In IMVU, you can replace the default avatar clothing with clothing of your own design. HOW FRIGGIN COOL IS THAT?! You can make individual pieces of clothing, complete outfits or anything in between. Shirts. Pants. Fawn legs. Bear suits. Peg legs. The choices are limitless.
However, building clothing is hard as it requires a patience and technical exactness that most other product types do not require. The two main reasons for this are simple:
- There are hundreds of thousands of preexisting products that define how an avatar’s skin is supposed to be out. Customer expectation is that avatar skin will always be right so any deviation is viewed upon negatively.
- As humans, we’re programmed to notice even the most subtle differences in anatomy and movement of that anatomy. Therefore, the movement of, say, the shoulder really matters to your customers’ end experience.
While its true that building clothing is hard because you need to know how to model and map fairly well while, at the same time, you need to know how to use Physique fairly well, take comfort in the fact that thousands of IMVU content creators have done it. You can too!
What is a Body Pattern?
Each avatar is made up of several, interconnected assets: A skeleton, several meshes, several materials and textures, and both triggered and idle animations. This patchwork of assets is called a ‘Body Pattern’.
…and a Body Part?
Each mesh included in an avatar body pattern is called a ‘Body Part’. An avatar can be made up of any number of body parts. IMVU’s two main avatars are made up of ten body parts and each of them (or combinations of them) can be replaced by products found in the IMVU catalog.
For example, if you want to change your hair, you just put on a new hair product. Under the hood, though, the original hair body part is being replaced with a new product that calls the same body part.
Override Body Parts on the default avatar
A new piece of clothing is made visible by means of overriding a Body Part on the default avatar Body Pattern. For example, if you see a woman wearing a hoody sweatshirt in IMVU, it is because that hoody sweatshirt is overriding product 80’s Body Part number 2 (the ‘top’). The same is true when you see someone wearing a peg leg. The peg leg has no foot and so overrides both the leg (part 6) and the foot (part 8).
Body Part Override
Every body part product (shirts, gloves, shoes, etc.) gets its override information from a Create Mode Editor. Create Mode is IMVU’s proprietary product-making program and the Editor is the tool that allows you to combine exported assets into IMVU products.
In Create Mode, click on the Config tab. In that tab, you will see the Clothing Override BodyPart IDs panel. Each numbered box represents a different body part.
Please remember that an avatar can only wear one instance of a body part ID. For example, if a pair of stockings is set to override body parts 6 and 7 and then your customer decides to put on a pair of eyelashes that also call body parts 6 and 7, the stockings will be removed to make way for the newly applied eyelashes.
What Parts Can Change?
The IMVU avatars allow you to change the following body parts:
0. Head 1. Hair 2. Upper Body 3. Right Hand 4. Left Hand 5. Pelvis 6. Right Leg 7. Left Leg 8. Right Foot 9. Left Foot
Simply by checking the box next to a number in the ‘Clothing Override BodyPart IDs‘ panel, those body parts will disappear. Then, you will need to add new geometry to be inserted for the overridden body parts.
To build new clothing, hairstyle and head geometry for the IMVU avatars, you need to begin with an avatar that is positioned in the ‘weighting pose’.
A file for both the female and male avatar is supplied to the left. These ZIP files contain a MAX file for use in 3DS MAX, textures that are applied to that file and a previously exported skeleton .xsf file. All of these files will come in handy later when using the Create Mode Editor.
Considering that completely new avatar products will not work across all Furniture, Rooms, Head and Action menu items, we will not be covering how to build your own entirely new avatar from scratch in these tutorials.
One skeleton – two bodies
The IMVU female and male avatar use the exact same skeleton. This means you only need on skeleton .xsf file in order to export geometry for both the male and female.
However, the shapes of the two bodies are quite different. What’s more, their weighting poses (or, the position of the skeleton bones when the geometry is exported) are different. So, please remember that, should you build a cool jacket for the male that you want to port to the female, you will essentially have to rebuild the mesh and redo the weighting. Otherwise, the boundary vertices will look broken when applied in IMVU.
What’s with the Glasses, yo?
The same weighting files used for building Body Parts are used for building Accessories. The glasses included in the weighting files are there to help Creators learn how an Accessory needs to be teched. Note that the Glasses are weighted to a skeleton that is different from the Avatar skeleton. If you are building a new body part and are distracted by the Glasses and Accessory bones, please feel free to delete them.
A body part can be as simple as one polygon, if you so choose. It can also contain as many or as few morph targets as you like.
The IMVU body parts supplied in the weighting files can be pushed and pulled to become a wide variety of shapes while still maintaining the same mapping across problem areas (like shoulders and hips).
Download and runtime file size is an issue that should be kept in mind whenever designing for IMVU. If your Head’s file size is too big, it is unlikely that your potential customer will purchase and download it and, if they do, there is a very high chance that they will review your product poorly and your sales will go down.
Therefore, it is good practice to try to keep the texture size, vertex/face count of your meshes and animation length down to the bare minimum. There really is no reason to have a 256×256 texture for a button on a shirt: it just won’t be seen in the IMVU messenger. In fact, we have found that the smaller the texture, the BETTER it looks in IMVU. Go figure.
Also, please know that IMVU automatically resizes assets that are too large or teched incorrectly.
Helpful Embedded Animation
Embedded in both example files is an avatar animation that moves every bone in the body. It even moves the Pelvis away from the Root node. This animation is meant to help you perfect the weighting on your mesh.
NOTE: While it is important to keep your avatar skeleton in the default position included in the example files, you can quickly get the vertex weighting just right by adjusting the weights on the animated avatar.
For example, if you wanted to make sure your shoulder weighting was correct, just move the animation slider over until the shoulders move to their end key frame. Then, simply dial in the weighting on your shoulder vertices one by one and get it PERFECT.
A vertex is a point on a 3D mesh. The space between vertices is called ‘geometry’ and that geometry is what is drawn on screen when you’re chatting in IMVU. A boundary is defined as the open ends of a mesh where it is meant to meet up with connecting parts. So, the vertices that live along the boundaries of a body part are called ‘boundary verts’.
For example, an avatar top product has boundary verts along the neck (where it connects to the head), waist (where it connects to the lower body) and wrists (where it connects to the hands). Each boundary vert needs to be placed in the exact same location as its neighboring body part. What’s more, each boundary vert needs to be weighted the exact same way as its neighboring part. Otherwise, you get nasty seams in the messenger.
NOTE: This ‘nasty seams’ business is actually very important. When new geometry does not work well with existing clothes, customers complain and the overall sales of that Creator are hurt. So, take the time to get your placement and weighting right on your boundary verts. It really matters.
To get the boundary verts of two connecting pieces to be in the EXACT same location, just click the move icon and then click on the Snaps Toggle tool. Now, you can click on one of the verts in your mesh and drag it towards its destination. This will, as they say, ‘snap’ the vertex to the exact same 3D space as another vertex.
Match the Skeleton
The Female and Male IMVU avatars use the same skeleton. This is to aide in animation portability as well as cooperative animation construction. The exported version of this skeleton, Female04_Anime01_SkeletonMASTER.xsf, is included in the example ZIP files mentioned above.
Although it is true that you can build your own avatar (complete with unique skeleton), most people utilize the enormous market that the existing body definitions represent. Consequently, most people will want to use the existing skeleton as the basis for their clothing.
Material IDs and Mapping
Although IMVU covers the basics of Material IDs and Mapping in the Mapping Materials Tutorial, there are enough avatar-specific mapping tips to warrant their own tutorial.
Use IMVU’s Skin Mapping
If you are building a body part that is meant to work seamlessly with the rest of products in the IMVU catalog, please remember to use the texture mapping already embedded in the meshes supplied in the master weighting files.
As mentioned above, IMVU users expect their skin texture products to work perfectly across all clothing meshes. When their skin texture products do not work perfectly, they get upset, leave bad reviews and spread the word that your products are unreliable. So, please err on the side of delighting your customers and use the texture mapping IMVU has already lovingly built for you.
To the left is the 256×512 plaid texture we use to make sure that our mapping is near perfect. When this texture is applied to the avatar body in MAX, the horizontal and vertical lines are drawn as near straight as possible. This should allow you to more easily see how the skin on your new meshes is mapped and, more importantly, whether or not it matches what is on the master meshes.
Weight the Mesh
With your body part completely built, it is time to weight it. ‘Weighting‘ means that each vertex in a mesh knows which bone it ought to move with. If a mesh isn’t weighted, it won’t show up in IMVU. Aside from hair, all body parts must use the Physique weighting modifier in MAX.
All body parts intended for use on the IMVU avatars use the same skeleton. This means that no matter what body part you are creating, you can use the ‘Female04_Anime01_SkeletonMASTER.xsf’ skeleton file that comes in the master weighting ZIP files.
Just follow the export steps for exporting a mesh .xmf file as usual (to learn more, check out the Export the Mesh – .xmf Tutorial.) Then, when prompted for the skeleton, browse to the ‘Female04_Anime01_SkeletonMASTER.xsf’ skeleton file and then click OK until the mesh is exported.