Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tools, Credits and Caveats

First the Caveat.... I'm not an expert at building, making clothing, making skins, or trees, or flowers, or eyes, or hair, etc etc. So don't expect me to have the final word on things. In any case, there is usually more than one way of doing things and each will have it's own advantages and disadvantages. I do enjoy Making Stuff though, and I'll share what I have learned so far. As I learn more, I'll share that too.

Now the tools:
  • Computer: I use a laptop (Lenovo SL500) running Windows 7 Home Premium, with 2 gigs and a NVidia GeForce G 105m graphics controller. Not really all that hot - but it gets the job done.
  • 2d Graphics Software: GIMP.... which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. ( Get it at )
  • Eloh Eliot's Open Source Skins ( get them at )
  • Second Life Viewer: I use Phoenix. ( get it at )
  • A Second Life ID/Account. (
Everything in the list above is free, except the computer of course. So no excuses, go get them!

I should also say that these are the tools I use to make a skin. There are other tools that I use for other purposes and they will probably turn up later as my attention turns to other things.

Now for the Credits:

GIMP is an amazing and powerful program. It competes with the likes of Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator. And did I mention that it was free? It's rather quirky but once you get used to it you'll find it pretty easy to use.

Phoenix is another labor of love and is also free. It's derived from the source code of the Second Life viewer known as Snowglobe and adds some very useful features to it. The feature that we will be particularly interested in is the ability to upload 'temporary' files without a charge from Second Life. (Phoenix will be replaced at some point by Firestorm, which will be based on a newer set of source code from the newer Second Life viewer known as version 2. )

Second Life comes from Linden Labs and together with the viewer creates a 3d world that you can move though in a fairly natural way. Its an amazing achievement and has to be seen to be understood.

Second Life allows for free IDs so you can login and experiment with it at no cost. Be aware though, at some point you will probably want to put some money in your account that you can draw on for in-world things like uploading files from your computer into Second Life. While Phoenix allows you to upload files temporarily, they will in time disappear. To make a file permanent you will need to upload a permanent file and that will cost you some spare change. If you put 10 or 20 dollars in your account, that will more than cover your needs for creating a skin.

Finally, I must credit Eloh Eliot for her creation of the skins and her generosity in making those skins open source and freely available on the web. I wish I knew how she made them, but I don't. Eloh provides the skins in several formats, depending on the skin in question. All are provided in Postscript format and the newer ones in GIMP and Adobe Illustrator formats as well. GIMP will read Adobe Postscript format so with it you can work with all of the skins Eloh provides. (Note that Eloh Eliot is an Avatar name in Second Life - not the person in questions' real name. And no, I don't know her real name, that is often the way of things in Second Life.)

In the following posts - I will .....
  1. Download and install the files that define one of Eloh's skins onto my laptop.
  2. Modify that skin to my liking using GIMP.
  3. Create the 'texture' files that will define the skin to Second Life using GIMP.
  4. Sign on to Second Life using the Phoenix Viewer.
  5. Upload those files (henceforth known as 'textures') from my laptop to Second Life temporarily using the Phoenix Viewer.
  6. Use the Edit Appearance of Second Life to 'wear' those textures as skins.
  7. Look over the results - decide what you like and don't like, loop back to step 2 and iterate until you are happy with what you see.
  8. Upload the files paying 10 linden dollars (some pocket change) for each, repeat step 6 wtih the permanent textures.
And BAM! You've made a skin!

I suppose I should say something about the computers and what is needed to run Second Life. Second Life is a 3d virtual world, and can stress a computer much more than the typical word processing or web browsing applications so some attention to the computer's 'power' is necessary.

Many people will cringe when they see I'm using a laptop. And yes, I'm also connected to SL (Second Life) over a wireless connection. As of the today, Feb 23 2011, their cringing is justified for most of the laptops in common use. The first problem with laptops is the Integrated Graphics that Intel or AMD usually provide. A second likely problem is with the amount of memory the computer has available to it.

Without giving you way too much information on the subject... Laptops that come with Windows Vista or Windows 7, 2 gigs or more or memory, and a separate (not Integrated) Graphics Controller by NVidia or ATI (AMD) will probably do the job. If you're reading this and wondering if the Vista or Windows 7 laptop you're using will do the job, the most likely problem is that you will lack a NVidia or ATI graphics controller. Even without the better graphics controller, your computer will probably work with Second Life - it just won't perform well in all situations.

If you have a computer running Window's XP, I'm afraid your odds of things going well are much lower. If you have 2 gigs of memory and a graphics controller (not integrated) you have a good chance. If not, you may try to upgrade or just go ahead and give it a try. It will probably work but you will probably have performance problems.

Both Intel and AMD have been improving the performance of their integrated graphics controllers over the past 3 or 4 years and this year, 2011, has a good chance of being the year that both of their integrated graphics controllers will be good enough for Second Life without having to resort to something fancier and more expensive. So its my guess that by 2012, all laptops purchased with integrated graphics controllers will be ok for Second Life.

Now for network connections: There are two important quantities for the network, speed and reliability. Reliability is the most important attribute. If your connection is flaky you'll have serious problems. My connection is 802.11n to a router that connects to a high speed cable modem and I've not had any trouble with it. Others do have difficulties though and the likely cause is the loss of the wireless signal strength as it passes though walls, floors and bounces off things like refrigerators and file cabinets.

At a minimum SL will need a link with at least a 1 megabit/sec from your computer to the Second Life servers. It will not use that bandwidth all of the time, but it will need it in bursts. If you try to connect over cellphone networks you are likely to run into bandwidth problems, and use all of your monthly data quota in short order .... possible, but not recommended. If you try a satellite internet connection, the round trip ping delay will make it unworkable.

Ok - you have your homework. Go and download those programs and get them installed. Try them out - see what you can learn.


1 comment:

  1. Hello Robin; My friend and I are trying to start and follow your tutorial and have hit a problem with the link for skin of eliot Eloh listed in the how to ... Do you know anywhere we can get these skins from please as that link is not working for downloads :( Thank you