In this last year, I've had the good fortune to review and test many software programs. Some of them were new to me and others were upgrades of software I use all the time. The big gun companies like Adobe produce generally good upgrades and continually innovate the design and functionality of their software. But the programs that I get really excited about are the smaller, almost boutique companies who produce software that seems to fit in-between the cracks of their larger competitors. I suppose it's my sympathy for anything independent that drives me, but I often find that these smaller companies have a certain pride in the quality of their products and an attention to detail that is missing from their big corporate competitors.
One of my favorite indie companies this year came to my attention only recently: N-Sided. I am the kind of person who is constantly scouring the computer graphic forums for recommendations for new and interesting software, but I'd never heard of N-Sided and their spectacular software program “Quidam” (pronounced 'Kay-Dum'). I suspect I'm not alone in this experience as N-Sided is a pretty low-key French research and development company located in the Val de Marne suburb of Paris. Here is the company's very cool vision statement from the “About Us” section of their official website:
"The needs of 3D content will not stop growing.
Stimulated by the desires of the public and the increased graphic performance of computers, NSided is committed to making software for video games, the web, multimedia production, video, animation, cinema and illustration.
N-Sided has the ambitious goal of giving 3D back to the professionals of creation: the artists. QUIDAM is the first step in this direction. The first because other technologies are ready, which promise to open 3D to new creative horizons."
Pierre Bretagnolle and Sébastien Berthet, friends and cgi artists themselves, started N-Sided in 2002 with the goal of developing a 3D modeling program that would “give 3D back to the artists”. After positive testing and further development, they released “Quidam” in 2006. Quidam is a 3D modeling program focused on one simple goal: simple and unique 3D character creation.
After working with Quidam 2 (the current version of the program) for the last month, I can honestly say that not only does it deliver on it's promise, but it's one of the most fun programs I've used all year. I can safely say that Quidam 2 will become one of my permanent set of tools for 3D filmmaking and machinima.
The Combination Studio
One of Quidam 2's major strengths is the simplicity of the GUI and the intuitive structure of the workflow within the program. Since character creation is the sole focus of the program, N-Sided has stripped the interface down so that tools are located in logical clusters. Really, after about an hour you'll be shaping faces and bodies like clay.
When you start Quidam 2, you are given the choice of pre-created 3D models: men, women, cartoons or creatures, all completely customizable. Eyes, ears, head, body, chest, feet; any part of the model can be adjusted to fit your imagination. The program comes with 9 models (1 male model, 1 female model, 1 male face/head, 1 female face/head, cartoon male/female models, fantasy male and 2 creatures (froggie and humanoid cartoon characters), but you can also purchase more from the N-sided website.
After choosing your 3D character, you open the main program interface with your model at center, a large collection of controls/tools on the left and small satellite tools in an arc on the right side. This is the Combination Studio. At the top right side is a colored circle icon which allows you to set the color and lights for your model and background. Once you place your mouse over any part of the model, that section turns blue to indicate it can be modified and, simultaneously, a window opens on the left side of the screen which displays various shaping options for that particular body part. These options allow you to shape the 3D model so that it more closely resembles your final character design.
There's also a nifty “Create Random Character” button which allows Quidam 2 to generate a random character design, most of which are quite useful. This section also allows you to add custom textures and props for your scene, if you need them. The props are customizable, so you can create your own library if you like. Quidam 2 allows for importing of props in .obj format which you then attach to the appropriate bone on your character. I was able to import several free .obj objects from renderosity.com that worked perfectly with the model.
After the Combination Studio, you move to the Proportions Studio (second icon at the top), where you can shape the overall size/look of your character. You can make them tall or short, fat or thin. It's surprising how much your character design can be affected by adding just a bit more or less girth. Certainly the age of the character can be suggested here.
The Sculpture Studio
Next comes the Sculpture Studio, which is the heart of Quidam 2. There is a large selection of tools which allow you to essentially sculpt every part of your model as if it were various densities of clay. Symmetry Mode allows you to work on balanced sides of a character model simultaneously (you can turn this off if you like). Much like Adobe Photoshop, you can choose the size and strength of your tool with a series of buttons on the left side of the screen. As your mouse moves over a part of the character, you see exactly what aspect of the mesh you have control over. All of your sculpting is done in realtime, so you can see your results immediately.
In addition to a basic set of tools (point, line, face) to shape your model's mesh, Quidam 2 has created a set of “Jelly” brushes. Unlike the standard brush which operates every time you click the mouse, Jelly brushes operate continuously so that you draw the shapes you want on the model. This is an incredibly powerful tool that can be adjusted to reach an extremely fine level of detail.
After sculpting your model to your satisfaction, you now head into the Posing Studio, where you can adjust practically every part of your model using a base bone structure and the traditional x, y, z movement parameters. Quidam 2 is not an animation program, you can do that in another 3D program, like Lightwave, but the range of possible poses are almost infinite. Combined with effective lighting, you can create remarkably moody and effective images. Quidam 2 provides preset poses that can get you started if you like. A nifty feature allows you to choose the visibility of the bones so that you can have all of the bones visible at once, or set so that the bones are invisible and only come into view when you mouse over them.
Skinning (defines the influence of bones on the model geometry) while creating poses is incredibly simple in Quidam 2. Most of the time, Quidam 2 will calculate the influence on the mesh when you pose your model, or you can make adjustments on your own. There are two levels of skinning for your pose: Fast Skinning and Better Skinning. If you are exporting your model to another program for animation and higher rendering, the Better Skinning method should be your choice, as it produces the best results. A nice touch in the Skinning section is the ability to adjust the weight of your mesh clothing. This can produce some excellent results with capes, loose clothing, hair, etc.
The Texture Studio
Next up is the Texture Studio which allows you to create and adjust new textures for your models and props. You can adjust the ambient, diffuse, specular, glow, shininess and opacity of your texture colors. Quidam 2 further allows you to adjust the grain, hair, wrinkle, speckle and the eyebrow/lips channels to the degree of your choice. The best part of the Texture Studio, however, is the ability to paint directly on the model in real-time with the 3D Paint module. With a wide variety of brushes, and the ability to save custom paint brushes, you can adjust the color, transparency, bump maps and normal maps of your model and see the results as you paint. Further, Quidam 2 allows you to paint in two modes: UV, which follows the object unwrap, and View, which paints in a direct projection to the image on the screen. This mode also allows you to paint on the background image as well.
Another very cool aspect of the Texture Studio is the ability to import a background image, such as a photograph of a human being (or creature), and superimpose the image over your model's face or body and sculpt the model to fit the image. If you bring in a full front and profile view of a person, in a half an hour you can can create a model that very closely resembles that person. This is an excellent method of character creation based on mug shots you've collected, or on photos you've taken of your friends. I imported a picture of my partner, Lisa, and created a model that looked a lot like her in only an hour or so.
The Render Studio
Lastly, we come to the Render Studio, which allows you to set parameters in rendering your new model. Quidam 2 has two main methods of rendering: real-time Open GL rendering and photorealistic Ray Tracing rendering. You can adjust anti-aliasing, soft shadows, render size and many other options, including individual layer export. You can write to disk in the .tga, .jpg and .png formats. The Ray Tracing option has full adjustments for specularity, shadows and lighting. The rendering time is good if you have a quad core cpu like I do. I haven't tested it with lower speed cpu's, but I suspect Quidam 2 will still render fairly quickly since the design of the entire program is so well engineered.
Exporting your model is quick and easy. The basic Quidam 2 package allows for .obj, which keeps the geometry and UV of the exported model, and the proprietary .qdm formats. The .qdm file format exports more data, including the skinning and skeleton parameters. The Studio version of Quidam comes with collada export. The output data tab and the transformations tab give you full control of the parameters of your export. N-Sided also makes available special Quidam 2 plug-ins for import to major 3D programs, such as Maya, Lightwave, 3D Studio Max, Cinema 4D and Carrara. I used the Lightwave plug-in and found the import allowed me to bring into Lighwave my original model and all of it's UV textures, skeleton and settings.
I am so impressed with Quidam 2. Not only is it an elegantly designed program, but it allows you to create unique 3D characters quickly and with ease. And because the focus of the design is solely on character creation, N-Sided has created a simple, but very powerful program that does it's job brilliantly. I've only scratched the surface of what this program can do in my review. Animated filmmakers, game designers and 2D artists can do no better in adding this program to their toolset.
N-Sided has two flavors of Quidam: Quidam 2 and Quidam 2 Studio, with the Studio version adding more precise ability to affect the model's mesh, better low poly calibration and collada export. At $224 for the standard version and $529 for the Studio, it's not a cheap program, especially if you add in the purchase of extra models and an import plug-in for one of the major 3D programs like Maya. But the program is so well designed and does it's job so perfectly, I think it's worth the investment. Plus, you get excellent support at N-sided's website, along with a well-written manual and generally very good video tutorials. You also get free upgrades. Plus, there is a Mac version available.
It should also be noted that N-Sided has created a licensing structure for anything you create with Quidam 2, but only if you plan to use the models themselves in video game. Use of what you create as 2D or 3D animation has no such restrictions. They don't list the terms on their website as it varies depending upon usage, but the comments in the forums indicate that the rates are reasonable and somewhat negotiable.
I literally have no complaints about Quidam 2, unless it was that N-Sided needs to do more promotion of this superb 3D tool. A quick check on youtube.com shows that there are only 8 tutorial videos (mostly from their website), and most of them are over 8 months old. Since youtube and other video sites are often where people discover new programs, it would really help your product recognition if you got some more current videos posted. This excellent program needs to be better known. And perhaps a free Blender import for the open source community would encourage them to look at Quidam 2 more closely. And if enough people ask for it, I'll bet there'll be more free models and props available at the N-Sided website.
If you are someone who is looking for a well-designed program that will allow you to create original 3D characters in short order, I urge you to download the Quidam 2 demo and try it out yourself.
The N-Sided website is very well designed and filled with info on Quidam 2 and it's little brother, Argile, a cheaper, stripped down version of Quidam 2. The forums are responsive and the help is excellent. The forums are in French and English.
I'd like to thank N-Sided, and specifically Daryl Wise, for providing Quidam 2 along with additional model packs for me to review.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
Please note: If you find the color of the text hard to read, please click on "Printer-friendly" and black text will appear on a white background.