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.

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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Poser 10 On Sale – 66% Off

Ok so here’s another short post. A nice little message just ticked up on my Facebook feed, Poser 10 is currently $100.20 (66.6% off) until the 31st of October (2013). This is coming just weeks after the wrap up of Smith Micro’s last promotion where they were moving Poser 9 for about $30. If you were lucky enough to buy then you can now upgrade to 10 for just $60.12, netting Poser 10 for a total of $90 (normally $299). For those that missed out on that promotion, or already had 9 then this is the perfect time to step up or in to P10.

If you’re a DAZ Studio user how’s been wondering about life on the other side then now is a great time to jump the fence for a good look. If you’re totally new to 3D, then now is a great time to pick up some software that will serve you well for years to come.

Here’s a little (pft yeah little!) example of how Rooster Teeth Productions (Red Vs Blue, RWBY) do with Poser.

E-on Software Release The Plant Factory PLE

E-on is well-known for outrageous prices (though that depends who you ask), but they are also known for providing their software for free under their Private Learning Edition licensing. It was unclear at the time of release if there would be a PLE version of The Plant Factory, so many will be very happy to see the software join E-on’s list of PLE software.

Basically, what E-on is doing here is giving away the full featured version of their software for free on the strict condition that the work is non-commercial, and should be used only for personal education, so great for students, enthusiasts, and evaluation for potential commercial purchases. Of course there are some limitations in the software: Renders carry a logo and will be water marked after 30 days; exporting mesh removes 1 in 5 polygons; importing full featured files into Vue is limited to PLE versions, and can’t be exchanged with other users.

But what is The Plant Factory?

Obviously not everyone that stumbles upon this post will know what The Plant Factory (TPF) is, some will not know who E-on is, or have ever have heard of Vue (pushing it there?). I’ll leave the later names and products to the investigation of interested parties, but TPF is a modeling program (stand-alone or plugin for Vue), that allows users to create a huge variety of vegetation. TPF has also been used to create other sorts of objects, but vegetation is by far the primary use. Yep, the name is a dead giveaway.

Plant Factory includes three modeling methods – node based procedural, snap ‘n connect components, and shape painting. The three methods can be combined at any stage. Any variety of plants, from grass, to succulents, shrubs and trees and vines can be created. TPF includes technology to grow plants on objects – especially cool for vines and other climbing plants. Plants can be animated and exported fully rigged and UV mapped in many popular file types for use in just about any 3D program. You can find a list of full features here. Access The Plant Factory Personal Learning Edition here.