Sunday, 10 January 2010

Blue Mars and Avatars

As Blue Mars progresses through 2010 towards the full release one of the key features that users will be looking for is the ability to customise their avatar, or even import a custom one.

Right now users of Blue Mars may customise their avatar in one of three ways:

To change your gender in Blue Mars you must first log in to your User MyPage, from this link. After logging in click on the Edit button in the top-right corner of the My Profile window, then click on the Edit Avatar button.
To change your gender click on the Reset Avatar button and all settings will return to default values, including the gender, which can then be changed.

To change your face in Blue Mars you go to the Welcome Area and use the Face Customization board. Clicking this will take you out of the Welcome Area level and into a separate FaceCustomization level, where you can start to customize your avatar's face. As this is a separate level it is not entirely clear why this is not an option in the Places Browser, so users can go there directly instead of through the Welcome Area.

The Face Cusomization window presents you with five tabs:

To start the process you first select a face that is closest to what you want from the nine choices available from the Variation tab. You can see what your face looks like from all angles by clicking the arrows underneath the main image. If you do not like any of the initial nine choices click on the Randomize button to get another set.

Selecting a face then presents you with another nine variations on that face, and so on, until you get the nearest you can. If you do not like the variations presented try the Variation button to get another selection to choose from.

You then go through a similar process with the Eyes, Eyebrows, Nose, Lips and Cheek options.

The next tab, the Montage tab, allows you to add further refinements, such as eye and skin colour, eyebrow height and shape, lip shape, etc.

This tab gives sliders for making fine adjustments to the shape of the head: Light/Heavy; Gaunt/Round; Short/Tall; Thin/Wide; and Small/Large forehead.

Beware, use caution with the Head - Short/Tall slider, as moving this will change all other slider positions. Unfortunately there are no % gradations on the sliders so you cannot make a note of settings for future reference.

Once you are done with the Advanced settings you can click the Done tab, and your settings will be saved and applied. If you are not entirely happy with what you have achieved you can always use the Abort tab to return without any changes.

To get up the Cosmetics Editor you select the second icon in the bottom middle icon set, called 'Face', within the Blue Mars client.

This will bring up the editor window.

From this Editor you can add moustaches and beards (for the guys) and apply various make-up effects.

The small black square in the bottom-left of the Editor allows you to select a colour from a complete colour palette, while the larger black rectangle to its right allows you to select a brush shape, or eyebrow or hair shape to apply. By selecting the Symmetry check box any changes you make to one side of your face  will be mirrored on the other, saving a lot of time. You can delete any object you have applied to your face by using the Delete button, and you can abort all changes you have made by using the Reset button. When you are happy with your work click the Close button to save and apply all changes.

Importing Avatars
Industry standard avatar modeling software such as the commercial Poser and the free Daz Studio 3 both export to collada. Models from both can also be exported to 3ds Max, so in theory there should not be too big a problem in getting avatars created in these programs into Blue Mars, providing, of course, that Avatar Reality will enable the importation of avatars.

Of course, you do not need to create your own avatar, you can buy an existing professionally crafted avatar from sites such as Content Paradise and Renderosity.

Another option for the creation of avatars is with on-line software, such as evolver. Evolver allows you to choose an existing avatar, or start with a blank avatar, then modify it to your specification. You can then choose to transport (export) a fully rigged character in *.fbx or *.dae (collada) formats. The last step is charged for however, and the current introductory price is $39 and an additional $30 for the same model with 77 blendshapes for facial animation