The Secret Weapon
July 5, 2011

The Secret Weapon

How 3D artist David Ridlen uses DAZ 3D tools and assets to speed and strengthen modeling workflows
The modeling process is known for taking significant time and money, but as 3D professional David Ridlen has proven time and time again, it doesn’t always have to be the case.  A self-trained and highly skilled computer graphics artist and animator of renowned titles including Sin City, Punisher: War Zone and Secretariat, Ridlen has found a way to nearly bypass the entire modeling process with the help of DAZ 3D content and tools. Now, he can get right down to the fun part – making things come to life in CG:

“Though necessary, I find modeling and texture painting tedious and time-consuming,” Ridlen explains. “I knew there had to be a tool set that could quickly guide me through this process so I could spend more time doing what I love: realistic animation. DAZ 3D’s professional-quality models and software provide exactly what i need to tackle the complex previsualization requirements of any project.”

In  2005, Ridlen was commissioned to create a three-minute CG previsualization involving multiple characters and several props for the film project titled Archangel. Instead of diving head-first into what could easily take several weeks  worth of modeling work, Ridlen scoured the Web for an inexpensive solution that would easily integrate into his existing animation pipeline and help to expedite the character modeling process altogether. In a matter of minutes, he stumbled upon DAZ Studio.

“I was astounded to find such a strong and useful program for free,” he notes. “DAZ Studio allowed me to quickly generate all the characters and I was able to purchase and customize additional costumes and props with surprising detail at very little cost. The versatility, range and quality of the morphs provided fast creation of several different characters, all from a few base models.”

Utilizing the affordability of the DAZ 3D models, combined with the time-saving amenities offered through DAZ Studio’s robust posing features, Ridlen was able to reduce his estimated modeling process by nearly 75 percent, allowing him to spend more time animating, lighting and adding visual effects to bring dazzling detail to the production.

However, it wasn’t just the time saving and cost-effective solution DAZ Studio provided that convinced Ridlen to continue his use of DAZ 3D tools for additional projects. It was the compatibility with his existing software suite.

Working primarily in NewTek’s LightWave – with additional help from Eyeon’s Fusion and Next Limit’s Realflow – DAZ 3D tools and assets seamlessly integrate into Ridlen’s pipeline, providing a highly streamlined workflow: “DAZ 3D offers a variety of morphs that allow quick modification of character features without opening an outside modeling program,” says Ridlen. “However, if I want to further modify or finely texture in LightWave, it just requires a simple export. There is also a LightWave plug-in that allows me to convert many objects into morphs for a base model, all at once. With a workflow like this, I was immediately hooked.”

DAZ 3D proved its worth once again when, in April 2010, Ridlen was contracted by visual effects production house Pixel Magic to help with asset creation for New Regency’s spoof film, Vampires Suck. With a mere $20 million budget for all production costs, the visual effects share was remarkably low, considering the amount required.

To create a fully CG baby that would be “juggled” by the film’s main character, Ridlen called upon DAZ 3D’s Millennium Baby 3. Using DAZ Studio’s morph sliders, he reshaped the model’s facial features and resized the head and limbs to achieve the look he was striving for. “Human form, particularly faces, are about the toughest thing to make convincing in CG,” he admits. “DAZ Studio’s texture maps helped to provide nice detail, while the UV maps created an ideal template for adding to the existing texture maps or painting new ones.”

Using a human character rig, Ridlen was able to simply drop the modeled baby into LightWave for finishing. Additionally, the rig pose was saved within DAZ Studio for easy application to any other figures as needed, then exported directly into the Lightwave rig with very little tweaking.

The use of the DAZ 3D model and DAZ Studio not only saved time, but meant that Pixel Magic could bid the sequence at a lower cost than it would have required to develop the model from scratch or scanning. This also helped the CG team land the client amongst a sea of qualified bids. “Once again, DAZ 3D allowed me to jump right into rigging, lighting and shot set up,” notes Ridlen. “We were very happy with the outcome, and the sequence makes people laugh. Mission accomplished.”
Throughout his nearly 15 years as a CG artist, Ridlen has utilized DAZ 3D tools and assets for multiple projects. His main goal has been to provide a quality product, and DAZ 3D has become synonymous with this goal.

“It has become a bit of a running joke between me and my colleagues,” Ridlen recalls. “Every time we face a daunting CG challenge, we always turn to each other, nod and immediately say: ‘DAZ!’ The funny thing is, it’s no joke. DAZ 3D is a fun little secret weapon.”