Facebook Demos Highly Realistic Avatar Facial Animation

My Twitter feed keeps delivering news nuggets this week! This is an update to a blogpost I had written earlier this year on this technology.

Facebook Reality Labs has published a research article in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics, which shows cutting-edge avatar facial animation using multiple cameras attached to a VR headset, and a new multiview image processing technique. (The full paper is free to download from the link above.) The researchers also gave a presentation at the SIGGRAPH 2019 computer graphics conference in Los Angeles.

The results are impressive, giving an avatar human-driven, lifelike animations not only of the lower face but also the upper face, which of course if covered by the VR headset:

This is light years ahead of current avatar facial animation technology, such as the avatar facial driver in Sinespace, which operates using your webcam. Imagine being able to conduct a conversation in VR where you can convey the full gamut of facial expressions while you are talking! This is a potential gamechanger for sure. It’s not clear when we can expect to see this technology actually applied to Oculus VR hardware, however. It might still be many years away. But it is exciting!

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Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Women’s Hair from Little Bones

Did you know that you can help support my blog (as well as the newly-launched Metaverse Newscast show), and get great rewards in return? Here’s how.


Even though I have been exploring Second Life for over 13 years now, I still stumble across stores I had never been to before (and that’s part of the fun of exploring the grid!). A Second Life vlogger alerted me to Little Bones, which is a women’s hair store I had never been to before. The store appears to specialize in long hair for female avatars.

There are two lucky boards in the store, which do not require a group join to use:

If you wish, you can join the Little Bones group for L$100, and pick up all the group gifts on their gifts wall. Most of the group gifts are so-called “mermaid” colour packs with multicolours, such as this style called Bliss:

Here are just a few of the free hairstyles you can pick up from the lucky boards. This is Vortex, which comes in a pack of blonde colours:

This is beautifully textured hair that comes with a colour HUD, a tint HUD to further adjust the colour (or if the colour HUD contains tones not to your liking), and a styling HUD. Here’s another example of Little Bones hair, called Poison, which comes in a dark/black colour pack:

And here is another hairstyle named Fusion, which comes in an assortment of multicoloured rainbow styles which I wasn’t crazy about, so I decided to just tint the default white colour to jet black using the included tint HUD. You can move either or both sides of this long hair forwards or back using the styling HUD:

So, if you are looking for some lovely long hair, pop into Little Bones. The store is fairly busy and the letters turn over frequently, so you probably won’t have to wait long for your letter to show up. Or, even better, teleport in your friends and make it a social event!

Here’s an older blogpost I wrote that lists other stores with lucky chairs and lucky boards (note that some of the information may be out of date).

Two Years!

Today is the second anniversary of the open public beta of Sansar, which happened on July 31st, 2017. And it marks the second anniversary of this blog, which started out as the Sansar Newsblog and focused almost exclusively on Sansar. I renamed it the RyanSchultz.com blog in February 2018.

Over time, I have expanded this blog to cover many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds. I even started a section of this blog devoted to Second Life steals, deals, and freebies, which has proven to be surprisingly popular!

Over two years I have posted exactly 1,268 blogpots, which works out to almost 2 blogposts per day. These are the Top Ten most popular (i.e. most viewed) posts and pages on the RyanSchultz.com blog:

  1. Second Life Steals, Deals and Freebies: Free and Inexpensive Mesh Heads and Bodies for Female Second Life Avatars (posted Sept. 24th, 2018; 8,922 views so far)
  2. More Details on the Upcoming Ability to Change Your User Name in Second Life (March 22nd, 2018; 6,252 views)
  3. RyanSchultz.com Reader Poll: What Social VR/Virtual World Do You Spend the Most Time In? (Feb. 21st, 2019; 5,532 views)
  4. Linden Lab Announces a Mix of Good News and Bad News for Second Life Users (May 29th, 2019; 5,079 views)
  5. The Dirty Little Secret of VRChat: Hidden Adult Content (March 28th, 2019; 4,174 views and rising fast!)
  6. Oasis: A Brief Introduction to a New, Adults-Only Social VR Platform (Aug. 7th, 2018; 3,611 views)
  7. Second Life Steals, Deals and Freebies: The Four Best Freebie Stores in SL (May 15th, 2018; 3,072 views)
  8. Second Life Steals, Deals and Freebies: Free and Inexpensive Mesh Heads and Bodies for Male Second Life Avatars (Oct. 4th, 2018; 2,752 views)
  9. Second Life Versus Sansar: Why Linden Lab Can’t Win, No Matter What They Do (March 9th, 2018; 2,502 views)
  10. Comprehensive List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds (a page based on a blogpost originally made on May 10th, 2018; 2,412 views)

Here’s to the next two years!

Is the Metaverse Going to Look Like Fortnite? Kent Bye Reports on Tim Sweeney’s SIGGRAPH Talk

Bugha and his trophy at the Fortnite World Cup (image from the Guardian)

My Twitter stream has been throwing up all kinds of blogworthy stories lately! The lastest is a series of tweets from Kent Bye, the host of the long-running Voices of VR podcast, who is attending SIGGRAPH 2019, the big annual computer graphics conference, in Los Angeles.

Kent attended a presentation today by Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games, the maker of the phenomenally successful battle royale game Fortnite. Launched in 2017, Fortnite now has 250 million registered users worldwide, and made US$2.4 billion dollars in revenue in the last year. (Yes, that’s Billion, with a “B”.)

You may have read in the news that the recently-concluded Fortnite World Cup (the biggest computer game tournament in history) was held in New York City, where the company handed out US$30 million in prize money, including a top prize of US$3 million dollars to 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (a.k.a. Bugha). In other words, Fortnite is MASSIVE, a cultural phenomenon.

Picture from Kent Bye’s Twitter Feed

The title of Tim Sweeney’s SIGGRAPH talk was “Foundational Principles and Technologies for the Metaverse”, which is perhaps a surprising presentation topic for a game developer. Kent Bye tweeted his notes on Tim’s talk at length:

The future of [a] shared entertainment medium is to have meaningful experiences that people interact with and become a part of the larger world with open world compatibility and open interfaces. The Marshmello concert in Fortnite is one indicator of where it’s going. The metaverse is going to evolve from individual creators creating experiences that interoperate with other experiences.

Need virtual worlds to scale beyond a 200 players on a shard. Need 1 shared world w EVERYONE. Needs a programming environment to scale to unlimited sized. Not single thread C++. Large-scale concurrency w safe transactions that are consistent, durable, isolated.

A viable Metaverse is going to need a successful economy so that creators can make a living, which is absolutely essential. We need a rich set of different economic models. The app store with microtransactions is merely one model. Ad models are dysfunctional.

Kent concluded his series of tweets by saying:

I’m super impressed with Tim Sweeney’s vision of the open metaverse. It’s a breath of fresh air relative to other major players who are trying to own virtual worlds through walled gardens and app store ecosystems. A viable metaverse needs to be open and interoperable.

Wagner James Au, of the long-running blog New World Notes, is less impressed:

Who really needs this? Who actually wants this? I’ve yet to see a succinct, compelling answer to either question beyond the implicit one: Because it’ll be really cool. I’m certainly in that camp, but then again, I’m a gamer/science fiction fan. So yes, I’ve loved the idea of a unified 3D Internet where gaming is significant and meaningful for decades. But I’ve become convinced that metaverse advocates are mistaking their personal preference for a market need — a desire to institutionalize gaming culture as the fundamental, universal culture of the Internet.

In response to skeptical questioning from Wagner on Twitter, Kent Bye responded:

The metaverse was first conceived in science fiction before the modern explosion of 3D gaming and immersive and interactive environments. It was an active feedback loop between game dev architects, but the metaverse today is going to be more of a blend of Fortnite and the open web.

So, what do I think about all this? I must confess that, like Wagner, I am rather skeptical that Fortnite, as it is right now, would form a useful model for the future metaverse. Games are designed to be focused more on linear play-through and set objectives, while virtual worlds are meant to be more open-ended and less goal-oriented in nature (although you can certainly have games within virtual worlds). As well, you can have thriving social communities in MMOs like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online, so there is a somewhat fuzzy boundary between games and virtual worlds.

I do agree with Tim Sweeney that open standards are critical to create a functioning metaverse, and I also agree with Kent Bye that walled gardens and app store ecosystems are going to hinder, rather than help, usher in a metaverse for everybody.

Tim Sweeney appears to subscribe to the strict definition of the term metaverse espoused by Will Burns: one huge virtual universe instead of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of separate experiences. I’m not 100% convinced that that’s how it is going to play out, either. I think it’s much more likely that we are going to have portals between numerous virtual worlds.

It sounds like it was a very interesting presentation, and I thank Kent Bye for reporting on it!