Sunday, September 9, 2018

Making Movies - Poses and Animations

Poses and animations are what makes your movie lively... unless it is all about landscapes and buildings, of course. But if you have characters in a scene, you will want them to look alive and natural.

What you already have

Most people use an Animation Overrider (AO, not to be confused with Ambient Occlusion) loaded with animations to make themselves look prettier. Nobody likes the stock stands and walks every new SL avatar comes with. My preference goes to Vista (now with Bento support) and Oracul, but there are many other good brands out there. Good AOs make your character look more natural, less robotic, but when taking snapshots it is not important to be well animated, all that matters is to be well posed.

Some AOs now use Bento, meaning they also animate the fingers and the face. You may or may not want that but it contributes to a more realistic look overall.

The latest Vista AOs also come with accessories such as a cigarette and/or a phone, those are very well animated and add to the personality of the character.

Furniture often come with animations as well. Even the simplest chair animates you when you sit on it. Some are Bento, like the chairs in the living room of the apartment in which I shoot most pictures in this tutorial.

If you want to play one particular animation that is not in your inventory, simply edit the object that contains it (for example your AO), go to the Content tab and look for the animation. Double-click on it to open its popup with the "Play Inworld" and "Play Locally" buttons and voila, you can play it at will.

A good trick to use is to rez a poseball (you can find many poseballs on the Marketplace, they're inexpensive) and to insert an animation in it. I used one of Sylva Petrov's poseballs for By A Thread while in the cage, to make it easier for me to position myself inside that tiny cage. This allows total control over your positioning and keeps you from moving inadvertently and ruining the shot since you're sitting on the ball instead of standing (regardless of the animation you make it play).

All this to say, you probably already have a ton of animations at your disposal without even knowing it so start experimenting :)

Synchronizing and restarting the animations

If you are a RLV user and your viewer uses my RLV code instead of RLVa (so for example the original RLV that I make and maintain, or Kokua, or Cool VL, or any of several others), there is a handy shortcut to restart all the currently playing animations of every avatar around yours, and yours as well. That shortcut is Ctrl+Alt+Shift+A. I use it all the time. Careful though, it may be a problem if you have several animations of the same priority animating the same body parts. For example, if your AO is priority 4 and you are using AnyPose or Animare, which tweak your animations with priority 4 poses for each individual joint, chances are the tweaks won't show after restarting the animations and you will have to refresh on the corresponding HUDs manually afterwards, which can be a pain.

I'm told that Firestorm also has this feature (taken from the RLV in 2013 but they didn't see fit to credit me for the original code) and its shortcut is Ctrl+S.

Waiting for the right time

Every photographer will tell you that to take a good photo takes a lot of patience and good reflexes. The same goes in SL because your character is most likely animated (for example by the AO they use, or by the furniture they are sitting on) so the time window is short to take the picture you want. If you miss the opportunity, you have to wait until the animation goes back to the same frames before trying again.

Fortunately there is a trick for that. Open the Develop menu (if you don't see it, press Ctrl+Alt+Q) and go to "Avatar" > "Animation Speed" and click on the top of that menu (the area with the double bar, highlighted orange in the following picture) to tear it off so it stays visible even after you close the Develop menu :

With this menu you can accelerate and slow down the animations of everybody around you (the effect is visible only to you and it doesn't slow down other stuff like moving objects, particles and all), reset the speed of all the animations, and slow down only your own animations. This menu allows you to take the photo at the right time without having to constantly restart the animations because they are going too fast.

The tools to own

With all this in mind, you need tools because you cannot always rely on the animations you have. Here are the tools I use to animate myself and other avatars, with links to where to get them when applicable :

- The HUD that comes with  your mesh head : Most mesh heads come with a HUD that allows you to animate it. You can also often buy more animations and moods.

- The HUD that comes with your mesh body : Most mesh bodies come with a HUD that allows you to animate the hands. Maitreya does, with it you can animate each hand individually with predefined poses (victory, point, hold, give the finger etc).

- The Sublimator : This is a HUD I make and sell that includes a lot of poses (not animations, although nothing keeps you from adding your own), this is a good start when you want your avatar to be in a position close to what you want, and to tweak it afterwards to get the final pose for the shot.

- AnyPose : This HUD is the one I use the most, it allows you to tweak the rotation of any limb with priority 4 animations. It can also save and recall poses, and animate another avatar than yourself, with their permission. The free version works only with a pose stand, but the most expensive version is the one I use since you can animate anyone with or without pose stand. It can also move your eyes and animate your face if you're not using a mesh head. I've been using it since Gina's Debut so you can see it's been a faithful companion for a long time

- Animare Plus : Like Anypose, this HUD allows you to tweak your current pose on a per-joint basis. Unlike AnyPose, every joint has 3 degrees of rotation (AnyPose has only 2 and it can be limited sometimes). The downside is that Animare is less precise than AnyPose. I chose to use the Plus version because with it I can animate another avatar, and I can save and recall poses as well.

- Lelutka Axis : This HUD allows you to tweak the face of your mesh head in any way you can think of (it can also move the head and neck, as well as the eyes). Although it is primarily made for Lelutka mesh heads, it uses Bento animations so any Bento mesh head (Catwa and others) will be affected by it. It works very well and although it is a bit pricey, it is really worth the money spent on it. My only regret is not to have found out about it sooner, I could only use it in the Ebony & Ivory tapes, which I made last. Although at the time of this writing, it is very new and was likely released only a couple weeks ago, so I would not have been able to use it on any other prior movie anyway.

- Lelutka Orchidea : This HUD is a set of predefined erotic expressions for Lelutka mesh heads. I don't know how good it looks on other mesh heads, but on my Lelutka Simone it looks quite good. I often use it as a starting point and tweak afterwards, either with the Lelutka HUD or with Axis.

- Black Tulip full perms animations for hands (hold and sexy) : Those animations animate the hands specifically (provided you are using a mesh body that includes Bento-compatible hands like Maitreya does). They are good when the HUD for your mesh body is not enough for your needs. Like Lelutka Axis, I found out about it very late and only the Ebony & Ivory tapes make use of the Black Tulip animations.

- Chrysantemum's adjustable facial pose HUDs : I used the Smiles and Surprise HUDs in New Life and Alis, combining with other facial animations with good results (that's how I made Sam Ryder's hilarious "I'm cumming quietly" face, combining Lelutka's Sad expression with a subtle smile, all with a red face and a lot of sweat). Honestly though, if you have Lelutka Axis you won't need these HUDs.

I'm sure there are more tools around, but these are the ones I use. You don't need to own all of them of course, it could be costly for you, but at least a few of them, Animare for example.


Just like a good framing, a good positioning is key to a good photograph. It is easy when you are sitting on something since you can move that "something" (for example a poseball, as explained above), but a lot harder when you are simply standing and relying on your AO. Moving with the arrow keys makes you take long strides and moves you way too far for the precision you most likely need. However, you don't want to always change the animation in a poseball when you're simply standing, you want to rely on your AO, so how do you position yourself precisely when you're not sitting on anything ?

For the movement, simply hold the Page Down key to crouch, and walk like that, it makes your avatar much slower and easier to position.

For the rotation, it is a bit trickier. By default, the avatar rotates only when the camera rotates by more than 60° while locked to the avatar (it doesn't rotate if you rotate the camera around something it is focused on, obviously). But that angle threshold is often way too big and you want finer precision. To do this, open the debug settings and change :

- AvatarRotateThresholdSlow = 5

With that value, every rotation of more than 5° will rotate your avatar, making you a lot more precise.

Body Language

Aha ! There is so much to say about this subject, entire studies have been done to decipher the body language to find out, for example, if somebody is lying. Some people consciously try to hide or blur their body language so they are harder to see through, others are open books.

Here, we are doing it the other way around, we want to add body language to an avatar that otherwise has none. When someone speaks, their body follows, adding meaning to the words in a subtle manner. You want to reproduce that with your own characters to give more credit to what is being said.

For example, suppose this character says "Aww ! That kitten is so cute !" with this picture to illustrate it :

The face expression is not bad (I'm sure it could be better but that's not the point), but the body language is not there. Firstly, her head is turned the other way, which is a sign of disgust, inconsistent with the emotion we are trying to convey. Secondly, where are her hands ? It looks like her body is not following her thoughts.

This is better, her head is turned correctly, the lips look better and more importantly, the hands are touching the cheek softly, conveying a feeling of tenderness. Even without any text you can guess the girl is looking at something cute. Ok the hands are positioned a little weird but I did not take the time to tweak them precisely, I chose an animation from my AO where the hands are near the face just to make a point without having to spend 15 minutes positioning the arms and the hands :p

There are many details that convey an emotion through the body language, I could not enumerate them all here even if I wanted to, so instead I'm going to point you to this site.

Something to keep in mind though, someone who is dominant will stand and move in a different way than someone who is submissive. I have several AOs for both modes in order to emphasize my state of mind or relationship to the other party. Likewise, a fighter stands and moves differently from someone who is not skilled in combat. Keep all these details in mind when creating a character. You don't want a dominant character like an executive to constantly keep her hands behind her back, looking down or keeping her legs together.

Clothing language

Like the way you move, the way you dress speaks volumes about you. It depends heavily on the gender of course, but a good way to convey a mood and a social level is to dress your character appropriately. Don't put your female character in a sexy tube dress unless she is about to go to a party. Don't dress your male character in track pants and hoodie if he's an executive. Some executives might dress like that, but this is too far from the stereotype to be believable (unless there's a good reason for it, that the story explains, of course). If your character is a woman of low education and social skills, don't dress her chic and fancy, make her look like she has no fashion taste and/or she can only afford discounted clothes. It might hurt your eyes but it is better for consistency.

I know that this is Second Life and we all look and dress sexy but if you want your movie to be believable, you need to keep a firm control over how the actors and actresses are dressed.

Also pay attention to jewelry. Women like good jewelry, men almost never wear any.


The eyes are the window to the soul. It is even truer in movies, where the eyes are often what we focus on, and what indicates what the spectator should look at.

A character naturally looks at whoever is speaking to them, unless the induced emotion is too strong. This is where DoF (Depth Of Field) can get in the way because if you focus on the speaking character with your own avatar, but want to shoot your own avatar listening, chances are the face will be blurry.

A good way to avoid that is to focus on yourself instead, and to tweak the gaze with any HUD you have at your disposal, like your mesh head HUD or Axis. That way you can use DoF and focus on yourself while pretending to look elsewhere.

The gaze is also a good way to draw the attention of the spectator to a detail in the photo. Like I said above, the spectator will first look at the characters' eyes, then will follow their gaze when appropriate. A clever use of the gaze will immediately make them focus on what you want in no time. One thing to remember is that the gaze tends to go to the center of mass of whatever object or object part they are focusing on. In case the object of the attention is the character, they usually focus on the eyes. Or the lips if they want to kiss them.

I personally like to occasionally break the fourth wall (i.e. look directly at the camera), most of the time for a comical effect, especially when the character is surprised. It's a bit cartoonish but it makes me laugh.

Oh, speaking of eyes. Don't let your characters blink, like ever. They always blink at the worst time. Turn off that "Blink" switch in your mesh head HUD.


When shooting a moving character, try to not make her look like she is off-balance. For example, when walking, don't do this :

Prefer this :

Of course, if she's supposed to fall, do shoot your character off-balance.

This concludes this tutorial about poses and animations while shooting movies. Or rather, taking photos as videos are another story, which will be covered in the next tutorial...

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