creating fantomas 01

a study in second life avatar customization—part 1

True, my first duty these days should be writing up all the stuff of the last six years into a neat volume. But in order not to loose the immersion into modding culture while doing so—and as a fair compensation to university labour—, I revived my first project within Second Life (SL) and decided to piece by piece realize all the steps described in painting the avatar.

Sl standard male character mesh and actor Jean Marais as Fantomas

The task is the metamorphosis from the crappy thing to the left into the cool guy to the right. The left side of the picture is a screenshot of the SL standard male character mesh as depicted in QAvimator. The right half is a screencap from the 1964 movie “Fantomas” by French director André Hunebelle, showing actor Jean Marais in character as the arch-villain himself. I made the screencap from the first scene where we get to see Fantomas. This leads me to the first step of every project of that kind: research.

I went out and bought a boxed DVD-set containg all three movies of the series and a bit of bonus material. Next was a to and fro run through the first movie, taking a mass of screencaps. The shape is the first thing to get right, the most demanding part being the head and face. I grabbed according screencaps, loaded them into Photoshop, and made a stylesheet for reference out of them. Here is a scaled down version of it:

Stylesheet for the head of Fantomas

If we could import character mesh data into SL, the task would have been different: finding within the movie perfect close-up mugshots, en face and profile, load them into an application like GenHead or iClone, and then make the mesh directly from the pictures. But as this is not possible, the sliders of the appearance menu is what we have to cope with—that’s second life.

Luckily Fantomas not only is perfectly bald, but there is no single hair to be found in his face. This is one element giving him this non-human looks. So I pulled all relevant sliders to zero. Only a bit of the eyelashes still is visible, they cannot be made to dissappear completely by the slider. I will correct this later with the skin for the head. The next step was pulling all detail out of face and skin. From then on I repeatedly switched from the UV skin to my blue one and back again, just as it came in more handy for the moment. The next steps can not be described in detail. Once I had the basic shape of the overall head somewhat close to the desired result, I went havok with the sliders, always refering to my stylesheet. SL does not offer multiple viewports, so I continuously circled the head with the camera. This is absolutely necessary, because when you work on the en face look, chances are that the profile will be changed, too. When having some experience with working in 3D space, you gradually develope the ability to keep a mental representation of the whole mesh in the mind—to a certain degree. Nevertheless constant evaluation of all angles is absolutely obligatory. Here is my result so far, with a sample of matching reference pictures below:

The head of my SL avatar

A sample of Fantomas reference pictures

The direct comparison immediately reveals all shortcomings: The overall shape of the head is too long, the chin is too square seen from the front, too pointy seen from the side, and too deep in general, the jaw angle is not right, the eyes are set too far apart, the iris is too large, the prominent upper and lower eyelids completely lack, the bridge of the nose and its nostrils are too narrow, the mouth has to be more up, closer to the nose, the ears are too tight on the skull. I am sure that some of this can be fixed by more fiddling around with the sliders, but some things pose true problems. Take for example the profile—with which I am quite content. There is a slight wave in the forehead which I just can not get out. And there is a wave in the nose, too. The lower part of the wave I can get out by tilting the nose tip angle completely up, but that means a lot of deformation and then from the front the thing looks like a pig’s nose. I fear that I will have to live with those slight waves.

There will be no way around making sculpted prim ears, maybe the eyelids will have to bee sculpted, too. But in respect to the latter it might be possible to simulate them with shadows painted on the skin—this will be necessary for the whole area around the eyes. That way the opening of the nostrils has to be enlarged as well. You can see on the reference pictures that Fantomas’ lips are very thin, and that his mouth is unnaturrally wide. In fact it is not a mouth at all, but a slit in a latex mask, Jean Marais’ mouth beneath is by far not that broad. I set the mouth width to a full 100, which results in real problems, because suddenly polys stick out and some even fold. You can see the symptom of this as tiny black lines in each corner of the mouth. When Fantomas speaks in the movie, the whole mouth never opens, but only the inner part. Probably I will reduce the mouth width so far that the anomalies dissappear and then will paint the wide mouth on the skin—to be continued.

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