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.

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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Review: The Complete Guide to DAZ Studio 4

complete guide to daz studioI’d like to thank Packet Publishing for supplying me with a reviewers copy of The Complete Guide to DAZ Studio 4. Available: Amazon, Kobo, Booksamillion

Paolo Ciccone is a reasonably well known chap within the Poser/DAZ Studio community with his Reality line of products for both pieces of software. The Complete Guide for DAZ Studio 4 is not his first foray into training material. He has released his video “Make Your Own Reality”, “Blender Survival Guide”, produced the “Reality 3 Master Class” (Poser), and other assorted tutorials on YouTube. Right from the get-go I’ll say that Paolo is concise and clear in delivering his information, something that is always appreciated.

This book does not however live up to its title. It is not really a Complete Guide in any but the broadest sense. Perhaps, Complete Beginners Guide. To be fair, many of the subjects left out are reasonable exclusions, such as painting weight maps and other advanced content creation tools, which the vast majority of users will make little or no use of. There are some glaring omission, such as a discussion of render settings for 3Delight, DAZ Studio’s standard render engine. Many new users have trouble with these controls.

Another area Paolo leaves out is a thorough look at configuring common materials such as metal, glass and skin (or any materials at all) for 3Delight. The cynic in me sees Paolo going about setting up 3Delight as a stick-man ripe for LuxRender and Reality to come in and push over with its catalogue of precooked physically accurate materials. Indeed, the item that Paolo uses to demonstrate the inferiority of DAZ Studio’s materials seems to be picked based on its virtue of being so terribly configured (possibly configured for Poser?). Even a brief beginner oriented exploration of materials would have yielded something far superior.

Paolo claims to have attempted some level of impartiality with his discussion of the merits of 3Delight and LuxRender/Reality, but to me this is very suspect. Biased or not, 3Delight is the render engine DS is integrated with and the one most users will use, so it would have been great to see working with it covered in more detail.

The last area of criticism revolves around the inaccurate way shadow maps and raytraced shadows are introduced in chapter 5. Paolo states that raytraced shadows are always perfectly crisp and that in many situation shadow maps would be preferable. After reading this section I spent some time writing in great detail about how this was terribly wrong and how raytrace produced more physically accurate results, and blah, blah, blah. I won’t bother to reproduce that information here as Paolo produces correct information in following chapters. Why not start out with correct information though?

Other than these criticisms the book is, as already stated, presented in a concise and easy to digest manner. There is no waffle, just good solid information.

Putting together a quick scene and navigation DS

complete guide 1Chapter 1 introduces us to the basics of the DAZ Studio interface and how to tweak the layout for a more rapid and open workflow. We’re also introduced to loading content, Genesis, and auto-fitting clothes and hair.

Shorter shortcuts

Chapter 2 follows up on the user interface tweaks by showing us how to shorten unnecessarily long shortcuts. For me, even as someone who has been using DAZ Studio for a number of years, Paolo’s tweaks are very useful.

Posing Genesis

Chapter 3 deals with posing, and covers the many tools we have at our disposal for creating just the look we need. Paolo also offers up some tips for making poses look more realistic (not like rigid plastic figures). Chapter 4, a nice progression from the previous Genesis focused chapters, covers the creation of unique and interesting characters by mixing and matching Genesis based morph packages and characters.

Basic scene construction, lighting and rendering

Chapter 5, while introducing some questionable information about the properties of raytraced shadows, offers up a lot of great information on the fundamentals of lighting and composition. Paolo talks about camera positioning, lighting and the role shadows play. There is also some useful information on rendering.

Content Installation and Content Brokerages

Chapter 6 is all about finding and installing content, free and otherwise. We are taken on a good look at the big three stores that most DAZ and Poser users will visit. The information about DAZ 3D is somewhat outdated as the site has changed a good deal since this section was written. There is a section on installing content with DIM later in the book.

Chapter 7 fixes up the incorrect information about shadows introduced in chapter 5. There is a lot of great introductory information about lights and settings, cameras and adjusting depth of field and the effects focal length can have on an image. There is a lot more general 3D basics information and stuff about navigating DS in here too.

Building a Scene

Chapters 8 builds on elements already explored in earlier chapters covering scene construction, character posing, conforming clothing, fixing poke through. There is a reasonable explanation of DAZ’s default shader properties and how to edit them, but there is no demonstration of how to produce a reasonable material though. This is a shame as even the basic shader in DS can produce some nice looking metal and plastics, and depending on style, can deliver reasonable skin.

Lighting for 3D

complete guide 2Chapter 9 has more detail on light as we are walked through the process of lighting a rather nice final image, so lots of good pointers here including the incorporation of some techniques used in traditional film and photography. Paolo touches on monitor calibration, a topic which any artist with a little experience under their belt will know is of significance importance. It is a shame that only software/hardware solutions (that cost money) are mentioned when simple DIY approaches, which are more than sufficient for most users, are not acknowledged.

LuxRender and Reality

Chapter 10 gives a solid introduction to LuxRender and Paolo’s baby, Reality. For those that are unfamiliar with LuxRender it is a physically based and unbiased render engine. This means it calculates light and its interaction with materials as accurately as possible/practical, and therefore produces images that are usually more-or-less accurate. Here we find out, that while physically accurate materials can be produced for 3Delight, it is an incredibly involved process. Lux and Reality, on the other hand, offer these delights from the get-go.

I felt Paolo fell far short of his stated intention for objectivity, but can we blame the guy? Reality is his baby and it is a fine bridge between DS and Lux, which in itself is an amazing piece of free software. Maybe I’m just touchy so many in the DS/Poser community seem to be buying into the myth that 3Delight can’t do realism, or that it is so terribly hard. This is not the case. Yes, creating physically accurate materials does require a lot of knowledge, but getting to that “close enough is good enough” is not so hard at all.

Regardless of any bias, LuxRender and Reality are worth considering for any DAZ Studio user. Lux is an increadibly complex and powerful render engine, and Reality does a lot to simplify the process of working with it. Though even then, Lux is not always easy to work with and does require a good deal of trial and error, visits to the forums and the Wiki.

Content Creation for DAZ Studio

Chapter 11 takes us into basic content creation, from exporting a template figure (Dawn in this case) from DAZ Studio, to modelling a basic dress with Modo (complete with UV mapping), and then finally bringing it back to DS where it is rigged and prepared for use with Dawn. While Paolo uses Dawn and Modo to demonstrate the workflow, the basic principles can be applied to any weight mapped DS native figure (such as Genesis), as it can be applied to any 3D modelling software. Through this chapter we see that taking the plunge into making our own content isn’t really that scary.

Animation The DAZ Studio Way

Chapter 12 explores the basics of animation, and the idiosyncratic approach that DAZ Studio adopts. We are also introduced Keymate and Graphmate which bring some much needed tools found in more complete animation software. This chapter contains so much useful information for anyone considering a foray into animation, to avoiding common time consuming disasters, and encoding final sequences for playback.

The Complete Guide to DAZ Studio 4 – Conclusions

The Complete Guide to DAZ Studio 4, might not cover everything new users will need to know, and it has little to offer seasoned users, but it is a solid starter for any new user. This book answers so many common questions, and will shave days, weeks or maybe even months off the usual flailing about process. I would have no problem recommending the book for those new to DAZ Studio.

For seasoned users there might be a chapter here or there that offers a reasonable introduction to subjects they have not ventured into (such as LuxRender, content creation, or animation), but for those more advanced users looking to branch into a new area there might be more complete sources out there.

Available: Amazon, Kobo, Booksamillion