DAZ Studio Alembic Exporter to LightWave – Problems and Solutions


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DAZ 3D's Genesis exported via Alembic and rendered in LightWave 11.6.1

Genesis basic male test render LightWave. Exported via Alembic.

The blogs been fairly quiet for a while now. I’ve been going through some large life changes. A new website project has also taken a lot of time lately, but let us not dwell on the quiet time. Just tonight I had a chance to play around with the new Alembic Exporter for DAZ Studio. One huge limitation of the exporter is that it only supports a single UV map. The solution to this is quite simple. Merge the UV maps! Of course the first thing I thought to do was take the convoluted path of exporting Genesis to LightWave as an .OBJ, merging the UV’s, exporting back to DAZ, re-rigging, animate and finally export again via Alembic. This struck me as somewhat terrible. So I Googled for something like “merge UVs DAZ Studio”. First thing I stumble upon reminds me about DS’s Texture Atlas – Facepalm!

DAZ Studio Texture Atlas export menu

Texture Atlas is simple and great for game developers, and those looking for a way around the Alembic exporter’s single UV map restriction.

Maybe I could forgive myself a little for the fact I’ve never actually used the plugin, but I was aware of it and what it did. Atlas is simple and quick to use. With that process complete I had a nice unified UV and series of texture maps (diffuse, specular, trans, bump, displacement). Next I load my laughable test animation and export via Alembic. Make sure you have “Preserve SubDivision Surfaces” turned off if you’re exporting to LightWave. LW doesn’t support this information from DS, not even if using Catmull-Clark (which technically it should). Unfortunately this isn’t the end of our troubles though.

First up, LW’s Alembic importer doesn’t preserve any material information, so those have to be rebuilt from scratch. This isn’t such a big issue if you only need a single material each for skin, nails, lips, and eye surfaces. The second snag is that the textures appear faceted when reapplied in LW. This isn’t down to Genesis’s geometry. Exporting without subdivision information applies geometry “freezing”, so you can still export a high poly figure (or apply subdivision in LW itself). In both cases the textures have the same faceting problem, regardless of how many levels of subdivision were applied. The lower the subdivision level when exported from DAZ Studio, the worse the faceting when reapplying the textures in LW. Whether this is an issue with LW’s inability to accept real subdivision information, or a problem with DS’s exporter is not clear. Atlas doesn’t seem to be part of the problem though. The merged textures and UVs appeared as expected in DS. Unfortunately as we can’t export Alembic back in to DS I wasn’t able to test the exporter itself.

While Alembic is still a work in progress, and both the DS exporter and LightWave’s importer both have issues, Alembic is still a very convenient format for transferring animation data. With widespread industry support Alembic seems destined to succeed, so we can all rest assured that someday it will all work beautifully. I hope that both DAZ 3D and LightWave’s developers continue to refine their implementations.

Caldera (2013) – Powerful Short Animation

caldera-2It is amazing the things one stumbles upon while in the depths of a procrastination binge. Caldera is a visually stunning 3D animation created by Evan Viera, Chris Bishop, and a host of students and professionals that donated their time. The project was produced under the Bit Films program at Hampshire College, Amherst. While dark and dealing with tough subject matter, Caldera is beautifully realised, touching and thought provoking. There are also some serene moments that soften the impact, while making the experience all the more compelling.

The film was 4 years in the making and is inspired by Viera’s father’s experiences with schizoaffective disorder. It depicts a young woman who decides to go off her medication and flee a threatening and oppressive city. The film doesn’t attempt to push a particular perspective on us, but instead poses questions for the viewer to consider.

Caldera has been to many film festivals and picked up numerous awards. Bit Films is currently working on a number of projects including Tube, a 3D short animation that seems to be in the latter stages of production. Bit Films is currently taking on interns for Spring 2014.

Genesis 2 Male Teen Jayden Review

08  Thanks to DAZ 3D for supplying Jayden

Genesis 2 Female has Teen Josie, and now DAZ have released Teen Jayden for G2M. Jayden is the first major character for Genesis 2 Male (after M6 of course). He comes with two texture sets (based on G2M UV’s), a full body and head morph, and a set of poses. He does not have unique UV mapping. But the base G2M and Michael 6 textures fit so closely that this is not an issue. As Jayden is crafted from the G2M base he is compatible with all the currently released morphs, so for those already invested in G2 there is a lot of versatility to be had. Jayden also comes with Poser companion files, so he is fully DSON compatible, but he does not have full Poser materials. For many users that prefer to customise, this is doubtlessly a non-issue.

M6 UVs on Teen Jayden - good fit

Michale 6 UVs applied to Teen Jayden comparison.

I had hoped to have this review up before the product’s release, but I got caught up with rendering and playing around with materials. Before I knew it Tuesday 21st (Jan 2014) was dawning and I had barely scrawled more than a few notes. First up I should point out that at this point I only have the basic Jayden package and not either of the bundles, which were not yet complete at the time DAZ contacted me. Hopefully I will have the pro bundle soon and will amend the review where necessary.

However, the Jaden package comes with plenty of meat. The Morph is solid. Jayden is an attractive and fit youth, though not overly so, which in my books is a good thing as this lends itself to greater versatility. The base texture set and the “bonus” Lance are both high quality. Lance has the look of a tough kid, perhaps street smart when loaded with the base material settings, but with tweaking there is a greater versatility there. In this way the set can be used for a great diversity of characters. Jayden’s default texture set is much more the usual fair one expects to see with a major DAZ character release – detailed, but crafted from someone that has very nice skin. Where’s pimples kid? I don’t know about you, but highschool was full of pimply days. Maybe this is a niche one of our adventurous content creators could tackle?

Teen Jayden custom shders sci-fi image. DAZ Studio render.

Light customisation of the base Jayden shaders. Minor postwork.

Jayden’s base texture set loads with materials configured with Age of Armour’s Sub Surface Shader Base. I’ve seen so many great renders done with this shader, but I just can’t get there. This is not to say the default configuration is bad, no, it is very good and many users will be happy to use it as is, but being a chronic tinkerer by nature it wasn’t long before I started to play around. Eventually I called it quits and got something rendered, but this wasn’t until I’d delved right into the Lance texture set, which I found much more interesting.

The Lance texture set loads with UberSurface settings. US is something I have a much better grasp of, though I found these textures themselves much more interesting than the base Jayden. Lance’s default SSS settings had me scratching my head. In all the lighting situation I set up there was little or no discernible difference between rendering with them on or off. Again, the settings here are perfect for many uses, but at default settings it is probably best to turn SSS off and save yourself some render time. SSS is one of those things I’ve been playing around with a lot in recent times so I spent a good deal of time getting this the way I wanted.

G2M Jayden teen. Scifi image DAZ Studio Render

Heavily customised Lance textures and shaders. Minor Post work.

Though I don’t currently have either the Starter or Pro bundle Teen Jayden I will remark that all the content that these bundles comes with appears very practical (and contemporary), and given the criticism previous DAZ releases have come under for including a lot of fantasy and/or sci-fi content, this seems like a positive move, but perhaps that depends on where you’re standing. For me, having a strong sci-fi bent, I prefer to see contemporary items than fantasy ones as they are often more easily incorporated into a sci-fi setting. Whatever product you select it will be a great addition to your Genesis 2 tool set.

Genesis 2 Male Teen Jayden. Lance Textures

Heavily customised Lance textures and shaders.

DAZ Studio Gets Alembic

300px-Alembic_logoDAZ Studio now has an Alembic exporter. This is a very cool development for animators and enthusiasts who want to make full use of DAZ Figures like Victoria 6 and Michael 6 etc with other 3D software and render engines.

Alembic is an open source file format developed by Lucasfilm and Imageworks. It allows users to export/import geometry, complete with animation. It differs from formats like Collada and FBX in that it does not export rigging and morph data. Instead Alembic exports vertices data from a scene, baking morphs, animation, and the influence of weight maps. In this way Alembic is sort of like working with an animated .obj file.

In many situations Collada and FBX produce unpredictable results, and sometimes a huge damn mess, which can take a lot of time and effort to fix. The extent of the problems with these file formats varies a lot depending on programs used for export/import.Alembic sidesteps these issues by baking the geometry. Yes, this does result in some lost flexibility in the program these files are imported into, but for many situation this is perfectly reasonable, and saves much time. For the adventurous and/or skilled the figures can be re-rigged, if necessary.

The only problem then is that the default animations tools in DAZ Studio are very primitive and frustrating to work with. So in this situation the usefulness of the new Alembic exporter is somewhat limited to all those that have anything less than godlike patience (and then that really depends on which gods we are talking about). So for those who are wanting the most out of Genesis, Victoria, Michael and Alembic, more animation tools might be called for. To this end GoFigure provides better key framing tools with keyMate and introduces a graph editor with graphMate.

One issue I have with the Alembic exporter itself, is that it doesn’t come with an importer. Now, the name spells it out clearly enough, EXPORTER, but I still would have like to see an import feature. Bringing physics simulations into DAZ Studio this way would save a huge amount of time and resources. Well, maybe next time.

Alembic compatibility and your software of choice

As a LightWave user I’ve already come across some problems. LightWave’s Alembic importer is limited to a single material zone, so this means that all UV mapping and surfaces are lost. This shortcoming was passed onto the development team several months ago. Fingers crossed for a fix before LW 12. So to avoid frustration and hair pulling I strongly suggest you check the extent of your software’s Alembic support before you purchase the plugin. A quick Google tells me that many major programs from Maya 2014 to SpeedTree support for Alembic (to what extent I don’t know). 3DS Max requires are rather heftily priced plugin, but apparently works quite well. So, while I can’t fully make use of DS’s new exporter there are still a good many animators, pro or enthusiast, that will benefit from it.

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