Software review: Poser 9
Smith Micro provides a mix of new features that raises the quality of Poser renders to new heights, as Mat Broomfield discovers
$250 / Upgrade from $130
DEVELOPER Smith Micro
PLATFORM Windows / Mac
- Character posing tools
- 3GB free content
- Built-in lighting and rendering
- Animation system
- Material editor
Poser users are a funny bunch. Many don’t really want to invest the time in learning software that would enable them to achieve exceptional results. Daz’s Carrara combined Poser compatibility and full 3D modelling, but that application didn’t receive the public support that it deserved and, by its own admission, developer Smith Micro is cautious not to stray too far from the safe, recognisable core program that everyone knows.
Even so, Poser has evolved far beyond its original purpose as a simple artist’s posing and sketching tool to become a full-blown 3D application in its own right.
The big thing in this version of Poser is weight mapping. This is a technology that enables content creators to have far more precise control over the way ‘skin’ behaves when affected by joints, allowing for much greater realism. Unrealistic joint bending has been the bane of 3D users’ lives, evidenced by the number of solutions available to improve it. Daz introduced weight mapping to its Poser-compatible program Daz Studio 4 several months ago, but Poser’s version isn’t compatible with its technology. This matters because Daz makes the figures that most people use. Daz is working on an exporter so that people who use Daz Studio for character rigging can create Poser-compatible weight-mapped figures.
Note that both Daz Studio 4 and Poser come in pro and standard versions, and while the standard versions support weight-mapped figures, only the pro versions actually enable you to create your own weight maps.
Another exciting new feature is the addition of subsurface scattering (SSS) nodes for creating more realistic ‘luminous’ skin and other materials. It’s a one-click operation to convert most of your existing textures to incorporate the new SSS technology, and the results are quite impressive – but not all textures will convert without the need for extra work.
Even the one-click subsurface scattering Wacro makes skin look terrific (SSS on the right), and with a bit of hand crafting you can eliminate the default softening effect
Unfortunately, because scatter nodes are plugged into the alternate diffuse channel, once you add one, if the material is used in an earlier version of Poser, while the program simply ignores the unrecognised node, the material will not render properly without more work. This will be a consideration for content creators who wish to retain backwards compatibility with earlier Poser versions.
Poser 9 now supports light-emitting objects, enabling you to cast complex light patterns (like image-based lighting, without the need for special HDR images or light probes). You can also use it to create the equivalent of photographic soft‑box lighting for gentler illumination. This technology only works when you switch on indirect lighting in the render settings, and that knocks up render times by many orders of magnitude. Indirect light rendering has been speeded up, but it remains far too heavy a price to pay for animation.
An example of how light-emitting objects can be used to provide subtle illumination - but using invisible light boxes has even more potential
Disappointingly, Smith Micro has divisively deemed 64-bit rendering a Pro feature, which nowadays is like categorising tomato ketchup as a luxury food. We compared the 32- and 64-bit versions of Poser Pro 2012 (Poser 9 with extras), and the 64-bit version renders nearly 50 per cent faster. Nevertheless, we still found that Poser 9 renders over 13 per cent faster than Poser 8.
There are many enhancements to the speed, realism and general performance of the FireFly rendering engine in this version of the software
Animators may be interested in the addition of constraint channels. At first glance, this feature seems to be like parenting an object, but the big difference is that the constraint has a dialable and animatable level of constraint, which enables you to have variable levels of parenting. Imagine a skateboard beneath a jumping rider’s foot. In the past, you’d parent the skateboard and it went everywhere the foot went, then you’d use keyframes to give it independent movement (a smaller lift off the floor, for example). With a constraint channel, you simply dial down the level of constraint as the rider jumps, keyframing that if needed.
One feature that users have been asking for forever is grouping. This is achieved in Poser’s inimitably idiomatic way. Not for Smith Micro the simplicity of [Shift]-selecting multiple objects and choosing the Group option (no, you still can’t [Shift]- or multi-select, even in the hierarchy window). With Poser, you first select Create Grouping from the Object menu to create a group object, and then add one object at a time to the group. The group then has its own visible control cube (null object) that can be moved, scaled and made invisible. The null object is actually quite a good feature, enabling you to select the entire group – or objects within it – quickly without resorting to menus.
Equally important are alignment and distribution tools, yet we’re nine versions in and Smith Micro has still not added them. The ability to accurately position objects in relationship to each other is the most basic of basic graphics options. It’s part of virtually every other major piece of 2D and 3D graphics software released in the last 10 years, and it should be in Poser.
Some people have criticised Poser’s user interface, but in this version the company has greatly expanded its right-click context-sensitive menus. This puts some common options (such as kinematics, symmetry, conforming and more) beneath your cursor rather than forcing you to go to a menu or toolbar. It’s a shame that the actual manipulation tools are only accessible via the tool panel, and is it too much to ask for a centre‑wheel zoom and user-definable keyboard shortcuts?
With expanded context-sensitive right-click menus, Poser is now quicker and easier to use
The library finally has drag-and-drop organisation, so while I dislike Smith Micro’s continued use of the Adobe Air framework for the library, which I find to be unstable, at least you can now organise your content visually within the library rather than having to do it in Windows Explorer. You can also multi-select items such as clothes, then drag and drop them onto your figures, where they will usually auto-conform.
The interface changes are further boosted by improved real-time previews in the viewport, with better OpenGL support leading to better light and shadow representation as you work.
Poser 9 delivers a few invaluable new features, and subsurface scattering is something every user can enjoy. The other star feature, weight mapping, is totally dependent upon content providers to give it value. Overall, Poser 9 is more pleasant and intuitive to use.
- Easier to use
- Superb manuals
- Improved rendering speed and quality
- Interface is stubbornly old school
- 32-bit engine
- There are not enough substantive
With this latest version, Smith Micro continues to refine Poser’s interface and core performance, while providing a measured release of new functionalit
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mat Broomfield is a 3D all-rounder and Photoshop trainer. He has used Poser since version 1. His company, Ace Pyx, provides services to the architectural industry
on Monday, January 16th, 2012 at 4:48 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: character, Daz Studio 4, improved renders, Poser, Poser 9, Poser Pro 2012, Smith Micro