Poser 8: A Great New User Experience
September 28, 2009 12:04 am
There's hardly a person reading this who hasn't heard of Poser, the graphics program that provides a “virtual stage” for anyone who wants to use 3D characters to create imagery and/or animation. It's hard to imagine a program that has been around the block more than Poser has. Originally released 12 years ago, the popular program has changed hands several times until it's most recent acquisition by SmithMicro. Despite changing ownership, somehow the user base has continued to grow and Poser has developed into one of the most successful alternatives to the giant 3D graphics programs like Maya or 3ds Max.
All 8 new characters in Poser 8
“We wanted to help the application break away from some of the pre-defined opinions about it based on what it was from Poser 3 on... People were ready for a new user experience in Poser”
-Steve Cooper, Poser Product Manager
In August, 2009, SmithMicro released Poser 8, a significant revision of the application that continues the user friendly approach in design, but quietly adds some very complex improvements in almost every area of Poser functionality. I've had a chance to work with Poser 8 for the last month and found myself becoming increasingly addicted to it's easy to learn work flow. I only wish I could have worked with the program for a year or so, because Poser 8 (and I suspect most Poser versions since Poser 3) grows with you as your understanding of the program becomes more complex. And yet, the program rarely gets in your way as you try to create Poser scenes. I went from liking Poser 8 to working with it for hours and completely losing track of time. An experience not uncommon, I suspect, in the huge user base for Poser.
New Search function in Poser 8 Library
I'm going to present the “what's new” section in a slightly abbreviated form for this review since last weeks demo with Steve Cooper covered everything in detail. However, I will add a few extra comments on some things I missed in the demo article. Here we go.
What's New in Poser 8
As Steve makes clear in his Siggraph demo, the challenge for the developers of Poser 8 was to refine areas that needed to be updated to the current technological level of other 3D applications, add new functionality that would expand Poser functions, but avoid alienating long-term users by changing too much of what makes the program so good. A delicate tightrope walk indeed. One and a half years of development and testing led to Poser 8. I think they've managed to get the balance just right, despite a few too many bugs here and there (several already solved by the recent release of SR1 for Poser 8.
Face Room in Poser 8
There's a larger preview screen and an easy-on-the-eyes color scheme (dark gray, silver, gold and complimentary colors). Poser 8 uses a series of “rooms” (Face room, Cloth room, Setup room, etc.) in setting up your work flow, and now all of these rooms (tabs at the top of the screen) are fully dockable and can be moved easily around the interface. You can also drag and drop clothing, figures; anything from the content library on to the work area. There's also a “Favorites” area in the Library where you can group content that you are going to work with consistently.
One addition to Poser 8 that I missed asking about during Steve's excellent demo was the new “Cross Body Part Morph Tool.” “Morphs” are the physical changes that you can apply to just about any aspect of the figure's anatomy. Now you can dial a Morph Brush and paint across chosen body parts. You can also save those changes as a single full body morph in the figures “body” channel. Users in the very active Renderosity Poser Forum have reported that the tool can be used to fix clothing problems, create new elements in the face (like creases, scars, etc.), fix hair fittings and create muscle bulges. I wasn't able to test this fully, but I found it simple and easy to select body elements and dial in the degree of change. Not quite as subtle a tool as what you can find in Quidam 3 (another 3D character creation program recently reviewed here) but still a very significant addition which I suspect will develop more fully in future versions of Poser.
Poser 8 and It's Unique User Community
“... Poser users are generally amazingly generous - look at all the free stuff for Poser. Of course there's a lot of free plugins and brushes etc for Photoshop, but quality-wise I think Poser is one of the biggest "free goodies" programs out there. I have some 220 freebies made myself. What I make as a freebie is mostly some little thing that someone requests - searches for in the forum etc - if I have the time and it's something I know I can do fairly easily, I'll make it.”
-TrekkieGrrrl, Poser User
Poser, in addition to being an easy to learn program, has a deep and (as TrekkieGrrrl points out) generous user base. Poser 8 has a built-in ability to search “Content Paradise” (a SmithMicro site designed to deliver Poser content) for content you can download directly into the program. I found this to be a very simple and easy process and the content was varied and interesting, but what knocked me out of my chair was when I began searching the net for free content. It's not uncommon to hear of people with over 100 Gbs of free content in their library. Renderosity.com itself has a huge amount of free Poser content, plus lots of very reasonable and inexpensive content for sale in the Renderosity MarketPlace by hundreds of users, many of whom spend a lot of time in the Poser Forum. Users will frequently answer requests in the forums for content that you can't find anywhere, just like TrekkieGrrrl does. Frankly, there is no other community I know of that's as responsive and generous.
While Poser 8 is primarily intended for the user that doesn't want to go through the massive learning curve of Maya (Steve called it “learning to drive a submarine by yourself”), there is considerable use of the program by professionals in design and illustration. Storyboards, comics and other styles that allow for posed characters can all benefit from Poser 8's easy learning curve.
Poser 8 and Animation
“Poser is always sold as an "easy animation" program. And it is, but I'd bet 98% of the uses have never ever tried to animate anything. I've made a few short animations over time, mostly because I think it's amusing to see things move. And Poser is a very userfriendly animation program, too. Not that it's easy to get a GOOD result, but it's easy to make a quick flick of "something that moves" - and I know a lot of more professional animation creators use Poser as a quick mock up program.”
-TrekkieGrrrl, Poser User
Poser 8 is easy to learn. After about an hour I had two characters posed, clothing arranged, a simple background established, lighting designed and two quick cameras set up. There is a very easy tutorial built into the program (along with the completely re-written 500+ page manual) that quickly teaches you the Poser work flow: choose your figure from the library (all legacy content from Poser 1 onwards is included), drop and drag to the preview window, click the Pose button at the top of the library and find a pose, add it to the scene and you are cooking. You can easily pose the figure any way you choose either by using the dials or through direct manipulation. The library's huge collection of presets can get you started in the right direction (like sitting or pointing, etc).
Animation of the various characters is simple using the basic keyframe approach. In the Animation Room, you can pose your character over a 30 frame timeline. Manipulating the character for a simple jump and step to the right takes some careful work, but easy once you get the hang of it. There's also a great Graph Editor where you can adjust the timing of the movements you've just created. Once you've got a cycle of movement established, switch over to the Animation Palette, which lays out the keyframes, tweens and other animation elements so that you can copy and paste them into a longer cycle of animation.
Poser 8 provides excellent lip-sync and facial morph ability which allow for the user to animate dialog or character facial animation for an animated film. Also, it's relatively easy to combine animations and isolate them on characters so, for example, you can have a character gesturing or turning their head as they are walking. And very easy to set up a unique walk cycle in a separate Poser room for just this process.
Surprising then that there are so few Poser animations out there. I think TrekkieGrrrl is right when she says that the majority of users simply don't use the very good animation functions in Poser. Steve Cooper sent me a link to the terrific Poser 7 animation “The Drop,” created by Gabe Sabloff for the music performer Chris Brown, that shows that top quality animation can be created, it's just a matter of working at it. I suspect that some of this is simply due to habit. Personally, I am very interested in using Poser 8 and have already started to outline some simple projects. I just wish I could have had the time to present them in this review.
This Poser 8 review has been one of the most difficult ones I've had to write. Mostly because Poser 8 has such depth as a program, you literally have to spend months working with functions like the rendering nodes or wxPython scripting, not to mention the Animation Room itself. I felt like a teenager trying to describe in detail what makes a Porsche such a good car. Some programs can be grasped quickly, but Poser 8 is one that grows on you. And a full review (and not just a list of what's new and a quick pro/con list) would cover many more pages than a typical review allows.
In essence, Poser 8 is probably the most significant upgrade since Poser 3, which (as Steve Cooper has described) was the “breakthrough version” for Poser. That SmithMicro took the time to go over the user surveys carefully and apply user ideas to this new version only shows what a responsive and focused company they can be.
Poser 8 is an essential upgrade for Poser users. The changes in lighting and rendering alone are worth the price. Add to that the deeper upgrades in the Content Library, rigging, many new figures and you've got a version of Poser, that once some of the bugs are ironed out, might easily be the best Poser offered to date. And at it's price point (currently $129 (USD) for upgrade; $250 (USD) for new) it's really hard to beat considering everything you get with Poser 8.
It's hard for me to judge if Poser 8 is a “new user experience,” as this is my first time using the program, but I can tell you the old ideas about Poser having a clunky interface and mannequin-like figures are a thing of the past. No question that Poser 8 is pro level software for the everyday 3D artist and filmmaker. Poser also plays well with other graphics programs like Lightwave and CINEMA 4D, and very easy to set up a Poser pipeline with Adobe/Autodesk and many other graphics tools. With a bit more work on getting bugs fixed quickly, Poser 8 is almost a perfect graphics application. No wonder it has such a huge user base.
Rusty by TrekkieGrrrl
I started out interested in Poser 8 as a reviewer, and unfortunately, I'm now addicted (how many props can I buy from Renderosity in a week?). As TrekkieGrrrl told me in a private message “welcome to the club.”
Secret Corner by JurZ
SmithMicro has done a good job of providing learning tools for the Poser series. Currently at their “My SmithMicro” site (you'll need to register to access) you can find dozens of excellent tutorials for all aspects of Poser. They need to update more of them to Poser 8, but most of the tuts carry over just fine from Poser 7 to Poser 8. Poser also has a very good blog and is constantly updating their Twitter page.
You can use the “Quick Start” or “Project Guide” in the drop down under the “Window” tab in Poser 8 to learn the basics. Huge, well-written manual, tutorial and Python script guides are all very well put together (wish they'd had an actual book instead of a pdf). Huge amount of tutorials on the net, especially at the well designed Renderosity Poser Forum. The Renderosity Poser Gallery is filled with very well done images. I've included TrekkieGrrrl's “Rusty” and JurZ's “Secret Corner” as examples of what you can do with Poser 8. My thanks to both of them.
Special thanks to TrekkieGrrrl for helping me understand more of Poser's history and user base. She's an active presence in the Poser Forum here along with many other excellent users. I posted a scripting issue I was having and the problem was solved in less than half an hour by a helpful Poser user. You'll also find links for free content and many tutorials.
Regarding animation in Poser 8, there is a new edition of the classic Timing for Animation, 2nd Edition by Harold Whitaker, John Halas and updated by Tom Sito from Focal Press that teaches you everything you need to know in order to create believable animation for characters and even natural forces like wind or fire. Highly recommended.
Sincere thanks to Steve Cooper for providing a copy of Poser 8 for this review and to SmithMicro for making it easy to find information/media regarding Poser.
This review was written for the Windows version of Poser 8, updated with the new SR1 patch. Poser 8 also works on a Mac (more info at the SmithMicro Poser site).
My system set-up:
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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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Found another interesting animated film shot in Poser, but too late to add to the article. Drew Radley's "Cold Equations". Using an old time radio broadcast, he animated the entire store in two parts. Great idea and very good animation. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9Ar6M9TXB8 -Ricky
As a Poser user since version 1 who had to upgrade to Win95 just to use it. What a delight its been. I've had every version since and am amazed and how far its progressed. Not long ago it was easy to recognize something done in Poser. It's reach whole new levels. I'm constantly amazed a quality of new textures I find all the time. Spend some time with it but be prepared to be truly amazed when your done. I have found Renderosity to truly amazing also. I have my favorites, one only need look at Orion1066, Morris, or Rebel Mommy and a whole cast of others. I still remember a few years ago finding out there were 1000's of others just like me that had a love for poser but even better with far more talent then I do. Take a look around and you'll find the freebies tend to be nicer in quality then most. But the real delight is finding something you wished for and found out It's been created. AL
I feel a tad bitter about one part of your article: There used to be an equally friendly and knowledgeable user base on Content Paradise's forums---until they shut the forums down. Otherwise, I've had a lot of pleasurable experiences with Poser and the Poser community, and I hope to be able to afford to pick up Poser 8 someday soon.
Ricky, Good review, my friend! As you probably remember I used Poser (a few generations back) to animate my short "Mail Call" which placed in the top 15 at a short film contest in London. I DID find using the animation tools easy and pretty straight forward. Due to the limitations of the version I was using I had to spend a bit of time working around the problems but in the end all went pretty well. I will probably give it another try one of these days when finances permit. I have heard that Poser and Blender play quite nice together. If that is the case it would be very useful for me. Thanx for the good review and for clearing up most of the questions I had.
Well, Poser is a fine program, and with V8 there surely have been some long needed improvements (like the library management). However, Ricky, I, and surely many others, cannot agree with you that Poser is an alternative to Maya or 3DS Max (and it's definetly not intended to be one.) Poser is mainly used for working with premade content while Max or Maya are used for creating such content (what programs do you think are used to create most of the Poser stuff, eh).