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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Friday, November 11, 2005
SL Webcomic Tips, Part 4
Addendum 12/2/05: This is part of a four part (so far) series. Part one is here.

In this exciting episode of SL Webcomic Tips, we'll pick up where we left off last time, with poses and animations. Exciting, huh?

As mentioned previously, static poses can simply be placed in any scripted poser object. This is often all you'll need. Put the pose in the inventory of the poser object, edit the script to include the name of the animation, and you're good to go.

As for the poses themselves, I'll let you in on a secret: neither of us owns a copy of Poser. Nearly every animation we've used was either pulled from the canned Linden library or taken from a freebie pose box. If you have access to Poser, great. But if not, you can get by just fine without it. Just get ahold of every freebie animation collection you can find (expect them to be mostly duplicates), and become familiar with the built-in animations. Then experiment with different camera angles and poser object angles. Often, you'll find that the same pose can be used to convey different actions, simply by shooting it from a different angle. With a little imagination, those should work for 99% of the situations you'll be filming.

The main problem with filming actual animations (as opposed to static poses) is coordination. You can try telling your actors to make gestures and trigger them on cue (as we had Oliphant Ming do with the library LOL gesture here), but this is an exercise in frustration. The better bet is to make an attachment that triggers the animations by remote control.

I've modified a basic animation script for this purpose. It's nothing particularly sophisticated, but it seems to work. Just place it in an invisible prim (100% transparent or texture "alpha") and have the actors attach it in any unused location. Then call for the animation in the appropriate chat channel. For example, "/42 throw_r" would trigger the basic Linden throw animation. If the animation is not on the built-in animation list, you'll need to place a copy in the inventory of the animator object. (Built in animations can just be called by name.) I've also included a clear function ("/42 clear") to flush all the currently running animations. This is handy if an animation (such as the aim animations, or sometimes the jump animation) refuses to stop.

I usually make a gesture to trigger the animator attachment. Since capturing a moving animation can be a bit of a reflex test, it can be helpful to bundle a short delay into the gesture to give yourself time to find the screenshot key. Animations can also be combined this way. For example, Jon's pose in frame three of this strip is a combination of "stand_2" and "express_anger_emote." (The "_emote" animations are face only, while the base animations- like "express_anger"- include full body movements.) I just made a gesture to call both, one after the other. You can create all sorts of semi-custom poses this way, by either calling two animations in rapid succession, or by putting a static pose in a poser object and calling another with the animator attachment. Some will work this way, some won't, and some will react very oddly in combination. It all depends on the intrinsic priority and specifics of the animations in question.

In the same way, you can use the same gesture to trigger animations for multiple actors. The key is to make animator attachments on different channels. For example, in this strip, we had two animator attachments, one on channel 42 and the other on 43. I made a gesture to call the laughing animation on 42, wait a fraction of a second, and then call the same animation on 43. This kept the actors from executing synchronized belly laughs.

Sometimes, animations will go by too fast to photograph effectively. This is especially problematic when combined with the slight delay before the scene is frozen for a screenshot. We ran into this problem several times with the standard throw_r animation. Fortunately, there is a debug menu option to slow down your own animations. Check under Debug, Character, Slow Motion Animations. (Be careful with the other options under the Character submenu. Many of them, including the Flush Animations option right above Slow Motion, will crash your client.) This function will dramatically slow down your animations. Note that this only works on your animations. Everyone else will appear to be moving at the proper speed, and you will appear to be moving normally to everyone else. As such, the photographer will have to be the one running the animation in slow motion. (Keep this in mind if one of your characters will be using no-transfer avatars, costumes, or props.) Note also that this function is a toggle, even though it does not appear with an "X" in the pulldown to indicate its active status. You will have to select the function again to turn it off.

This probably goes without saying, but the most basic thing you can do to make your comic frames more realistic is to control where your avatars are looking. You will need to tell your actors to Alt-Click on a given target, whether that's another actor or a specific object. Fortunately, the camera pan controls (either using the various Alt, Ctrl, and Shift combinations or using the Camera Control window from the View pulldown) don't affect the direction your avatar appears to be looking. So the camera man can move his camera as needed to take the screenshots without affecting his avatar's position.

Here's a quick trick for pointing. If you need to have your avatars pointing at one another, you can simply use the point_you animation. This will point straight ahead, and will tilt with the torso to allow you to point up or down slightly in the direction the avatar is looking. If you should need finer control, or need to point at something substantially above or below, simply have the actor right click on an object target. As usual, he'll point his left arm straight at the object. The camera man can then go to View, Beacons, Hide Particles to turn off the edit particles streaming from the actor's hands. If necessary, you can airbrush out all but the index finger and thumb to form the normal splayed fingers into a convincing pointing gesture.

The included "stand" animation merits some special mention. This is the animation you will use most often, as the default standing rest pose. You will probably want to use it as the default animation in your poser objects, as well. The stand animation is actually a combination of four different stand poses:
The stand animation will periodically call each of these in random order, smoothly transitioning from one to the other. And, maddeningly, any of the numbered animations will start with the pose indicated, but will soon slide off into another randomly selected stand animation as well.

Normally, this behavior isn't a problem, but it can occasionally be troublesome if you're looking for a specific effect (such as irritation or heroic resolve using stand_2). And if your costumes are made of bulky prim attachments, or include large, poofy skirts it seems like the actors will spend half their time with their hands intersecting portions of their anatomy and/or clothing. There's no help for it but to use a static pose animation or repeatedly call for the intended stand pose.

And there you have it! Have fun, and I'll be back soon with more SL webcomic tips... Just as soon as I can think of something else to say.
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