Reference mesh

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In Source, a Reference mesh (sometimes body, envelope or skin) defines some or all of a model's rendered geometry. It is stored in a 'reference SMD' file together with skeleton and UV map data.

Facets

UV maps
The UV map defines how the mesh's material is deformed to fit it.
Levels of detail
A reference mesh is commonly replaced by lower-detail meshes at distances with $lod to improve performance. See LOD Models.
Envelopes
A reference mesh is enveloped to the bones of a model's skeleton to allow for animation.
Weight maps
See weight map.

Implementation

There are three QC commands related to reference meshes:

$body
A basic reference mesh.
$model
A reference mesh with facial animation.
$bodygroup
A reference mesh or group of reference meshes that can be switched between or off.
$lod replacemodel
A low-detail reference mesh that replaces another at the $lod's specified distance and above.