I’ve been meaning to write about mesh avatars for a while. But first, I needed to pin down what exactly it is that troubles me about mesh avatars.
Of course it could just be familiarity – I accept the faults in the standard avatar as I no longer really see them, whereas mesh is new and different. I don’t think that’s so. There is something wrong about the feel of mesh for me and I think I’ve worked out what it is. That’s not to say it will always be so, just what I’ve seen so far.
Standard avatars fold and crease too much. Mesh solves that problem. However, my conclusion is that I still prefer the creases to the overly rounded and pneumatic appearance of mesh, which simply doesn’t crease enough, if at all.
To illustrate the point, I got my two willing assistants to demonstrate. Robin made her displeasure known about being obligated to wear a dress instead of jeans or shorts, but we all have to suffer for our art sometimes. I tried a couple of mesh avs – the new standard Second Life avatar called Sara, and a free one I picked up from TheMeshProject. Both my assistants are using the same standard M shape. Despite that they were different heights – I’m really not sure how that works.
I’m going to start with armpits. Katja, at the front in both sides, has the sl Sara mesh avatar. She has no fold or crease at the top of her arm – it’s like her arm is extruded out of the top of the body, rather than hinged, and this forms a wierd rounded space underneath it. Behind her, Robin has a standard avatar, and in both shots you can see the fold line at the top of the arm where it squishes against her body and squashes into the side of her boob. Which is exactly what my arm does in real life. Both avs have issues, but for me the standard wins.
Next up is the knee – which is a true hinged joint. Looking at the standard av first – it’s not smooth and it’s quite crude, but that’s approximately the right anatomy, with a knee cap, a leg pit and a rounded thigh. The mesh one (this time TheMeshProject, but the sl Sara mesh av is very similar) has that pneumatic look I’ve mentioned before. If you inflated a balloon and bent it, it would look like that. It’s just too smoothly rounded – it doesn’t look like a hinged joint. Standard av wins again for me.
Finally, leg pits. This is a problem area for standard avatars as they stretch and fold badly, and that does ugly things to the skin texture. But oh, dear, mesh, no crease at all – too smooth and pneumatic. This is the standard sl Sara mesh avatar. We are trading one problem for another, and I still come down on the side of a standard av.
Mesh is an ongoing development, and I’m sure it will improve; my comments are intended as constructive criticism. However I’m not 100% sold on mesh’s ability as a material to represent the flexibility of the human form as yet. This includes hair, and I have and use both. For me, mesh solves one set of weaknesses, but has as many itself. The human body is both smooth and angular, and both are important. There’s an untidiness to the human form which we often dislike – our hair does stupid things, and our bodies fold, crease, squish and squash, and yes my female friends, even form cellulite – yet those things are a part of what makes us distinctively human. It’s often the quirks in others that we find attractive. Mesh controls, tames and regularises. I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of perfection.