Second Life
Magic & Secrets


The Magic and Secrets of Second Life 


"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein


Yes, Second Life is an illusion.  But in my mind, it is a well done one.  We will discuss some of the magic behind the scenes in it - at least to my knowledge.  Do not let it bother you that it is an illusion .  Many things in our life are.  For example Movies and Television are both illusions, made possible by the slowness of our eyes to react.   While both are improving in quality, for the longest time movie film was about 24 single non moving photographs a second, and early TV (480i) was a similar 30 still frames per second.   But our eyes of course do not see either as still frames or still photographs.  To our eyes they appear to be moving pictures.  It is an illusion but one that brings us some joy and pleasure and sometimes learning.  Of course we all know some cases where the movie and TV illusions break down.  Perhaps the most famous is in Movie Westerns where the wagon wheels on a covered western wagon seem to be rotating backwards while the wagon itself is going forward.  Why is that you ask?  Well, as an engineer, you might not like the answer.  Think of it as a stroboscope (strobe light perhaps to you) that only lights up at certain times.  When it does, the photos it takes it cannot tell the direction of the wagon wheels.  It only knows that it is in a different position now than before.  And so our eyes might say the wagon wheel is rotating the wrong direction.  

Similarly, since Second Life is an illusion, we must make sure that we help that illusion to work and also know some limitations.  I will get into some of that. 


As one looks at the complexity of buildings, horses, roads and vehicles in Second Life, they might ask "How is this Possible?", or  "What really am I looking at?".   Yes it is an illusion.  First of all I will give you the answer.  But the answer might not make sense.  So then I will build up to it more slowly. 

What you are looking at are basic geometric three dimensional shapes, like boxes or spheres (balls) with pictures painted on the sides called textures.  


Well, perhaps the above sentence made no sense, so let us back up.  Let us say that you are looking at a simple table in second life.  First of all ask yourself how a table is made in real life?  You would likely say that it has at least five parts since tables do not grow on trees.  It has a flat surface on top.  And then it has four perhaps round like table legs.  So when you put those five pieces together, we call it a table. 


Now the word "object" can mean many things in Second Life.  It can refer to a single shape, or it can be made up of many smaller objects.  Well, the smallest single building block in  Second Life is called a "Prim".  A "prim" has a role like bricks do in real life - that a number of them can make something interesting like a house.  But unlike a brick, sometimes prims can look far more complex.  But let me get back to our table.  So a prim is the smallest building block.  It can be a box shape, a sphere shape (like a ball), a cylinder - which is shaped something like a thermos or glass of milk, and there are even more complex prims allowed.  Some of the more complex ones are prisms, tubes, torus's, rings, or even something called sculptured prims.  Okay, now then back to our table.  Let us keep the top of the table simple.  It looks something like a thin box, so we will create a box and the make it wide and long but also somewhat thin like a table top.  To do this, we create the rectangle and then edit it and go to the object tab and adjust the width, height, or thickness of the table.  For legs, we will make four of the same thing.  We will create cylinders.  Cylinders are round on the sides, but flat top and bottom.  So okay, we make the cylinders thin but tall and then they start to look like tables legs.  We make four legs like that.  Then we arrange for the table top to be high off the ground, and put one leg in each corner like a table.  Now then we think we are done.  But it does not look right.  The parts we created may not look like wood.  So first we join these five items together into a single object.  You can do that by clicking each in a row while holding down the shift key.  When you have all five items highlighted, then use ctrl-l (control L) to combine them.  Later if you want to separate them, use shift-ctrl-l (shift and control and the L key all at once).  But let us leave it joined together.  And by the way, the last piece you combine together in this 5 prim object will be the key item.  So try and decide what item you wish to be the main item.  Maybe the table top in this case.  So make that the last item when clicking the five pieces while holding down the shift key - before using "ctrl-l" (control - L) to combine them,


Okay, so now we have something that looks like a table, but it still does not look right.  Well, we might need to add textures to it.  Textures are the pictures we paint on the sides to fool the eyes into the illusion we are trying to make.  So we right click the table thing we made and then go to tab 4, texture, and we click texture since we want to change that.  Second Life will then show you a small box that shows your inventory.  In this case go down to the end "Library" and then under Textures and "Wood" you should find something like Bubinga.  That might be a good wood look for it.  Now the sides of the table are now painted with a wood texture.  Now the shape looks like a table, and the picture on the side looks like wood, so we think it sure looks like a table to us. 


Yes, so then, you are looking at shapes that we call prims (which is the smallest shape allowed) joined together into an object - and then painted with something outside that makes it look like wood.  And so, we say "table".  Of course, when you become expert, you can learn that you can also taper the cylinder legs to make the feet smaller like a real leg and also slant it a bit like a real table might have slightly slanted legs. 

More examples. 

A sphere is really a 3 dimensional circle (or ellipse if you are a stickler).  It is similar to a ball.  Okay, now then create a sphere.  Now it depends on texture.  If you put gay colors on its sides then one might say it looks like a beach ball.  If you color it white with seams, then it looks like a baseball.  That is how you create the illusion.  The right shape with the right picture painted on its surface. 

Now look at your avatar.  When you make clothes by using the normal "appearance" method in Second Life, note that this does about the same thing.  Your avatar is a combination of items that make it look human.  But in some ways, it is just a complex object within Second Life.  When you make Second Life clothes under appearance, such as underwear, and then shirts, and pants above it, note that it is really similar to what we said was a "texture".  it is really just a painting on the sides of your avatar.  Second Life clothing is just painted on - in layers - underwear first, and then outer clothes - and then of course outer clothes most often will cover over the underclothes.  So first you paint underwear on your avatar.  Then you paint on a shirt.  Then you paint on socks.  Then you paint on pants.  When done only the shirt and pants may show since they are painted over your underwear.  Think this is silly?  Try to make an arm or a leg wider on the clothes and then look very carefully at your avatar at different angels.  What you will see is that the clothes are not sticking out away from the body - but that the body was expanded under the clothes.  For example, bell bottom trousers does not mean the trousers stick out just by themselves.  What it means is that your avatar ankles got much larger, and then when pants were painted onto your avatar, the pants "appear" to be bell bottomed shaped and stick out.  It is an illusions since Second Life made your ankles larger and not your clothes, but it is an illusion that mostly works quite well. 


So then, a house is made up of a million bricks that we call prims?  No.  That would not be a good idea.  Each prim adds cost and comes dearly.  So the better SL builders use as few as possible.  So then, how to make a side of a house?  It's an illusion again.  Consider a wall being just one prim, a thin rectangle that is tall and long but also thin as a wall.  Now on the outside put a picture of a wall with bricks.  Now one thinks that  it is a wall of bricks and not just one object - since we painted the side to look like a wall of bricks that make up a house.  How do you do this?  Well, when adding textures, first of all ask yourself if you want the same texture on all sides, or just on one face on a box?  If you want to apply it to all sides, right click and edit the prim.  Then under tab 4 when you expand it, you will see textures.  Click the texture item and pick a texture (picture , painting) that you wish.  That texture will be applied to all sides.  But if you want texture or a picture only on one side?  Then find that texture in your inventory and just drag it over to the particular face you want it to be applied to.  And yes of course, best to apply an overall texture first that goes on most sides, and then if you need to work on just one or two sides, then just drag textures to those places after the overall texture was applied.   

Sizing the texture.  Note that on the texture tab for each prim that you can set the size of the way to paint the texture on in two directions.  Below that you can also set the rotation in case the painting is upside down, you might try and set it to 180 degrees to see if that fixes it - or 90 degrees, 270 or 0 degrees under rotation, or another value that you prefer. 


Okay, hopefully you can follow all of that.  The smallest Second Life item is again called a prim. Now you should know that now only can you set (on the Object tab when editing a prim) the length, width and height, you can also make even more changes.  You can often hollow the item, or do a path cut and only use part of it, or twist it, or several other options.  Huh?  You Ask?  Well what if we want to make something look like a slice of watermelon?  A watermelon may start to look like a sphere, but a slice does not.  Okay then, create a sphere that is about the right size of the starting watermelon you want.  Okay, now we will cut and slice it.  Use path cut to cut away some of the sides and turn it into a slice.  Stop when you get to the right size slice.  Note that there are two sides to the path cut and you can change either side if you wish.  Okay, now we have a slice, but it still does not look like a melon.  Use a little bit of hollow to make it round on the top of your slice also.  Then you are done.  Now as far as textures, that one might be hard, unless you have some texture to look green for the outside and then a red texture to pull to the inside.  Perhaps you can find textures that get you close.


While Second Life has many textures you can use online, most of us find that we must make a lot of custom ones offline in drawing packages.  They can be uploaded then as ".jpg's".  Of course for those better at drawing packages, you can even add shading to make an item seem more 3 dimensional, or even transparencies.  Transparencies can help for making complex clothes, or to create an illusion such as a wrought iron fence that has iron some places and seemingly open air other places.  Transparencies are loaded as ".tga" files.

Note that objects in Second Life can also be set to some amount of transparency.  If you wish to do this, edit the item and then under the texture tab you can set transparency - up to 90 percent.  This comes in handy if you want to make something in Second Life such as a glass window or water that of course in real life has some amount of transparency.


Second Life Illusions - how they are made

Second Life Limitations and Problems

Sculptured Prims

thanks for reading this

- Hunter Bronet

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