By George Maestri
Modeling, rigging, and posing 3D characters are not easy tasks. Character creation requires a lot of talent and skill. Curious Labs addresses this situation with Poser, an application designed to streamline the creation and animation of 3D characters.
Poser was originally developed by Curious Labs CEO Larry Weinberg. It was owned first by Fractal Design and then by MetaCreations, but has now been bought by Curious Labs, which is continuing to enhance the package.
Poser runs on both PC and Macintosh platforms. Its graphical interface is reminiscent of many of the old MetaCreations packages (such as Bryce). Navigational controls are identified by a set of nicely rendered pointing hands, for example. In the center of the screen is the main viewport for manipulating the models. To the left are the aforementioned navigational controls. An animation slider appears at the bottom of the screen, and manipulation controls are along the righthand side. A pull-out box contains models and props that you can use in your scenes.
A minor interface problem is that while you're navigating or moving a body part, the mesh of the character disappears, leaving only the box-shaped skeleton as a reference. This process speeds up interaction, but also forces you to guess what the final mesh will look like. It's particularly troublesome when you're posing the head, where eye position is very important.
|Poser 4's graphical interface will look familiar to anyone who has used other former MetaCreations products, such as Bryce. |
Creating a character in Poser is a straightforward procedure. You select the character type from a pulldown menu, and the character shows up in the viewport. It can then be manipulated through controls that allow you to scale and move individual body parts.
Models can be posed easily because the characters come with complete skeletons that can be manipulated using either forward or inverse kinematics. Poser also comes with a number of preset body poses, which is a timesaving addition. Those using Poser's Pro Pack can also create their own skeletons for use in deforming a mesh, which allows for the import of custom models.
You can use the software's morphing feature to produce facial animation. The morphing works in a manner similar to that of multi-target morphers found in most other 3D packages such as Alias|Wavefront's Maya, Discreet's 3ds max, and NewTek's LightWave. The user simply sculpts a number of facial poses and then connects the poses to a neutral head, which creates a series of dials onscreen. Manipulating the dials varies the relative weights of the poses, allowing the face to change shape over time.
Poser comes with a sizable clothing library. Each piece is created as if it were a Poser figure. For example, a shirt has a neck, chest, abdomen, and arms. When loaded into a scene and properly defined, the shirt will attach itself to a human figure, snapping to the similarly named body parts of that figure. When the base figure moves, the clothing follows.
Standard photorealistic-type rendering is used for Poser characters. Lights are either spotlights or infinite, with adjustable color, while the shaders appear to be Phong or Blinn based. The shaders can contain bit maps for textures, as well as for bump, transparency, and reflections. These capabilities are pretty basic for 3D rendering, so users of LightWave or 3ds max would probably want to render in those packages instead. For a more stylized look, Poser does provide a sketch-rendering system that can simulate a number of art styles, including pencil, chalk, and charcoal.
Poser Pro Pack will allow LightWave 6 and 3ds max users to open Poser scenes. I tested this capability with 3ds max, which brings in Poser scene files as a Poser object that contains all of the Poser scene data as a single max object. This is nice, but for those wanting to manipulate the characters within max, the Poser mesh comes in as triangles (as opposed to quads) which can make further editing difficult. I found a better path was to export an .obj file from Poser, which imports into max cleanly, but without the animation data and live connection, meaning that changes made to the original file will not appear automatically.
Pro Pack also supports the export of 2D Flash animations and 3D Viewpoint content for the Web. As well, it lets you render animations and still images with 2D motion blur.
While Poser does not have as many tools as a high-end 3D application, the program does have a lot going for it, especially its ease of use. Poser is ideal for users such as graphic designers and architects who might need to quickly create and manipulate basic kinds of 3D characters.
George Maestri is a writer and animator based in Los Angeles.
Price: $219; Pro Pack is $149
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95/98/NT or Mac OS 8; 32MB of RAM; 400MB of disk space