Fashion Research Supplies Avatars for Science Sim Demo

On August 31, 2010, Intel Labs posted this video discussing the advances in scalability in the OpenSim platform of Science Sim.  Fashion Research Institute has the pleasure of collaborating by providing the avatars and apparel shown in the video.

“John” is the basic default corporate male avatar provided by Fashion Research Institute to ScienceSim.  John’s feminine counterpart, Jane, isn’t shown in this video.  Just like in the physical world, it seems the price of beauty presents interesting challenges – Jane’s hair, jewelry and other accessories have a much higher avatar rendering cost than John’s much more simple attire.

Jane will make her appearance at some point, however, along with the four other new default avatars being provided by Fashion Research Institute to ScienceSim as part of a corporate donation of a new content library to ScienceSim.

Creating and Visualizing 3D Content in Science Sim

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Professional Virtua Designers Society Announced

An integral part of the Fashion Research Institute is the Fashion Research Foundation, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization located in New York.  FRF is engaged in educational research using virtual worlds for education. Today, we are pleased to announce two upcoming sessions introducing the Professional Virtua Designers Society.

The purpose of the Professional Virtua Designers Society is to promote and protect the social, economic and professional interests of its members.Professional Virtual Designer Society

The Society is committed to improving conditions for all digital artists designing and developing virtual goods and products intended to be used in virtual worlds. It is also committed to raising standards for the entire emerging industry. The Society embraces digital artists at all skill levels and provides professional development to lift these special content creators to new levels of professionalism and skill.

The Society & Its Members
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The Society supports its members in numerous ways:

·  Benefits which provide a complete, comprehensive benefits package ranging from major medical to a 401k retirement plan.

·  Discounts on goods and services

·  Professional development seminars, workshops and courses

·  An annual conference – in a virtual world – to ensure that all designers can attend

·  Two tiers of membership, with Journeymen and Professional designations which reflect skill level and competence in the field

We Are the Society
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The power of the organization is the power of community and affiliation. The Society exists to enable designers to achieve their dreams and to foster a productive, profitable and pleasant work life with the same protections that employees of large companies enjoy. The Society defines a valid standard of practical competency for professional virtua designers, and to effectively represent these designers and the profession of virtua design.

The Society is affiliated with the Fashion Research Foundation, which serves as the sheltering organization.  The Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that does not endorse or in any way support any particular immersive space, computer game, or virtual world.  Society registration is a voluntary program with two tiers of membership.  The Journeyman designation is freely available to all designers working in the area, without need to substantiate their ability or length of tenure as a designer.

The Professional designation offers a path through which qualified designers may obtain a formal credential indicating that they meet a meaningful standard of professional competence as determined by technical knowledge and practical skills examinations, length of design practice experience, and other factors.  The minimum qualification for entering the Society’s professional registry is the Registered  Professional Designer TM (RPD) credential.  All Society Professional members are professional designers meeting the RPD TM or Registered Master Designer TM (RMD TM) standards.

Why is a formal standard for professional virtua  designers needed?
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The terms “profession” and “professional”  are often used in design marketing material, because professionals are, by definition, more highly valued than hobbyists.   But as any professional knows, it takes more than simply calling yourself a professional to actually be one.  Qualifying to practice as in a true profession can involve years of training and study, as well as meeting a formal standard of competence.   While some professions require governmental licensing, the profession of virtua design is better served by a valid professional credential system, administered by a globally-oriented professional organization.

Designers often express the idea that their individual reputations are sufficient to establish themselves as professionals. And although the value of a well-earned reputation cannot be overstated, of course, reputations, particularly in the design field, are based on comparison and often on popularity, not on any particular standard.  In the real life apparel industry, designers of apparel are compared to other professionals, who have real standards of production and development that they must meet in order to remain employed.  Unlike the real life apparel industry, designers of virtua, however, need only satisfy a small core of diehard fans in order to call themselves ‘professional’.  By defining the term ‘professional virtua designer’ and aligning it with standards that must be met for the credential, we raise the overall quality of designers and create a substantive foundation against which designers and their reputations can be compared, thereby making it easier for the owners of commercial products such as grids, games, and other consumers of virtua to evaluate the quality of a given designer’s work, and its suitability for purchase or licensing.

The function of a professional credential in any field is to establish a minimum standard of quality for persons who are qualified to work as independent practitioners.  Therefore, the lowest credential issued by a professional credential program must designate a fully qualified professional capable of consistently producing work to a sufficiently high standard.  Credentials that do not establish a standard of excellence serve only to confuse those outside the industry, undermine the program’s credibility with other organizations and individuals, and to otherwise degrade the profession to a level of hobbyist. Professional credentials must take into account not only the time required to become truly proficient at design, but also the knowledge, skills, and additional training which likewise are integrated to evaluate the professional avatar apparel designer. Examinations for such a credential are naturally demanding, requiring the designer to demonstrate the kinds of abilities needed to work as a professional practitioner.  The credential is a valuable asset to working designers who wish to identify themselves and their work as meeting the high standards set by the Society.

An organization that issues professional credentials for avatar apparel designers needs to be made up of individuals who are qualified to assess design and who are actively working in the field.  This is the only way to ensure that the needs of the professional, working avatar apparel designer are met.  All designers who wish to join the Professional Virtua Designer Society are required to meet at minimum the standards set forth for Registered Designers, which is the minimum credential offered by the Professional Virtua Designer Society.  The Professional Virtua Designer Society openly promotes this standard, which is based on knowledge, skills, and experience, to all interested parties to the world of virtua as applied to virtual goods.

Meeting July 22nd, 2010
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On July 22nd, we will be hosting an information meeting in Second Life® to connect with those interested in learning more about the Professional Virtua Designers’ Society. There are two sessions scheduled, one at 11 AM Pacific and one at 6 PM Pacific. These sessions will take place on Shengri La http://slurl.com/secondlife/Shengri%20La/197/110/40

Fashion Runway in Shengri La Hope

Are you a new designer or a designer who enjoys designing just for the pleasure of designing? Do you want a beautiful environment with a fully functional catwalk system, in which to show off your work?

The Fashion Research Institute has deployed a completely scripted fashion catwalk in the Second Life (TM) sim Shengri La Hope.  The location features two fully functional runways with scripted poseballs loaded with popular modeling poses and a runway walk, and scripted spotlights that follow the model as she walks the runway.  Draped canopies and curtains feature a range of draperies from which to choose.

All Grid citizens are welcome to use the runway free of charge on a first come, first served basis. Individual designers may reserve the runway in advance, and full estate management is available with 2 weeks advance notice, and depends on estate manager availability.  Estate management includes security, media stream change, estate setting changes, and privacy controls.

Visit Shengri La Hope and pick up a copy of our runway show manual and rules to use the Fashion Research Institute, Inc. catwalk.

Our thanks to Chelsie Goodliffe and Ravenn Darkstone for modelling on the runways of the catwalk.

Avatar Apparel vs. the Real Apparel Industry

In my various talks, I am often asked by members of the audience ‘what’s the difference between ‘virtual fashion’ (which we at FRI refer to as avatar apparel) and ‘real fashion’.  It’s pretty clear from this question that people who aren’t apparel industry practitioners really aren’t aware that there’s actually huge, disparate differences between the $1.7 trillion USD global apparel industry, and developing digital fashions worn by avatars and gaming characters.  Let me point out here that I do not regard apparel industry fashion as the only ‘real’ fashion, but I also recognize that there is a substantial monetary divide between not just avatar fashion and apparel industry fashion, but between the avatar apparel content providers and apparel industry fashion designers. 

Let’s start with the similarities because they’re easy: both avatar fashion, and apparel industry fashion, must appeal to the emotions of the purchaser.  Both kinds are developed out of the imagination and creativity of the practitioners.  And both are currently initially created, to some extent, using 2-D design tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop.  But it is at this point where things diverge.

Avatar apparel creators can simply stop at the point where they’ve developed 2-D images.  This type of fashion is only instantiated within a virtual world.  It is not subject to the laws of physics, because it is never manufactured. Avatar apparel creators do not need to worry about considerations such as manufacturability, fit, function, sizing standards, supply chain considerations, factory capabilities, labor requirements, first cost, patterns or pattern making, marketability, trends, trend stories, timing, seasonality, collection function, development and production.  In short, everything that goes into actually manufacturing a tangible product is missing from the avatar apparel production pipeline. 

And the pipeline itself is quite different.  The apparel industry, as I mentioned before, generates a global and whopping $1,700 billion US dollars a year in revenue.  The entire global gaming industry, in comparison, is expected to generate only $66 billion in 2011 for hardware, software, services, and content, according to ABI Research.   Content revenues were about $275 million for 2007, according to IDC Research.  Avatar apparel isn’t broken out as a separate component of content, so it is difficult to compare avatar fashion revenue dollars in a direct one-to-one comparison to apparel industry fashion revenue dollars, but I do think anyone can see that revenues generated by avatar apparel are a tiny fraction of apparel industry revenues.

Developing tangible apparel for real people to wear in the real world takes real capital inputs. It takes a deep understanding of global markets, trends, material science, textiles, construction techniques, costing, and a deep creative accumen.  It also requires a lot of specialized training: a fashion designer can expect to spend at least four grueling years learning specific development systems on top of the basics of color, fit, form, draping, pattern making, textile science, selected manufacturing techniques, and if she chooses to specialize, all of the mandatory requirements she must have to enter that field.  An apparel industry designer needs all that education when the time comes for her to move her finished fashion design out of the concept phase and into the production pipeline. 

At that point, she has to develop a factory-ready technical specification, which fully details every seam, every thread, every exact qualification and specification of every input into the garment she’s created, right down to the specific color numbers called out by her design director.  One might think she’d be done there.  But actually, that’s just the start of a long process of getting her vision instantiated in the physical world. 

She will also call on her entire team of production specialists, from the manager whose role is to see that single design through the manufacturing process, to the trim specialists, costing agents, customs agents, lawyers (in many cases), technical specialists, merchandisers, and a range of other specialists.  She has to take that design, and iterate on it until it is correct.  She’ll look at innumerable iterations, check the sizing and fit, examine the quality of the textiles, stitching, linings, and other inputs, and she’ll receive as many physical samples as it takes, and do that working under some intense time deadlines and cost requirements, to help her team bring that final rack-ready garment to your local apparel store. 

An avatar apparel creator needs simply to create images that map correctly to whatever mesh-based system that is used in their chosen revenue arena. It’s a quick process in comparison to real world apparel development and avatar apparel creators can ignore almost all of the requirements an apparel industry fashion designer must consider. Anyone with a good eye for color and moderate to excellent pixel editing skills can jump in and learn quickly to develop avatar fashion. These garments will never need to be put through the manufacturing process; the realities of manufacturability and the wearer’s comfort aren’t even a consideration.

Clearly, the differences between avatar apparel, and the apparel you will wear tomorrow are manifold.  And it is those very differences that the Fashion Research Institute was formed to address.  Our work with IBM has resulted in an entirely new way of designing and developing apparel industry product.  We are not focused on avatar apparel or its development, which will proceed quite nicely on its own path.  We are focused on helping the apparel industry to cut its time to market, slash its development costs, reduce its carbon footprint, and enhance its profitability and revenue opportunities.  We are using virtual worlds to insulate designers from technology and to enable them to focus on design. 

This ultimately allows everyone to do what they do best: People to create, computers to work.