March 12, 2014

GUIDE: Getting Small - Petite & Micro Avatars

Cupcake outfit by ValaDation
I saw this group notice for what looked like a totally cute outfit called Cupcake from ValaDation designed for Petite and Micro avatars. My first reaction -- ME WANT! And I want it now!! LOL. Being a fashionista and a part-time designer means I can be fairly critical about outfits and clothing in Second Life. But Cupcake just begged to be bought! How adorkable is this?

BUT, that meant I had to put on my micro avatar which I haven't done for awhile. Which then led to this blog article since I thought, hmmmmm, there's probably a few people who don't know about this stuff. So I figgered, why not do a mini-tutorial on this stuff?

Disclaimer first!! I am not a technology expert. So my explanations may fall short for some who think in terms of bits, bytes and 3D planar surfaces (whatever that means). This is also by no means a COMPLETE article on all things petite and micro. There are a LOT of ins and outs to being being teeny.

It's all about "rigged" mesh

By now most of you who venture into Second Life are familiar with mesh clothing, objects and body parts like hair. In it's simplest terms, mesh works kinda like sculpted prims. The difference is mesh can be more detailed for the same number of "triangles" or vertices. Don't ask me how. It's all geek to me. I just think of mesh as having vastly more detail than prims or sculpties.

The next step is "rigged" mesh. This means that the mesh can be worn and it will follow the movements of your avatars "skeleton." Your base avatar in Second Life has always been a rigged mesh object but what Linden Lab did was give you the ability to wear completely new meshes that aren't stuck in the standard male and female forms.

To do this generally requires a few common steps. Those familiar with wearing mesh clothing know that you often have to "tweak" your body shape to fit the mesh. Generally though, going petite or micro starts by hiding the entire body (via wearable alpha masks) to make it completely transparent. The next step is to wear an underlying body shape mesh. This can either be a fully textured "skin" of a particular look and shape OR it can be a blank canvas shape onto which other textures are drawn. More on this later.
The next step is wearing any mesh clothing, accessories and other attachments that will complete the look. We're not going to go into all the variations of mesh avatars. The rest of this article will be about "Petites" and "Micros".

Mesh avatars are not necessarily tinies

Quick clarification. Mesh avatars are not the same as prim-based tinies which use avatar deformers (animations), prim attachments, invisi-prims and other tricks to make the avatar small. While you can have tiny mesh avatars, most people think of tinies as small animals, dragons, robots, cartoon characters, etc. We are talking about specific types of humanoid micro mesh avatars here.
Snickers next to 1/2 meter standard cube

Size: Mesh mini people

So first thing. My avatar in the photo is only about .5 meters tall in Second Life. That's really small. To give you an idea, here's a photo of me next to a standard rezzed plywood box.

So what did I do to get this small and cute? In my case, I put on a complete "Magic Mesh Pixie" avatar from Eleven (11) Design.

(11) Design aka Devious Noyes is the developer and producer of a particular line of avatars people generally referred to as "Micros". (I'll talk about "Petites" below.) This particular girly consists of:
  • Invisible Avatar alpha* - (11) Design
  • Micro mesh body shape* - (11) Design
  • Magic Mesh pixie body for skin layer* - (11) Design
  • Skin Tan Frex - (11) Design
  • Magic Mesh pixie clothing layer* - (11) Design
  • Prim eyeballs - (11) Design
  • Clothing "painted" on mesh clothing layer - ValaDation
  • Prim or sculpted shoes - ValaDation
  • Prim hair - Truth
So let's break it down. The alpha makes your whole body invisible. The shape is simply to make the mesh conform in general to the rigging of the body mesh. IT DOES NOT SHRINK THE AVATAR. In fact if you look at the settings for the shape, the height is set to 50. The most important part though is the Magic Mesh pixie body. This rigged mesh IS pixie sized. Since the alpha hides your normal avatar, all you see is the pixie body. The skin is then "painted" onto the pixie body (more on this below).

Next is the clothing mesh layer which simply lays on top of the body mesh. Then the outfit is painted onto it. The prim eyeballs are needed because your normal eyes can't be moved or shrunk to pixie size. So separate eyes are added. And finally you have the accessories including hair, shoes or whatever else your mini-person might need.

Except for the mesh stuff, all of these items attach to your avatar just as you'd wear an outfit. However there are a few twists and turns as you can tell by my reference to "painting" outfits. :)

Magic Mesh Micro / Pixie

All (11) Design's pixies are supplied in two forms. One uses fixed skin/body and clothing layers (referred to as "non-Magic Mesh"). This is similar in concept to regular skins and mesh clothing only the body shape and skin are combined and you cannot change them other than swapping it out for a different skin/body layer.

(11) Design also provides a Magic Mesh body/skin layer and a Magic Mesh clothing layer. These are scripted meshes worn the same way as the fixed layers with a huge difference. They contain no textures for skin or clothing. Instead, the skin or clothing are "painted" on the mesh using a "Magic Ring" system.

While it sounds complicated (and frankly it is), there are major benefits. Designers only need to supply their skins and clothing textures in a special package that is "read" by the Magic Ring system and applied to the appropriate mesh! They don't have to actually texture the skin/body or clothing mesh itself. Once you learn and get used to the system, it makes a lot of sense. Additionally, it cuts down on the work that designers have to do AND it also means that outfits a designer may create for a different avatar system (like Petites) can simply be tweaked a bit and they'll work on Micros.

Yabusaka Petite

The other and more popular system (mostly because it was introduced first), is Yabasuka Loon's "Petite". While the scale is the same height as Devious Noyes' Micro/Pixie, the body shapes are different. The Yabusaka petite system works just like 11 Design's non-Magic Mesh. You wear the appropriate layers of mesh as needed to make the complete avatar.

Petite vs. Micro / Pixie

Because all petite and micro / pixie clothing is rigged mesh and must fit the underlying EXACTLY, the shape you get is what you are stuck with. No tweaking sliders, making your boobs, hips or pecs bigger. And, while some accessories and vehicles and things will work with both systems, clothing and skins for Petites can only be used on Petites. Likewise for Micro / Pixie.

So why did I focus above on 11 Design's system? First, it's what I own. All I have is a Petite demo which is no good for showing you how things really look. Second, after looking at the body shapes up close on some friends, I found the Yabusaka Petite shapes, both male and female, to be too "waif-like". The females shapes are very straight through the hips and "pouty" while the male shapes just look a bit skinny to me. Both systems have their detractors and proponents. To each his own.
Fallen Gods example of Yabasuka style Petite avatars
Another reason I went with the Micro / Pixie system was price! For $750L you can get a complete starter avatar pack with 4 skins, 7 hair colors, 5 eye colors and 6 complete outfits including 2 fairies and a lingerie set. Most of the Petite avatars I've seen are about $1900L for something that really only has one variation and generally no clothing included.

I can't speak to the male versions of either Petite or Micro / Pixie but both female types are "anatomically correct". :)

How it all comes together

Since the Magic Ring system is so unique, I'm going to show you step-by-step photo sequence of how it comes together to make a mini-me!

Basic Snickers
Start with your regular avatar. You need to remove ALL attachments and clothing FIRST. I should have taken off my hair but I look scary without it.
Micro / pixie shape applied
Next we apply the default micro / pixie shape. You'll notice there isn't a huge amount of difference. That's because the micro shape is basically an average avatar with sliders pretty much set to 50 across the board.
Mesh worn
Now the fun begins. Normally you'd wear the alpha first to hide your body but I chose to wear the basic micro mesh first to show what happens. Everything gets scrunched into what will eventually be a teeny person. Note that my boobs are now in my face lol.
Alpha worn, skin applied
Next up, wearing the alpha and applying the skin to the base mesh. Oopsie, my full-sized Damselfly hair is still there. This photo shows you the relative size of the final avatar using the same camera distance.

Take off original hair and add basic micro hair.
So here I'm wearing the basic hair that comes with the avatar along with the eyeballs. Both are simply attachments.
Magic Ring used to change outfits and skins
This shows what the Magic Ring looks like when it's changing outfits or skins. It appears briefly and a few seconds later, you have a new outfit or a new skin. In the above picture, I've put on the "light" colored skin quickly just by adding the Magic Mesh version. No waiting to rez, no taking it off then putting it back on.
Cupcake by ValaDation from front.
And next we "Add" the Magic Ring version of Cupcake to our micro pixie. You'll note that I'm wearing mesh tennis shoes too. Those aren't added to the outfit via Magic Ring. They are attached in the usual way (Worn). In this case, I had to use a Mesh Micro body without feet in order to allow for the kicks to display correctly.
Cupcake from back
Finished avatar looks good all the way around!

Even more variations

The one area in which the Yabasuka system shines is options. If you really want to trick out your Petite avatar, you can with everything from scripted hands (that grip) and heads (for moving mouths and blinking eyes) to a wide range of accessories tailored just for Petites. While the Micro / Pixie system will support these things, I just haven't seen any implementations out there. So yes, my micro face is stuck in a sort of neutral expression. Not a smile but not a frown.

It ain't easy being small

My world in mouselook

Size creates unique problems mostly with your camera controls. While mouselook produces the expected view of the world (see left photo), for some reason, the regular view is still elevated at just above eye level for a normal sized person. It makes zooming in and out on yourself for photos challenging. Most of the time I end up targeting my feet.

If you decide you want to stay more or less permanently as a micro person, you should probably edit your camera offsets in the Advanced / Debug Settings menu.

I've done this even for my normal sized avatar just to give me a better perspective on build sizes. Things will look a lot more impressive if you take the time to adjust your camera. Here's an article on how to do it.

What about AOs and poses and stuffs?

AOs, or Animation Overrides, will mostly work fine with micro mesh avatars. Unlike tinies that use deformers to move arms and legs out of the way, the movement you get with a mesh avatar is pretty much the same as you get with a full-sized one. The big difference will be seen with walking and running since you cover the same ground you would as a full-size avatar when, technically, you should be taking micro steps. But singles dances, pose, stands, etc. should work fine. You can see my model pose in the photos. Same positioning as a full-sized avatar.

Couples animations will not work right because of the avatar offsets involved. You might be able to adjust those assuming your pose set or AO allows you to but it may not be worth it unless you plan to stay permanently as a micro.

Links & resources

Anyway, I hope this all helps with your quest to be small! As usual, corrections, comments and questions are welcome.

SLURL to Eleven (11) Design for Micro / Pixie goodies

SLURL to Fallen Gods for Yabusaka Petites

SLURL to Petites Kingdom


  1. Hi, I'm having some trouble. everytime I use any meshes that are smaller than the default AVI size My eyes stay normal sized. It looks really weird and annoys the crap out of me... is there anything I can do to fix that?

    I can Email you a photo to show you want I mean if you think it will help...

    1. Make sure the alpha you have covers your eyes as well. You can just make a full alpha in edit appearance and select alpha as a texture for head, upper, lower and eyes.

    2. Why don't you have a look at the Small, Curves and Mega Micro Immortals Avatars :)


All thoughts are welcome.