Recently, the Mac Guild featured Bryce, a 3d modeling application that lets
you create a virtual world with a realistic sky, sea, landscape, trees, buildings,
vehicles and furniture. So what's missing? People!
e-frontier's Poser is an application for creating human figures. With Poser, you
can create a photo-realistic human being who never existed in real life. As well
as creating, dressing and posing a static figure, Poser also allows you to animate
your creation to walk or make different movements.
So who needs something like this? Well, the obvious application is for people who
want to draw or paint or photograph a human figure, but don't have access to a real
life model; likely useful for the fields of graphic and web design, fine art, pre-visualization
and storyboarding, medical and technical illustration, comics, architecture and design.
Many examples of images created with Poser can be found online.
Another application, and the reason hordes of people who don't do any of the above
still have a copy of Poser on their wish lists, is Second Life. In the virtual world
of Second Life, all content is created by residents. The primary content creation
skill is 3D building, achieved using Second Life's built-in tools. Once you have
built something, you make it look real by applying textures: you can either create
the textures yourself as image files and upload them, look for suitable free textures
in-world or buy them in-world from a specialist texture creator. Next, if your creation
is to be interactive, you need to insert scripts to make it behave as designed when
touched or spoken to: again you can write the scripts yourself, look for suitable
freebies or buy them from a script specialist.
These three skills of building, texturing and scripting allow you to create objects
at all scales from enormous castles to fine jewelry, and many people who start out
as builders soon discover they have a preferred scale within that range. However,
to make good quality furniture and vehicles, you need one more skill - posing and
animating the human figure.
Although your Second Life avatar comes with over 100 built-in poses, this is not
enough to suit the variety of furniture that can be built. Suppose you build a chaise
longue to lounge on; your avatar will happily sit on it - but in a prim "librarian"
pose. Half the time it will perch on the arm or back instead of the seat. The solution
is to build a suitable pose into the piece of furniture so that the avatar sits on
it in the manner envisioned by the designer.
Suffice it to say that if your natural building scale is furniture, your career will
hit a dead end unless you can get one or more animations to suit each piece of your
furniture. Furthermore, in order to be able to sell multiple copies of your furniture,
your poses must have full copy and transfer rights. You can buy full permission poses
and animations, but typically they may cost several times the selling price of one
chair or sofa. So, with just one animation, you would have to sell several copies
of your piece of furniture to break even, assuming you find a commercial pose that
suits your furniture. In the case of vehicles such as sailboats, the pose or animation
must be specifically tailored to the vehicle and so the chances of finding something
commercially available are low. This is why many Second Life builders aspire to creating
their own poses and animations, and Poser is a viable tool to help them achieve their
Poser 6 is $249.99 (Poser is now up to version 7.0, which is also $249.99, and an
upgrade from Poser 6 to 7 is $129.99).
System requirements for Poser 6.0
- Mac OS X 10.2 or
- 500 MHz G3 processor
(700 MHz G4 or faster recommended)
- 256 MB system RAM
(512 MB or more recommended)
- OpenGL enabled graphics
card or chipset recommended (recent NVIDIA GeForce and ATI Radeon preferred)
- 24-bit color display,
1024 x 768 resolution
- 500 MB free hard
disk space (2 GB recommended)
- Internet connection
required for Content Paradise
I installed Poser 6.0 from its single CD using my admin account. It was very simple
to install, and worked fine from my non-admin account as well.
In Poser 6, there are immediate similarities to the Bryce user interface, for example
the trackball and directional arrows.
Widgets in the User Interface
Even for someone who has done their time on the craggy slopes of the Bryce learning
curve, Poser is a tough challenge. There are two elements to this - firstly, there
is a lot to learn about computer based human figure creation and animation, and secondly
the Poser user interface does not follow modern 2D GUI and 3D user interface conventions
(as established by Mac OS X and Windows in 2D, and Second Life in 3D).
Poser GUI peeves include:
- a tool tip usually
appears somewhere if you hover the mouse over an unknown or forgotten control, but
the tooltip may not appear near the mouse cursor - in some cases it's about as far
away as it can get
- there is an abundance
of unlabeled controls whose purpose is soon forgotten no matter how many times you
- secret compartments
conceal important, frequently used tools like the Library
- there are flippy
triangle menus all over the place
- some default options
are badly chosen
- right mouse menu
options on objects don't contain the frequently used actions you expect, such as
copy and paste
While Second Life
demonstrates that 3D building and camera movement can be achieved by simple mouse
and keyboard commands and direct manipulation of the object, Poser 6.0 continues
to use Bryce-style indirect manipulation controls - drag on the bald head and pointing
hands to move your camera angles.
Like Bryce, Poser offers multiple preset orthogonal views - top, left, front, etc.
- which used to be essential in 3D. As a big improvement over Bryce, Poser can show
you multiple orthogonal views at the same time rather than one at a time.
Multiple Views in Poser 6
The following screen shows what you will see when you open Poser 6.0:
Default Screen opening Poser 6
The default male character, James, is shown with low detail rendering. You can click
on his joints and move them with your mouse. As you do this, he will turn into a
collection of blocks, and his body will reappear when you let go.
Moving Poser Figures - Block View
The soles of his feet are glued to the floor, so any attempt to move his legs won't
work as expected until you unglue his feet. You can also distort his body into positions
it couldn't adopt in real life.
These default display options appear to be designed for the computers of yesteryear
which would struggle to display a properly rendered figure. A few actions are necessary
each time you open Poser to get a realistic working view: select the "Full"
option from Display Tracking at the bottom of the figure window (the tooltip for
this control perversely appears at the top left of this window, out of your field
of view as you position the mouse) and select the rightmost of the Document Display
control balls at the bottom left of the Poser window.
Rendering a Nice View
Poser can limit joint movements so that the figure can't move its limbs beyond natural
constraints. Choosing the Figure menu, "Use Limits" option enables this
feature, and it would probably be easier for most users if this was the default setting.
Inverse Kinematics is the reason the figure's feet are stuck to the floor. This concept
determines which body parts retain their position relative to the floor while other
parts move, and it can be enabled and disabled for each arm and leg. The default,
sensibly, is on for the legs and off for the arms. However, if you open up Poser
and try to set your figure into a Biellmann spin, you will be confused until
you learn about Inverse Kinematics.
Poser comes with a library of "props", including clothing, eyeglasses,
wristwatches and other accessories. To use clothing, you have to learn that both
the figure and the clothing have a skeleton, and the skeletons must be aligned to
make the clothing follow the position of the figure and the angles of its limbs.
This is called conforming.
Here is the high resolution female Jessi figure with unconformed clothing:
Example of Unconformed Clothing
Below is the same pose with conforming clothing. To do this, you have to select the
item of clothing from the top left pulldown menu of the figure menu, then use Figure
-> "Conform To..." and select Jessi from the resulting popup menu.
Example of Conformed Clothing
Poser allows you to create your own new person by dialing up a face using sliders.
Ethnicity, age and gender are translated to numbers on a variety of scales.
Poser's Face Shaping Tool
Poser offers hair made in several ways: painted on the skull, painted on "transparency
maps" and hair made out of individual strands like real hair. I wanted to try
out strand hair and this is what I got the first time around:
Stranded Hair - First Attempt
Then I remembered that despite the realism of the preview image, the hair had not
been properly rendered yet. Rendering the image finally showed the strand hair in
all its glory, including shine and shadows.
Rendered Stranded Hair
NOTE: In one of my initial render attempts, the renderer used the top camera view
looking down on top of the head even though the preview showed the figure's face.
I couldn't find out why this camera view was chosen for the render but not the preview.
When I quit and relaunched, the render worked properly.
The preceding demonstrations merely scratches the surface of Poser's immense capabilities.
Just for example, skin, hair and cloth textures can all be created rather than picked
from presets, and clothing and hair can be made to respond to wind direction. However,
since my motivation for getting to know Poser is to rescue my Second Life furniture
career from oblivion, let's move on to posing and animation.
Posing and Animation for Second Life
Poser 6.0 comes with excellent reference and tutorial manuals in pdf format, accessible
from the help menu. They open by default in Mac OS X Preview, so they don't interfere
with the operation of Poser, and the search works faster than you can type.
It's fair to say, Poser 6.0 documentation is not written for Second Life users. I
discovered a number of helpful resources via Google, for example: http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Animation.
Here is a summary of the essential facts you need to use Poser with Second Life:
- Start by downloading
the default male and female avatar from the Second Life website and loading them into Poser.
Use these instead of any other figures you find in the Poser library. You can get
all the Second Life avatar animations from the same page.
- Even a static pose
must be created as an animation consisting of two frames.
- The first frame should
be the avatar's default T position (feet together, arms out). The second frame's
pose will be relative to the T position.
- Don't bother animating
the hands and facial expression in Poser; Second Life will ignore these and ask you
to select a hand posture and facial expression for your pose when you upload it.
- Export the animation
as a BVH (biovision hierarchy) file.
- Don't forget to click
loop before you upload.
- Setting an ease in
time of a second or more on the upload dialog will allow your avatar to slide into
the pose in a realistic manner rather than snapping from stand to sit in an eyeblink.
- You can't change
the settings on the Second Life upload dialog for your pose after you upload it.
Since uploading costs about $0.04, experimentation is cheap, but not free.
The animation controls in Poser are hidden behind a sliding cover at the bottom of
the screen. Type in the required number of frames in the right hand box and use the
slider to move from one frame to another.
Poser Animation Controls
Here is the default "Girl Next Door" avatar demonstrating the "Librarian
Sit" on a simple sofa design in Second Life. Note her legs are going through
the seat. It took several attempts to get her to sit; sometimes she sat on the edge,
other times I got the standard "no suitable place to sit" error message.
Default Sit Pose in Second Life
Here in Poser is the Second Life female avatar using sofa sit pose from the Poser
Sofa Pose from the Poser Library
Here in Seond Life, the Girl Next Door demonstrates the same Poser library sofa sit
uploaded and fitted to the simple sofa.
Second Life pose after uploading the Poser file
As well as uploading
this pose into Second Life as described above, it's also necessary to position the
pose relative to the sofa. Many people manage this by attaching to their furniture
a small ball containing a pose script (available for free) and the pose. The avatar
right clicks on the ball and selects Sit. The script makes the avatar adopt the pose,
but also positions the avatar relative to the center of the ball. Fine adjustments
can then be made by moving the ball. The script can make the ball invisible while
in use. Just link the ball to the sofa and it's ready for the furniture store.
In order to tailor the Poser library sofa sit pose for this particular sofa design,
I would have to use trial and error, guessing the angles to use for the limbs in
Poser, uploading to Second Life and iterating until satisfied - at 4 cents an upload.
Some of my favorite features for posing include:
- You can set the avatar
back to its default position if you mess up too badly.
- You can mirror image
left arm or leg to right and right to left and straighten the torso using the Figure
-> Symmetry commands.
- If you select a body
part and Copy, then go to a different frame, select the same body part and Paste,
all the coordinates of the body part are copied to the second frame. Doing this on
all body parts is a good way to ensure a smooth repetition from the end of a loop
back to the start.
For animation, there
are additional complexities. For example, my early attempts to animate were spoiled
when the avatar underwent a strange gyration once per loop. It appears this has to
do with the interpolation method between frames, and you have to "break spline"
on the second frame to cure this. You do this by selecting Window -> Animation
Palette (yes, ignore the Animation menu), then from the top right set of buttons
select the straight line.
Animation Key Frames
By default the camera angles you set via the bald head trackball are also recorded
and animated in Poser. While this has no effect on your Second Life animation, it
can be disorienting when you preview the animation in Poser. The camera can be set
to not animate, but it takes some digging around in the manuals to discover how to
do this. Select Camera Properties and uncheck Animating:
To Turn Off Animating in Poser
That, in essence,
is what it takes to control your own destiny as a Second Life furniture maker with
The main alternative to Poser for the purpose Second Life posing is qavimator. It's a free and extremely simple application
which does nothing more than create poses and animations suitable for use in Second
Life. It doesn't have Inverse Kinematics, and you don't have to worry about breaking
splines as far as I can tell.
Another alternative is The Mannequin, available in Second Life at Textures R Us and
Tink's Creations. You buy and operate this tool inside Second Life where you create
animations by manipulating an in-world mannequin. It costs about $20 for a single
copy and about $36 for a double copy (necessary if you are working on animations
for couples). I personally haven't tried Mannequin.
Finally, while out of reach for the casual home user, motion capture from real human
beings can be used as a source of totally realistic animations for Second Life; visit
Sine Wave Island in Second Life for examples.
Poser 6.0 is a powerful and fully featured industry standard tool for creating life-like
static and animated images of the human figure. It can also be used to create poses
and animations for Second Life. In addition to the content provided with Poser, extensive
collections are available for purchase from third party content creators. Poser 6
suffers from a dated and non-standard user interface which exacerbates the steep
learning curve experienced by a newcomer to this topic. Nevertheless, Poser's strong
offering of powerful tools, and established status in its field, is likely to make
it the first choice for professionals, serious amateurs and anyone dedicated to creating
poses and animations as a primary interest. People who are new to human figure animation
may benefit from learning the basics with one of the cheaper alternatives such as
the free qavimator.
- Full featured
- Industry standard
- Create life-like
- Create smooth, natural
- Huge content collections
- Complex, unintuitive,
dated user interface
- Non-standard user
interface controls are easily forgotten
- Steep learning curve
- Defaults options
not always useful
3 1/2 out of