REVIEW MAY 15 , 2001
Labs Poser Pro Pack
You're probably familiar with Poser, the 3D character animation suite formerly owned by the company formerly known as MetaCreations. When MetaCreations killed off its software division to focus on Web technologies, Poser went on the auction block (along with Painter, Carrara, Canoma, Bryce and a host of other well respected titles). It was snatched up by the team that originally created the software and others involved with its development and marketing. Thus was born Curious Labs.
Poser had always been a bit of a cult item, extremely popular with hobbyists. It was geared heavily toward preset characters and provided users with the ability to move these characters around in various posessort of like playing with 3D paper dolls. But it never really attracted a large customer base in the higher-end professional 3D market.
Now, however, comes the Poser Pro Pack, an expansion module for Poser 4 that promises to find a professional niche for Posernamely designers who create animations in the Flash format.
These days, everybody is offering Flash output. But your choices for 3D applications are mostly limited to very expensive 3D suites or applications that aren't terribly powerful or easy to use. The Poser Pro Pack, which is both affordable and easy to use, is a great solution for creating character animation in Flash. Don't get me wrong here. Poser is not a modeler. It comes with a ton of preset characters, ranging from people and props (such as clothing) to animals and robots. But, if you want to build your own models, you'll still need a 3D modeling application, such as Amorphium Pro, which is also targeted toward Flash designers (and also happens to come highly recommended by me).
The two small Flash animations below use two of the characters that come with Poser, along with some preset animations. Applying animations to models can be as simple as clicking on a preset library animation. You can also manually move around body parts (and cameras and lights) to create your own animations rather easily. (For the sake of file size, I've limited the colors in these animations to four. The first animation came out at 56 KB; the second is 92 KB. You can change color settings in the output options when you create your own animations.)
This brings us to the second significant feature of the Pro Packthe ability to import models and give them a bone structure for posing and animation. If you build a model in, say, Electric Image's Amorphium Pro, you can export your model and bring it into Poser for building up a bone system and animating the model.
Poser accepts such a wide range of models that it would be almost impossible to work in a 3D modeler that can't output at least one of the formats supported, including LightWave, 3D Studio Max (3ds max), etc. This process is incredibly simple. You simply draw the bones and then select areas of the model that the bones will influence. You can even skip the second step by clicking on a button called "Autogroup," which automatically assigns areas to the bones.
The Pro Pack also gives you more advanced options for inverse kinematics, assigning spherical dropoff zones, etc. But even with the advanced options, the process is fairly straightforward, even for inexperienced users. If you do get tripped up, there's a help window that automatically appears any time you enter the Setup Room, which will guide you through the process step by step.
If you work in LightWave or 3ds max and don't like to export your models into foreign applications, the Pro Pack also includes plugins for these two applications that will let you work with Poser files (including animation) directly within them.
Other enhancements the ship with the Pro Pack include:
performance and output
For the most part, the speed of Poser is also pretty impressive, both in terms of the interface and output. If you import your own models with high polygons, however, you will see some serious slowdown, regardless of the type of display you're using (wireframe, cartoon, shaded, etc.). This is my only gripe about the Pro Pack because one of its big selling points is that you can bring in your own models and add bones to them; but, if you bring in detailed models, the process can become cumbersome. The program can even become bogged down in screen redraw, which can cause bones to be placed in the wrong area.
One of the other major selling points of Poser is its ability to create animations very easily. And in this area the program excels. To create an animation, you can simply move parts of an object around and add a keyframe. Move forward in the timeline, change a position or camera angle, and Poser handles everything in between for you. You can also select animations from a modest library of moves, as well as a couple of libraries for designing walks for your characters.
In terms of output, you couldn't really consider Poser to have a terribly sophisticated render engine. But it compensates for this with a few pretty useful output options. For example, it does a really nice job with cartoon shading, allowing to to select the number of colors for larger or smaller files and even for creating duotone, tritone and quadtone effects. It also has a "Sketch Designer," which allows you to render in one of several preset sketch styles or styles that you've created yourself. The presets include things like soft charcoal, pastel, pencil and even pencil and ink. Unfortunately, you can't render sketches as Flash animations, but you can output them as QuickTime files. The reason for this is that each stroke is drawn individually and differently on every frame, creating a look that suggests hand drawing.
The Poser Pro Pack is available for Macintosh and Windows for $149. It requires Poser 4, which is available for $219. (Upgrades from Poser 1, 2 or 3 cost $99.) For more information, visit http://www.curiouslabs.com.
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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of the Creative Mac, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion and Synthetik Studio Artist WWUGs; and executive producer of Creative Mac, Digital Media Designer, Digital Pro Sound, Digital Webcast, Plug-in Central, Presentation Master, ProAudio.net and Video Systems sites. All are part of the Digital Media Net family of online industry hubs.