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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Hardware Mayhem In The DigiSprawl Office

Well I say it’s an office but it’s really just my little corner of the family home. And then I’m not so much faced with hardware issues, but user error issues (ie me). Due to old failing hardware I’ve upgraded my video card, replacing a dated HD 5770, with the just released Sapphire R9 270x. Even from the best Australian suppliers the new AMD cards are about $80 more expensive here than from most US retailers, but then they are still at comparable or better prices than the previous HD 7XXX cards.
LuxMark Saphire R9 270x results1558
Al ‘s well with this part, no issues here. The little beastie flogs the retired 5770 when it comes to a LuxMark comparison. Straight out of the box with a background flooded with applications the new R9 270x scored 1558, which is just shy of the 1580 odd I saw scored in a recent benchmark comparison at Tom’s Hardware, which placed the card very competitively with other lower-mid AMD graphic cards. This single LuxMark comparison is basically the reason for my purchase – good GPU LuxRender on a budget.

So, what’s wrong? Well I also bought me a nice new Seagate hybrid SSD/HHD, and no, nothing wrong there. The new card seemed like a good excuse for a fresh start, so instead of cloning my old drive and migrating I opted for a clean install of Windows, something my system hasn’t seen since it was new. Still all good. So I spent a couple of hours pulling all the stuff I wanted off my old drive and dumping it on the new. It’s amazing how fast the process is at 100 mb/s. All done – no worries! Format the old drive to get a nice clean slave – done, and done :) It’s getting late but why not install a few things on my new drive to get it feeling like home. Let’s start with email (been a while since I checked those)… Oh! Oh fracking no! I didn’t transfer my emails!

diskinternals email recovery

Email recover pulls up the junk and the gold alike.

So I panicked a bit. Eventually I found some software that sifts through the fresh ashes of formatted hard drives looking for fried Mozilla Thunderbirds. And this is where I am now. I’ve got over ten-thousand emails recovered all the way back from 2009, most of which have been deleted since early 2012! I’ve got these emails all ready to go, but now I’m faced with the final dilemma. To actually save these emails I now have to decide if they are worth the $99 to pay for the program. See the demo of most of these programs let you have a good look at what you can get back, but to actually get any of your files costs money.

The decision is all the more hard because once I calmed down during the epic recover process I realised that most of the information I actually need such as PayPal receipts, product serial numbers and keys are all actually safe and sound on their respective websites. I don’t need my emails, but I’d like them. New CPU fan or emails? I’ll keep looking to see if there isn’t something cheaper about that does the job, but then the concern is what damage multiple recovery attempts might do.

The moral of the story is don’t make hasty decisions at 2am in the morning. Like I didn’t already know that! Anyway, for those that ever end up in this situation I can vouch for DiskInternals’ Mail Recovery. Even though I haven’t decided to fully go through with the recovery (fork out the cash) they guarantee that if the program can find it you can have it, so quite impressive.

e-on Software’s The Plant Factory: Trees Your Way

The Plant Factory: next gen plant creation technologies goes anywhere

e-on’s new baby, The Plant Factory (TPF) is looking ready to rock the landscape and environment world, and could be up for an imminent release with June (2013) as the nominated release window. Exact date and price have not been publically finalised. TPF is a flexible, standalone go-anywhere application.  e-on states the program incorporates four fundamental design elements (to copy/past verbatim):

1. Multi-Platform/Multi-Discipline – operates across all CG platforms including real-time, streaming, and offline rendering systems and caters to the needs of CG, SFX, Landscaping, GeoDesign, Architecture and Gaming communities

2. Botanical Coherency – allows the creation of more botanically accurate plant appearances and behaviours

3. Precise Control – users can create plants of any desired shape, appearance, and behaviour using simple building blocks

4. Massive Populations – building on e-on’s leadership in EcoSystems™ to create landscapes containing millions of plants

All roads lead to trees

TPF has three distinct but interconnected methods for users to sink their teeth into and flora-craft to their hearts content. Any user should find one of the three methods (or a combination of any) to suits their current skills, needs, or whim.

1. Manually paint the shape of the plant – allows for quick creative flare

2. Assemble ready-made components – easiest of the trio – like connecting Lego

3. Construct everything from scratch, using a graph of nodes – the most flexible but might scare those unused to the increasingly popular node based method of working











The Plant Factory is capable of easily creating a wide variety of plant types from mushrooms to willows and palm trees, and even many things that are not remotely plant related.

TPF automatically rigs, textures (including displacement), uvmaps, and animates plants (swaying in gentle breeze to bending and twisting in storm conditions). TPF creations can be exported, for use in just about any 3D program, in many of the popular mesh formats as mesh or vertices cloud. Vue users will experience tighter integration with TPF than users of other software packages, with features like dynamic LOD for scaling detail to resolution, editing within Vue plant editor, and seamless integration with EcoSystem technology to create landscapes populated by hundreds of thousands of unique plants.

Rendering for compositing

As if all these tools weren’t cool enough, TPF comes loaded with an integrated compositing focused render engine which automatically generates and saves colour, alpha, and depth images. It supports  G-Buffer, and extensive multi-pass rendering down to the per asset and per material levels asset with the convenience of grouping into a multi-layer PSD.

The Plant Factory is exciting!

Personally, I’m excited …but I doubt I will green enough to grab a copy on launch day. With e-on’s penchant for personal learning editions (PLE), I do have hope I will be able to get my hands on a mostly functional version of the program.

TPF Story Developments

Pre-Release
Pre-Release II – e-on relaxes feature restrictions


Bryce Artist Feature 02: David Brinnen

ocean terrain bryce 7.1 render

East Coast

David Brinnen is an artist of the highest repute amongst the Bryce community. His art is an unrelenting experimental push towards mastery of the program. In this pursuit he has crossed many genres and styles, and while his images are often of a technical and experimental nature, his keen artistic insight renders breathtaking works that express an irrepressible enthusiasm for CGI and his chosen software.

David has been a Brycer since 2003 with an interest that stretches back another five years to 1997 when he first encountered a demo version of Bryce 2 with Computer Arts Magazine. At the time the price of both the software and requisite hardware were prohibitive. Recently I had the pleasure to correspond with David, talk Bryce, and become utterly mesmerised by his Bryce5 and DeviantArt galleries.

lost souls bryce rendered image

Lost Souls – 2006

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