• 31Aug

    I’ve been making some positive life changes lately. You know, the usual stuff: eliminating stress, exercising more, focusing on the things in life that are important to me, … and transforming into a mermaid!?

    Mermaid 4 in SL

    As you can see, I’m shedding my human-ness in SL, and embracing my aquatic side. There’s still a ways to go in the transformation. I need new hair, eyes, and probably a new wardrobe! (Hrmm. I guess that’s what my fortune cookie meant: “You will be doing a lot of shopping soon… in bed!”)

    But, the first stage is done: a new skin! My deepest gratitude to Eloh Eliot for her Starlight skin, which I used as a base. Without Eloh’s generosity, my skin would have taken weeks, instead of a few days. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it, as it wouldn’t have been worth the time investment.

    Here’s a tantalizing close-up of the patterns on the back:

    Mermaid 4 Close-up (Back)

    Of course, I am far too lazy to have hand-painted anything as intricate and detailed as that! No, no, this is a job for technology! I relied heavily on Blender for this project, using its procedural textures, nodes system, and baking to create and tweak the patterns. As you can see, the nodes setup for the texture is a bit complex (click to view or Flickr, where you can view notes and a larger version):

    Mermaid 4 Nodes

    Here’s how it works. The skin starts with a blue version of my Starlight mod (which I spent several hours tweaking to resemble my old skin in the face). On top of that are overlaid two layers of patterns, which were created from Blender’s procedural noise textures (specifically, “Clouds”, and “Stucci”), run through several processing nodes. I imported the default female mesh from the Avatar Databank to provide the 3D coordinates for the noise, so that the sizes would bake uniformly all over the body, even though the UV layouts are not proportional to the body part sizes.

    The overall density and darkness of the patterns is controlled by a mask (grayscale image), which is close to white in the areas where the patterns are strongest (like the back, top of the arms, and outside of the legs), and close to black where the patterns are weakest (like the face, chest, belly, and inside of the legs), with a smooth gradation in between. The mask was painted by hand, using Blender’s 3D painting tool on the mesh. I created a new UV layer and mirrored the UVs of the left side of the body overlayed the right side, so that the mask would be symmetrical.

    The mask acts as a threshold for the noise pattern: wherever the noise is darker than the mask, the pattern is opaque. So, since the mask is very dark on the belly, the noise pattern tends not to show there. I chose this approach for better realism in the way the pattern fades out. Rather than the pattern just becoming less opaque on the belly, the splotches actually becomes smaller and less dense, too. (For example, compare the small of the back with the buttock in the close-up above. The mask was lighter on the buttock, so the pattern is not as tightly packed there.)

    There were also several layers of nodes influencing the skin color in more subtle ways, like applying a faint purple hue to the face, chest, belly, and inside of the legs, and slightly darkening the underlying skin in areas where the pattern was particularly dense. I also applied a little bit of baked-in shiny goodness (since, as a mermaid, my skin is slightly slimy!), using a system similar to this technique described by loonsbury.

    I think that covers it. I’m quite pleased with how the skin came out, although I’ll likely make adjustments and tweaks in the future, and probably some new colors, as well. But for now, it’s on to the next steps in my transformation: hair, eyes, body additions (fins, gills, etc.), and new outfits!

    You can see more pictures of the skin on Flickr to see its evolution, and watch for my future transformations.

    Posted by Jacek Antonelli @ 1:10 pm

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