Use SL Shapes

Use SL Shapes (1.5) switch to 1.6

Avastar supports the import of your own SL shape to allow exact animations made for your character, or to create static Mesh dummies from your SL Avatar for re import back to your Online world.

Step 1: Export your Shape from SL or OpenSim

The procedure to export the Character shape may vary depending on which viewer you actually use. We use the default SL Viewer.

Ensure that you have the Develop Menu in your menu bar. If you can not see this entry, you can enable it by pressing CTRL+ALT+Q (on Windows)
Open the Develop menu and proceed to the Avatar entry
From Avatar proceed to Character tests
And from Character tests proceed to Appearance to XML

When all is running smooth, then you will find your XML file in your application folder. For me it is in:


(where nnn is a number)

Note: the file path contains your Windows user name (mine is gaia) and your SL user name.

Step 2: Import to Avastar

Create a new Avastar

Add a new Avastar Character

The very first step is to create a new Avastar character. You find the creation Button in the main menu:

add -> Avastar

This will create a new female Avastar character. After a short time (typically 2-4 secs) a new Avastar character is created in the 3D View and at the current 3D cursor location .


Avastar’s default Shape is compatible with SL’s default Shape.

Important: The Avastar figure is an exact representation of the SL Avatar, based on the SL Avatar definition from Linden Labs and so it is fully compatible with the character from Second Life and all similar online worlds like OpenSim for example.

When you use Avastar’s default shape then you also need to test your work with a fresh created shape in SL.
We do not use any of the Ruth shapes, because there is no clear definition what Ruth is. While there is an official definition of the default shape. In SL you create the default shape from your Inventory:


The SL default Shape (Create new Shape).

What you should know

  • New Avastar characters can only be created when you are in Object Mode!
  • A new character will be placed at the current 3D Cursor location.
  • You can hide (‘h’)  or remove (‘x’) not needed parts (like the skirt or the hair for example) without breaking the tools.
  • You can create as many characters as you like and thus you can create multi-character animations. Multi-character animations will be explained in the reference guide.
  • The character that you know from avatar.blend or from the workbench (sometimes also named “ruth”) looks different from the default Avastar character. this is not a mistake. Further explanations can be found in the Avastar vs. Workbench Skeleton article.

Load your Shape

The Avastar Shape (Properties, Object Section)

Avastar can import and export shapes from OpenSim or any compatible online world. You find the import/export functions in the Object properties of the Avastar Armature:

  • Go to object mode.
  • Select the Rig (RMB on the yellow circles around the mesh).
  • Open the Properties window.
  • Navigate to the “Object” properties.

There you find a panel Avatar Shape IO. This panel displays a Preset selector and a subpanel with 4 main functions.


Load Shape

This function allows you to upload a Shape that you have previously exported from your online world: In most viewers there is a shape export option hidden in the advanced menu (“Advanced” -> “Character” -> “Charater Tests” -> “Appearance to XML”). This will silently create a file called:

[application_folder]/character/new archetype.xml

This file contains your current shape and can be loaded into Avastar, where [application_folder] is the viewer’s application data folder. For Windows this folder is located  at:


Save Shape to

By default this function creates a new Shape file with your current shape settings. This file can later be used for Load Shape (see above). Right besides the function you find a selector for the save destination.

As mentioned above the default option is to save to File. But you can also save to a Blender textblock. In that case the slider values can be found in the Blender text editor panel. The values correspond to the shape settings in the SL viewer.

Note: Some viewers support the upload of shape file to SL (e.g. Firestorm, Singularity). To see the file, switch to the Blender Text editor and locate Shape for: Avatar  (Avatar stands for the name of the Armature). Useful when you need to update the shape in SL with the values from blender.

Refresh Shape:

This resets the Avastar meshes to the current Shape values. Useful together with the new custom shape key function (see below). Also if you messed up the Avastar meshes (by editing them) you can return the mesh back to the current shape slider values.

Warning: if you added or removed vertices from the Avastar meshes, this function will fail!

Delete Avastar Shapes

Remove all Shapes from the Avastar character. You will want this when you use the rig for non human characters where keeping the Avastar human meshes make no sense.

Load Shape Editor

When you load a blend file which contains an Avastar Character, then the Shape panel sometimes only displays the “Load Shape Editor” Button. This happens when you just have started Blender).
Activating the button loads the shape setting controls. We added this for optimization purposes as it takes a few seconds to initialize the Avastar shape system.

By now the Avastar default Mesh character has been reshaped to precisely match your own mesh character. Note, that your imported character is rigged and weighted already. There is no need for any additional step. However you can still change the Avatar shape by using the shape sliders.
You find the Shape Sliders in the object properties section, right below the Load Shape button. We provide the exact same shape sections in Avastar as you can find in the SL Shape editor. The sliders are supposed to behave exactly in the same way.

Hint: The sliders are a bit slow sometimes. Currently there is not much that we can do about that.

Export to Collada

Export your Character as Collada

The Collada exporter exports your Mesh character or mesh attachment to a form that is recognizable by the target System (SL, OpenSim or any compatible online world). You find the Mesh Exporter in the Tool shelf. The Collada Panel has quiet a few options. we explain all of them now

Hint: You usually can keep the default settings and just click on the “Collada(Avastar)(.dae)” button. A File Selector will pop up. Here you can navigate to your export directory and then export your file as a Collada file (using the file extension “.dae”)


By default Avastar applies all mesh changing Modifiers except the Armature Modifiers to the exported meshes. However, some modifiers have 2 sets of options, one option set is for rendering, the other option set is for the Viewport. We provide 3 options here:

  • Apply according to the View Settings (the 3D Preview settings)
  • Apply according to the Render Settings (the settings for Blender’s own Renderer)
  • Don’t apply modifiers and only export the base mesh

The View settings  will be applied by default. These settings are very closely related to the Blender Render System. In most cases you can actually just use the defaults. We will get back to this when we talk about how to use (or not use) Modifiers.

Armature Modifiers define a relation between your mesh and your Skeleton (Armature). You find the Armature modifier in the Modifer Stack (see image). Armature modifiers are always defined for the mesh. Armatures them self have no Armature modifier.

We will get to armature Modifiers in the “Create an Attachment” tutorial.

Hint: You want to display the modifier in edit mode and adjust edit cage to modifier result

Textures export (advanced)

You can export images along with your models. In that case the images will be stored as extrafiles and a reference is added to the Collada file. The SL Importer knows how to read and import these images for static meshes.
Note: But for rigged meshes the images are not recognized.
  • UV Textures & Material Textures: Blender supports Material based textures and UV textures (which are directly assigned to polygons). Normally you want to export only the UV textures. In rare cases it is more desirable to export the material based textures instead. But beware, Blender does not export the render results, but only the source images!
  • Image Type:  The image format is typically predefined in the Blender Render settings.  However we found it convenient to provide an immediate setting in the Exporter. By default the image type will be applied ONLY to generated images.
  • Use ‘Image format’ for all images: If this option is set, then Blender will use the selected image format for all exported images. If the option is disabled, then only the generated images will be affected.
  • Use RGBA: Blender can export the Alpha channel for images. Normally this is controlled in the render settings where you can specify to use either RGB or RGBA for image exports. If the currently selected export format supports Alpha then enabling  RGBA here will export images with Alpha channel even if the render settings are set to RGB and vice versa.

Hint: You may want to NOT use RGBA because of the Alpha glitch. However this is not a general advice. There are many situations where using Alpha images is even recommended (for example when you want to create an Alpha mask).
Hint: If the format of the exported image(es) does not support an Alpha channel then the “Use RGBA” option is simply ignored.

Advanced options

The Advanced Options are related to some special issues. You should normally keep the options set as they are. This ensures your exports are well suited for SL. However in some situations you will have to get back here and set the options according to the descriptions below:
Apply Armature Scale: If you have scaled your Armature in Object Mode for making a tiny or a giant you should not apply the scale to the armature because then the entire Avastar Animation system may no longer work (details need to be documented). But the Object Scale must be applied when you export the mesh.
Otherwise your scaling will not be recognized in your target online world and the giant shrinks back (or the tiny grows back) to normal size. The Applay Armature Scale option ensures that the Object scale is applied in the exported Armature.


Apply Rotation & Scale: If you have Scaled or rotated your Objects in Object Mode then this Scale&Rotation should be applied to all objects of an export to avoid unexpected scaling and rotation issues within the target system. However this is all so often simply forgotten and sometimes even unknown.
Hence we have added an automatic apply Rotation&Scale to the exporter. This setting does not affect the original objects.


Weld Edge Normals: When two separate objects share a boundary line, then you typically see a boundary seam in the object texture. This happens because the vertex normals differ even if the adjacent objects share the exact same vertex locations.
This option recalculates the vertex normals at the adjacent boundaries of the selected objects.


Weld to all visible: Sometimes you want to only export one part but still want the vertex normals be fixed.
This option lets the exporter take all visible objects into account when calculating the vertex normals at object boundaries.
Include Deformer Shape: Some virtual worlds support the Mesh deformer which was originally developed for usage in Second Life.
When this option is enabled, then an additional xml file is created that can be used as reference shape if the Importer supports this feature (currently used with OpenSim)


bone bug fix: We have found that some online worlds have serious issues with modified Joint offsets for Collision volumes and Attachments(1). Hence we suppress the export of joint offsets for collision volumes and attachment bones by default.(1): The technical details are related to the SL Importer’s option With Joint Positions The Skeleton can be modified (in edit mode) to create other rest poses than the default rest pose (T-Pose) When you do that, you actually move the Joint Offsets away from their default locations. And you will later have to set “with Joint Offset” during import in order to get your modified skeleton uploaded.

However this works only for the SL Basic bones (the mBones) All other Bones have various issues with Joint Offsets. The Collision Volumes do not work at all when you try to import them with Joint Offsets. We consider this an SL Bug. So we have added the Bone Bug Fix option. This option should only be disabled for experimental purposes! Handle with Care. You likely break the animation system.

Step 3: Import your Character to SL

Once you have exported your Mesh character, you only need to import it to your target System (like SL or a compatible online world). Although this is easy in principle, there are a few pitfalls in your way. So let us take a deeper look into the Mesh Importer.

The Video explains:

  1. How to import a rigged Mesh to SL, OpenSim or similar online worlds.
  2. How to use an Alpha mask for hiding the default character
  3. How to use image textures to texturise your character.
  4. Potential problems with your meshes (visible seams, wrong shape, missing face animations)
This video has been made in SL. But it applies also OpenSim or any other OpenSim based world as well. Also the video does not depend on Blender, but it is a general purpose tutorial for the SL Importer. Below you find the import procedure explained in pictures.
Hint: Did you know that Linden Lab provides another world very similar to Second Life, where you can upload your meshes for free? The Beta Grid is a perfect way to test your mesh creations before you finally upload them to Second Life.

Upload the model

You can start an upload directly from the main menu bar as shown in the image above.You also can start an upload from within the repository view.

The LOD Panel

The model uploader starts in the LOD panel. Here you can define all your levels of detail or let them calculate automatically. We currently have no LOD files, so we keep this panel as it is.
Note: You always can get detailed help from the help button in the upper right corner. For now you can proceed by switching to the Upload options tab.

The Options Panel

Normally the uploader will only upload the mesh, but no animation data. If you want to also import the rig data (the mesh weights), then you have to include “skin weights”. Please keep the button “Include joint positions” unchecked unless you know exactly what you do. we will get to this advanced feature later.
Also note that you can checkmark the “skin weights” below the Preview window to see if your mesh is properly weighted. But checking the skin weights here has no influence on the upload! This is so common mistake! If you ever are “sure that your mesh is weighted” but remains stiff when worn, then there is a good chance that you forgot to enable “Include skin weights” on the left side!

Step 4: (Optional) Import your Shape back to SL

Sometimes you might have modified your Shape In Avastar. And maybe you want to get your modified Shape back into Second Life. While the default SL Viewer does not provide a Shape Importer, most other third party viewers offer such an option nowadays.

Exporting a Shape from Avastar

You can export your current shape from Avastar to File as follows:

  • Ensure Blender is in Object Mode
  • Select the Avastar Armature
  • in the Object Properties locate the Avatar Shape panel
  • There you find a Save Shape To option

Importing a Shape to Second Life (using Firestorm)

You can import your shape back to Second Life with the Firestorm viewer as follows:

  • Enter the Appearance Editor in your Firestorm Viewer
  • Down in the right lower corner of the editor you find an Import option

The Firestorm Viewer provides an Import Option right within the Appearance Editor.

Now we are done with our first Mesh creation. You can simply wear the mesh and see how it moves with the default animations…

51 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Johnk383 says:

    Very energetic blog, I enjoyed that a lot. Perhaps there is a part 2? fkffddeeddce

  2. paratracker says:

    Gaia, I have a mesh skirt that behaves badly even when the bone heat is stone cold. I am trying to achieve a soft swingy effect in an A-line skirt. Can you recommend one or more tutorials that might lead me in the right direction? Thanks, para

  3. Bill says:

    Do I have to have “Avastar” in order to get the “avatar shape” button. I am using Avatar Workbench to try and get a feel for things before I go all in and buy programs. I don’t find the “avatar shape” button in Avatar Workbench to import sizes from SL.

    • Gaia Clary says:

      The XML Shape importer is part of Avastar. The Workbench does not provide this feature. Please note that you have a full money back guarantee within 30 days after purchase.

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