Do you want to build a Sanic?
There are those who would blame digital anonymity and online handles as a major enabler of cyber bullying and harassment. This may very well be, but I feel digital personas and avatars can also be very beneficial in allowing us to express and reinvent different aspects of ourselves, as well find common ground with other users. Right now it feels like hyper-Comicon, and users can share their love of a character even if they could never cosplay as a 30 foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (actually, someone might have already tried that: cosplay is crazy).
In setting out to make my own avatar, I decided I wanted something approachable, funny, and physically impossible for me to otherwise be. I dug deep into my childhood, and realized my spirit animal is Sonic. Well, not really, but I grew up with Sonic. The character has really transformed over the years from a cool dude with a ‘tude, to a dude with a ‘tude who liked chilly dogs, to a cartoon dude who likes human women, to a meme dude who likes Shrek. I think most of us feel sympathy for Sonic: he is Ozymandias fallen, the mighty brought to ruin simply by the ravages of time (well, a few terrible games and the Internet).Despite my love of the original character, I felt like Sanic, as portrayed in hilariously bad fan art, was more fun to be in a digital metaverse. I modeled my version off of this piece of fan art, which M. Lovecraft improved upon with masterful placement of offset, asymmetric googly eyes.
3D Modeling: Gotta Go Fast Edition
The original basemesh took me around an hour or two to make. The shapes are really simple, but took a lot of soft selection editing and ironing (smoothing the verticies of the polygons to get good flow) to get something that looked cute yet derp’tilda.When modeling a character, you have to make sure that the topology (how the polygons are structured over the mesh) has organic looking loops. For example, its often best for the polygon vertices to form an even ring around the circumference of the arm. Sanic loves rings. Also, try to put more loops where the model is likely to bend or deform (like elbows and knees).
I like to keep things as low poly for as long as I can, using what C4D called a ‘hypernurbs’ object (don’t ask) to smooth put the polygons further and add more mesh detail by subdividing the mesh. They actually call this a ‘subdivision surface’ now, but I just like saying hypernurbs because it sounds like I’m doing something cool. (They’re so cool that I actually forgot to add them in the end. Whoops.)
Boning SanicAfter using C4D’s UV Wizard and body paint to slap color on the model, I grabbed a rig from one of the Unity Adam models and started deforming the joints to fit the cancerous blob that is my Sanic. I used that rig hierarchy so that everything would be compatible with the Unity Mecanim Humanoid Rig, which you need to ensure is referencing the right bones in your rig. After that I put a VRC_AvatarDescriptor component on the model from the VR Chat Developer SDK., and uploaded it from within Unity (props to the VR Chat devs for making this so easy!)
Within a few hours I was ready to paint the virtual town red! Most other users found me repulsive and definitively ‘not sonic,’ but it was super fun to run around the environments and chat with others about the importance of going fast. I set the character height to around 3.5 feet, which forced me to look up at other users (probably good for my back after spending all day on the computer) and had the unintended side effect of making lots of other characters chase me around, attempting to pick me up. Special thanks to Poplopo on VR Chat for snapping some amazing pictures of me at the Majora’s Mask Milk Bar.
Even Sanic Can’t Outrun the Past
In regards to web anonymity and bullying, the issues are extremely difficult to tackle. The VR Chat code of conduct is a great manifesto, but even Socrates (it’s under ‘so-crates) and Glaucon were talking about digital anonymity in their ancient Greek debate on the web-ring of Gyges. I have the feeling this struggle between absolute freedom and accountability will persist throughout the ages… well at least until Facebook or some hacker turns on your Oculus Constellation Sensor and spies on you.