Kat’s Toolbox : Lightwave 3D

Down to the real core of my toolset today: NewTek’s Lightwave 3D.

Lightwave is my main go-to bit of software for 3D modelling, rendering and texturing, so it’s the central bit of kit around which all the other bits of software orbit. I’ve been using Lightwave for about fifteen years now and, though it’s not a popular package for Second Life creators, I think I’m too old to go learning new tricks now 😉

Its user interface is…well, different, if you’re used to other 3D applications. There’s almost no icons anywhere, and where there are they’re tiny, almost entirely unrelated to the function they perform and without tooltips. You just have to know the Tao of Lightwave. Or read the manual. As for the rest of it, you’re golden so long as you can read and know what “Fast Triple Traverse” means.

Also adding to the strangeness is the way it’s sectioned into two separate applications: Modeler and Layout.

Modeler is used for building individual models and layout is used for laying out scenes, lighting and rendering. Sitting between them is the Hub which keeps changes synced up between the two.

Modeler interface

Modeler interface

Once you get used to this I think it’s a good way to work because you’re never fighting through the rest of the objects in your scene to see what you’re working on.

Layout user interface

Layout user interface

All of these oddities to one side, though (and God knows all 3D packages have their particular personalities – Maya always seems insufferably smug and Blender just wants to watch the world burn, if only you could find that button that was totally right there in the previous version) Lightwave is a very powerful piece of software. It gets used in a lot of TV and movie work and, though it’s lost some ground to 3DS and Maya due to a few lacklustre versions (I’m looking at you, Lightwave 9!), the latest version is back on track with some excellent new features.

You’ll probably be seeing a lot more of Lightwave in future posts showing progress on items I’m building. I’ve just bitten the bullet and upgraded to version 11.5, so I’m still feeling my way through a few of the changes and trying to work out where a few options have gone to.

Website: https://www.lightwave3d.com/

Kat’s Toolbox : Sculptris

Sculptris is a useful (and free!) modelling application that’s similar in many ways to Zbrush. In fact it’s so similar that the makers of Zbrush, Pixologic, persuaded the developer to join their team.

It’s a 3D sculpting app that allows you to work with a piece of virtual clay, shaping it with a variety of tools.

sculptris ui1


It’s an excellent tool for adding organic details like cloth wrinkles or shaping complex curves and surfaces. Unlike Zbrush where you subdivide the entire mesh for higher detail, Sculptris dynamically adds detail to the mesh where you paint with the brushes. This can lead to some very dense meshes in places but it also has some very nice tools for reducing this complexity down again.

It’s more than just a sculpting tool, though. If you import a Wavefront OBJ file that already has a UV map then it will offer you the option to go “straight to paint”. In this mode you can paint colour and patterns directly onto the mesh and then save out a texture map image.

sculptris ui2


The painting tools are basic but it can be a useful tool for laying out how lines or textures will cross UV boundaries or for just doing a little touching up around the seams where things don’t quite match up.

Unfortunately development of Sculptris seems to have stalled and there hasn’t been a new version for a while. The current version does have a few problems – mostly related to sudden crashes, so save your work early and often.

You can download Sculptris from its site: http://www.pixologic.com/sculptris/

Stuff I can’t sell : Antique Leather Catsuit

For the last couple of products I’ve released I’ve also released an Antique Leather texture pack. I think these have looked pretty good on the mesh boots, gloves and dress, so I had to ask the obvious question: What about a matching catsuit?

LPD Antique Leather Vendor

The antique leather effect is a procedural texture I’ve put together in Lightwave, so it was pretty easy to bake off a set of textures for the avatar mesh. Flat on my screen I thought they looked OK too.

How did they look uploaded to SL and worn as a catsuit?

Oh, dear God!

I’m modelling as hard as I can, but nothing works!

Well, like a dreadful skin disease.

I think I precisely hit the desirability valley in between “Desirable wearable” and “Grotesque enough for horror costumes”. I estimate the market size here as zero.

Feast your eyes!

Feast your eyes!

Stuff I can’t sell : Empowered Outfit

Sometimes I make stuff just for my own amusement – sometimes they’re experiments, sometimes they’re copies of copyrighted characters (like the one in this post) and sometimes they just go terribly, terribly wrong.

I’ve been a fan of Adam Warren’s Empowered comic about a bondage-prone superheroine for some time now and a while back I made myself an Empowered costume. If you haven’t heard of Empowered before I urge you to go check it out and give Adam Warren some of your money – you can get a flavour at his DeviantArt.

empowered 02
Obviously, Empowered herself is a copyrighted character, so I couldn’t put this outfit on sale but it made a useful diversion for a couple of hours and let me try out a few new things:

First of all, the outfit in my inventory is just a single wearable prim – the Empowered mask. When I wear it it gives me two #RLV folders containing two versions of the blue catsuit. Once it detects that the two folders have been received it will force-wear one.

One of Empowered’s defining characteristics is the fragility and unreliability of her super-suit. It tears very easily and, when torn, her powers fail her. This is when the bondage happens 😉 I tried to give this suit a flavour of that by having the mask prim track collisions and, each time a collision above a certain threshold occurred it would add a little to a damage counter. When the damage counter got high enough it would use RLV to unwear the original suit and substitute it for a ripped-up version.

empowered 03

I thought I might re-use some of the scripts I wrote for this at some point in the future, but I’ve kinda got out of making clothing-layer stuff in SL, so I’ve never gone any further with them.

Still, at least I get to bounce around the metaverse as a super chica in painted-on-slutwear from time to time 😉

empowered 01

Kat’s Toolbox : Paint Shop Pro 6

When I talk to people who’re just starting out making stuff for Second Life a lot of them ask me what software I use, so I’m going to do a series of posts detailing all the bits and pieces in my toolbox.

The software I use has just sort of piled up over time without rhyme or reason – some I use because I’ve been using it since long before I got into SL, some I’ve discovered since and some I’ve had to write myself.

I’m starting with one of the oldest bits of software I use, and I use it all the time: JASC Paint Shop Pro 6.00. Yes, that’s right, software from 1999 – in a few years it’ll be old enough to drink!

I can’t even remember whether I actually bought this or got it for free with a printer; still, no matter what I paid for it I think it’s a bargain for all the use I’ve got out of it.

1999 called, they want their software back!

Paint Shop Pro 6.00

So, why am I using such an ancient bit of software when much more capable stuff like GIMP is available for free? Well, I do use more advanced image editing software (see later toolbox posts, I expect) but for basic operations like layering up templates, resizing, tweaking a few pixels there’s been nothing to improve on for many years. PSP6 does all that just as well as the latest PhotoShop but it has a tiny memory footprint and starts more or less instantly.

A lot of the time having something that is immediately available and won’t hog memory from anything else is more useful than the extra functions of a bigger package.

So, newer isn’t always better – here’s to the old packages that can still cut it!

Avatar T-Shirt Template

For a while now I’ve been playing around more and more with cloth simulation to make mesh clothing. It’s a powerful tool for creating a natural looking drape for fabric around an avatar’s body but to get the best results it’s hard to keep the poly count down.

The last couple of days I’ve been messing around with creating cloth-simmed meshes and then baking their textures down onto the avatar’s mesh to produce an “old fashioned” piece of SL clothing that still takes some advantage of the cloth simulation.

The piece of clothing I’ve been working with was a simple T-Shirt and now that I’ve got something that seems pleasing I’m going to share all the textures with you – because I’m just that generous 😉

TShirt Template Example

I’m releasing these files under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. This means that you’re free to:

  • Copy, distribute, display and perform the work
  • To make derivative works
  • To make commercial use of the work

So long as you give me credit, go nuts 🙂

For now I’ll just include the template files – I may give a more technical breakdown of how I made them in a later post.

There are four templates here:

  • Diffuse – this contains shadows and shading
  • Ambient Occlusion – this contains more shading information, different to the diffuse layer
  • Cloth – this is an unshaded cotton-like cloth layer to give the shirt some texture
  • Alpha – a black & white alpha map that defines the edges of the texture
Cloth template

Cloth template

Diffuse template

Diffuse template

Ambient Occlusion template

Ambient Occlusion template

Alpha template

Alpha template

I’m providing all these textures in 1024 x 1024 resolution, bigger than the 512 x 512 allowed for SL’s clothing layer textures, but I find it’s always better to have a big texture you can scale down than a small one you have to scale up.

These templates are designed to be blended together in a graphics editor like Photoshop. The way I work with these is to start with a square image filled with a plain base colour. Add the template layers on top of this background and set them to the Multiply blend mode. Play with the opacity sliders for a bit until the effects of each layer seem to add up nicely (I have no scientific method for this, just my eyeballs) then save out a merged image and apply the alpha map to it as a mask:

Example of merging template layers

Example of merging template layers

Scale the resulting texture down to 512 x 512 pixels, upload it to Second Life and Bob’s your uncle 🙂