Curious Labs Poser 6 review
Producing realistic human figures has always been one of the most difficult tasks for artists to achieve, and it’s the same for today’s 3D artists. To help get their geometry right, traditional artists use a posable wooden mannequin as a model, and this was the inspiration for Larry Weinberg, Poser’s original developer, in 1995. In the decade since that first release, Poser has changed out of all recognition. In particular, its aim is no longer simply to help visualise a pose; its job now is to produce the end result, either as a rendered image or animation, or as a 3D model for export. This means that realism is crucial to the success of Poser, and each new release has seen major leaps forward. So does Poser 6 keep up the tradition?
The most obvious change when you load up the latest version is the new default customisable model. Don has done his duty and been replaced by James, while Judy, the default female model, has been replaced by Jessi. The leap in realism involved is less than that between version 4 and 5, but it’s still a big improvement – if you can get over the similarities to Victoria Adams and Michael Owen, that is. Perhaps the most striking change is in terms of the default clothes, with the all-white Raelian cult look replaced by much more realistic – if slightly fantasised – bulging jeans and long-sleeved top based on scanned texture maps of real clothes.
So looking around the interface, what else is new? Version 5 raised expectations with its introduction of no less than six new rooms – Material, Face, Hair, Cloth, Setup and Content – but the changes in version 6 are much more limited. In fact, there are no new rooms at all, although the Material room has at least been reworked with a new Simple tab designed to protect users from the underlying node-based shader system (still available via the Advanced tab). ‘Simple’ is a relative term, however, as Curious Labs confuses matters by bizarrely defaulting to show the material used for James’ gums and by including a column of seemingly unrelated and mysteriously intimidating buttons – Set up Shadow Catcher, Set up Ambient Occlusion, Image Based Lighting (IBL) and so on – that for some reason have been called ‘wacros’.
Much more successful is the reworking of the main Document window. Now the main Preview window where the central figure is posed can be set to display the current Production Frame, while new OpenGL hardware acceleration leads to a general performance increase for systems with supporting graphics cards. The biggest change is the introduction of a new Render tab. Hit the Render command, or the new Render Area option, and the results appear in this new tab. Renders are automatically saved to a stack so you can retrieve earlier renders (up to ten by default) and, using the Render Wipe slider at the bottom of the screen, quickly compare render setting variations. To speed up the rendering process, you can also choose to reuse textures and shadow maps, although this has to be done manually.
The rendering power on offer with Poser 6 has also been enhanced. To begin with, the Render Settings dialog has been redesigned with tabs for each of the four main render engines, including the excellent and previously semi-detached Sketch Designer for producing artistic interpretations of your scenes. For the main FireFly rendering engine, there’s also a new Auto Settings tab that’s designed to make it simple to trade-off quality against processing time without getting into the complexities of ray bounces and bucket size. It’s certainly an improvement, but a simple slider would have been easier still. Other changes include enhanced control over polygon smoothing and new support for soft raytraced shadows. Also, you can now choose to output just shadows, which boosts post-production flexibility and efficiency, although multipass PSD support would have boosted it even further.