Friday, January 21, 2011

Cheesecake Mariko: Baby, The Rain Must Fall

I keep reassuring myself, "It's Art, Mariko ... ART!"
Are you sure it's not "Girls Gone Wild"?

Okay, if you say it's art - Click on the picture to enlarge it for better viewing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Walking With Windlight Again - Windlight Is Not Avatar Friendly

This post is about avatar appearance when walking with windlight. It is not about taking photographs of avatars using windlight as an artistic tool. Windlight is a wonderful tool for Second Life photography. The Second Life photographer sets lighting, poses, and camera angles and fine tunes windlight settings  to achieve a desired effect. The creative use of windlight settings can result in highly stylized photos of avatars that are truly works of art. Whereas artistic photography is a staged set scene, walking is dynamic - scenes flow and are experienced, not staged. When we walk with windlight, a windlight setting is selected and fixed as we traverse through the virtual world. Windlight profoundly affects how we visually experience Second Life. Of course, we can also walk without windlight.

I like to experiment with windlight and experience a wonderfully creative build under different windlight settings. The atmospheric effects can be quite sumptuous, and windlight's light can brighten landscaping and structures. I like creating my own personal windlight settings. But for normal walking, I walk windlight free. As the title of this post asserts, windlight is not avatar friendly. Windlight's intense light is very harsh on skin. It effaces details and subtlety in the skin's colors. The result is that the appearance of avatars becomes plastic. They look like plastic dolls and waxy mannequins. I call it the flashlight-in-your-face plastic look. Given the problems associated with windlight and avatar appearance, we now have avatar optimizing windlight settings that deal with the problem of plasticity.  Indeed, the need for 'optimizing' windlight settings is an acknowledgement that avatars do not fare well under windlight. The best and most popular optimizing settings were developed by Caliah Lyon, a fantastic fashion photographer. 

For many, the most important dimension of the Second Life experience is social. And so we care about how our avatars look to ourselves and to our fellow residents. Appearance provides valuable social cues. Given the importance of avatar appearance, the question I want to pose is "Are we better off walking with windlight or without windlight?"  

Let's test this empirically. I flew over Opar, my homestead sim, set myself down on a pretty spot, and struck a pose. The positioning of the avatar is quite random. Now, let's see how this scene is experienced without windlight and experienced under different windlight settings. I must state that I have a preference for naturalism and realism over that which is plastic and synthetic. And keep in mind that this is not about taking pictures; its about walking. But, to get the proper comparisons, you definitely must enlarge the pictures. Enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.

On the picture above, I have my graphics set on high, and I  unchecked the atmospheric shaders (removing windlight). The sky settings in the environmental settings is set on default. I am wearing a soft facelight with a small radius. This is how I experience Second Life walking windlight free.

Now, let me become a windlight walker. I remove my facelight and check atmospheric shaders in my graphics preferences. The sky settings are still on default. So this is how I would be experiencing this scene walking with the default windlight. My avatar has become quite plastoid as in most windlight settings. Now, some people may like their avatars looking like plastic dolls; but I would prefer being windlight free to this.

For the above picture, I put the sky setting onto a popular optimizing windlight setting - AndaLu AvatarOpt Caliah. This setting is popular for fashion photography; but, I'm not too thrilled with how this looks here. And I don't think you are too. The avatar is still plastoid, and its colors are washed out. And I don't find the blue hue of this setting very appealing for general viewing when walking.

Now, let's look at the very best avatar optimizing windlight setting -  AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter.  This setting has become the standard for many. I was expecting a nicely rendered avatar. But, as you can see  in the above picture, Second Life's sun has flared up the avatar. This demonstrates the sensitivity of this optimizing setting to the time of day and the positioning of the avatar relative to the sun. Should windlight walkers who complain about facelights also complain about the sun as well?

We want consistency in visual performance from our graphic and environmental settings as we walk about and in all phases of the Second Life day. The performance of the windlight free default is fairly consistent. AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter seems better suited for photography, where positioning and lighting are controlled, rather than for walking. 

But, I really would like to compare is the best performance of  AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter with that of the windlight free default.  I moved to another location in Opar and kept changing the time and the position of my avatar until it looked its loveliest under AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter. Then I took a corresponding picture with the windfree default. Let's look at the comparisons below. 

In the above picture, I am once again walking without windlight. The time is set at 3:00 PM. Graphics are set on high, atmospheric shaders are unchecked, and sky settings are set on default. I have on a soft facelight with a small radius. Now, let's compare this windlight free default setting with AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter at its best.

The above picture is my avatar under AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter, and it's a very lovely rendering. But, the windlight free avatar is warmer and rounder. AnaLu is somewhat effacing especially with respect to shadowing which makes for a flatter avatar presentation. An important attribute of my skin is its tan. The tan is meant to convey my origins as a child of Hawaii. Under Analu, my the tan  is largely gone as my skin is lightened and given a pink hue. I would describe the windlight free avatar as more natural and the optimized windlight avatar as more synthetic. Those descriptions clearly come through when we look beyond the avatars to the sky and water.

The difference in the rendering of the avatars is the difference between 'Natural Lighting' versus 'Studio Lighting'.  AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter is studio lighting designed for fashion photography where the fashion photographer wants the light to brighten up both the model and the fashion and minimize shadows.  I might want to use AnaLu AvatarOpt Caliah Whiter in fashion photography. But, when walking in Second Life, I prefer the naturalism from natural light. When walking in Second Life, I walk windlight free.

 In term of naturalism, aesthetics, and consistency, walking windlight free is superior to walking with windlight. But a frequently stated benefit of optimized windlight settings is that you can look beautiful without using a facelight. As all women in Second Life know, a facelight is essential for looking your best. Of course, there are issues with facelights, and it would be great to look fabulous without resorting to a facelight. Proponents of optimized windlight settings purport that your appearance with the optimized settings will be at least as good as your appearance with a facelight and windlight free. I have shown that even the best optimized setting falls short of that standard. But the primary reason why optimized windlight settings won't supersede facelights is that windlight is view-side only, which means that only you see the results of your windlight setting. Unless we are totally self-absorbed, we care about how others see us. To those of you who walk with windlight, try turning it off to see yourselves as others see you. Now you know why you haven't been asked out on dates.

Most of us are very selective and creative with our avatars. We craft our appearances by our choice of shapes and skins, of hair styles and clothing, and of accessories. Our choices are reflections of ourselves that will be projected to others. And our crafted appearance provide visual cues in Second Life social interactions. My problem with walking with windlight is that it robs us of a common reference point. If we are walking with windlight, as windlight is view-side only and given our individualized settings, my view of you may be significantly different from the view of yourself that you intended, and the same for your view of me. And there is no common reference point at all between those who walk with windlight and those who do not.

Walking with windlight can also result in social conflict. The introduction of windlight gave rise to a phenomena called Facelight Derangement Syndrome also called FDS. Suffers of FDS go ballistic whenever a person wearing a facelight enters the area. They believe that facelights and their wearers are an evil that must be snuffed out as they are also deluded into believing that walking with windlight is superior to walking without. When a group of FDS suffers gather, they become a Facelight Gestapo. Admittedly, windlight can intensify the brightness of a facelight and light up the wearer so that, to the windlight walker, she looks like the second coming of the Sun Goddess. Facelights are a problem when they are high intensity and large radius. Of course, facelights must be worn responsibly. A low intensity soft facelight with a small radius should not be much of an issue. In particular, such facelights are much less likely to interfere with other lighted objects in a build.

By all means, express your artistry and creativity with windlight. Enhance your enjoyment of an amazing Second Life view by experiencing it under different windlight settings. But, are we better off walking with windlight? The answer is no. Given the current state of windlight development, with respect to avatar appearance, nothing is gained when you walk with windlight, and it is shown to be inferior to walking windlight free. Moreover, walking with windlight denies us a common visual reference point in social interactions and can be the source of conflict. So I would like windlight walkers to answer the question "Why are you walking with windlight?"


Walking Second Life Windlight Free

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mariko Magic: Russian Snow Princess, Encore

Russian Snow Princess at Lemania Indigo Designs

The highlight of winter in Second Life are the gorgeous winter scenes found on many of the sims, islands, and properties in the virtual world. They provided me a welcomed opportunity to create a new set of photos of my favorite winter fashion - Russian Snow Princess. This outfit is a wonderful period piece that seems inspired by Tolstoy's Russia. Last year, I featured Russian Snow Princess in my fashion blog, and it continues to be one of my most popular posts. But, I was so pleased with these new pictures that I wanted to share them with you. Well, I thought, why not bring back Russian Snow Princess for another performance? She deserves an encore and another bow. So allow me to present once again for your enjoyment, Russian Snow Princess

Click on the pictures to enlarge them to their original size for better viewing.

Mariko Nightfire as Anna Karenina

Russian Snow Princess was designed by the marvelous Lemania Indigo, prolific designer and owner of Lemania Indigo Designs. Russian Snow Princess comes with corset, pants, gloves, stockings, footwear, a fur hat and a number of fur pieces, a flowing flexy skirt, and a prim skirt. It currently sells for L$495. You can create a number of different looks with this outfit. For a more complete description of Russian Snow Princess, please visit my original Russian Snow Princess post.

First Snowfall

About the pictures. Usually, when taking pictures for a fashion post, I use default settings so that the fashions are presented as most people will see them in Second Life. However, with these pictures, I wanted to use the winter backgrounds to create moods. To manipulate the color shading, lighting, and contrast of the backgrounds, I went off the default settings. But, in none of these pictures do I use windlight. By windlight, I am referring to atmospheric shaders.

Windlight is used by Second Life photographers to create sumptuous atmospheric and lighting effects. It's great for landscape photography. But, when the picture's subject and center of attention is avatars, I rarely use windlight especially when I want realism. Windlight does not favor avatars. It's harsh light can remove up to fifty percent of the details of a finely crafted skin. That is why avatars will look like cartoons or plastic dolls under windlight. We are all familiar with that flashlight-in-your-face plastic look that we see in many SL pictures. Now, I understand that some people do like a cartoony look for their avatars. But, in general, avatars under windlight are cold and lifeless, just like a store mannequin. In these pictures, I applied various sky settings in the environmental settings, just like using windlight, but with atmospheric shaders turned off. I am also wearing a soft facelight with a narrow range. I get the mood creating backgrounds that I want. And my avatar is warmer and softer and light falls on me more realistically than under windlight.

Windlight or not, Russian Snow Princess is magical isn't it? Get it at Lemania Indigo Designs while it is still in season. And experiment taking portrait pictures of your avatars without windlight. You may be surprised at how lovely your avatars really are.

Lamania Indigo Designs Main Store

Pictures were taken at Ocelot Valley, designed and owned by Painter Meriman, at Cap Estel, a wonderful public park designed and owned by Maurice Messme, and at the residence of my dear friend, Jaysun Dagger.

Ocelot Valley

Cap Estel

Original Post for Russian Snow Princess

My take on people who walk with windlight


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cheesecake Mariko: Dark Chocolate

Is there a dessert that is more sensuous than a deep dark chocolate cake? I doubt it.

Click on the picture to enlarge it for better viewing.