Getting good Body Proportions in Second Life

For more information, I have a whole category on this subject, and how to improve your shape.


This began as a re-phrasing of a guide posted on the old official forums by Penny Patton, but has taken off from there with my own thoughts and style. The forums have a habit of disappearing or getting buried, so I wanted to make a blog post with the same general advice. I know, only in SL would anyone consider a blog to have more viability of lasting than the actual official forum…

That said, it appears others have been at this even longer than either Penny or I, but with a bit of a different take.

Apart from the issue of proper height in Second Life, over which there is oddly no agreement… most avatars in Second Life have grossly improper proportions.

Proportions are not something you can really debate – you’ve either got them right or you’ve got them wrong and its basic anatomical science over which you have.

But in SL so few people have any artistic or medical training, and the dials for avatar shape editing are grossly improperly adjusted. Proper proportions can often only be achieved by values of under 10 or over 90… if at all. Put simply whoever made the mesh we’re all stuck with had even less artistic training than a pack of kindergarteners. There are ‘free’ meshes in the 3D community that do a better job.

Having good proportions will make your avatar look -AND- animate better. Any motion capture animations in SL were made by… more likely humans than Orangutans or Lemurs. I don’t know… I could be wrong, but I’m going to just guess that the average motion capture studio hires human dancers and not the zoo crew. So if you have human proportions, you’ll animate a little more like the motion capture itself intended (barring the limits of the badly put together SL mesh).

So its time to learn how to ‘dial away from 50′ and get an avatar that looks regardless of height chosen.

You’re going to want to do a few basic things first. Get yourself a pose stand with a T-Pose and an arms at sides pose. You can get my free one at my shop or on Marketplace. Get on it, and go into preferences here and un-check the box for appearance:
Un-check Appearance on the Automatic Position Section.
That will let you switch between appearance editing and prim editing without hopping off the posestand or having your camera move. You can always recheck the box later if desired.

(A careful observer will notice that my avatar started these screenshots slightly out of proportion, and I improve as I work my way down.)

Start by learning your head size:
Head Sized Prim

Take off your hair. Make a prim and size it to be from your chin to the top of your head. Be as accurate as you can be – but human variety is often slightly off of perfection, so don’t sweat too fine of details.

Now find out how many heads tall you are. Take that same prim and copy clone it down until you go past your feet:
7.5 Heads of Height.
You want to be between 7 and 8 heads tall, For a short look you can reach down to 6 or 6 and a half – though you will start looking odd in doing this (and this is not the proper way to make someone who has naturally short stature – that would take more complex adjustments of the SL dials than simply counting heads). Attractive people tend to be closer to 8 heads – even short attractive people, but by contrast Asians who are often considered attractive tend to be on the lower end of the scale. Going above 8 can make you look cartoonish – and on the SL mesh, usually in a bad way. Make your head bigger or smaller until this works out right for you.

The hardest part comes next and it is likely to cause you to have to redo some of the above a few times until it is all just right. Now we need to get your ratio of torso-legs right. Your legs should be half of your height.

Start by finding your current height. Take a prim and stretch it from the soles of your feet to the tip of your head:
Avatar Height
Now cut that prim in half. If you place the new half prim so it starts at the soles of your feet, you want it to reach to your crotch. Good luck because this almost never happens on the first try.
This should go to the top of the crotch, not the base – the image here needs to be corrected.

Now stack a copy of it on top. The top prim should go from your crotch to the top of your head. Sounds easy, but adjusting everything until this works well, takes work.

You need to keep tweaking until you have two equal prims that meet at your crotch. Yes that really is the focal point of the human body and not just because guys keep staring at it:

In tweaking this you’re going to be working with neck length, leg length, and hip length for the most part. Height will adjust overall body height. Torso height may or may not adjust your upper half, it worked for me but I’ve read that it doesn’t work. You can also adjust head size, but do that and you have to start the entire process over again.

Be careful not to give yourself a funny squashed or swan neck. It will be tempting as its one of the easier dials to use to get the ratio right.

Now you should find your body width. Take that head prim and stack a copy of it side by side. Put them over your body:
Body Width
You should be 2 heads wide from arm to arm.
You can see I’m a little thin here.
Keep in mind here that males have broader shoulders than females. For a man adjust shoulders slightly up, for a woman slightly down. Avoid the comical extreme seen on so many SL men. If you ask SL women what makes an attractive male, those extremes are not him (The Bishounen look seems to get the most female interest – if you want to be a lady’s man, go Bishounen with a dapper stylish outfit and use cool artsy backdrops in your screenshots for extra ‘drooling’ factor – just look at any Vampire TV show these days, the lead boys all have Bishy-bodies).

Next comes hand size. One of the major ‘lol’ issues with SL men is tiny hands… How can you tell a noob shape or noob shape maker – look at the hands first. In my screenshots I’m taking off my furry paws for a moment here so you can see this how most of you will deal with it:
Hand Size
You will want your hand from the base of your palm to the tips of your fingers to be the same size as the distance between your chin and midway between your brows and ‘hairline’. I’m guessing my hairline on this one. Again men have slightly thicker hands and women slightly daintier – but use extreme care in deviating here: the hand size slider doesn’t adjust for thick / width / muscle, just size all around. A little bit goes a long way.

Note the comment about thicker versus daintier – this is why all avatars in SecondLife have MAN HANDS… there is no ‘hand muscle / thickness’ slider… so no matter how big or small you go, it will still look mannish. A big mistake many women make is thinking female hands are smaller. They’re not so much smaller overall, as smaller in the muscle / palm / width. The shape is different, and SecondLife doesn’t let you fix that.

Now comes your arm length (wingspan). This is the spot where most of you will revolt and call all this human anatomy stuff bat-crazy nonsense. Your arms from finger tip to finger tip when stretched out in a T-pose, should be the same length as the height of your body. It will look utterly crazy for about 3-5 minutes after you hit save and walk around – but as soon as you ‘get over SL’ for a moment you’ll blink and suddenly realize you look ‘human’ for the first time ever in SL, and then you’ll start noticing all the T-rex people around you. If you just can’t handle the new arm length, dial it down a tiny bit. But chances are this step took your arms to 90-100. If so, don’t go down by more than 10.
Arm Length - Wingspan

Finally do your feet for when barefoot. Make the feet the same size as the length of your forearm. Obviously if you use rigged mesh feet, you’ll be out of luck on this one – but if those feet “look normal enough” this is one area where you can probably get by being a little off.

This should not be correct at foot size 0, but it was for me. I have no idea why. That’s your foot size when barefoot. Save this prim under a name like ‘Shoe Size’ in inventory and use it to size any shoes you buy. Making shoes you buy just a little bigger as if they had to fit a foot that size inside them. That’s the real reason to do this last step – to find your shoe size. In my opinion the SL bare-feet look horrid no matter what size you give them…
Foot Size
(The SL foot slider just makes them longer, without making the sole or toes thicker, so feet at proper length actually often look worse than smaller feet – a good argument for going shopping to buy some of those rigged mesh feet. If you noticed the screenshots with darker skin, my 2013 avatar, getting mesh feet is exactly what I have now done.)

Now you can get to work and perfect things like body fat, muscle, facial features, and so on to get a desired look.

Age:
Proportions By Age
Everything changes a bit when trying to depict a different age for your avatar. I won’t go into length on that, but just leave you with this chart to look over and think about.

References:
http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2006/bodyproportions.shtml
http://www.paintdrawpaint.com/2010/10/drawing-basics-figure-proportions.html
http://www.idrawdigital.com/2009/01/tutorial-anatomy-and-proportion/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man
Google Images for Anatomy & Proportion

The SL Avatar Dials and what they do:
(Credit for this goes to What the Fug? – Shaping Up – A Shapes Tutorial: Part 2)

Body
Height – adjusts your overall height
Body Thickness – adjusts the relative width of your body
Body Fat – adjusts all-over body fat

Head
Head Size – adjusts the overall size of your head
Head Stretch – stretches your head vertically.
Head Shape – makes your head more square or more round
Egg Head – adjusts your head to be forehead-heavy versus chin-heavy
Head Length – stretches your head from the back of your head to the front of your face
Face Shear – lifts one side of the face versus the other
Forehead Angle – adjusts the slope of your forehead
Brow Size – adjusts the size and protrusion of your brow
Upper Cheeks – adjusts the puffiness of your upper cheeks
Lower Cheeks – adjusts the hollowness of your lower cheeks
Cheek Bones – adjusts the height of your cheekbones

Eyes
Eye Size – adjusts the overall size of your eyes
Eye Opening – adjusts the vertical opening of your eyes
Eye Spacing – adjusts the space between your eyes
Outer Eye Corner – lifts and lowers the outer corners of your eyes
Inner Eye Corner – lifts and lowers the inner corners of your eyes
Eye Depth – adjust the depth at which your eyes are sunk into your head
Upper Eyelid Fold – lifts and lowers your upper eyelid
Eye Bags – lowers the “bags” under your eye
Puffy Eyelids – adjusts the puffiness of your eye bags
Eyelash Length – adjusts the system eyelash length (set to “0” for prim lashes)
Eye Pop – adjusts the “pop” of either eye.

Ears
Ear Size – adjusts the size of your ears
Ear Angle – adjusts the angle from which your ears stick out from your head
Attached Earlobes – adjusts your earlobes to be attached to your head, or have some separation
Ear Tips – adjusts the tips of your ears to be pointed or not

Nose
Nose Size – adjusts the size of your nose, extending it out from your face
Nose Width – adjusts the width of your nose at tip mostly
Nostril Width – adjusts the width of your nostrils
Nostril Division – adjusts the length of your septum
Nose Thickness – adjusts how bulbous your nose is
Upper Bridge – adjusts the length out from your face of your nose between your eyes
Lower Bridge – adjusts the length out from your face of your nose above your nose tip
Bridge Width – adjusts the width of your nose between and just below your eyes
Nose Tip Angle – adjusts the upturn ot downturn of your nose
Nose Tip Shape – adjusts the size/shape of your nose tip to be pinched or bulbous
Crooked Nose – adjusts your nose to be shifted from one side to another

Mouth
Lip Width – adjusts the overall width of your mouth
Lip Fullness – adjusts the size/fullness of your lips
Lip Thickness – adjusts the protrusion/puffiness of your lips
Lip Ratio – adjusts the ratio of lower lip to upper lip
Mouth Position – adjusts the position of your mouth vertically
Mouth Corner – adjusts the corners of your mouth to be upturned or down turned
Lip Cleft Depth – adjusts the depth of your lip cleft (the indentation beneath your septum and the points of your upper lip on either side)
Lip Cleft – adjusts the width of your lip cleft
Shift Mouth – shifts your mouth position from left to right

Chin
Chin Angle – adjusts your chin to be drawn in or jut out
Jaw Shape – adjusts your jaw to be pointed or squared
Chin Depth – adjusts the depth (or height) of your chin
Jaw Angle – adjusts the height of your jawline
Jaw Jut – adjusts your “under bite”
Jowls – adjusts your jawline to give it more or less “jowls” (cheek sag)
Chin Cleft – creates a cleft in your chin
Upper Chin Cleft – gives your chin a more square appearance
Chin-Neck – adjusts the underneath of your chin to be more or less saggy

Torso
Torso Muscles – adjusts your all-over torso to have a more or less bulky appearance
Neck Thickness – adjusts the thickness/width of your neck
Neck Length – adjusts the length/height of your neck
Shoulders – adjusts how broad your shoulders are
(F)Breast Size – adjusts the size of your breasts
(F)Breast Buoyancy – adjusts the gravitational “sag” of your breasts
(F)Breast Cleavage – adjusts your cleavage, moving your breasts closer together or further apart
(M)Pectorals – adjusts the size/protrusion of a man’s pectoral muscles
Arm Length – adjusts the length of your arms
Hand Size – adjusts your hand size
Torso Length – adjusts the length of your torso (this does not affect height)
Love Handles – adjusts the thickness of your waist
Belly Size – adjusts the size of your belly (useful for creating a pregnant shape)

Legs
Leg Muscles – adjusts your legs to give them a more or less bulky appearance
Leg Length – adjusts the length of your legs
Hip Width – adjusts the width of your hips and creates space between your thighs
Hip Length – adjusts the length of your hips/butt
Butt Size – adjusts the size of your butt (abuse of this slider leads to “watermelon ass”)
(M)Package – adjusts the size of a man’s crotch bulge
Saddle Bags – adjusts the “thickness” of your hips
Knee Angle – can be used to give one a more or less knock-kneed appearance
Foot Size – adjusts the size of one’s feet

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28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Pussycat Catnap’s thoughts | Getting good Body Proportions in Second Life « MetaLibrary
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  3. doreengarrigus
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 15:16:59

    Nicely done. Thank you.

    Reply

  4. Lelani Carver
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 09:02:23

    I’m wondering if the proportions apply to kid-sized avatars – I’m thinking not because the young of most mammals have bigger heads in proportion to their bodies (it’s an evolutionary trick to get that “aw, cute! I’ll protect you!” instinct to kick in).

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Jul 10, 2011 @ 09:27:40

      My impression is that it would not be possible to get proper proportions on a child AV in SL due to the mesh being so messed up when it goes too far in scale in either direction – but its a good question you’ve now got me curious to investigate. I’ll have to look up what proper child proportions are, and then see if they can be replicated. So um… get back to you on that. :)

      Reply

  5. Trackback: Getting good Body Proportions in Second Life (Bug, Please Take Notes) - Building fashion Second Life - - Chameleonic Possessions
  6. Trackback: Shape proportioner « opensweden
  7. orcaflotta
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 19:13:29

    I lately have the feeling my hands are “growing”. A while ago 25% looked okay, had to dial down to 15% and am now on 10%. Weird. I have to admit that I actually reduced my overall height as welll, so I guess the extremities are not shrinking proportionally.
    And arms of 90 – 100%? Are you kidding? In RL my hands start slightly below my butt when I have the arms hanging down on the side if my torso. For the same effect in SL I found arms length of 60% to be ok-ish.

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Dec 12, 2011 @ 20:06:34

      Take a tape measure to your wingspan – finger tip to finger tip outstretched in RL. Then compare it to your height.
      Now do the same thing in Second Life with a prim and your avatar.

      I consider it a flaw that I had to go as high as 100 just to get a match between height and wingspan… and that was with making myself rather short.

      Reply

  8. Trackback: Mesh scaling to reduce prim cost – smaller scale in SL really is better now « Pussycat Catnap's thoughts
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  10. Trackback: I’ve relented and put up a shape for sale in Second Life – Proportionate Woman in Standard Sizes – a package of 5 customizable shapes ideal for use with mesh clothing. « Pussycat Catnap's thoughts
  11. Trackback: I’ve relented and put up a shape for sale in Second Life – Proportionate Woman in Standard Sizes – a package of 5 customizable shapes ideal for use with mesh clothing. « Pussycat Catnap's thoughts
  12. ibigfire
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 02:51:38

    Thank you for this. Even at 100 my arms aren’t quite long enough, but I suppose that’s the closest LL will let me get for my 5’4″ avatar.

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Jul 20, 2012 @ 20:53:46

      Yeah its a mess. The default SL avatar is extremely poorly made. I say that knowingly… I’ve been around the 3D arti community since the late 90s – even back then amateur modellers were making, on free programs, 3D human figures that are better models. Any one of them could have been hired to scale down some model for a low polygon enough version for the uses we have… There’s no excuse for how messed up the figure is – a professional 3D human figure at the least should have its defaults set to proper human anatomy. People should only need to dial the numbers up or down when making non-human creatures, not to try and find where the human is hidden. :)

      Reply

  13. Ama-Ryl
    Aug 28, 2012 @ 09:20:56

    When you say that the half is the crotch do you mean the botton of the crotch or right above it?

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Oct 15, 2012 @ 10:36:40

      This is a bit of an opinion issue. I’ve not found solid statements in anatomy guides, so I go for midway. Right at the ‘bits and pieces.’ ;)

      Reply

  14. Darryl Smith
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 16:38:57

    Thank You. Thank You. Thank You!

    Reply

  15. Trackback: Do Disproportionate Avatars Lead ‘Normal People’ To Leave SL? « Pussycat Catnap's thoughts
  16. Ener Hax (@iliveisl)
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 04:38:11

    a really awesome article! thank you for bringing it to my attention, this is a “must read” as far as avatars and virtual worlds go

    Reply

  17. Kahlima
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 17:11:12

    Just like in your RL, you shouldn’t be so concerned with what other’s look like. Everyone is in SL to have their own experiences.
    An avatar is pretty much a cartoon no matter what and, most importantly, NOT any more real than art. So, no, it doesn’t matter if you’re being realistic… Avatars are creations, just like everything else made in SL.
    *And nothing gives anyone the “right” to lecture others. Though I may be lecturing atm… I’ve no right to :P
    Let the creative diversity flow cause variety is the spice of life! Plus it’s no fun being a proportion nazi :D

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Aug 20, 2013 @ 21:39:43

      I moderate comments and don’t check here as often as I should… thus the 8 day delay there. Many of the comments that get submitted are spam advertisements… and for popular articles, that gets even worse…

      This is a guide for those who do wish to understand what is going on with the dials and how to get a proportionate look. Any artist will tell you that even when doing extreme work like cartoons or surreal – you get your best results if you understand anatomy and then consciously deviate from it for a purposeful effect.
      But you can’t get your effect: proportionate or distorted, until you first know what does what and what ‘proportionate’ is. That’s why human anatomy is a first semester course in almost any university art program. :)
      If you don’t desire to be proportionate, then even in that case you will get better results with what you DO desire if you know where you are moving off from and how. Kind of like.

      However its worth keeping in mind that no one is forced to use this guide or be proportionate, it is a guide for those who desire such, so who is on the attack here? :)

      Reply

  18. Nix
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 00:54:59

    Absolutely love this article. I know people are free to look as they wish, but I hate that SL has created a new standard of ‘beauty’ with truck hips, tiny waists, and super long legs. To the effect that it looks like a taffy Barbie suffered in a medieval torture rack. Or perhaps that long nondescript aliens mated with human women.

    Before SL, I always dreamed of a 3d environment we could role-play in. Now I role-play in SL whenever I can, and personally I like the idea of trying to look realistic with my avatar. I think it adds to the realism of the role-play. I also get a lot of compliments, and have asked if I could make shapes for people. If I do, I think I’d make them full perm, just so people can share them.

    I want to thank you so much for this article! Before I always had to open tab after tab of real people, drawing proportions, and really just eyeball my avatar shape. After reading this, I found my proportions were mostly spot on but could use some tweaking, and I find that wonderful. I can’t wait to role-play in my altered shape; I’ll definitely be using this tutorial more! It made hours and hours of ‘sculpting’ the shape so much faster!

    Will you be doing an article on body fat, thickness, and other sliders? I’d love to hear more proportion advice! Especially since SL’s sliders seem so warped–my avatar’s body thickness is at 84, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. She just looks pretty normal. It would be nice if SL updated their sliders, because belly doesn’t distribute well. Anyhoo, that’s enough of my rambling. I hope to see more wonderful articles like this! It’s really a service to SL users who wish to look more realistic.

    Reply

    • Pussycat Catnap
      Dec 22, 2013 @ 14:52:30

      SL’s sliders are pretty poorly engineered. One only has to spend a few minutes with Daz3D’s Victoria model, or even the 1999 Possette from Poser 3 and 4 – to see that. And Poser is good to mention because Possette predates SL’s Ruth.

      (Possette is also a few hundred thousand more polygons I believe, than SL’s Ruth. But that’s just an excuse for lack of detail / customization, not for getting anatomy right.)

      Its hard to speak in more detail about proportion because the SL avatar is so badly messed up, that messing with the dials in ways that should be pretty tame can warp you into something atrocious with ease – while with other dials you have to go nuts on the setting just to get normal… And sometimes you have to take an otherwise ‘wrong’ setting, and make it ‘more wrong’ – because that’s the only way to get another setting to be ‘right’…

      I’d love to write more – but the more detail I provide, the more easy it gets to confuse people and lead to unhappy results. The dials often just do not do what they should be doing, let alone what they claim to do…

      And again to Daz / Poser – as far back as the 1990s there were people there making custom models that would have loved to get a contract to make something like Ruth, and could have done it right, for very little pay…

      – Linden Labs should have hired people with experience in using 3D models, either professionals, or even the hobbiest’s from the Poser / Daz community (who BTW, are also in SL in force: many of the best sculpties and mesh things you can buy on Marketplace are made by people who learned playing in Poser a decade back).

      I have been planning some tips on easier ways to get proportional that I’ve figured out since writing this, but I’ve not yet considered tips on going into more detail. Penny Patton often does though – she’s covered this at a more advanced level than I have, if memory serves me right.

      Reply

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