Controlling your avatar's appearance

Started ‎02-25-2011 by
Modified ‎07-24-2015 by



Introduction to avatars in Second Life

Your avatar is your representative in the world of Second Life.  By controlling your avatar, you can explore, interact with the Second Life world, and communicate with other avatars controlled by Second Life users.

Because avatars represent you, they are an important form of self-expression and the first thing many new users want to do after arriving in Second Life is customize their avatar's appearance.  There are many, many options for customizing your look, and there is a huge market for user-designed body shapes, clothing, makeup, hairstyles, accessories, and even complete avatars.  This article will help you take your first steps toward finding a style that you and your avatar can be proud of.

Using the Avatar Picker to choose a pre-made avatar

If you are not yet comfortable with Second Life's editing tools or don't have the time to shop for a custom avatar, the Avatar Picker provides a very easy interface for choosing a high quality, professionally designed avatar model.  These avatars are provided by Second Life maker Linden Lab free of charge, and you can try as many as you want, whenever you want!  To use one of these pre-made avatars, follow these steps:

  1. Select Me > Choose an avatar from the top menu bar in the Second Life window.
  2. In the Choose an Avatar window that opens, click a category tab to see a preview of avatars in that category.  At the time of this writing, the available categories are PeopleVampires, and Classic.
  3. Click the image of your desired avatar to immediately wear that avatar.

Custom animation overriders and pre-made avatars

Some avatars in the Avatar Picker use a scripted attachment called an animation overrider (AO for short) to replace Second Life's default avatar animations for moving, sitting, and standing idle.  Under most circumstances, you won't need to interact with this attachment; it's a small invisible cube attached to your avatar's chest attachment point, and it overrides your avatar's animations automatically.

When you start to customize  your avatar with new clothing and attachments, you may find that a new attachment has replaced the AO on your avatar's chest attachment point, in which case your avatar will revert to using Second Life's default animations.

You may also acquire a third-party AO from one of Second Life's many merchants, either individually or as part of a larger package.  If multiple animation overriders are attached to your avatar, their scripts and animations can conflict and cause your avatar to move in undesirable ways.  

If you prefer to use a third-party AO or Second Life's default animations, you can remove a pre-made avatar's AO by doing the following:

  1. Click the Appearance button in the Second Life Viewer.
  2. Click the Wearing tab in the Appearance window that appears.
  3. Find the AO attachment in the list, which will be named differently depending upon which avatar you have chosen.  It may be called: Animation Overrider - FemaleAnimation Overrider - Male, or Animation Overrider - Zombie.
  4. Right-click the name of the animation overrider and choose Detach to remove the AO.

Customizing a classic style avatar

It is important to know that customizing a "classic" avatar in Second Life works a bit differently than customizing other types of avatars.  A classic avatar is a humanoid avatar that has been created and customized using a combination of the built-in body part sliders, texture-based clothing, and avatar attachments.  Classic avatars give you a lot of control over the details of your avatar's appearance, but are not designed to take advantage of recent developments in computer graphics technology, such as rigged mesh or normal and specular mapping.

For detailed information on how to edit the many parts and features of a classic avatar, see the article Customizing a classic style avatar.


Understanding and customizing rigged mesh-style avatars

In addition to the "classic" avatars, you have the option of selecting one of the many newer rigged mesh-style avatars. These consist of a custom 3D mesh character model that is worn as an attachment and overlaid on top of the skeleton of a classic avatar.  The classic avatar itself is typically hidden by an alpha mask, but the uploaded 3D model still makes use of the classic avatar's joints and animations.

This type of avatar allows 3D content creators to design models in a third-party tool such as Maya or Blender, allowing them to take advantage of the latest graphics updates to Second Life and create highly detailed human and non-humanoid avatar forms.  However, due to their nature as an overlay on top of a hidden classic avatar, mesh avatars may not wear the texture-based clothing made for classic avatars.  Mesh avatars may also have difficulty interacting with attachments, accessories or animations that were originally intended for classic avatars; for help finding appropriate clothing, see Buying clothing that fits your avatar.

Getting a rigged mesh avatar from the Second Life Marketplace

Because mesh avatars are designed by a variety of content creators, the process of obtaining and wearing a mesh avatar may vary greatly by merchant; the following is a generic scenario:

  1. Visit the Second Life Marketplace and purchase a mesh avatar.  Make sure that the listing claims "Mesh: 100% Mesh" on the right side of the screen underneath Permissions.
  2. If your purchase came in a box, open and unpack the box as described in Opening boxes.  If your purchase was not boxed, skip this step.
  3. Find the new folder in your inventory containing your purchase and read the included notecards.  Most merchants include instructions on how to properly wear, customize, and operate their avatars.
  4. If no instructions are included, right-click the folder and choose Replace Current Outfit.  This removes all attachments your avatar is wearing and replaces all parts of your avatar with the entire contents of the folder.

    Be aware that many mesh avatars come with interchangeable parts that should not be worn at the same time, so you may need to remove the duplicate attachments manually if you Replace Current Outfit.
Tip: If at any time you feel you are unhappy with the outcome of your avatar modifications, you can start over with a fresh default avatar by choosing from the Avatar Picker.