Correcting Mesh Alpha Layers Issues? Say It Isn't So!
Does This Sound Familiar?
Customer's Side--The alpha layer for my mesh clothes doesn't fit right, bits of me stick through it when my AV moves. Those gull durn creators do crappy work, their stuff doesn't fit meeeeee!!!! Those merchants charge too much! They don't care about a good product! All that want is my money!!!
Creator/Merchant's Side--Took 20 hours to make that shirt, fit it for all 5 shapes, made the alpha exactly for each piece, added shoes, pants, and jewelry for 99L...that is 40 freaky cents in USD...and s/he complains about alpha not fitting right. Have you seen his/her large AV it doesn't even come close to the 5 standard sizes the alpha was made for. On top of that s/he didn't even try the demo before buying! Now s/he is going around and telling everyone my clothes suck!
Two Sides to Every StoryHow can those creative people making mesh clothing screw up something so essential as an alpha layer? Are customers just cheap cry-babies who expect everything for free? Are after-market creators just greedy money grubbers?
All these attitudes are kinda harsh and immature don't you think? Yet, I seem to hear the same complaints over and over, again and again, a couple times a week from people from all three factions. Something is really wrong for these complaints to continue to exist. So, I thought, okay I need to satisfy my own curiosity and see if this mystery of bad alpha and awful mesh is true or not.
Unscientific Research Goes A Long Way...Making anything in mesh is difficult. 3D Modeling software is complicated and has a very high learning curve for most programs, especially if you know nothing about 3D modeling beforehand. Making mesh clothes or, any clothing for Second Life (SL) for that matter, is an art unto itself. Clothing art is very difficult, in my humble opinion, compared to say making a house or furniture. If you don't believe me, download Blender (it's free) from http://www.blender.org/download/ and give it a try yourself.
I am at the point in the learning path to know just enough about making mesh clothing to be dangerous, but I rarely wear it since I do not care to be invisible or naked to a lot of viewers, which seems to be happening quite a bit these days with Firestorm. Also, I am not in favor of making my AV fit someone else's clothing. But for the sake of this article, I tried to take a sorta scientific approach to look at some of these complaints. Since, I do make and sell some after-market mesh clothing items, I bought a few full-permission mesh clothing kits from the original mesh creators.
These kits usually contain the 5 standard size mesh clothing objects, a created alpha for that particular mesh, a shadow map, and a UV map for use in making your own texture for the mesh garment. Some creators also included a .psd file for easier texture creation. Also, licensing requirements vary widely from Mesh Creator to Mesh Creator, such as what permissions and textures you can use, to the minimum price you can charge when selling the mesh item. If you want to pay a premium price for more semi-exclusive/elusive use, there are a few mesh clothing creators out there, who will sell you the actual .dae file for the mesh for you to tweak in modeling software. All of the mesh creators had demos available to try before you buy.
While I was at it, I scouted around for the same mesh item being sold by other after-market merchants, who had done their own creative processing before selling to the general public. Unless the after-market creators buys mesh with an .obj or .dae file, they cannot alter the actual mesh. Usually, the after market creators only add customized textures along with added items to the mesh object and alpha layer, such as shoes, jewelry, and other accessories for a package deal. All the after-market creators had demos available to try the mesh before you buy as well.
The biggest complaint I keep hearing about mesh is the alpha layers are not right so that is the issue I looked at. Most mesh clothing kits do include a full permissions alpha layer and/or texture for the after-market creator's use. This alpha layer is usually specifically created for the pieces of mesh being sold.
The ExperimentI tried on both the original mesh with alphas and the after-market alphas while standing on a posing stand. Visually comparing both sets of mesh, the majority of the alphas layers were the same. However, a couple of after-market creators took it upon themselves to include both an alpha layer based on the original, and one they had tweaked in some known problem areas (shoulders, chest, hips, etc). While these "extras" didn't make a difference on my AV, they very well could on those more muscular AVs and a nice conscientious touch by the after-market creator/seller in my opinion.
For the most part, I had no problems with the clothing fitting correctly when I wore the alpha, although I did have a problem with a few. With some clothing, bits of my AV did stick out and was visible. Paying attention where the problem was, I was usually able to fix the problem by small tweaks to the alpha in Photoshop and did not have to alter my AV. I know not everyone has the software or skills to do this tweaking yet, it is a possible solution for some if they have issues. But, it still did not answer the question why the alpha does not fit in the first place.
A Little About SL Clothing...So, let's back pedal a bit and look at a bit of clothing history in SL to better understand the issue and help us find a viable solution to the alpha issue.
Before mesh was introduced in SL, much of our clothing was made by wearing specially crafted clothing layers, created by the Lindens, for such things as jackets, shirts, undershirts, etc. These special layers had/have the ability to stretch and move with our AVs. It was necessary to wear these layers to cover the skin layer of our avatars. (I spoke little about "system clothing" layer order in a previous blog).
Usually, the better quality clothing you purchased had special textures created in graphic software and applied to these clothing layers. It was pretty easy to tell when a piece of clothing didn't fit right; thus, enabling the creator to adjust the texture accordingly. This was back in the day when you could still upload temporary textures in Phoenix and Firestorm and not waste money uploading a bad texture. When it fit well, the creator uploaded the texture for 10L, applied it to the special layer and finished their creation.
Unlike layered clothing, mesh is a created object like a prim Depending on the size and number of vertices in the mesh, the upload cost starts to become higher. Another thing about mesh is for it to move with our avatars, it has to be rigged to the bones/skeleton of the SL AV. While not all mesh clothing items are rigged (many shoes, separate belts, some hair, etc. are not), if you want mesh to move with your AV, it has to be rigged. Unfortunately, once the mesh is rigged and brought in-world it cannot be re-sized because it is specifically target to a specific size.
Sure, you can re-size some unrigged mesh but, like sculpts or regular prims, it will not really move well when your AV does. Mesh has to be rigged in an outside modeling software program to give it the ability to move. And, it can't be just any rig; it has to be a rig set-up specifically for the SL skeleton. Weight painting is something else mesh requires in order to move, and it is another art form of balancing out how the mesh moves when walking, sitting, standing poses, etc.
Rigging mesh can be a pain, especially if creating a full blown avatar and rigging it from scratch. But, the subtle changes and balance required in weight painting mesh, in my humble opinion, is a nightmare! Depending on the item and how it was made, it can be very difficult to weight paint an item that will work well in all circumstances and for all AVs. To help with movement issues and covering parts of our AVs, which may be visible, alpha layers were introduce to hide any bits sticking out of the clothing item.
Digging DeeperOkay so back to the task at hand....
Most of the alphas I tried on, while on a posing stand, had no issues. Those I had a problem with I was able to correct in Photoshop with a little work. So far, from a creator's perspective, I cannot see why so many are complaining about having an alpha layer issue for the mesh they buy. So what's the problem?
I had to stop and think about this for awhile. I began to wonder if part of the alpha issue might be related to rigging and weight painting, which is something very difficult to assess without having access to the original mesh creation file. Since none of the kits I purchased provided you with file, I had to become a bit creative in my unscientific testing.
In experiment two, I wore the original mesh, the alpha layer that comes with it, got off my posing stand and became to experiment with movement. For the movement part, I didn't just look at walking and sitting, but also looked at various stands and walks using several different Animations Overriders (AOs) I have.
Wow! What a difference an AO can make!
Depending on the AO I wore, I found some big differences in the stretch and pull in the clothing, which caused some of my bits to be visible.
If the movements in the AO were small or subtle, either bits sticking out were not a problem at all or, a small enough issue I could live with it. Known problem area stretching was also kept to a minimum with these smaller movements. I know some of you may have exacting standards, but knowing the mesh limitations as I do, I can live with a few limited imperfections in given areas with certain types of clothing.
Now, when I wore an AO, which had some large stretching movements and/or was constantly moving around a lot, I started to find some unacceptable issues. Parts of my AV not covered by the alpha texture started to show through the mesh along with some real distortion in the textures. It also seemed if the mesh was made skin tight to the avatar I also encountered more issues with my bits. While I did try to readjust the alpha layer in Photoshop, I did not have as much success as I did in the first experiment.
Shall I Go On...After deciding the issue might be one of weight painting, I thought I was finished with experimenting and started writing this article. But, something kept nagging at me. I went over in my mind what I had found...Yes, some alphas needed a little tweaking...some mesh seemed to need to be weight painted better...AOs with big movements can cause problems for us...that should be it right? What else could there be?
I thought and thought and nothing new came to mind, but I still had the feeling I was missing something. So, I went back and redid my experiments. While I confirmed what I had previously, I did find something else that will cause you problems. It was something so simple it had eluded me.
What did I find?
I am sure you have heard this over and over but, YOUR AV size does matter...it plays a very large role in whether a mesh will fit your SL avatar and keep your bits from sticking out. If your AV shape is out of the average range of the 5 standard mesh sizes, you are going to have issues. Alphas are made for the mesh. If the mesh is too small for your AV, you are going to have bits sticking out...simple as that. No amount of alpha fixing, no amount of weight painting, no subtle AO is going to fix a mesh garment that is too small for your shape.
More FindingsI think the issue many people have been encountering with mesh clothing is more a weight painting and AV shape issue rather than bad alphas or shoddily created mess issue. As I said earlier, weight painting is about mesh moving and stretching with our avatar. If the mesh is weighted too much in a given area it will not move correctly or will appear to tear with certain movements like walking or moving a certain way.
Also, part of this issue may have to do with your AV being too large for the standard mesh sizes used by creators to make mesh garments. You may fit the standard sizes in most places, but if they are too large in some, for example, arm length, shoulder width, belly, breast or butt size, you will see bits of you sticking out. Nothing is going to fix this other than you making these areas on your AV smaller, have custom mesh made, or don't wear that mesh.
What can you do?There really is no single answers for SL Residents or Creators at this point in time. But, there are a few things you can actively chose to do to make mesh clothing fit better....
2) Wear one of the "Standard Sizing Shapes as your shape.
3) Wear an alpha layer to hide those bits sticking through but keep your shape and adjust your AV.
4) Don't wear mesh clothing.
5) Have your mesh clothing custom created to fit your AV.
6) Try Demos Before you Buy!
7) Test demos with various AOs or the one you use the most. Don't just try on mesh on a pose stand only.
8) Don't buy from Creators who do not offer demos to try before you buy.
9) Combination of all the above.
RESOURCESIf you would like to learn more about Mesh Clothes Standard Size Shape check out the following links.