Poser 6, by e-frontier
Posted: 27-Dec-2007

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: e-frontier Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
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 goals.

Cost
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 later
  • 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


Setup
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 Use
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 learn them
  • 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


Character Creation
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 library.


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 Poser.

Alternatives
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.


Summary
e-frontier's 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.

Pros

  • Full featured
  • Industry standard
  • Create life-like images
  • Create smooth, natural animations
  • Huge content collections available online

Cons

  • Complex, unintuitive, dated user interface
  • Non-standard user interface controls are easily forgotten
  • Steep learning curve
  • Defaults options not always useful


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice