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If you're trying to get into 3D or if you're a traditional artist trying to visualize your ideas, Metacreations' Poser 4.0 could be just the tool for you. If you're already a pro, however, you might be a little disappointed. See what's up with the lastest version of this character animation tool.

Jason Zirpolo, Blogger

July 30, 1999

8 Min Read

When I was first asked to evaluate Poser 4.0, I was delighted. My friend recently told me about it, and some of the new features he mentioned sounded like great tools to speed up some tasks. Unfortunately, after playing with it for a while, I became a bit disenchanted. Why? Well, the answer to that question is the meat and potatoes of this review. Let's talk about what Poser 4.0 has to offer, its various features and inner workings, and what works and what just doesn't.

Interface

The development team at Metacreations did a nice job on Poser's interface. It uses a large workspace and all the menus are fully moveable and collapsible (see Figure 1).

The rollover text makes learning what each button does much quicker, and the pop out libraries work very well. One new feature they added was the use of "memory dots" for saving layouts and poses. One simple click brings up a saved pose (see Figure 2). Also, all the windows and toolbars are hot keyed to speed up the workflow quite a bit.

I had only a few minor issues with the interface. One problem was with the controls for moving the view around. The tools are there, but I found their functionality to be a bit awkward. I wanted a localized rotate based off the selected object or part. The rotation of the camera or view seemed based upon a world axis. Also, most 3D packages have a nice standard feature that enables you to rotate the view while a key is pressed (such as ctrl or alt) and then quickly be back in whatever mode you were in before. Upon first glance, I didn't see that feature here.

Figure 1. All the windows have been collapsed. The interface is so flexible that even the background image can be moved around on the screen. [zoom]

The other minor glitch I came across was in the tools for posing the character. The rotate tool seemed a bit awkward. I wanted the ability to lock an axis off or rotate on just one axis. Sometimes the character would distort if I tried large rotations. This distortion forced an extra undo and caused me to use two rotates instead of one. Again, key controls or the use of the second mouse button for this task would have been nice. Just to clarify, the sliders do act as x y and z - they call it twist, front-back, and bend - but I would have liked better functionality of the rotate tool itself. Having to use the sliders tends to be slower and takes away from the creative flow a bit.

Figure 2. The new pose dots makes working with many saved poses a snap. [zoom]

As far as lighting goes, in Poser 4.0 you now can have unlimited light sources and you can use either global or spot lights. There is now support for individual lights' shadows being on or off, and you can animate light positions, brightness, color, and point at control.

Models

Poser 4.0 ships with over 70 fully textured hi-resolution 3D figure models, and each figure is fully set up with IK. Metacreations added new hair and over 40 articles of swappable clothing. The new people models are fully morph targeted for infinite character creation. There are new left and right hand models, as well as various detailed and articulated animal models. I played around with the cat and dog models for a while and found them nicely set up and very poseable. There is even a futuristic robot collection.

All models are fully textured. The company added support for transparency and reflectivity. Poser also comes with templates to help you create your own textures. You also can now import your own .OBJ figure models, and there are controls to create your own body part groups and custom blend zones and parameters.

Animation

Poser 4.0 now has animation tools. You can animate hands and faces, lights, cameras, props, figures, and morph shapes. The animation tools are fairly easy to learn and all the animated objects have graphs associate with them (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The use of graphs makes it easy to fine-tune your animation. [zoom]

All the new models ship with full facial controls. You can animate eyes, brows, lids, teeth, and tongue. You can even sync sound files to your animated facial expressions. The models come with 17 pre-set phonemes and creating my own wasn't terribly difficult.

While we are talking about animation, now is a good time to mention the one feature I was initially really excited about. They call it the "Walk Designer" (see Figure 4). Basically, it's a bunch of sliders that let you develop various walks and runs. By adjusting the sliders you modify the walking style in real-time.

Figure 4. The Walk Designer. [zoom]

Initially, I was impressed and some of the results I got were very cool. But upon closer inspection I found some popping in the joints and some of the sliders produced some pretty weird looking movements. Poser allows you to import and export animation as .BVH files. However, I tried loading one of the exported walk-.BVH files onto a biped in 3D Studio MAX. Unfortunately, I encountered an error and the .BVH would not read. I have not had any problems loading other .BVH files in MAX, so I assume the format Poser uses is a bit off somehow. Overall, I found the walk designer to be a cool little feature, but not yet worthy for use in a serious production environment. With a little more tweaking and some more robust features and export capabilities, I could see the walk designer even being its own stand-alone product. But even if it is a bit buggy it is still cool, and definitely worth checking out.

One of the other nice features to play with was the Sketch Designer (see Figure 5). It allows you to shade your artwork using a myriad of customizable sliders to create a sketchy, hand drawn look.

Figure 5. The new Sketch Designer. [zoom]

Some Significant Improvements

Overall, I found the new Poser a significant revision of the old one. Metacreations added some nice new features and redesigned the interface beautifully. Everything was customizable and moveable within the workspace, and the design had a nice flow about it. However, some of the camera interface controls I felt to be a bit awkward. Some of the posing interaction seemed a bit off. The walk designer was fun to play with, but after a short time I found it to be useless for my particular needs. It lacked a bit of the functionality and complexity that I wanted.

If you are a 3D hobbyist, or someone wanting to learn more about 3D, then this program is perfect. It's not incredibly complex to learn and the visual results you can achieve can be stunning. And for the price it's not a hefty investment to see if this is something you'd like to get into.

If you are a traditional artist looking for a tool to help you visualize, this could be just what you need. It's low cost and fairly easy to use.

If you are a serious 3D-character animator and are looking for a new tool for your animation toolbox you may be slightly disappointed.

Poser 4.0 Product Information

Rating: *** (average)

MetaCreations
Santa Barbara, Calif.
1.800.846.0111
http://www.metacreations.com

Price: Retail $249.00, upgrade $129.00

System Requirements:
(PC) Pentium PC, Windows 95, 98 or Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later, 32 MB System RAM, color display (24-bit recommended), CD-ROM, 240MB hard drive space.
(Macintosh) All Power Macintosh and compatible models, System 8 or later, 32MB of application RAM, color display (24-bit recommended) CD-ROM, 240MB hard drive space.

Pros:
1. Clean, organized interface
2. Lots of figures to choose from
3. Learning curve is not that steep

Cons:
1. Posing tools need a little tweaking
2. Camera control was a little awkward
3. Walk designer felt like it could use more polish.


When not animating for Westwood Studio's newest title, Nox, Jason can be found enjoying the California rave scene, snowboarding, or exploring the fine art of "milkcrate athletics". Past short stories of his have been shown at SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theater and other various film festivals. You can reach him at [email protected].

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About the Author(s)

Jason Zirpolo

Blogger

Jason Zirpolo was an animator for Westwood Studio's title, Nox. When he's not animating, can be found enjoying the California rave scene, snowboarding, or exploring the fine art of "milkcrate athletics". Past short stories of his have been shown at SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theater and other various film festivals. You can reach him at [email protected].

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