Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making a dark skin

Hi again!

I've promised several times to talk about making a dark skin, and I think I've started writing something on it at least 4 times... Each time I ran into complications that I couldn't easily translate into instructions so I set it aside and later tried again.   I've not been able to reduce this to a set of relatively simple instructions.   Its rather like the Starlight Male Skin I took you through earlier but even more so.  It tends to be a very artistic endeavor, lots of lots of personal and subjective stuff - so what I might prefer and what you might prefer could easily be very different.

So, what I thought I'd do, on this 5th try to say something about dark skins, is to just talk about some of those choices.   This won't be a how-to... instead it will be a guidance. It will give you some things to think about as you embark on making a dark skin and give you my perspective on them.

For me, the main questions in making a dark skin are these:
  • How dark a skin can I make?
  • What happens with shadows and highlights on my dark skin.
  • Are there things about dark skins that are different from the lighter skins we've made so far?
How Dark?

Let's face it, our skin color (speaking as one human being to another) varies all over the place.  Some of our skins are very very dark, some are very very light, and of course there is everything in between.  When I say "dark skin", I mean the skins of people with a sub-Saharan African ancestry.  You may mean something different of course, and that is fine. It's just that I just have more experience with people of that ancestry so I can look closely at skins of that type and study them the detail.

I've found, through the school of hard knocks, that if we make a very dark skin with a true to life very dark color, or a very light skin with a true to life very light color, that Second Life renders them very poorly.  It's sad but true.  The problem with a very dark skin is that SL's nighttime will tend to make you invisible.  That's ok if you're having a running gun battle in some combat Sim at night, but generally not so ok.  It's good to be seen.  Also your dark skin needs to be able to have both shadows and highlights... if you start with a very dark skin color, you really have no where to go with the shadows.

The problem with a very light skin is that SL's nearby lights, and sometimes even just daylight, can make the skin seem garish and washed out.  If your intended style is garish, I suppose that's ok.  But its really not going to do for most of us.  And here too, your skin needs to be able to have both shadows and highlights.... if you start with a very light skin color, you really have no where to go with the highlights.

So the thing to do is to pick a color that's dark, but not quite as dark as our skins can get in real life. Exactly what this color is is up to you.  For me, I find that something like HSV = 22,71,42 works pretty well.  I would describe it as a dark mocha.  It is by no means the deepest darkest brown that I've seen in real life but its a nice color.

For those into quasi-human avatars, other colors are fun and interesting too.  Especially dark reds and dark greys.  I've tried a few other colors, violets, greens and such.. and they will look good in some SL lighting but seem to look bad in other SL lighting.  A dark red value that I like is HSV = 3,62,55.  A dark grey value I like is HSV = 0,0,39.  We'll talk a bit more about these later.


Of course, the place to start is with the values given us by Eloh Eliot in her Starlight skin.  But, if you're making the sub-Saharan-African skin.. you'll find that it looks pretty bland.  The shadows are not deep enough and the highlights are not bright enough.

So the obvious answer is to somehow make the shadows deeper and the light parts lighter.  But....as the old map-makers said when they warned the captains of ships that they were sailing into dangerous or uncharted waters , 'Here be Dragons!" The danger is that IF you modify the upper and lower textures slightly differently, you will create a line at your waist between the two layers.  This is the death knell of any skin.

So.... some advice....  Break the Highlights and shadows down into smaller jobs. What I do is first is the shadows.

For the dark skin color  (HSV) I described above, I created a new layer and applied that new dark skin color to it.  Then I went through each of the files that Eloh gives us, and made a copy of each shadow layer.  This was mostly those that used the multiply mode, but there were exceptions that I had to handle differently.  Things like nipples and lips, and perhaps makeup around the eyes.

Once you've duplicated the shadow layers in each file you'll probably go back and want to modify of the opacity of some of the duplicates.  GIMP gives you the ability to adjust it in fine detail using the slider, but I've found that this is a bad idea.  If you use the slider and you're just 'eyeballing' it, the danger is that you think you're doing the same level of opacity on a layer on the upper, and one on the lower, but you're not.  They'll be just a little off and before you know it you have the dreaded line between the upper and lower skin textures.

So, what I do is pick just a few values for my opacity and stick to them.  The values I use are these: 0, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 100.  When I make a change, I usually also make a change to the name of the layer so its something like this 'abs.shadow 88'  where 88 is the opacity value I've set. This does two things... it makes it less likely that I will screw up and make the abs.shadow on the upper layer 87 and the abs.shadow layer on the lower texture 89.  And... WHEN (not if)  I screw things up I know where to look to fix things.


Highlights on dark skins are really interesting.   It's good to keep an eye out on real life and really study what you see.  When I do this I see two very different kinds of highlights.

One type of highlight I see is the bright shiny whitish reflection.  I usually see this when outside in full sunlight... and its probably a warm day too.  So people have a light film of moisture on their skins and it reflects the sunlight in a very direct way.  The edges of these reflections also tend to be sharper.  Not a crisp line mind you, skin is not a metallic surface like a car.  Think how your skin reflects light when you've put a layer of suntan oil on and you'll have the idea... then tone it down a little, 'cause a little sweat is not suntan oil.  :-P

The second type of highlight is much more subtle.  It happens when the light penetrates the outer surface of the skin, diffuses and reflects back through the skin from the inside.  The light picks up a warm tint while doing this and lightens the surface of the skin without appearing to be white.   This is the kind of reflection tends to have a much softer edge to it.  In fact, the edge is so soft its hard to say it has an edge at all.  And its very much NOT a white reflection, its more a warming of the natural skin color.  On a pale skinned person it will tend toward pink and on a brown skinned person it will tend to a warmer, brown... maybe adding a little orange to the underlying brown, but it's still brown.

It occurs to me that some people may not be familar with the idea of warm colors and cool colors.  It's a pretty common way of describing things and if you look on the compact flourescent light bulbs you can by in the grocery store, you'll notice that they list something called color temperature.  The lower numbers are warmer, they have more red, orange and yellow.  The higher numbers are cooler, they have more blue.  Here's a link with more than you'll want to know about color temperature.  :-P

Color Temperature

The types of highlights that Eloh Eliot has given us with the Starlight skin is the second type.  So what we will be looking for as we make the highlights brighter is a shift in the color to something lighter and warmer... not a layer of white on top of the darker skin.

As I suggested with the shadows above... I would just go through each of the layers and duplicate them as a first step.  This raises a question though... there are really two kinds of these highlights in Eloh's files.  One is called "Shift' and the other is called "Highlight" or "Light".  My personal experience has been duplicate the Shifts and leave the Highlights and Lights alone.  As they say... YMMV  (Your Milage May Vary) .... you may find that you like to use the highlights rather than the shifts to do this.   Give it a try... but if you do, be sure you leave an easy way back to a good starting point so you can recover if you don't like the result.

We have the same danger here as we did with the shadows... so look at the waist where the upper and lower textures come together very carefully.  If there's a line... you've messed up somewhere.  And you'll need to either figure it out or start from your last save-point and give it another try.

Let's return for a few minutes to the quasi-human avatars, dark-red and a dark-grey and talk about highlights.  For the dark-red, I've found that I can use the same approach that I've described above and it works very well.  But.... dark-grey shows an interesting problem.  If you repeat the above for the highlights of a dark-grey skin, you'll find that the highlights take on a warmish cast.  This is not a good thing in a grey skin.  Fortunately the solution is pretty straightforward ... go through each highlight layer and desaturate it (Color->desaturate).  You'll need to do this for both the shift layers and the highlight layers.... and you may find you need to do some work on the nipples and lips too.

And if you get brave and venture further into other colors like blue and green, be sure to desaturate as you would for the grey, it would not do to have warmer highlights on a cooler skin color.

What's different?

Finally there's the question of how dark skins are different than lighter skins.  I'm thinking of the dark skins of sub-Saharan African's here... and the lighter skins of Northern Europeans and I do see several differences.

But first, let's talk about where things are the same.

Many light skins and even some darker skins include tan-lines.  For those of you who live in a cave or perhaps a sub-basement and never come out, tan-lines are the imprint made by a bathing suit, usually a bikini, as it blocks the sun's tanning rays.  This can happen for most people with light skins and for some people with the lighter shades of dark skins.  Some consider such things unsightly, and they can be a problem if you have bathing suits of different styles.  I'm ignoring tan-lines here but you may not want to do so.  If you want to add them, you'll need to read the sections of this blog where I talk about how to make a tank top.  Your cut for your bikini tan-lines will be different, of course.  But the principles will be the same.  And... be sure to make yourself a bikini that matches!

There is another skin color variation that I'm ignoring as well.  It's also due to tanning.  The shoulders and back of most light skinned people who spend a good bit of time in the sun will be darker than their fonts.  And under-arms are often even lighter than the fronts.  Of course if you visit the tanning salons you're getting an all over even tan... and you can do so in the natural sun as well.. you just have to be more intentional about it.  And as above, people with lighter shades of darker skins will show these tendencies of tanning as well.

I'm simply ignoring all of this sun related tanning and assuming you're running around in the bright sun naked all of the time... then spending time laying on your back with arms over your head to get a nice tan on your tummy too.  :-P

Now for the differences we WILL pay attention to....

The first difference is in fine detail of the the color of the skin itself. I find that dark skins are smoother in their color... or I could say that light skins have more small-grained variation in their color.  Freckles on a light skin are one obvious example.  Age spots are another.  But even ignoring these things you can see the blue of veins and small variations in the skin color itself on a light skin.  Adding veins is beyond the scope of what we're about here, but I do add something to give me this micro-variation in the overall skin color when making a light skin, and then use the freckle layers provided by Eloh.  On dark skins I would turn off the freckles and not do anything to give the skin the fine-grained variations.

The second difference is to notice places where the dark skins are lighter.  For those of a sub-Saharan-African ancestry, the palms of the hand are usually a bit lighter shade of brown and the soles and heels of the feet are as well.  This is really really tricky to create but its a very visible feature so I think it's important to add it to your dark skin.

The problem is that the palm is on one portion of the template and the back of the hand is on another portion of the template.  So if you do the obvious thing and make the back of the hand dark and the palm lighter, you'll end up with a very visible line running through the side of each finger, and a line at the underside of the wrist.  Bad, bad!  It will not do!

The solution is extend the lighter color into the template for the back of the hand.  But you have to do with with a fuzzy paintbrush.  And that fuzzy paintbrush cannot intersect with the edge of the template at all.  If it does, you will create the very line you're trying to avoid.  ( You can see my result in the picture to the right. )

The way to do this is create a layer mask over your skin layer and then paint with a fuzzy paintbrush over the areas where you want the light color to show through.  (You will have to create a layer with the lighter color below your skin layer.)  To do this you'll need to zoom in on the portions of the fingers and do each one very carefully.

Or you can create paths that are like the bones of the fingers and use the fuzzy paint-brush along those paths trick that we used in creating the straps and trim of the tank top in earlier posts.  It CAN be done!  But it is NOT easy.

There is one more place on a dark, sub-Saharan-African skin that shows some color variation.  The lower lip of some people with such ancestry is a little lighter than the upper lip.   I have no idea why, genetics I guess.  But if you google the question you'll find lots of discussion on both sides.  So it's optional, but its something you may want to consider doing.

The way I did this is to make layers that separate the upper lip from the lower lip.  To do this make two copies of the lipsA.base.darker layer and name one lipsA.base.darker.upper and the other lipsA.base.darker.lower.  Then add a black layer mask to both and on the upper make the area of the upper lip white, and on the other, make the area of the lower lip white. Now you can control the lightness and darkness of the upper and lower lips separately.

Dark skin wrap-up

As I mentioned at the start, making a dark skin from Eloh's Starlight skin is not an easy thing to do.  But it IS possible and the results do look good.   Here's a picture of my end result with the color I gave you earlier (picture to the right - double click on it for a larger view).  This is not the skin I normally wear, but I would be happy to do so.  It is a very nice skin.

And here's a picture of the same skin at night (on the left).  Both of these pictures are un-retouched and taken using a viewer 2 style viewer at with the High graphics setting.

You may be thinking that this is all well and good but my dark-mocha is not what you think of as a dark skin, and you want to go darker.  By all means... do so!  That's part of the art of this - you get to choose what you do... don't feel that you need to follow what I've done.

I haven't tried to go darker than this. If I did I would guess that the areas I described above would be the issue areas.  Perhaps you will need to make more copies of the shadow areas... or less.  Or more copies of the shift areas... or make copies of the highlight areas too.  As you do this... be sure you do it in small steps so you can check your work with temporary textures uploaded to SL.  That will let you find the flaws that get introduced as we mess with Eloh's layers and fix them.

One last suggestion as you launch off into creating your own dark skin....  Once you've created all three templates for your new dark skin and tried them out.  And you've fixed the line that showed up between the upper and lower layers, perhaps you even fixed it several times..... Wear the temporary skin for a couple days - you may even have to reload the temporary templates and reapply them to the skin.  I find that when I do this I notice little details that will bug me and I'll need to do something to change them.  Once you can wear the skin for a day or two and are still happy with it.... THEN upload the textures as permanent textures and apply them to your skin.


PS:  You may have noticed some problems with the pictures on this blog.  I think I figured out the problem... it was probably my own doing.  And I think the pictures should be visible to everyone now.  Please let me know if you find that's not so.

No comments:

Post a Comment