UPDATED! Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Second Life Avatars Wearing Skirts, Dresses and Gowns

In a blog which I originally began a little over four years ago, covering social VR platforms in general (and Sansar in particular), many of my readers are no doubt puzzled and/or bemused by my regular blogposts about Second Life, which at the ripe old age of 18 is seen by many outsiders as quaint, outdated technology. Why do I bother with SL, you might ask.

However, I still see Second Life as the perfect, mature, fully-evolved model of a successful metaverse, which many newer platforms would be wise to study and learn from. I often joke that I got my Ph.D. in Virtual Worlds from the University of Second Life 😉 and one of the lessons I learned is this: that people are willing to invest considerable amounts of time, energy and money in avatar customization! There’s a reason why SL has a marketplace with 2 billion user-generated assets to date, and still boasts an annual GDP of US$600 million!

As many of you already well know by now, I derive an inordinate amount of personal satisfaction from styling one of my small army of Second Life avatars from head to toe in the perfect look! (I’m sure that artists get much the same feeling when finishing a sculpture or a painting.)

Vanity Fair, looking expensive at Frank’s Jazz Place (you can learn more about my champagne glass pose and animated cigarette holder here)…the gold Mia gown is from Suna Designs.

One admittedly small thing that absolutely drives me up the wall is when a female avatar is wearing a voluminous skirt, a ballgown or a dress, and yet is still wearing an AO (animation override) where their arms and hands poke into the dress. I also see this happen with a lot (and I mean, a LOT) of “thicc” avatars with super wide hips and a large ass, as seems to be the current fashion in SL avatar shapes (and in real-life plastic surgery!).

People, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of getting that over-the-top ballgown (or tweaking those body sliders to extremes), then at least get an AO which works with your outfit and/or body! (Or pick up something like the Shoulder Overrider, which I discuss a little further down.)

So today I wanted to compile a handy list of tips, tricks, and tools on how to handle the problem of your arms and hands falling into your avatar’s outfit and body—particularly voluminous gowns and dresses with poufy skirts!

First, if you’re the type of gal who likes to rock a full-blown battleship ballgown, you probably should invest in an AO specifically designed for gowns. There are two which I have tried and can review: the Gown AO by Kamila Hauptmann’s store Posture Is Everything (available for L$1,000 on the SL Marketplace) and the Southern Belle and Woman in Ballgown Bento AO from Tuty’s Animations (available here in-world and on the SL Marketplace for L$650; they also have a Dressy and Formal Bento AO which looks good, but I have no personal experience with).

Kamila Hauptamnn’s Gown AO is the older product and it is non-Bento, which means that you will have to add a hands-only AO to animate your avatar’s fingers separately (and you can easily pick up a free one from any of the freebie Altamura mesh bodies located at the various freebies stores on the grid (here’s a list to guide you)…you should never have to pay for a hands AO! What I like about the Gown AO is that you can load different sets of animations for seven different types of gowns:

  • small gown (arms and hands closer to the body);
  • medium gowns (arms and hands a bit further out);
  • large gowns (arms and hands furthest away from the body);
  • gowns with a bustle (which keeps your arms and hands out of the rear of the gown);
  • mantua gowns (that is, very wide gowns, see the image below for an example);
  • classic gowns (not sure exactly what this means!); and
  • classic gowns for BBWs (big, beautiful women!).
An example of a mantua gown—some are even wider than this!

As far as I know, the Gown AO is the only product which can accommodate even the largest and widest gowns you can throw on an avatar. What I don’t like about the product is that the animations are rather stilted and unnatural-looking. Here is an example, my goth girl alt, wearing the Gown AO:

My goth avatar wearing the Gown AO and using Tuty’s animated geisha fan (styling credits here)

The fan used in the above picture is a good way to get at least one of your avatar’s hands out of their skirts! I was able to pick this up for free in the past (it was a mislabeled gift at Tuty’s), but you can pick up the Scripted Geisha Fan today from the SL Marketplace for only L$50. This is a editable, tintable fan which alternates between five very natural, smooth animations, and it’s a great bargain!

Tuty’s Southern Bell and Woman in Ballgown Bento AO is now my preferred animation override for gowns. This is a Bento AO, so you don’t need to add a separate animation override to animate your fingers, and I have found that it works wonderfully with most gowns. (It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than the first one.)

In those cases where even an AO desinged for ballgowns is not enough, I add a very useful tool called the Shoulder Overrider, available for L$299 on the SL Marketplace (it’s also available for the same price in-world here; you have to walk to the Fatty Mesh store sign and click on it to be taken up their sales skybox). This is an add-on HUD which only overrides the shoulder joint of your avatar’s AO, allowing you to bring the arms up even more than usual! The only downside is that it can make your shoulders look a bit hunched. Here’s a before-and-after shot to illustrate the difference it can make, in an oriental gown with long, full sleeves:

Below is an avatar wearing the very wide Clara ballgown from LANA (by the way, the L$500 free store credit offer is still available as of today, and you can pick up two colours of this glorious ballgown for free with the store credit…more details here). The avatar in the picture below is using both the Tuty’s gown AO, plus the Shoulder Overrider (the HUD shown in the upper right hand corner of the picture) to keep her arms and hands free of the voluminous, dramatic overskirt on this glorious gown.

If you act quickly you can still pick up this glorious Clara ballgown for free from LANA!

Now, if you don’t have L$650 to spend on a ballgown AO, there are some alternative options which are inexpensive or even free. For example, there is a graceful, old AO for empire-waist gowns by PixelDolls (remember them?), a store which has been long gone from the grid, but still exists on the SL Marketplace (it comes included with the Innocent Dans L’Amour gown for L$150, and I find I pull it out of my inventory and use it all the time with wider, “poofier” dresses and skirts). Here’s a couple of the poses from the Pixeldolls animation override, to give you an idea (you’ll need to add a hands AO, too):

And today I discovered a freebie from a store called ISHIKU, a HUD intended for use with champagne glasses and bottles, but which could easily be repurposed to keep your elbows bent while wearing a ballgown! Just join the ISHIKU group for free and click on this sign in-store (here’s the SLURL):

(Note that there’s another couple of similar HUDs on the group gift wall to the left.)

The ISHIKU champage hold HUD works like a charm! Even better, there are subtle finger movements while it keeps your avatar’s elbows locked. (No, the free HUD doesn’t include the champagne glass or champagne bottle; you have to buy those from ISHIKU or obtain them elsewhere.)

Finally, I wanted to share with you that the 10th anniversary group gifts from Contraption are still available (I wrote about some of them here), and among them is probably the best prop I have seen in quite some time: the Everybook. Just teleport here, to the gift platform, join the Contraption group for only L$1, and pay the vendor L$1 to pick up your book (your Linden dollar will automatically be refunded):

The Everybook comes with a HUD with six different high-quality Bento hold poses, for either the left or the right hand. Here’s four of them (click each picture to see it in a larger size):

The book comes with two different covers, and if you happen to have PhotoShop or other picture editor skills, you can even change the diffuse, normal and specular textures on the book to customize it to your liking! Here’s a few more examples of how I used it as the perfect finishing touch for a couple of Second Life avatar looks (these illustrate the last two poses of the six):

And, of course, it’s also a very good way to keep at least one of your arms out of the skirts of your dress! The avatar below is using both the Contraption Everybook, plus above-mentioned Tuty’s scripted geisha fan with a freebie AO, to keep her arms off her rather voluminous ballgown (again, the Clara ballgown by LANA):

Hey, she may look a bit bookish…but at least her arms aren’t hanging into the gown! 😉 As I said, it’s a particular pet peeve of mine in Second Life…

And, if your historical/fantasy roleplay outfit demands it, there’s also a very nice candle lantern you can pick up for only L$5 on the SL Marketplace, as shown here on my vampire alt. The Alyonushka lantern includes the Bento pose shown here, and you can click on it to change the colour of the lantern. You’ll notice that I tinted the Tuty’s geisha fan red to match the outfit. (Yes, the Clara ballgown from LANA also comes in a 3-colour fatpack of bloodstained versions for you fashionable vampires and serial killers!)

So there you have it—a distillation of 14 years’ SL experience on how to keep your arms and hands away from your skirts, dresses and gowns, for that perfect look!

UPDATE Oct. 9th, 2021: If you’re looking for a way to keep your arms and hands from hanging into your skirts, you’re in luck! At the central fountain of the Avatar Fair Sales shopping event (SLURL), there are a selection of free Hallowe’en gifts. Just join the Avatar Fair group for free by clicking on the Group sign below, then click on the orange gift box shown to pick up a cute, free Bento mini-AO:

You can use this animation override as-is, or you can reuse the stand poses (which include natural, Bento finger movements) in another AO. All the stands have bent elbows, which work wonderfully with the especially poufy skirt on this tea dress from Ghee! (Please click on each picture below to see it in a larger size.)

If you were looking for a suitable AO for dresses, skirts, and gowns, this free gift might be exactly what you need! By the way, you can pick up this lovely Flora tea dress, in one of six patterns as shown, for free using the $150 store credit Ghee is offering as a gift at their booth at the Halloween Shop and Hop (more details here).

Happy freebie shopping!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: How to Make Your Own Bento Animation Override for Only L$2, Step by Step!

An animation override (AO for short) is an essential part of any avatar setup in Second Life; without it you are relying on the default system animations which are built into the SL avatar, which are nothing short of hideous. (Nothing marks you as a newbie so much as the dreaded default “duck walk”. You can spot it a mile away.)

Those of you who have been following the SL avatar makeovers on my blog already know that my favourite freebie AO is one that was put out by a store called [ImpEle], called Chubby Girl AO. That store closed down years and years ago, but the AO was still available to purchase for free from the SL Marketplace. All you had to do was add a separate hands-only AO for Bento hands (which were thoughtfully included for free with the various freebie versions of the Altamura mesh bodies) and you were all set to go!

Unfortunately, a reader has alerted me that the Chubby Girl AO is no longer available from the SL Marketplace (which makes sense, since Linden Lab is cleaning out the little-used, oldest items from the Marketplace over time).

So I am going to fall back on my second choice. On the Second Life Marketplace is a product called the SEmotion Newbie Girl AO HUD version 3.8, which costs only one Linden dollar, contains some lovely, natural stands, and already includes Bento hand animations, so you don’t need a secondary, hands-only AO like you did with the Chubby Girl AO:

Now, I quite like this AO, but it has one very serious problem: the default walk animation included with it is one of the most horrendous walk animations I have ever seen! (If you don’t believe me, buy it and try it out for yourself on your own avatar. Truly horrific.)

So today, I am going to take you, step by step, through the process of replacing the walk on this dollarbie HUD to another one I like much better! This is not difficult, but there are a number of steps involved.

Tucked away at the very back of the women’s AO section of the sprawling Vista Animations store is a product called Your First AO: Basic Female Mocap AO (here’s the exact SLURL), which is set for sale for only L$1 (please note that for some reason, when you buy this dollarbie AO, it sends you two identical copies):

Now, the particular problem with this dollarbie AO is that the stands are horrible, but the walk animation is absolutely perfect, and a personal favourite of mine! (You can check it out in the video below. The walking animation itself is called DANGERWALKMIX1.)

So, what I am now going to show you today, is how to modify the SEmotion animation override, replacing its hideous default walk with the one from the Vista Your First AO. It’s not hard, but there are quite a few steps involved, and you will need a location with build rights, such as a quiet sandbox, where you can work undisturbed.

PLEASE NOTE: These instructions assume you are using the Firestorm viewer, which you can get for free from the downloads page on the Firestorm website.

Step 1: Turn on the lights

You’re going to need really good, sharp lighting to find and edit tiny objects in Second Life. If you are in Firestorm, Click on World in the top menu bar, then select Environment Editor, then Sky Presets, then Edit Preset, as shown here:

From the list of sky presets, scroll down and select one called CalWL:

Et voilà! Sharp, bright, clear light by which to properly edit tiny AOs. In addition to CalWL, you could try out the presets named Nam’s Optimal Skin 1 and Nam’s Optimal Skin 2, which are also very bright and suitable for this task.

Step 2: Find a good sandbox with a light-coloured floor or ground

You are going to need to find land where you have rights to rez objects to the ground. These are usually referred to as sandboxes, and you can use the in-client Search to find them by searching for the word “sandbox”. There are dozens of them!

For these first few pictures, I used a place called the Timelord Sandbox, where SL users can rez Doctor Who-related objects for roleplay. The Timelord Sandbox has a ten-hour auto-return (i.e. the length of time before your rezzed item is automatically returned to your inventory), which is great, but it also has a black floor, which means you simply cannot find any tiny items you rez to it!

So, as you can see from the pictures I took to illustrate the later steps in this process, I eventually switched from the Timelord Sandbox to a small desert island with object rez rights, , where you can actually see things on the light-coloured sand!

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Pick a place with a light-coloured floor or ground.

Step 3: Rez the Vista Animations HUD to the ground, open it, and copy the animation DANGERWALKMIX1 from it to your inventory

Open your SL inventory, open the folder with the Vista Your Fist AO, and drag the AO down to the ground. Make sure you are selecting the correct item; the icon next to it in your inventory will be a small cube to indicate an object.

Then, right click on the AO on the ground, select Open from the menu, and drag the animation DANGERWALKMIX1 from the AO back into your SL inventory. (I put it back in the original folder that the Vista Your First AO came in, but you can put it anywhere, as long as you remember where you put, because you’ll need it later!)

Step 4: Unpack the SEmotion Animation Override

Purchase the SEmotion Newbie Girl AO from the SL Marketplace (using the link near the top of this blogpost). It will come in a box, which you must rez and click on to unpack:

Step 5: Turn on Highlight Transparent Objects feature in your Firestorm viewer

(This is the part where I had to move from the Timelord Sandbox to my desert island to continue.)

Press Ctrl-Alt-T to highlight transparent objects in your Firestorm viewer (you can press Ctrl-Alt-T to turn it off again; it’s a toggle swtich). When you do this, items with transparency (like parts of the hair on top of my avatar!) will have a red glow to them. I do this so that it is much easier to see the very tiny SEmotion AO when I rez it onto the ground.

Step 6: Rez the SEmotion AO to the ground.

Step 7: Right click on the SEmotion AO and open it.

Step 8: Open your SL inventory, find the DANGERWALK1 animation, and drag it into the open Object Contents window of the SEmotion AO.

Step 9: Now, scroll down to the very bottom of the Object Contents window for your SEmotion AO, and find a notecard called WomanNewbie.

Step 10: Click to open the WomanNewbie notecard. An edit window will appear on your screen.

Step 11: Scroll down in the WomanNewbie notecard until you find a line that says:

[ Walking ]SEmotion-f-walk14|nowalks

Step 12: VERY CAREFULLY EDIT that line to replace “SEmotion-f-walk14” with “DANGERWALKMIX1”:

[ Walking ]DANGERWALKMIX1|nowalks


Step 13: Save the edits to the WomanNewbie notecard using the Save button at the bottom of the edit window. Then click the X in the upper right hand corner of the notecard to close it.

Step 14: Edit the SEmotion AO to give it a new name, then take it back into your Second Life inventory.

BEFORE YOU TAKE THE EDITED SEmotion AO BACK INTO YOUR INVENTORY, right click on it and select Edit. Go to the General tab and give it a new name (e.g. add the word “New” to the front part of the Name field). This will help you figure out which is the old SEmotion AO and which is the new one in your Second Life inventory.

(I chose to put the edited AO back in the original folder that the Semotion Newbie Girl AO came in, but you can put it anywhere, as long as you remember where you put it, because you’ll need to find it later!)

Step 15: Now find the newly-edited SEmotion Newbie Girl AO in your inventory, right click on it, and select Add.

Once you have added the SEmotion AO, it will attach to the bottom right-hand corner of your Firestorm viewer. Click once on the Options menu, and a blue menu will appear in the upper right-hand corner of your Firestorm viewer. Click the Reset button on the blue menu. (IMPORTANT: NOT the Load Button, the Reset one!)

A number of chat messages will appear in your chat window:

Loading notecard 'WomanNewbie'…
Finished reading notecard 'WomanNewbie'.

Congratulations! You now have a wonderful new Bento animation override for your female avatar, for a grand total of only two Linden dollars! (Beat that!)

(Reminder: Don’t forget to press Ctrl-Alt-T again, to turn off the highlighting of transparent objects in your Firestorm viewer!)

Here is a one-minute video of my new Bento animation override in action, showing you the walk and a few of the stands:

Please note that you can use this step-by-step method with any animation override that uses a notecard to control the various walking, standing, flying, etc. animations (and most of them do). Your new animations might be ones that you bought from a store instead of ones inside an AO you already own. The process is the same.

I hope you find this tutorial useful! Please share it with your friends, thanks!