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.





1 comment:

  1. […] 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 […]