Harper Beresford “Your SL Evolution” Challenge

I have to admit it — I love anything to do with Second Life®’s history. Putting into perspective how far we’ve progressed in the past eight years should give us pause to thought.

So I enthusiastically joined Harper Beresford’s “Your SL Evolution” challenge. It’s very simple to join: just grab a few pictures of your avatar and show how your look changed over the years; then upload the picture to Flickr, join the Your SL Evolution Flickr group, and add your picture to that group.

While Harper had the more fashioned-minded people in mind, I guess she doesn’t mind us common humans without a fashion sense 🙂

This was promptly reported by Hamlet Au on New World Notes and even Linden Lab thought it was a great idea.

Now unfortunately Flickr limits the maximum size of the uploaded images, so I uploaded them here in full resolution and two formats. I guess that, like on my blog posts, my problem was not to find the images, but know when to stop adding more and more! Some of those pictures have a special meaning for me, thus the reason for getting included in this selection. Explanations after the break 🙂

Portrait version. Click to expand to full size.
Landscape version. Click to expand to full size.

If you wish to see the pictures on Flickr, here they go:

Gwyneth Llewelyn across the ages - 2004-2011Landscape version

Gwyneth Llewelyn across the ages - 2004-2011 (portrait)Portrait version

And now for some explanations!

August 2004: My first picture in Second Life. Well, actually, it was not taken on my first day (July 31, 2004), because, well, I needed to figure out what profiles were and how they could be updated… I’m far slower with those things than you might expect, so this picture is only from August 4, 2004.

Some points worth noticing: the standard Linden “rubber” skin. Nobody knows what this is nowadays, since all newbie avatars have professionally made skins with high resolution and detail. But back then, Linden Lab had some very low-rez skins which simply looked ugly. Why? Because they were very small in KBytes and thus loaded fast enough. Also note the ugly standard Linden hair — there was no prim hair back then, it hadn’t been invented yet (allegedly by the talented Washu Zebrastripe!). As to the rest, I know it’s very hard to believe it, but I’ve kept my exact shape for the past 7 years, and yes, I’ve designed it myself after 90 minutes tweaking with the settings on the Appearance Panel — my first enjoyable experience in SL! Since then, Moon Adamant has made a slight correction on my nose (I don’t even know when that was; sometime in 2006 I think) and I’ve been consistently reducing my breasts over the years lol (but stopped doing that in, uh, 2008 or so). The rest is pretty much it: sure, my avatar looks different, but it’s all thanks to Linden Lab’s rendering engine improvements and the talent of the content creators who provided me with lovely skins, clothes, and accessories 🙂

Note that my hallmark flower in my hair was already present. It just made sense: Linden Lab was based in San Francisco, and everybody remembers the old song about wearing flowers in your hair… and yes, I’ve always been a redhead with blue-green eyes (and as I’m fond of saying, the eyes are pretty much the only thing shared with my real self 🙂 )

October 2004: I couldn’t afford any clothing back then, so, like many others, we used to design our own clothes when we were tired of the kinky-looking outfits. Back then, pretty much the only thing you could get were T-shirts and all sorts of very kinky outfits, the kind that you would expect to see on adult shops. I remember paying L$5000 to a designer to do a pinstripe suit for my first business meeting 🙂 There simply was nobody doing female business clothing back then.

The olive dress there is still for sale on the SL Marketplace. The picture was taken on Numbakulla; back then, the sim’s owner was launching a contest to design a thematic sim. A tiny group of friends proposed to recreate Lisbon in 1755 just before the earthquake and we submitted a proposal to the sim’s owner. The project was rejected back then, but ironically, this had four consequences. A few years later, the people part of this project launched Beta Technologies. A year after this project was rejected, we actually got some history researchers applying for funds to recreate a historical building of Lisbon in SL — the Royal Opera House — and the actual building was assigned to Moon Adamant, who was part of this idea from the very beginning. The project then advanced to include the whole of Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake (but due to lack of funding, only a tiny part has been finished). And finally, the exploration of virtual architecture in Second Life inspired my work on my master’s thesis and is at the core of my current PhD.

Who’d imagine that such a simple profile picture would have so much to tell? 🙂

About this time, the first skins were made commercially available. This is very likely my first image in the first-generation non-Linden skin, designed by Namssor Daguerre. To this day, I still use one of his skins. You can guess that custom skins were a major revolution back then!

January 2005: With proper lighting, sometimes you could get rather good pictures, even with first-generation skins. This used to be my profile picture for a while.

June 2005: Not a profile picture, but one of my most iconic images of that time: myself, typing at a computer at home inside a virtual world — the viewer of that image had to imagine that there is someone else, in flesh and blood, at home typing at a computer as well… while my avatar is doing the same in SL. It symbolised pretty much what my life was going to be from now on: telecommuting using SL. (Did you notice the navy blue pinstripe suit? Aye, that’s the very same one mentioned a few pictures ago 😉 )

The pack of cigarettes on the table were my own design. They’re still for sale in SL. Nobody will appreciate it, but the cool thing about them is not the carefully designed animations and smoke effects, but actually that there is a whole webshop engine behind the pack of ciggies, which signals a remote server to ask for a cigarette and receives a message from a central prim to deliver a cigarette to the user. Back then it was a way to deal with some nasty permission bugs, but it eventually the core of that became a fully-fledged SL webshop — which never saw the light of the day, since I knew I couldn’t compete with SL Exchange, which appeared a few weeks after I had completed the prototype (and which were later bought by Linden Lab and are today the core of SL Marketplace).

October 2005: A group of close friends caught me and dragged me (almost literally) to the shops to get my first prim-based hairstyle. They had been around for a few months, but I was very, very reluctant to change my hairstyle (I still am!). After hours of getting laughed at, jumping from shop to shop, I finally settled on a stylish updo style. This picture is the last surviving one of a reconstruction of the Royal Opera House in Lisbon, part of the project mentioned before, while it still existed in Second Life (today it’s only available on a private OpenSim-based grid).

February 2006: One thing that I enjoyed doing a lot — and still occasionally do — is to create a special image to illustrate a blog article. Usually, these take more time to prepare and do than writing the article itself! On this image I was aiming for a “Lara Croft”-like look on an article about the many changes happening in Second Life at the time which I somehow wanted to protect people from.

May 2006: One of my worst profile pictures of all times! The hair was simply too big. My only excuse for taking that picture was that I wanted to see how my avatar looked like on my roomie’s PC, which always had far better graphics cards than my own.

August 2006: By that time I was still doing some social work using SL: teaching computer skills to kids whose parents were in jail or awaiting trial for children abuse. By law, the kids were isolated from the whole world and could only interact anonymously; Second Life, because of its strict privacy policies, seemed to be a fun — but safe! — environment for that. This is a second-generation skin from Namssor Daguerre, which looked much nicer than the earlier attempts, while still maintaining its unique characteristics.

January 2007: I keep forgetting what the event was where this picture was taken, but it was an artistic fair of some kind, where you could walk inside huge globes having a RL picture inside of them. So this became one of my iconic “RL in SL” pictures for quite a long while, and was actually taken by a friend (whom I have forgotten!!) with a keen photographic sense and a far better computer than mine. I always loved this picture and used it as my profile picture for months to come.

Late 2007: The date of this image is quite uncertain. My good friend Gwen Carillon one day took that picture of me but I never noticed it; she added a few artistic touches on Photoshop and gave it to me as a gift later in 2008. I adore her work and was really proud of having her doing a work of art out of a simple picture, so I used this photo — even if my avatar was already out of style at that time 😉 — for a lot fo time as my profile picture. I pretty much uploaded it everywhere where I have an account, so sometimes, when logging back to a forum or social networking site which I haven’t logged in for many years, I still have this photo as a profile picture there 🙂

January 2008: CodeBastard Redgrave, a good friend (with whom I was proud to work professionally for a year or so; she is now one of the lead developers of the Imprudence TPV), was also very fond of launching challenges to fellow residents. This one, “Boudoir Rouge“, asked for avatars to wear something red and get a kinky/sexy picture taken of her; she wanted mostly to get people who usually dress in a completely different style to, uh, “reveal” themselves. I did my best with old lingerie bought in 2005 (!) from Nonna Hedges, and the results were funny to watch, to say the least! For an explanation of why I bought that lingerie back then, look at the comments for the Flickr image 🙂

May 2008: For some strange reason, during the mid-2008s, the particular shade of red hair that I favoured had gone out of fashion. So this was my first attempt to re-texturise one hairstyle (“Annyka”). I loved to learn the technique, which was actually easier than I imagined. The skin is a third-generation Namssor Daguerre skin, and it was the last skin I bought. To this day, I’m still unhappy with any other.

June 2009: This was another one of those “grab my roomie’s computer and take a snapshot” and take a picture. This is actually one taken underwater! By June 2009, Linden Lab was already experimenting with shadows and the new lighting models, but of course my eternally crippled computers could not handle anything so sophisticated like that, thus I had to use my roomie’s PC. (I’m sure you have guessed there is a pattern here!)

September 2009: Hey, my flower is purple! 🙂 For uncountable years I had always some flowers in my hair, but except for a period where I wore red roses, they were mostly white. When I told that story at one Thinkers’ meeting, one of the content creators there offered me this one as a gift. I used this image as a profile picture for a while, because I thought it looked rather natural — except for the purple-glowing flower! 🙂

January 2010: About this time, I was getting tired of the “Late 2007” profile picture which I was still using at a lot of places. And I finally recognised that the best pictures were taken by professional photographers. But by a stroke of luck, this picture got some odd lighting which made it somehow a bit more “real”. So “real”, in fact, that I finally managed to notice that my avatar is not as beautiful as I thought! Somehow, there is this mix of “messyness” in a “geeky intellectual” on that picture that comes through and spoils the effect; nevertheless, I kept the picture for almost a year on all my profiles.

March 2010: Now it’s incredible, but I don’t remember the story behind this picture! I think it was some tests I was doing with Viewer 2.0, and I certainly used this one as a profile picture somewhere, but I cannot remember why. It’s nothing special.

October 2010: I finally got tired of the ugly “January 2010” profile picture 🙂 I still shopped around for a photographer but, to be honest, I didn’t make a serious effort. This was the sort of image I gave them to let them know what I had in mind: an image that triggered the “Uncanny Valley” effect, where the image seems to be “almost real” but something, somehow, will show it’s not. At the end, I gave up searching, launched up Photoshop and a whole set of filters and plugins, and used that very same picture as my profile picture, which was updated pretty much everywhere I have an account on. I believe it’s the first profile picture I did using Photoshop; all the others were just taken raw from Second Life. Why? Well, my old computers cannot truly show Second Life in its current beauty. SL is now an amazing platform with an incredible rendering engine; and I feel that I’m somehow “cheating” Linden Lab if I post a profile picture using a low-end graphics card which doesn’t do justice to their fantastic work on the engine. By simply photoshopping the image, the attention is less drawn to the details — or the lack of details — but to the overall effect.

July 2011: When I got kicked out of Facebook, I joined Google Plus for a couple of weeks, until it was clear to me that Google wouldn’t change their policies about privacy and identity. When it became clear that people were flagging each other’s profiles for being “fake” based on the pictures they had, I grabbed my roomie’s computer (yes, again!) and did a series of snapshots with Ultra settings. Sadly, they were not so good as I expected: I guess that her computer is also slowly becoming obsolete, or — more likely! — I’m not so good at tweaking all the new settings that Linden Lab has introduced on the latest batch of viewers. As you can see on most fashion and artist blogs these days, avatars look as real as never before, and I was hoping to get something like that. Alas, I can “borrow” my roomie’s computer for just a few minutes every other month or so, so I couldn’t experiment much, and this was the best I could come up with. So I just did lots of photoshopping on it, and instead of “looking real” it looks so obviously photoshopped that it’s confusing 🙂 It almost looks like one of those filters that “avatarises” your RL picture (which was the best I could aim for), but it’s not quite there.

Ironically, I left Google Plus a few days after having uploaded this picture, and while it’s still my profile picture on Google, I’m using the “October 2010” picture on most of the social networking sites out there. Why? Well, I actually like it more. I guess I overdid the photoshopping on the “July 2011” picture!

So, yes, I’m still looking for a pro photographer that gets me a good profile picture that looks like this. If you’re able to get that kind of image and are willing to make a cheap offer to take my picture and allow me to use it pretty much everywhere, please get in touch with me 😉

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