Poser 5
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 7 (July 2004)

Poser 5

Poser has come a long way. I remember the first version and its unique ability to create and render human figures quickly. When an update added animation, it was clear that the tool would generate a following. And it did. The only problem was that, at the time (I'm talking circa Poser 2), the images had a distinctive look. If you saw an image, you could essentially tell that it came from Poser. Fast forward to 2004 and Poser is all grown up. Poser has matured into a top-level, professional tool offering the ability to create original and stunning character animation at a very reasonable price.
It is easy to alter a 3D head in Poser 5. To create long ears, I simply pulled on them with the mouse. The new materials section, in the center of the screen, features texture nodes that can be linked together for millions of creative possibilities.

Perhaps the most important new feature is the FireFly rendering engine. Early versions had chunky rendering; you had to touch up quite a bit in Adobe Photoshop to approach photorealistic quality and correct slight rendering inaccuracies. Not anymore: output is stunning with polygon-smoothing, displacement mapping, depth-of-field options, procedural textures, 3D motion blur, and raytraced refractions and reflections. Poser 5 offers two main rendering modes, draft and production, and scores of parameters. Draft, what you will work in mainly when creating, renders speedily and provides nice final output. Production mode takes longer to render, but you can add reflections, textures, depth of field, and raytracing for the ultimate in realism.

New elements in the rendering engine are node-based shaders. We have all seen various texture generators, with racks of parameters that can be altered to create new hues and materials. Now, imagine that these generators can be hooked to each other, stacked, and mixed, and you'll get a sense of the wealth of options that can be exercised. One node output can affect another node input for unlimited possibilities. After you have hooked up many nodes to create a new texture, you can save it as a preset. The program ships with more than 100 materials in the areas of 2D and 3D textures, lighting, environmental maps, and raytracing. Get ready to get lost for days in creating new textures that have never before been seen, or rendered.

With the new Custom Faces feature, you can photograph yourself from two angles, import it into the Poser 5 Face Room, and build a 3D head that looks just like you. After you build your new 3D likeness, you can use face-shaping tools to tweak yourself to perfection. Just point, click, and drag to alter your eyes, ears, or nose. You can change your brow ridge, cheekbones, chin, forehead, jaw, mouth, temples, ethnicity, age, gender, and more via parameter sliders. No longer do you have to go with standard pre-designed 3D models; you can easily point, click, and shape a new, unique person.

After your face is done you can add strand-based hair. Poser 5 aids you in growing hair onto models easily, offering various presets and options for tweaking color, thickness, length, root width, clumpiness, and kink, as examples. Virtually any type of hair you can imagine can be created. Because Version 5 includes gravity and collision detection, you can set wind to blow your new hair and make it sway and swish.

Other new features include a powerful scripting engine called Python for directly tapping the programs features. Dynamic cloth that realistically sways in any breeze that you add via the new wind force field. Improved content management, new props and bodies, the ability to export to Macromedia Flash, and an enhanced user interface with pop-up Help round out the upgrade. I also loved the Content Room, where I could link to an online store from which to download characters and props.

Poser 5 only became bogged down occasionally when complexities, such as detailed hair, needed to be rendered. I worked primarily in draft mode, and rendering was nice and fast. If you purchase Poser 5, check for the latest download update at Curious Labs' Web site. A powerful program witih excellent rendered results, Poser 5 offers not only high-end character animation tools, but also an environment in which you can grow professionally.

Frank McMahon (www.fmstudio.com) is a graphics professional with more than 15 years' experience testing high-end software and hardware tools for the creative community.

Curious Labs www.curiouslabs.com
Price: $319
Minimum System Requirements: English versions of Windows 98se, 2000, ME, or XP with a 500mhz Pentium class or compatible processor and 128mb of system RAM or Mac OS 10.2 or later with a 500mhz G3 processor and 256mb of system RAM; a 24-bit color display with 1024x768 resolution; 500mb of free hard disk space; and an Internet connection for Content Paradise.