BlakOpal and Trilo Byte talked about clothes production for games and SineSpace especially, the way they utilize Unity and other tools in this process and more.
80lv: First of all, could you introduce yourself to us? Where do you come from, what do you, how did you start working in this field? It seems like you do a bunch of different stuff from clothes to environments so it would be great to learn how you got into this whole thing.
We are BlakOpal and Trilo Byte, based in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States. We’re artists in both the real and virtual worlds. Together and separately we’ve worked on real-world projects such as bespoke clothing (like pirate coats, corsets, and dresses), custom bars and furniture, a human-powered carousel, a 40-foot long space pirate ship, and even a large climbable ziggurat. BlakOpal has a strong background in graphic design, 3D and animation, while Trilo’s background is a bit more varied and also covers advertising, marketing, and industrial design. We love art and technology and have been doing this for most of our lives.
We got into making content for virtual worlds in 2008 when we were taking a year off from Burning Man (an arts and culture festival in northern Nevada) and had a lot of time on our hands. At that time, we discovered a BBC documentary called Visions Of The Future presented by Dr. Michio Kaku – a brilliant theoretical physicist and futurist who we are big fans of. In the program, he talked about virtual worlds, specifically Second Life, and he even mentioned that they had a virtual version of Burning Man that took place in-world. We decided to look it up and check it out and were immediately hooked. We had been making 2D and 3D art for years at that point, and immediately started making things and playing around to see what we could do.
Clothes in Games
80lv: A big part of your work is clothes so let’s talk about the general principles of clothes in games today. In general, what is a clothing asset in a game – is it a mesh, some textures, and UVs? Is physics necessarily involved?
Trilo: I think the definition depends on the platform.
BlakOpal: When we started in Second Life, creating clothes was mostly applying texture layers to the avatar or simple object primitives (SL calls them prims). Later on, they added support for 3D models.
Trilo: In most 3D programs including Unity, clothes would be a combination of the 3D model that you’ve cut or unwrapped UVs for and the textures and materials that you apply to the model. Physics can be involved but isn’t a requirement.
BlakOpal: But it’s more than just physics, you also need to create and configure colliders so the clothing respects the mass of the body and doesn’t go through it.
Trilo: SineSpace is the first virtual world we’re aware of that has cloth physics. Once we discovered that was going to be possible back in 2016 we were hooked.
BlakOpal: we were the first creators to have clothing with working cloth physics in SineSpace in December of 2016.
Trilo (laughing): I don’t think I slept at all that month. Figuring it out and getting it to behave the way we wanted took so much time!
80lv: You’ve most recently published a nice tutorial on the way you can create clothes in SineSpace, but I’d like to learn how you actually built this T-shirt. What is a good way to create a fabric-based asset? Do you utilize Marvelous Designer or any other tools for that? What is a good and reliable way to create clothes for games?
Trilo: Thank you very much. That wasn’t my shirt, it was a generic model that used to come with the SineSpace Editor Pack. They don’t include it anymore (to try and keep the Editor Pack filesize down), but they have a whole bunch of free clothing templates available for creators on mod.io.
One of the great things about making things for SineSpace is that it’s based on the Unity game engine, and Unity can work with almost anything. You can use whatever 3D modeling program you like, as long as it can export an FBX, DAE, or OBJ file. You can use anything from free programs like Blender to commercial programs like ZBrush, Modo, Cinema 4D, Marvelous Designer, Maya… the list goes on and on. It’s just a matter of finding a program (or programs) that you like and is within your budget and learning how to use the tools.
For texturing, you can use free programs like GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) or Krita, or commercial programs like Pixelmator, Photoshop, Substance Painter or Mari. A lot of modeling programs have pretty good tools for texturing built in, too. The choices here are endless, it’s about finding the right program for your budget and learning how to use it.
BlakOpal: I like to start a piece in Marvelous Designer, but from there it goes into other programs. The fabric draping in Marvelous Designer is a great way to start a piece.
Trilo: Our workflow is a little different. Since there’re two of us, we each take on different parts of the process. We talk to each other about designs and ideas constantly, but when it comes to modeling and texturing the clothing BlakOpal usually takes the lead. I take more of a technical artist role and spend a lot of time on things like finding the right materials for BlakOpal to use, as well as doing all the technical work: creating LOD models, working on physics, setting up and testing the piece in SineSpace, that sort of things.
For someone just starting out, here is the workflow I would recommend. After you’ve installed Unity and the SineSpace Editor Pack (see a tutorial I made on that here), take a copy of the avatar models (they’re included with the Editor Pack) and load them into whatever modeling program you use. In the program, lock that down so you can’t accidentally mess up or change the size of the avatar, and then just build your clothing model around it. Try to work efficiently – SineSpace does have limits on how many polygons you can use (that info is posted on the SineSpace wiki here). Once you’re happy with your model, it’s time to unwrap the model and cut your UVs. Most modeling programs have tools for doing that, or you can get specialized software like Rizom UV. From there, you texture your piece using your program of choice.
Once you have your model and your textures, bring everything into Unity and use the tools included in the Editor Pack to set it up and upload it to SineSpace.
80lv: Can you tell us a bit about your work with materials and textures for clothes? You often make very elaborate costumes, with a bunch of patterns and very complex shapes. How do you work on the fabrics for them? Where do you usually find the references and inspiration for that?
BlakOpal: I’ve been using Photoshop for years, but these days one of my favorite tools for texturing is Substance Painter. The way it uses physically based materials and lets you see how it will look in different lighting situations is really amazing.
Trilo: Whether I’m working on buildings, environments, or clothes I spend a lot of time researching and tinkering with materials. I don’t like to use anything straight out of texture or material libraries – I’ll play around with something or combine elements until I get something that feels right. I use a variety of programs, from Photoshop to Filter Forge to Substance Designer and the brand new Substance Alchemist. I’ve only used Alchemist a little bit so far, but I love it and I love where that program is headed.
Preparing Clothes for SineSpace
80lv: Am I right to assume that SineSpace clothes feature doesn’t actually allow you to create the mesh itself, but rather help you to set everything up and make sure it’s going to run in Unity and SineSpace? Could you tell us what the most common mistakes with these setups are? How can we avoid these mistakes and make sure the clothing projects work fine in SineSpace?
Trilo: You’re absolutely right. The SineSpace Editor Pack does not include a 3D modeling program or texturing software. They build the tools you need to prepare your pieces and upload them to their virtual world. For clothing it’s a pretty simple process – you put the avatar model in your scene and then add your clothing model. Then you add a component, fill out the form, and click a couple of buttons.
The most common mistakes I’ve seen people making are getting the scaling or the positioning wrong. If the clothing was made at the wrong scale or doesn’t fit the avatar while at XYZ coordinates of 0,0,0 then you will get unwanted results. The best way to prevent that is to lock the avatar model down in your 3D modeling program so you don’t accidentally change the size or position.
80lv: Rigging seems like a big part of the whole thing. Can you tell us what we should watch out for when making sure that the clothes are going to work well with the avatar? With a shirt it’s all pretty much self-explanatory, but how can you set everything up when you are doing something more elaborate like a coat or a fancy dress?
Trilo: SineSpace has a pretty good autorigger built right into the clothing component. As long as your piece is designed well, the rigger will give you pretty good results. We very rarely feel the need to do any manual weight painting.
BlakOpal: A good way to make sure the piece will move and fit well is to use more polygons on your model in the places where it will do the most bending.
Setting Clothes Up for Sale in SineSpace
80lv: SineWave also allows you to immediately sell your content directly via the SineSpace plug-in. It looks incredible and very convenient: you can set the whole thing in the editor itself! What’s a good practice to set up the asset for sale?
Trilo: Yeah, it’s a pretty great system. When you set up your clothing item, you add a virtual good component and just fill out the form. All uploads go to a preview grid so you can test everything and make sure it looks the way you want. You can also take pictures in-world. Once your piece is ready you can go back and make sure the description, images, selling price, and other details are filled in properly, then upload it again and do a final test. You can check how the shop listing will appear on the preview grid, and when everything is right you click a button on the web site to submit it for review. As soon as it’s approved it will appear on the live grid and in the SineSpace shop if you want to sell it.
80lv: What’s your general take on the way SineSpace is developing? Do you see a lot of potential in building a store and monetize your assets?
BlakOpal: Yes, we see a lot of potential. I think a store is a great place to see the whole collection. The SineSpace shop is great, but the listings on the page can be a little random.
Trilo: We’ve had a virtual store in SineSpace for 2 1/2 years and definitely think it’s worthwhile. Browsing the shop pages can be fun, but a lot of times people like to walk through a virtual shop together. I love building environments, and I think of a shop region as an opportunity for more art. I like to build our shop within a larger region that people can explore and use to take pictures. Our current shop has paths to walk through the woods, a river and waterfall, deer and rabbits running around, birds in the skies overhead and other surprises. We are big believers in the power of virtual worlds. Not just for education and meetings, but for people to socialize and play together. We feel that SineSpace is the best of the next generation worlds. They are building a world that scales well to much larger online populations, and that people will be able to connect to with computers, headsets, tablets, and even phones.
The dress that we feature in most of the screenshots is our new Chanteuse Dress. Our blog post about it with more information and pictures is here.
Finally, here’re a few tutorials on the discussed topic that might help you:
- Getting Started with Unity and SineSpace
- SineSpace Clothing Tutorial
- Clothing Slots and Layers Guide
- Clothing Extra Pattern Tutorial
BlakOpal & Trilo Byte, SineSpace Creators
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
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