Mirror effects through Firestorm

UPDATE: I’ve added links to Strawberry Singh’s tutorials and windlights for this effect. Many thanks to Uccello Poultry for pointing me to Berry’s work.

On the internet, it is relatively easy to find a multitude of stunning photographs taken within Second Life and its OpenSim clones, regardless of whether these photographs have been post-processed or not. The advent of Windlight made it possible for SL (and OpenSim) to offer spectacular atmospheric effects, which have made certain kinds of post-processing less necessary. However, there is a certain effect that both Second Life and OpenSim lack: mirrors. No mirror in Second Life is functional at all – they’re just silver-coloured textures, sometimes with a decorative frame around them… And they don’t do what you’d expect from a mirror.

Are there any chances for working mirrors in SL? Not really. The subject has been brought up several times during Oz Linden’s Open Dev User Group meetings, and the answer is always the same: too many calculations, and it would be likely to destroy performance. So, don’t hold your breath.

However, there is something you can do to achieve this effect without resorting to complex methods involving custom-made poses, camera-locking scripts and post-processing like Laverne Unit did. Yes, her results are nothing short of stunning, but going to such lengths for a photoshoot is something many people will shy away from, and I can fully understand why. The method described here is much simpler, although you’ll need a bit of preparation.

It’s a method that was first discovered by Oracolo Janus and documented (as his blog is now no longer available due to the closure of My Opera) by Zonja Capalini. This effect has also seen frequent use by Whiskey Monday, who’s produced some truly exquisite images with it.

How can this be done, though? Linden water is the answer. Bear with me as I detail the steps you need to take to reproduce this effect. Be advised, however, that you need a computer with a dedicated graphics card. Also, you will benefit greatly by having the best graphics card you can afford. Also note that this advice applies to OpenSim users as well.

Now, you may wonder… Why did I bother making a post about this when people can just read Zonja’s tutorial? I’ll give you two reasons, either will suffice: Primo, Zonja’s tutorial explains how to do it on a viewer with a V1-style UI (a UI I’ve always hated) and I think it’d be a good idea to explain how to do it in recent versions of Firestorm, which has a different and, in my opinion, better UI, also exploiting the options offered in the “Phototools” floater. Secundo… I wanted to.


Now, what will you need to have this effect? Well, for starters… You need a machine that has a dedicated graphics card. Yes, I’m saying it again. No, your integrated graphics chip is not likely to cut it – even if it’s more powerful than a medium-range laptop GPU from 2009 (which I’m still saddled with), you’ll get better results, both in terms of quality and in terms of not having to put up with low single-digit frame rates, if you have a recent, relatively powerful dedicated GPU. Also, you need to know your way around the viewer a bit.

None of the instructions here are exactly rocket science, but it’s worth mentioning and commenting on, so that you’ll know what to expect and how to adapt the effect to the desired usage (maximum quality for photographs, lower but usable for casual or everyday use, etc).

Now, what do you need? For starters, you need a normal map that will give you a perfectly still water. Download the image below and upload it to your inventory:

The "Mirror water" normal map for your water.

The “Mirror water” normal map for your water.

However, this by itself is not enough. You need to create a new Windlight water, which you will use later on. Since we’re in Firestorm, go to “World” –> “Environment Editor” –> “Water Presets” –> “New preset…” as in the screenshot below:


Accessing the water preset editor. Click on the image for a larger version.

Now, we’ll create the “Mirror Water” preset that we’ll use in our SL photography. Now, for the next step, the floater I present differs a little from what you’ll see; I’m in “Edit preset…” mode, whereas you will be creating a new preset. Everything else, though, will be the same. You should see the “Fog and Wave” tab, which, if you do everything correctly, will look like this:

The Fog and Wave parameters.

The Fog and Wave parameters.

So, the parameters for this tab will be as follows:

  • Water Fog Color: White (RGB values: 255, 255, 255 respectively).
  • Normal Map: The “Mirror Water” texture you uploaded previously.
  • Fog Density Exponent: 0.0
  • Underwater Fog Modifier: 0.00
  • Big Wave Direction:
    • X: 0.00
    • Y: 0.00
  • Little Wave Direction:
    • X: 0.00
    • Y: 0.00

Next comes the “Reflection” tab:

And now, let's take care of the "Reflection" tab.

And now, let’s take care of the “Reflection” tab.

So, you should tweak your sliders so that the values for the parameters are as follows:

  • Reflection Wavelet Scale:
    • X: 0.0
    • Y: 0.0
    • Z: 0.0
  • Fresnel Scale: 0.00
  • Fresnel Offset: 0.58
  • Refract Scale Above: 0.00
  • Refract Scale Below: 0.00
  • Blur Multiplier: 0.080

For more information, don’t hesitate to use Firestorm’s built-in help browser.

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