One of the things that’s so cool about the rise in computing power over the last few years is the way it puts creative tools that were once reserved solely for professionals within reach of everyone. This is the case with audio and video production software, and with tools like Poser, it’s true of 3D character design and animation as well.
The Evolution of Poser
Poser has been around for almost two decades, and in that time it’s come a very long way. Version 1.0 was essentially a digital version of an artist’s posing figure, more suited as a reference for artists working in another medium, like drawing or painting, than as a tool for producing very clean 3D art. But in the intervening years the software has evolved tremendously (and passed through the hands of a number of different companies), to become a tool that’s used today both by hobbyists and professionals. Poser 10, from Smith Micro Software, is the most recent release, and if you’ve ever felt the urge to try your hand at 3D animation or art, it’s well worth checking out.
At the heart of the Poser software is a library of objects. Some are as simple as a cube, while many are far more complex, like human bodies with enough articulation to make them move convincingly and be posed with realistic facial expressions. The software comes with a wide array of models installed, but a lot more is available through online purchases, either at Smith Micro’s Content Paradise store or a number of other sellers around the web.
Getting Started Posing
Getting started is pretty simple. You just choose a figure you’d like to work with and load it up. Right away you have posing options. You can start by loading a predefined pose onto the figure (the software comes with a large library of those that match the included figure models). Then you can apply tweaks (large or small) using the dials, or just by clicking and dragging part of the figure. Generally, much finer control can be achieved using the dials – too much direct manipulation of the figure may leave it unrecognizably twisted around.
Posing is at the core of the software, but there’s a lot more that can be done. The user has full control over lights (number of lights, color, brightness and position), camera position on 3 axes of movement (and even control of lens focal length), and more complex elements such as texture, transparency, reflection, and bump maps. These last four can take a while to get just right for a specific image, but make a huge difference in perceived realism, granting the ability to add things like curved reflections on characters’ eyes. It’s little things like that that will get viewers’ brains thinking they are seeing a real face rather than a computer-generated picture.
New Features in Poser
In addition to version 10, there’s also a pro edition, Poser Pro 2014, that adds a number of features useful to professional 3D artists, such as 64-bit rendering and a “Fitting Room” feature that allows clothing designed for earlier figures to be modified to fit newer figures.
New features in both versions include Pixar Subivision Surfaces, which allows increasing the polygon count in an area for smoother lines; Bullet Physics for better animation of hair and soft surfaces; a Comic Book Preview mode for a better sense of how images will look after rendering; an improved Morph Brush that supports Sag, Tighten and Loosen for getting clothing on figures to look its best; new magnets, deformers and weight maps for precise shaping of models; as well as new figures and faster rendering.
Even if you never use Poser professionally and only dabble with it for fun, you’ll be impressed by the quality of 3D work you can produce with relative ease, and gain a new appreciation and understanding for the 3D design and animation work that goes into many of the scenes in films that leave audiences stunned.