Windlight – Awesome, But Tread With Caution

November 15, 2007

by Onder Skall

As Osprey recently mentioned, Windlight is back. This means that if you download the First Look Viewer you’ll be treated to some great views. This brings much realism, but there are problems too.

I’ve taken a few pictures to illustrate the point. Click on any of the thumbnails for a higher-res version.

City of Lost Angels 1
When I was looking for a place to take some test photos, my first thought was of the newly minted City of Lost Angels sim. Do check it out, it’s an artistic masterpiece.


City of Lost Angels 2

As you can see the architecture looks impressive both facing and away from the camera. Everything is really dramatic, and the light looks like real sunlight. I used a trick to get these pictures though. Can you spot it? I’ll show you what it is in just a moment.


Onder Skall in CoLA Windlight

In close quarters things look great, hands down. When sunlight hits things they really seem lit up, as opposed to just brighter. One might think this is going to immediately make people feel like they’re really “in” the game… but… there are problems with that. Big ones.


Onder Skall - normal looking skin

Here I am in my “Mr. Generic” avatar standing by the water. Yes, that big blue block behind me is supposed to be water. That’s what it looks like when there’s no actual sim occupying the space you’re looking into. In order to get those impressive pictures at the top of this article I had to turn off rendering water by going to Client ->Rendering ->Types ->Water. You’ll notice another problem with this picture: contrast.


Onder Skall - normal looking skin - in the dark

Boy does THAT look wrong. The thing is, in the real world with a real camera people will often photograph this way as well. Being backlit with no light source or reflection in front of you will black out your face entirely. In the picture above you can see that half of my face is dark, half is lit. That would happen with a normal camera in the real world as well. It doesn’t matter so much with my cybergoth av because his skin is bleach white anyhow, but if we’re striving for realism we’re going to have to deal with realistic problems.

Fortunately, the fix is pretty easy.


Onder Skall - normal looking skin - fixed lighting

I created a big block, gave it a completely transparent texture, and made it a light source. I attached it to my nose and bam, problem solved. If we were REALLY going to do this right, I’d place the light source off-camera to the right, and create another on the left. The color needs tweaking too in order to really look like a reflection of the sun, rather than just white light sources…

Actually I could fill volumes and volumes on lighting, but I suppose that’s the punchline here: conventional lighting techniques that have been honed by industry professionals for years now matter in Second Life. If you’re a virtual world photographer or machinima producer, it’s time to up-skill!



  1. I haven’t seen that “blue block” thing at all.

  2. That “blue block” looks like pretty shader water isn’t been rendered correctly… are you seeing the new hawt water at all? If not, you may be having a bug like this:

    » https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-925

    Please add to and report new WindLight bugs on the public Issue Tracker (feel free to point to your illustrated blog posts w/screenshots or attach screenshots directly to an issue) so we can keep an eye on and fix these anomalies! 🙂

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