"We focused on giving a way to the users to handle clearly, lightly and quickly their own content: custom poses, morphs, etc. And we think it's better to gather all items in one place: a clear catalog consisting of one line of items, gathered in tabs. We think this approach is far more convenient than systems based on files only. Note that users can still go to the catalog directories to check their content manually, but that's just more convenient through the catalog in Quidam 3."
-Pierre Bretagnolle & Sebastien Berthet Co-Founders of N-Sided
We took a close look at N-Sided's Quidam 2.0 last year and found it to be an excellent character/modeling program with an intuitive interface, very easy texture painting, quick posing and good rendering/export. There was quite a bit of debate in the comments section about N-Sided's licensing issues for game development, stability issues in Quidam 2.0 when using render settings at max, and lack of content provided with the program. I hope to address some of these issues in this review of Quidam 3.0, which I think is a better program than it's predecessor. I'm impressed with how N-Sided, a small company based in France, responds to it's users. It seems that many of the improvements are directly connected to user input. Which is what smaller companies can do best.
Let's take a look under the hood of Quidam 3.0, which was released back in April of 2009. Have they solved some of the problems that users have been having with the program?
Basically, Quidam 3.0 is a character-creation program which allows you to quickly choose from a collection of characters, body types, faces and textures to create a unique 3D character for your animated film, posed picture or video game production. One of the hardest things to do for a 3D modeler is to create a character from scratch. While this method produces superb results, it's also very, very time consuming and requires a steep learning curve no matter what modeling program you are using.
Quidam's solution is to provide fully rigged 3D models in either gender (along with just heads + Manga, Anime, and SciFi models) and provide an interface that allows you to quickly adjust the mesh of the model, change the textures and UV mapping, and pose the model (or re-position bones) to the user's satisfaction. Then, after rendering, you can either export the character for use in another modeling package, or as a still image. Export formats include OBJ, native QDM (Quidam proprietary format), and UV maps (vector or bitmap). You can also export from a list with only a selection of objects. Reasonably priced plug-ins are available for 3D Studio, C4D, Lightwave, Maya and Collada export.
When the program first opens, you have several options for models
The basics of the Quidam program still work like a charm. So, what has N-Sided focused on in the new version 3.0? I could write pages on each particular area, but a short summary will have to do.
A Closer Look
All of the various panels for each Studio in Quidam 3
The basic workflow is the same. N-Sided has created a series of Studios (Combination, Proportion, Sculpture, Pose, Texture and Render Studios) within the program which allow you to work on specific aspects of the model in a logical sequence. All of the tools you need are clustered around the interface in intuitive patterns. After choosing your model, combining clothing (there is a lot more clothing in this version of Quidam), adjusting the proportions of your model and then sculpting the model to fit either a drawing, photograph (easily imported to fit as background image to model from) to your model, you come to the first big improvement in Quidam: the 3D Paint System.
Real-time 3D texturing can be fun
And, by the way, as you are working your way through each studio there are hundreds (yes, hundreds) of presets you can choose right from the beginning of your project to speed up the process of creating your character. Poses, dynamic objects, environments, paint brushes, lights, morphs, just about anything you can think of Quidam 3.0 provides quick presets which can then be tweaked or fine tuned even further. It's a very simple program to use.
Using the Scratch mode to save morph targets
Back to the new 3D Paint System, I found the module to be faster than the previous version (zero crashes on a quad core PC) and, for my money, the ability to real-time export your UV maps and textures to Photoshop (or the graphics editor of your choice) is almost worth the price of the upgrade. All of the fine tuning that can be done in Photoshop allows you to polish your textures to a very fine state using layers and brushes. The one flaw in the process is that you have to flatten your image before you come back to Quidam. It would be nice to be able to edit texture layers natively in Quidam 3.0, but it's a very small inconvenience that really didn't slow me down. Perhaps N-Sided will add the layered function in some future upgrade?
Quidam 3 can now import textures from a 2D program, like Adobe Photoshop
UV Manipulation Tool
The projection system for UV mapping is very good. You have full control of the size and rotation of the map in real time. I really like this system because you don't get caught up in the interface or tech of the process. Since it's all done real time, the model textures become a canvas for you to experiment on. And using catalogue tabs you can save various states of your workflow (or even all of the elements of a single project), so that you can go back to them with a click of your mouse. Now, There are some slight distortions of the map when you use a projection system, but Quidam 3.0 comes with a new “Move UV” tool. A blue arrow on the top right corner of the screen which when selected allows you to use the deformation tools to move the UV map. Instead of modifying the model, it's the texture that is deformed. Take a look at the video tutorial from N-Sided posted in the Renderosity Video Center on how to use this tool.
Quidam 3 - On-Model UV Tweaking
The upgraded Catalogue System in Quidam 3.0 is another excellent improvement. In addition to providing more content (I stopped counting at 100 new props, backgrounds, models, faces, textures, etc), the new system very cleverly uses tabs for each separate sub-catalogue like morphs. Now, you can save all of the transformations of a mesh on a specific character as a series of small images of the morph. You can save all of the poses of your characters in a catalogue even splitting them into separate hand/body catalogues for more precise control. You can create custom brushes and store them in a catalogue. The tabs for each catalogue changes depending upon the Studio you are using at any given time in your workflow. There's even an Environmental Catalogue where you can save floors, cameras, lights, scenes, backgrounds (or “save all” for complete environment) and summon them up individually when you need a new environment for your model.
N-Sided took a lot of heat for their policy of having the user pay for a license to use 3D characters created in Quidam 2.0 in a commercial game engine. I felt that some of the complaints were exaggerated since using Quidam characters in an animated film or as part of a still image (a lot of Quidam users are in this category) are completely free. It's really only indie and major game companies that would have to pay for using re-designed 3D models from Quidam in their games.
Well, N-Sided has created a version of Quidam called Quidam Prime that gives any indie or major game company a FULL license to use 3D characters from Quidam in any way they want to. Plus, they've thrown in Maya/3DSM plug-ins to boot. Their main requirement is that the models used in a game must be encrypted. At $15K for majors (for 1 game only), it should easily pay for itself in the time saved not having to build models from scratch. The Indie gamer license (for companies with turnover lower than $156K per year is $1,274 for the full use of 3D models generated from Quidam 3.0 in an unlimited number of games.
This policy is reasonable and realistic. And although it's not going to please the “anything I make from this program should be free” crowd, it does go a long way to addressing the licensing issue in a fair manner. 3D models are not the same as an image created in Photoshop and so the licensing should be different, IMO.
At $132 for the upgrade to Quidam 3.0 from the previous version, it's well worth the price for the new 3D Paint System alone. Much, much easier to add/manipulate textures in real time or export to the graphics program of your choice: rough your textures in Quidam 3.0, then fine tune in Photoshop. NSided is a smart and innovative company founded by artists who are trying to develop their program so that other artists will find them easy and fun to use. The ease of use is still the biggest selling point for 3D character creation. And now with more content and faster, more precise tools, making unique 3D characters and using them in your animated films or posing them for 2D photos is easier than ever. And unlike many other 3D character creation programs, Quidam has the ability to combine and fuse automatically completely different geometries (body parts, clothes, etc.) allowing you to create hundreds of thousands of unique models from a single model base. I really like Quidam 3.0 and over the many hours spent using the program I had zero computer issues even working at high resolutions for textures. Translate: no crashing.
Frankly, I think N-Sided has solved the problems we mentioned at the beginning of this review. License issues are fixed, there is much more content (including much more clothing), and stability issues don't seem to be a problem, at least on my mid-level quad-core PC. So, what does N-Sided need to look at for the future if they want to continue to improve their product?
Price point for first time buyers is still high at $580 for Quidam Studio 3.0. The entry level Quidam 3.0 Standard program is at a reasonable $280. You still have fine mesh manipulation, texture editing in external 2D program, plus the 9 model packs. The main difference is that with the Standard version of Quidam 3.0 you can't access and export the low poly mesh (no subdivision) of the Model Packs. Low poly models are exactly what game companies require in their games, so most professionals will go for the Studio version. Most individuals can make do quite nicely with the Standard version + additional plug ins. So, all in all, the pricing is reasonable, but I hope they have more sales in the future though. Here's a nice comparison chart for all three versions of Quidam 3.0 at N-Sided.
And finally, there still needs to be an improvement in Quidam 3.0 tutorials. While there are several new video tutorials for the new version, all of them are without narration which makes it hard to follow at times. Plus, there's no real organized series of tutorials that will take the user from zero to final model. I'm glad to see N-Sided teaming up with Animeeple (a great free animation tool) and the Unity 3D game engine, but more effort has to go into helping users master this program. The new users guide at 197 pages is very well done. There are also some decent tuts on how to import new clothing as an obj file and attach them to your character so that they can be textured. Something that might solve one of the complaints about lack of clothing to wear for Quidam models. Still, I'd love to see N-Sided put out a complete Quidam Studio 3.0 course on DVD with a good voice over narrating the entire process of 3D model creation in the program. I'd certainly buy a copy.
I should also mention that N-Sided has an active and responsive forum and frequently provide free content for those who register at the site. You can get free models, textures, props, a free .3DS exporter plug in, and a pretty good program manual in French or English. They produce a version of Quidam 3.0 for the Mac, so if you use a Mac you might want to check out their forums for user reviews of that version.
My fellow staff writer, Sergio (nemirc), has reviewed Argile 2, a sister program to Quidam 3.0. Argile 2 isn't character-centric like Quidam 3 and you have to import your own content to sculpt and paint (but you can use props and objects from the included Argile 2 catalogue. Quidam 3.0 is basically Argile plus Model Packs, Posing/Skeleton tools and raytracing rendering. So, Argile 2.0 has less flexibility than Quidam 3.0, although for the functionality you do have the price point is attractive ($128). Rereading his review, we share some of the same issues with both programs along with much praise for what works well.
If you are curious, there are trial versions for each program available at the N-Sided site. They are both well worth your time if you are looking for a faster way to create 3D characters than starting from scratch.
My sincere thanks to N-Sided for providing Quidam Studio 3.0 for review and for their patience in answering questions and in helping me improve the review. I had a chance to conduct an interview with the co-founders of N-Sided, Pierre Bretagnolle and Sebastien Berthet. You can download the pdf file here.
I've uploaded a short tutorial from N-Sided to the new Renderosity Video Center. It's on using the “Scratch” mode in order to save changing morph targets for your models. Check out the Video Center here.
Using the "Scratch" mode in Quidam 3
Quidam system requirements:
Windows 98 OSR2, Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista
MacOS X 10.4 or later
My system set-up:
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.
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