Face lights: Theory, correct usage and making of face lights

This conversation has been coming up a lot lately, so I thought that I would write about it. The use, misuse and full understanding about lighting in Second Life, mostly as applies to facelights and etiquette, but can also be applicable to photography. Why do people wear so many bright facelights with a tremendous radius? I suspect it’s simply because they don’t understand the inner-workings of how Second Life works, as well as not really having been informed as to what the social impact is. It’s NOT an all or nothing thing, we don’t need to go on a witch hunt, we simply need to make a bit of knowledge available. That’s what I’m hoping this article will provide.

Note: All of these images are clipped from the top, hiding the menus. This was the result of batch processing without thinking. It was also a quick and convenient way of hiding personal information. Hopefully, the location of all relevant menus that are pulled down can be discerned when comparing to your own client. Additionally, some of the screen shots are messed up with odd bits such as lines and double title tags. You can thank my video card for that. It does that when taking snaps with the UI turned on. Sorry about that.

Facelights are a two edged sword

On one hand we want to enhance the appeal of our avatar, to see it in dark conditions and to generally highlight our best features. The pros and cons: The Pro side will make comments like this: “I just want to look nice, and remove the harsh edges from my AV”, “The lights enhance my look”, “Everyone tells me I need a light, so I got one.”.

The Con side might say something like this (copied near-verbaitim from unidentified freebie face light merchants): “Ever sit in a dark place, enjoying the scenery or perhaps a particle show, when someone with a facelight geared for disturbing fauna several miles away walks in and spoils the scene?”, or “I made this due to seeing some horrible facelights, so here you are, a face light that lights your face and chest and not the whole area…”

While it’s true that a facelight can really enhance your look (I often use one personally, and as a photographer, I use them constantly!). The trick is to use the facelight in a manner that in fact enhances your look, that doesn’t wash it out, or blind others. We want to make the best use of our light that we can without being light spammers.

Witness one of the very many examples that were the inspiration for this article. We shall name our subject Facelight Fanny.

Fanny shows us that people with mis-used lights DO exist. This is in the daytime, and her light overpowers the sun

Fanny shows us that people with mis-used lights DO exist. This is in the daytime, and her light overpowers the sun

That is not Chernobyle, that's Facelight Fanny! Note that in this scene, there are no chirping crickets. They've been cooked at 20 meters away by Fanny's facelight

That is not Chernobyle, that's Facelight Fanny! Note that in this scene, there are no chirping crickets. They've been cooked at 20 meters away by Fanny's facelight

Other that turning off the lights that belong to a build, other avatar’s lights and splashing them with an overly powerful light, there are other disadvantages, such as

Overly bright lights interfere with builders

Simple build to to illustrate shadows and form in regular daylight

Simple build to to illustrate shadows and form in regular daylight

And this is a common occurence when Facelight Fanny comes by. And then stands around your build. And never ever leaves. Fair cause for retinal replacement surgery.

And this is a common occurence when Facelight Fanny comes by. And then stands around your build. And never ever leaves. Fair cause for retinal replacement surgery.

Yes, this really happens! It's a daily event for many of us.

Yes, this really happens! It's a daily event for many of us.

A bit about how lights in Second Life work:

  1. They are all based on what OpenGL, SL’s rendering engine permits. OpenGL permits 6 (six) lights to be displayed simultaneously. Not one more. (Note: Technically, it’s 8 but one is reserved for the sun, the other for the moon. We have 6 lights that are directly usable to us).
  2. When lights overlap, the light with the highest intensity (the brightest one) wins and “turns off” the others in proximity.
  3. All things being equal, the last light will dominate.

For most of us, a light is is a simple prim that has a feature of light being check on. That simple.

A light has four potential values: Color, Intensity, Radius and Falloff.

Colour is… the colour of the light being emmitted. The colour changes the colour of the the light, and while it does interact with prims and textures, it does not change the colour of prims and textures.

Intensity ranges from 0 (totally off) to 1 (full blast). Intensity = brightness.

Radius, is measured from the center of the object to the outside. So, a sphere with a radius of 1 meter splashes light for 1 meter from it’s center all around, that means that it covers 2 meters of space in ball (all directions). It goes from 0.1 to 20 meters

Falloff is how quickly the intensity decays. 0 fall off means it’s full blast from center to edge. Falloff does not affect the radius of your light, it just makes a “gradient” of brightness from the center to the edges. The greater the fall off, the weaker it is when it’s away from the center If you had a falloff of say 1 (that’s 50%), the light starts to decay from full blast to totally of at 50% of the radius. So 50% of the radius is full blast, then it starts to taper off. My friend Loris Talon guesses that “it should decay with the inverse of the square of the distance”. It’s value are from 0 to 2.0.

Note: I’m not sure why the maximum falloff value is of 2. I’m guessing that it’s a 1 to 1 with the maximum radius of 20. So for each .1 we have a fall off value of 10% of the distance from the center to the edge. Based on this guess, I think the simple math would be that 0 is full brightness no gradient to the edge of the radius, .5 is one quarter way from the edge, 1 is 50% of the way to the edge, 1.5 is 25% of the way and 2 is 100% from the edge. Note that this is where the light begins to taper off. It always shines to the maximum of the radius. Confused? So am I. I’d love to hear from someone who knows better than I.

2D grid representing the tapering of light in Second Life using the falloff value

2D grid representing the tapering of a light's brightness in Second Life using the falloff value

So, how does this apply to face lights?

Let’s start off with some simple things. For daily use, a face light serves to light up our face, so let’s put it about .25 meters away from our face.

Face light is .25 meters away from face

Face light is .25 meters away from face

Top view of face light in relation to the AV, on a grid that we is used to illustrated additional concepts

Top view of face light in relation to the AV, on a grid that we is used to illustrated additional concepts

First, to have a sense of where our light extends, we will view the lighting area of our selection

First, to have a sense of where our light extends, we will view the lighting area of our selection.

Now. let’s get a sense of how the radius really works. This is one of the first ways lights are misused: not understanding just how far they reach.

at .250 meters away from the face, we set the light radius to .350 meters

My favourite setting: at .250 meters away from the face, we set the light radius to .350 meters

Light radius at .5 meters (the size of a first rezzed prim)

Light radius at .5 meters (the size of a first rezzed prim)

Light radius at 1 meter

Light radius at 1 meter

Light radius at 2 meters. For some reason, this is the most common I've seen. Perhaps the creators imagined that because it's the height of the average avatar that this is ideal?

Light radius at 2 meters. For some reason, this is the most common I've seen. Perhaps the creators imagined that because it's the height of the average avatar that this is ideal?

Light radius at 5 meters

Light radius at 5 meters

Light radius at 10 meters

Light radius at 10 meters

Light radius at 20 meters (don't think I'm exaggerating--I see this regularly)

Light radius at 20 meters (don't think I'm exaggerating--I seen this regularly)

Now, let us get a better idea of how the client actually calculates and figures out light sources. (This is also a great trick if you are being plagued with a light source that you can’t readily identify). If you do not already see your Debugging Advanced menu, press Control-Alt D to bring up the bestest and funnest of all menus.

If you do not  see your Advanced menu, press control alt D to bring it up

If you do not see your Advanced menu, press control alt D to bring it up

Now we see the light source, and the radius it uses. This is also a bit more useful for seeing the actual impact of the light. Also useful for users with different cards to see how light is rendered on another machine.

Light radius at .350

Light radius at .350

Lighting radius at .5 meters

Lighting radius at .5 meters

Lighting radius at 1 meter. Now, this is 1 meter, and note that it covers the entirety of the AV plus half a meter into the earth

Lighting radius at 1 meter. Now, this is 1 meter, and note that it covers the entirety of the AV plus half a meter into the earth

Lighting radius at 2 meters. At this point, take a look at the tell-tale give away of too intense light at to high a radius. We've all seen this haven't we?

Lighting radius at 2 meters. At this point, take a look at the tell-tale give away of too intense light at to high a radius. We've all seen this haven't we?

Lighting radius at 5 meters. Now, at this point this avatar has wiped out the lights of all avatars who have a more reasonable radius at a less intensity. And the pixel grass is being scorched.

Lighting radius at 5 meters. Now, at this point this avatar has wiped out the lights of all avatars who have a more reasonable radius at a less intensity. And the pixel grass is being scorched.

At 10 meters, we have now entered the radius of a small bomb blast.

At 10 meters, we have now entered the radius of a small bomb blast.

At 20 meters, people are callling us 'Nuclear Face' behind our backs.

At 20 meters, people are callling us Nuclear Nellie behind our backs.

C’mon Quite! Quit exaggerating! Nobody really does that, do they?

Remember Fanny?

Sad but true, I do not exaggerate. People really go overboard with facelights

Sad but true, I do not exaggerate. People really go overboard with facelights

And now, compare my poor reasonable little light, can anybody even see it's effects?

And now, compare my poor reasonable little light, can anybody even see its effects?

Lights as we percieve them.

Other than being a simple study in one aspect of lighting, the point of beating this into the ground is that most people mistake “brighter” for “better” and now we shall see that under all conditions being equal, that there really is a threshold. Keep in mind that thes images are taken at midnight.

Lights off

Lights off

Light Radius at .350

Light Radius at .350

Light radius at .5

Light radius at .5

Light radius at 1 meter

Light radius at 1 meter. Notice at this point that the colour of the avatar is being washed out, and there are zero natural shadows. They have not be managed, but entirely obliterated.

too much!

Take a good look at the ground. If your facelights light up the ground: too much! (Sorry about the line, my graphics card does that sometimes when capturing the UI)

Light radius at 2 meters. This has gone way beyond the territory of a 'face' light

Light radius at 2 meters. This has gone way beyond the territory of a 'face' light.

Light radius at 5 meters. This image was taken at midnight. Some people enjoy the natural day cycle. Let's not rob our neighbours of this advantage.

Light radius at 5 meters. This image was taken at midnight. Some people enjoy the natural day cycle. Let's not rob our neighbours of this advantage.

Light radius at 20 meters. At midnight. This a a facelight. Need we say more?

Light radius at 20 meters. At midnight. This a a facelight. Need we say more?

How lights interact in Second Life

Radius of 2.0. Why is the light coming from beneath? Al lights being of equal intensity in the same radius, the last one overrides all. Consider what this means when you are the latest one to walk into an area with people.

Radius of 2.0. Why is the light coming from beneath? Al lights being of equal intensity in the same radius, the last one overrides all. Consider what this means when you are the latest one to walk into an area with people.

Yellow ball is set to 2 meters, blue balls set to 1 meter. Where is the light coming from? Lights in exact nearby proximity with equal intensity and fall off give way to light with greatest radius. Now, if one light overrides all of yours, what does it do to another's with lesser values?

Yellow ball is set to 2 meters, blue balls set to 1 meter. Where is the light coming from? Lights in exact nearby proximity with equal intensity and fall off give way to light with greatest radius. Now, if one light overrides all of yours, what does it do to another's with lesser values?

Blue balls set to .35 meters. Yellow ball set to 1 meter.

Blue balls set to .35 meters. Yellow ball set to 1 meter.

1 ball, .25 meters away, radius of 1 meter. Now, this is at MIDNIGHT! Does this look realistic (or even attractive)?

1 ball, .25 meters away, radius of 1 meter. Now, this is at MIDNIGHT! Does this look realistic (or even attractive)?

We have good shadowing that is neither washed out and texture dependent yet provides depth, while the harder edges are smoothed out. .25 meters away, intensity 1, radius .35 and no falloff.

This is a much more reasonable setting by most measures and is my own personal favourite these days: We have good shadowing that is neither washed out and texture dependent yet provides depth, while the harder edges are smoothed out. .25 meters away, intensity 1, radius .35 and no falloff.

Making your own facelight
Making your face light for those who have not yet done is the simplest thing in the world. Rez a prim. It’s pretty common for most people to make a sphere. It can be anything. .1 meters for x, y and z are good too. Large enough to be able to manipulate it when you want to, but not too much.

So we take our prim and the first thing we do is to name it.

The first step to creating your own facelight is to rez a prim, and rename it descriptively

The first step to creating your own facelight is to rez a prim, and rename it descriptively

Our next step in creating a face light is to make it transparent by applying a transparent texture. Each one of us has this texture in our library.

Our next step in creating a face light is to make it transparent by applying a transparent texture. Each one of us has this texture in our library.

Then we take it into our inventory

Then we take it into our inventory, find it, right-click on it and choose Attach To. The mouth, or chin usually a good spot. Lots of attachments like glasses use the nose attachment point.

Next, once we are editing our prim, go to the features tab in the object control panel, check the “Lights” checkbox, and adjust our lighting values.

We press control-T to show transparency, then adjust it to about .25 meters away from our face

We press Ctrl + Alt + T to show transparency, then adjust it to about .25 meters away from our face

Then again, press control-T to hide the transparency

Then again, press Ctrl + Alt + T to hide the transparency

And voila! Nicely highlighted, not blinding, respectul to others and allows you to be seen, even at midnight, in a more realistic manner.

And voila! Nicely highlighted, not blinding, respectul to others and allows you to be seen, even at midnight, in a more realistic manner.

And how far does our light extend to make this effect work? It's about the same distance as what many of us think of as personal space

And how far does our light extend to make this effect work? It's about the same distance as what many of us think of as personal space

Extra tidbits:

The size of a prim does not affect the radius of a light. All light is calculated from the center of a prim, whether it be .1 meters or 10 meters, the center remains in the same location.

Light goes though everything. That includes prims and avatars. Nothing blocks a light source in Second Life. That’s just how the rendering engine works.

Lights are omnidirectional. You can’t make a spot light. I’ve often seen people fake them using prims, translucent textures and a touch (A touch! Do NOT make me write another article!) of glow.

Conclusion:

I hope this article has been useful in clearing up some notions of how lighting works in Second Life, and I wish you a classy, attractive and well face-lit Second Life!

Enjoy your correct use of subtle and well-adjusted lights in Second Life!

Enjoy your use of correct, classy, subtle and well-adjusted lights in Second Life!

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11 Comments

  1. October 17, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Wow! Thank you for such a great post. Next time I’m in-world, I’m gonna make my own facelight. Despite all the negative press, I’ve had a secret love for them. ;)

  2. Quite Oh said,

    October 17, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Oh yes, facelights take about 2 minutes to create, and are among the most trivial and common things. The trick is simply to use them do your advantage. I think of them as perfume: a little goes a long way, the misuse of perfume has the opposite effect. The negative press is or should not be of facelights themselves, but the misuse of them. Bling, and incresingly glow, are other examples of things best used with tact, subtlty and class.

  3. October 17, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    […] 2008-10-17 Update! I’ve written up a detailed article about the theory, correct use, misuse and creation of face lights. […]

  4. Darcy Blue said,

    October 20, 2008 at 12:51 am

    1 linked object
    255 prims
    all facelights with bling
    max fallout and brightness
    stretched out as far as you can link them.

    THINK OF THE POSSIBILITY’S!
    we must make a better facelight!

  5. March 23, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Nice article. Thank you for the time you spent on it.

    One quick question though, if I have hair with built-in face light can I edit its range? I can turn it off and on, but the other settings?

    Thanks

    • Quite Oh said,

      March 24, 2009 at 8:40 pm

      That depends on the permissions that the creator assigned to it. If it has modify permissions, you can, if not, you cannot. If not, I recommend speaking to the creator, as often then are really nice people, love hearing from happy customers and are pleased to learn about what their customers are thinking.

  6. March 24, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Understold. Thankyou :)

  7. kattatonia Wickentower said,

    August 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Hiya Quite, good article. Just one thing…. In your how to make a facelight section, you neglected to mention the settings for making the object light up, maybe it was so obvious that you didn’t think it needed to be mentioned, but speaking as a newb, I need that info.

  8. TrashFacelamps4aBetterSL said,

    February 23, 2012 at 3:10 am

    Great technical post. I would add detailed opinion though. Half of the fault of the misuse of SL lighting is by skin designers. I am a skin designer, and probably one of the few who does not and will never include facelamps in my skins folders/boxes. Why? It’s simple: there’s no reason to use them. if you want to see details on your skin you could just push up the gamma in your viewer graphic settings, or use a windlight preset that kills the shadows (example Nam’s Optimal Skin preset, that comes in almost all TPV, but it’s meant to be used on occasion, because it’s too bright to keep it all day). And this different setup makes sense maybe when you are trying demos before to get a new skin, or to admire your fresh new skin, for a while, no reason to keep it. But newbies (and not!) misunderstand the facelamp as a “beauty” and “must have accessory”. Funny thing is the most of them keep walking around at low settings or with local lights disabled, or they are on a notebook with a screen around 15 inches or less and a poor graphic card, and they can’t even see their own light beams (lol). (I talk by experience, a friend with a really strong facelamp was on a eeePc with an 8 inches screen and lowest settings!). Beside all this, IMO it’s always been something as “stuff inside something else because giving away in a folder just a pricy shape, or a pricy skin will look poor to the eyes of the customer”. Trash facelamps for a better SL.

  9. kpc said,

    April 20, 2013 at 5:39 am

    ok since when has wearing facelights been seen as griefing? reason I ask this is because some dude at this contest I was at asked me to remove mine and said it is seen as griefing to some in sl, to me that is bs. He reckons all the ”old users” think like this about face lights, I tried to make a point that most of us live in a democratic society and that griefing is part of the internet therefore it will find its way into sl he told me I should never accept this, well there are some things that I will not accept and that is being dictated to by some paranoid internet security systems engineer who thinks that just because he has landholdings at nci and he maybe an ”old user” he can go around IM ing people his definition of second life JUST NO!
    Also a linden made that torch (its in your default folder) so god forbid are the lindens griefers as well? anyway he de rendered me so I guess the problem is sorted in his eyes he had to make his point though by IM ing me about it, thank you and I’m done.


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