MechaNation: Nanopunk Animations Baked LuxRender Style

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Flying vehicle over rainy Lobar city - MechaNationSo I know this guy from my time hanging around deviantART. How this meeting came about, I don’t remember, but over the couple of years I have known him I’ve admired a good number of his beautiful renders. LuxRender is his weapon of choice, backed up with DAZ Studio and Reality 2 point something.

This guy had a kid (well his wife did anyway) and all was quiet for a time. Suddenly he turns back up months later ranting about this crazy idea about making an episodic animation with LuxRender. Any sane guy like me (yes, like me) would be dubious about such outlandish claims, but with a little digging about and a look at what Jean E Dugas (about time to introduce our Texan protagonist by name) has been up to, you start to get the feeling that this might just work. He has a clear and reasoned understanding of where he is and where he needs to get to, and the awesome amount of work required. Just watching the trailer for his project shows a sharp progression of skill and technique.

So, what’s Jean cooking? Well, maybe this is another element that piqued my curiosity; for some years Jean has been working on a series of nanopunk novels under the title, MechaNation. In recent times the denizens of MN have been dying for the animated life, and thus here we are about to talk to Mr Dugas himself.

 

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DAZ Studio and Poser Sci-fi Content Roundup

Looking for more sci-fi content articles?
Ok, so I’m biased. I know no content theme has been the topic of more of my posts here, but this is the stuff that gets the grey matter infused with that delightful creative juice (in my case anyway). Maybe it also has something to do with seeing Elysium today. Not a bad movie, thought the plot was somewhat disappointing and predictable (especially last half). Good CGI, reasonable to good acting with Sharlto Copley playing a seriously vile character very well.

But, I’m not here to talk movies. I’m here to talk content. I know just about all the content I post about here comes from DAZ 3D, but I hope to change that in the future. I am but one man. Maybe I’ll even branch out and post about content that isn’t sci-fi. Maybe.

DAZ 3D Premium Sci-fi Content For Your Runtime

So, a lot of good stuff released over at DAZ 3D to create and fill those sci-fi themed renders. I don’t own most of these, but those that I don’t are on my wishlist. Let’s start with a D3D favourite, Stonemason.

Featured content

The inspiration for Desert Outpost is blindingly clear to any Star Wars fan, but as if there was any doubt you only need to read the opening sentence from the product description: “You will never find a more deplorable colony of trash and knavery than the Desert Outpost. Home to thieves, smugglers, and anyone who has ventured south of the law”. Stonemason not only know how to put a spectacular environment together, but he also knows how to sell it. His promo images always inspire awe and tempt the imagination to find a home for his creations.

DZFire’s Tenshi immediately grabbed my attention when I first saw a prerelease image posted on the artist’s Facebook page. Tenshi is a texture and prop expansion set for the artist’s Cyborg Version 4, which I am quite fond of. I have been a big fan of Dz’s cyborg/android creations, and am very happy that there is another similar, but suitably different product that should be released in the near future.

Sci-fi clutter

Technological clutter is always in need for those workshop, lab and construction scenes that are so often the setting for sci-fi renders. Empty scenes don’t look convincing and we all know it.

Thanks to artists like Nightshift3D, we need for nothing. His latest offering, aptly titled Sci Fi Gear Bundle (beneath left) brings together 3 sets of medical instruments and industrial tools that will fit many situations. Lazarus Containment Cell Crates (beneath right) is another great addition to the DAZ store.

Future fashion and battle wear

Midnight_Stories is another favourite of mine his Sky Chaser for Genesis (beneath right) is simply  beautiful. Sky Chaser also has an expansion pack that adds a helmet, jetpack, and weapon. On the left we have The3dwizard’s sexy Vinyl Jumpsuit for Genesis and V5 will find itself put to use in many sci-fi settings, and perhaps even edge into more “contemporary” renders. Heroine, fashion portrait, cyberpunk street fashion – got you covered.

 

 

 

 

 






This is another one that immediately grabbed my attention. Great anime sci-fi outfit, that has many possibilities if you are the retexturing type. Tech Soldier: Special Forces for Genesis, V5, and M5 was a an instant grab with the use of the monthly PC coupon.

techsoldierspecialforces

Need something different? Design Anvil’s Black Dragon Clothing set for Genesis and V5 might just be it. “Just because danger lies around every corner, doesn’t mean you don’t need to look sexy! This futuristic Sci-fi suit blends sleek looks with practical armor…”

As a warm blooded male I’d buy that – well all except that nonsense about practicality :)

Scenes and environmental props

Why, oh why did I not buy Shantara City when it was first released with 75% off? While this majestic city does not fit into my typical sci-fi ideas, there are undoubtedly situations where this would be perfect. Sci-fantasy scenes come to mind, but with many of the large building being free to move at will, the possibilities to mix and match with other sci-fi city sets explodes open the possibilities. Throw in DAZ’s instancing abilities and the potential for huge and varied cityscapes is limitless – depending, of course, on how much geometry you can stack onto your graphics card.















Sometimes you need to blow things up, have an apocalypse or an earthquake. Thankfully there are a lot of good props on DAZ 3D’s store that fit this role. Stonemason has many good props in this category as does the DigiVault. Many of this items can be found in the previous sci-fi content articles.This one in particular is the work of Dreamlight, who is well known for his environmental props, light sets, and training material. In The City: Destroyed Bridge will fit the needs of just about any city in chaos.

Graphics Card Addendum 1: DAZ Studio Display Optimization and Preview Improvements



Since putting up the graphics card upgrade article a few things surfaced. The first came to light on the DAZ Studio forum at DAZ 3D. The latest beta includes some chunky OpenGL, and therefore, graphics card related updates.

DAZ Studio 4.6x Introducing Texture Shaded 2.0

In their latest Beta, DAZ 3D have added a new preview mode to their viewport currently referred to as “Texture Shaded 2.0”. This new preview DrawStyle gives a much more accurate preview of bump, normal, and specular effects with DAZ Studio’s default distant, spot, and point lights. At this point the new preview mode is very slow when compared to the older “texture shaded”, but produces a much better preview. To put the new system to the test I loaded one of my heavier scenes (600k polygons), which I also used to test OpenGL response in the previous article. Graphics card used in both articles is a tired Radeon HD 5770.

Texture Shaded 2.0

DS’s new DrawStyle is slow but pretty

DAZ Studio Texture Shaded preview

Texture Shaded – lightening fast with Display Optimization

Using Texture Shaded 2 in this scene caused the viewport to all but grind to a snail’s pace. In this instance the difference in quality between the two preview modes is very noticeable.

The current state of Texture Shaded 2.0 is unlikely to be a reflection of performance in future releases. At the moment it appears to put extra load on the CPU when idle, but seems to have similar usage to the previous texture shade version while viewport manipulations are occurring. The new preview mode seems to move less of the load on to the GPU than the previous version.

 Display Optimization – It Makes A Difference!

The second addition I would make to the previous article is that since then I have discovered the “Display Optimization” in the Interface preferences. With this turned to “Best” the Texture Shaded preview was much, much quicker. In fact, this scene ran almost as smoothly as a simple scene with a single Genesis figure. What display optimisation does, according the documentation, is load more of the scene’s geometry into the graphics card’s memory.

Embarrassingly, this somewhat changes my findings from the last article, but perhaps only slightly. With just about any graphics card of the last 4 years or so, with the most current drivers installed, it should be able to get good viewport response with quite large scenes. With larger scenes, particularly those with lots of textures with the Texture Resources (also in interface preferences) turned all the way up, having a graphics card with a gig or more of RAM will make a huge difference.

DAZ Studio 4 texture shaded 2.0

Genesis 2 default with current Texture Shaded preview.

DAZ Studio Texture Shaded 2.0

Same scene with Beta Texture Shaded 2.0 preview

To push my card as far as it would go I loaded a jumble of scenes which resulted in 15.5 million polygons (+ subd), and 108 megabytes of textures (much less than I expected). The mish-mash produced more texture information than the graphics card could store in its own RAM, almost 2 and a half times over. There was a good five minutes or more of unresponsiveness – got a low memory warning – but after everything loaded in, the viewport went back to running almost as smoothly as with the original 600K polygon scene.

With Display Optimization turned off and Texture Resources all the way down I was using 429 MB of the card’s RAM. With both of these fully enabled, 945 MBs of the card’s 1024 MBs of RAM was used with 1441 MBs pushed back onto system RAM. With optimization on best and texture quality turned down. the usage was 507 MBs of dedicated RAM and 98 MBs of system RAM.

We see that, while Display Optimization lumps very little on the graphics card, it can make a huge difference. Getting the best possible Texture Shaded preview, turning texture quality all the way up, adds a huge load to VRAM, even when using quite conservative textures – 213 of 290 were under 500 KB.

Turning Texture Shaded 2.0 on with full optimization and texture quality set to second highest caused DAZ Studio to grind to a halt as textures endlessly washed in and out of the VRAM and back into the system. With more system RAM and a graphics card with more memory bandwidth would probably give a quicker turn around, but the end result for most older or entry level cards, working on a scene this size and at this level of preview quality, would probably be beyond unworkable in terms of viewport interaction, posing etc. When texture quality was turned down to lowest settings viewport response was still painfully slow and unworkable.

When it comes to working at the highest possible preview settings in DAZ Studio it seems that newer mid/higher level consumer cards do definitely have a place. For those happy to work with lower quality texture settings on large scenes, older cards and upper entry level to mid-level cards are good enough. With further refinement of the Texture Shaded 2.0 preview it is likely that its usage, even on bigger scenes, will be less problematic.

Limitations

Not all cards, specifically ancient cards that are barely likely to meet the minimum requirements for DAZ Studio 4.6, will support Display Optimization. Some cards will offer varying degrees of compatibility, depending on drivers, VRAM capacity and level of geometry/texture detail. I encountered some graphical glitches when posing characters when VRAM and GPU were fully loaded.

Of course, RAM is not the only consideration with this feature, GPU loaded tended to be high when performing most viewport tasks such as posing, so bigger is better. Even my HD 5770 chomped along happily in instances with a good deal of geometry, but choked up under the weight of copious textures at high texture quality settings. Something like a Radeon HD 7850 with 2 GB GDDR5 or a GeForce GTX 660 would be more than sufficient. A HD 7770 would be similar to my current card in terms of a simple comparison, but has a newer GPU architecture and faster clock speed. The 7770 is compact (don’t need huge tower to fit the bugger in), works happily on a 450 w power supply (depending on the rest of your system) and draws everything it needs direct from the PCIe port, without need for additional cables.

GPU rendering AMD OpenCL Compile/Kernel Issues

The third item is not actually related to DAZ Studio, unless you also happen to be a LuxRender user. In that case there is an indirect link. This issue is something I had some awareness of, but due to the technical nature of the issue, I was not able to wrap my head around it and didn’t feel comfortable writing about. It turns out the issue can rather simply be put into laymen’s terms. To quote directly from my informant, again from the DS forum at D3D, “There is a bug in the OpenCL compiler of the catalyst driver that makes the kernels too big (using much more memory than nVidia compiler).”

What this means is that in certain situations OpenCL will chew up all your system memory and crash. As far as I can tell this will have little or no effect on current LuxRender users, but this problem could put the brakes on LuxRender GPU development, and has already seen Blender Cycle’s implementation of OpenCL put on the back burner. Thankfully AMD seems to be quite keen to fix the issue, but when a fix will be available is anyone’s guess.

Final Thoughts

poser ds preview comparison

DAZ Studio Texture Shaded 2.0 VS Poser Pro 2014 preview

With Texture Shaded 2.0 DAZ 3D seem to be making good advances in catching up to Poser in terms of real-time OpenGL viewport preview. At the moment it is slow, and unusable for real-time in all but the smallest scenes (at least with texture quality maxed out), but it will undoubtedly see a good deal of optimisation. With improved shadows in the preview, DAZ would be getting very close to the superb quality of the current Poser offering. At this point Poser’s much better quality to speed preview is undoubtedly the winner, and if this is anything to go by, then anything more than an entry or mid-range card would be over kill for most users.


Carrara 8.5: The Carrara We’ve Been Waiting For?

Carrara 8.5 pro box artThe long-awaited Carrara 8.5 hit the digital streets on the 26th of August. The point release comes packed with a beefy list of updates. As with any such release, some are super happy, some are dismissive, some others are firmly on the fence. Taking a look at just what is on offer gives us a good hint as to reasons for the mixed response.

What’s in the box?

The overwhelming bulk of the update relates to incorporating Genesis in to Carrara. This means that TriAx weight maps, the new DSON file format, smart content (plus CMS), and AutoFit have come to Carrara. Perhaps cynically, this can be viewed as paying for the privilege to purchase and use Gen 5 and 6 content.

On top of these new features are improvements to keyframe and animation tools, and new viewport representations for lights. According to some users that took part in the beta there are additional improvements not included in the new features list, such as improved stability, and faster viewport response.

For some, the hands-down best part about Carrara 8.5 is it finally offers support for Mac OSX 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. The final cherry on top is the inclusion of Genesis content. Carrara 8.5 Pro buyers will get access to Victoria 5 and Michael 5 pro bundles. Carrara 8.5 (standard) users will receive starter bundles for the same figures. See the product page on the Carrara at DAZ’s store for full list of features.

Never been a better time to get Carrara?

If you are a long-time DAZ Studio or Poser (or even Bryce) user who has wondered if Carrara would be a good next step, then with Carrara being ready for Genesis 1 and 2 there really hasn’t been a better time. Carrara can do just about anything these other programs can, and then a whole lot more. Carrara has solid modelling and UV mapping tools, texture and weight painting, terrain and vegetation generation, volumetrics, rigid and soft body dynamics (which anecdotally have, or are being improved), and a fast and flexible render engine with many great features (multipass, SSS, global illumination etc). See tech specs for full mouth watering features gravy (currently only lists Carrara 8 features).

If you are already a Carrara user then the price of upgrading might seem a little steep, especially if you already own the included Genesis figures. If you couldn’t care a fig for TriAx, Genesis, and smart content then the upgrade might seem like an insult. Of course, if you’re a Mac user with a newer OS, then you’re probably just happy (or less angry) to finally have access to a version of the program that’s going to work with little hassle.

Pricing

If you are a platinum club member you receive 50% off the current $285 ($171) for Carrara Pro. 40% off standard Carrara, usually $149.95. If you are an owner of a previous Carrara version (purchased through DAZ 3D), you can pick up Carrara Pro for $85, and standard for $44.98.

Carrara 8.5 Verdict

Regardless of what you think about Genesis and TriAx, 8.5 is a solid point release and a good base for Carrara 9, which is forecast for a Q1 2014 release. Getting full implementation for Genesis in Carrara was always going to be high on DAZ 3D’s list of priorities, so it is good that it is done and more-or-less out of the way – get that AutoFit with G2 working! With this done, DAZ will be able to spend more time getting a stellar 9 finalised and polished.

It would have been great to see some little hints for 9 dropped into the 8.5 release, and perhaps they are there for a closer inspection. Sure would be good to see a features list, but I’m getting away from the topic at hand.

Carrara 8.5 probably has the most to offer to new users that are only just picking up Carrara. For current users there is still a lot here, but paying for what is essentially a content delivery pipeline might not sit too easily, especially for those that already own the included Genesis content.


Carrara 8