those relationships.

[caption id="attachment_116" align="alignnone" width="166"]Zac Efron (ectomorph type) Zac Efron (ectomorph type)[/caption]

Remember -- save your shape, giving it a new version number each time, and save OFTEN. Nothing is more frustrating than losing half-an-hour's painstaking work on getting something juuuuuuuust right and then having a power failure. And you know the way the universe works; it always goes wrong just at the crucial time. This also means that you can go back to a previous save if you find you don't like what you did with a body part after all.

There's a tendency for guys who are playing with their shape for the first time to bump up the pecs and biceps to 100, fool with the thighs and butt, and call it a day. And connoisseurs of the male shape will know what you did, believe me. This is the equivalent in real life of having a 54" chest and a 27" waist, and you'll stand out in SL in the same way you would in RL, not necessarily in a good way. Your basic shape, the one you get with most avs the day you enter SL, is more or less 50/50/50 -- everything is pretty much average. Making small changes is better; you can wear the shape for a couple of days and see if you need to tweak it again. One good ratio is 75/25. 50/50 shapes are for average looks, 100/0 shapes are for extraordinary looks, but 75/25 is a good balance if you want to look like you go to the gym, but perhaps not three hours daily.

Also worth noting is that, if you have a very dramatic body, it limits you in the kind of "looks" you can pull off. Slender ectomorphic twinks or huge bodybuilders tend to not look good in a business suit, and you might even be limited in the specific clothes you can wear. These days, with mesh clothes, it's less of a problem, but it can still be an issue. If you have an average mesomorphic body, you can wear anything and buy it off the rack without worrying too much.

In the next post, I'll tell you how to approach doing the really hard work; creating a face and head shape that works for you. But it can be so much fun getting into the fine details of the sliders that you might want to get started now. And be warned; in a future post, I'll talk about how you will want to make small changes to your shape once you find a skin that suits you; you'll want to show off your skin to its best advantage, so if it's drawn with long biceps, you'll want to have long biceps. So don't think this is a once-only process. It's worth taking a little time now to tweak your shape, though, so that you can get used to how the sliders work.

So at this stage, find a picture of a body you like, play around with the sliders, save your work early and often, and have some fun with it. Below is a picture of the three body types with famous bodybuilders, so you can see what a good build looks like with each body type. Check out, for instance, the trapezoidus muscle (the one between the neck and the shoulder at the top of the body). See how different it is between Jay Cutler on the left and Frank Zane on the right? You can figure out the relationships between body parts by looking at these pictures, or just trying to approximate a photo of a body you like. Enjoy yourself; if you've saved, you can't go wrong.





Wednesday, 2 April 2014

013: Building a look

I need to get on with completing the articles that were suggested by an article by Angelik Lavecchia called "10 Steps to Impress" in a new digital magazine called Manshots (click on the title to read it).  I've dealt with half the topics already, and all that's left is huge over-arching headings, each of which would be worth an article (or two or three) all on its own: 

  • Shape

  • Skin

  • Clothes

  • Accessories

  • Attitude

Rather than dive right in to talk about any single one of these items, it occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to talk about all of them at once, to give people a context in which to make decisions about them.  How this idea came about was, I was getting ready to go out dancing the other night and a friend was thinking of accompanying me. He IMed me and said, "What's the theme?" (Frequently gay clubs in SL have "theme" parties in which you are encouraged to dress all in green, or as a pirate, or in torn clothes, or whatever, and there's a prize for the people whom the assembled guests think has done the best job of portraying the theme.) "No theme," I IMed back. "So I'm just going as a hunky gay bar slut LOL."

[caption id="attachment_102" align="alignnone" width="300"]Hunky gay bar slut Hunky gay bar slut[/caption]

When he saw me, he said it was a convincing representation ;-)

It was only later that I realized I'd said something that might be useful to a newer SL resident, or even someone who's been working on improving their av's look without getting far. When you put your skin, shape, accessories and clothes together, you're doing what I think of as "building a look". The idea is that you want people to look at your av and think, "Oh, he's a ...."  Well, in my case, "hunky gay bar slut."  I've chosen everything to contribute to making people think of that phrase. My skin and shape are pretty much the same all the time, of course, but my hair is -- well, it makes me look gay. It's longer than straight guys wear their hair, it's a little too well-cut, and the floppy pieces hanging over the eyes are what clever haircutters use to call attention to your eyes by pretending to hide them.

Similarly, the jacket -- well, if a straight guy was going to wear that jacket, he'd be wearing a shirt or a T-shirt under it, or both. He probably wouldn't have decorated it with metal stars and chains, and I guarantee it wouldn't say "FUCKER" in studs on the back. (In fact, there are so many attachments on this jacket, I literally don't have a single attachment point left to do so much as smoke a cigarette.) Wearing the word "FUCKER" on your back, in fact, says "I'm gay, I'm a top, and I don't give a crap what you think about it." The skin-tight jeans with the overly large basket are straight out of Tom of Finland, as are the boots, and topping it off with fingerless leather gloves -- you're either going to a leather bar or you're channeling Michael Jackson.

However, the point is not that I want people to know I'm gay. The point is that I want people to look at my av and be able to make a quick decision about the kind of person that I am, based entirely on what they see. It's not time to be subtle unless you are trying to make a very subtle point; and it's not time to confuse your messages by sending too many different ones. To understand what I mean, try thinking of the picture above with the addition of a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.  What does that mean? Intellectual bar slut? I mean, eyeglasses aren't necessary in SL for vision, so you have to be saying something by wearing them. You're looking for quick sex -- with a smart guy? Mixed messages mean people don't know what to think when they look at you and that means you won't be as easy to approach, or avoid. You want people who are looking to meet a hunky bar slut to step right up, and people who are looking for a sensitive intellectual to walk on by. (And the corollary is, if you want people to leave you alone, wear an outfit that's two looks mashed together.)

There are a couple of posts here where I've complimented guys on having a nice outfit. Take a look at those guys and you'll see that they are sending a pretty clear message about what kind of man they are. When you look at them, you should be able to instantly get a phrase in your head that says, "Oh, this guy looks like a ...".

So when you're selecting skin, or hair, or a shape, or clothes, or accessories -- you should build a look and have a phrase in your head that describes it. I was out shopping the other day and saw someone and thought, "Executive at an internet company". (He was kind of sloppy in fitting his accessories, or I might have had material for a "nice outfit" blog post.) A woman I saw made me think "Office bitch." One way to know you're on the right track is if you save what you're wearing as an outfit; you shouldn't have to think about what to call it.

I'll do more posts in the future about how to select skin/hair/shape/clothes that contribute to a look. In the meantime, though, have a look at your go-to outfit and think to yourself, "What phrase would people think when they see that look?" And if it's unclear or muddled, it's time to fine tune what you look like. Some people need to take things off and some people need to add things on ... it's up to you. But start thinking in terms of a coherent look and you're halfway to looking pulled together and, more importantly, like someone that people will want to meet.

And if you see me out looking like a hunky bar slut, don't ask me any difficult trivia questions ;-)