The New Supermodels
Once upon a time, models, cars, street scenes, and even worlds were such specific objects that each studio made its 3D creations by hand. This necessity allowed for movies and commercials with unique characters and production design, something in which viewers delight.
However, some models, such as a 2003 Subaru SUV or the Coliseum in Rome, are less open to interpretation. Even human background characters in a 3D scene may be too far away to merit an original design — particularly if there are dozens of characters. The need for such ready-made models has led to a huge number of models' being brokered by various asset sites in what is becoming another aspect of the user-created content phenomenon online (For more on this phenomenon, see “Second Coming” in the May 2006 issue of Digital Content Producer or at digitalcontentproducer.com/dcc/revfeat/ second_coming_2).
In the '90s, a handful of professional modeling companies for the entertainment and architectural markets provided custom services and libraries of meshes. While there are a few companies that provide excellent models, most of the available meshes were not set up for animation, and often required considerable work to make them usable.
E frontier's Poser changed all that by evolving a structured 3D pipeline for hobbyists in which model making and setup adhere to very specific and consistent rules. The result was that thousands of hobbyists and a few professionals were able to make character models, clothing, and props that work together fairly seamlessly. Poser models are plug-and-play, and come rigged, textured with sliders for all joint rotations, lip synch positions, poses, and facial expressions. On top of that, for any popular model, there are hundreds of additional assets such as clothes, props, hairstyles, and textures. This is a user-friendly approach to modeling and scene creation, with hundreds of artists developing content for an ever-expanding repertory company of characters.
Sci-fi and fantasy Poser enthusiasts populate commercial and community sites with huge quantities of assets. Professionals are reluctant to admit how good some of the hobbyists' assets are — particularly if the end result is illustration or previsualization. If you need to set up a scene quickly, it will typically cost between $10 and $50 to instantly download remarkable content that will have you ready to go in minutes. Poser assets, including entire scenes, can easily be converted to NewTek Lightwave, Autodesk 3ds Max, or Maya, and retain textures, hierarchical linking, and poses.
Recently, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) used Vue 5 Infinite, the landscape generation product from E-on Software, on a number of projects — a major endorsement of software largely associated with the Poser and hobbyist illustration phenomenon. Poser figures can be easily imported into Vue and integrated into extremely detailed environments. Vue has its own internal pre-made assets — namely, atmospheres, foliage and trees — that can be modified parametrically, and additional libraries are also available. Most of the Poser community sites also cater to Vue users (see Vue-created images at digitalcontentproducer.com). While the number of available user-created assets is small compared with Poser, it's beginning to grow.
Another recent example of hobbyist/pre-made assets infiltrating the professional market is Manga comics and animation. E frontier, the developer of Poser, also develops Manga Studio software for making Manga comic books. TokyoPop, a U.S.-based publisher of Manga comic books in the United States, has a proactive talent development policy, and is now partnering with E frontier to bring Manga Studio 3.0 to the United States. At Comic-Con, Feb. 24-26, 2006, in New York, there was a great deal of interest in Poser as way for designers who do not draw to create comics. This has spilled over into the video world as vector-based comics are being prepared for wireless devices — the latest frontier for digital content creators.
Turbo Squidd (TS), Renderosity, Daz Productions, Runtime DNA (RDNA), and a long list of other sites now provide hundreds — if not thousands — of characters, props, texture collections, lighting setups, Python scripts, Adobe Photoshop brushes, filters, and software. Daz and the other Poser content sites also broker the work of Poser artists, which accounts for most of the inventory that is available.
Many of the top models and artists selling their wares are available on multiple sites, but some artists have exclusive arrangements with just one site. Some artists and model makers, such as Syyd Raven, are stars in the Poser community with loyal followings. But the real stars are the models. The latest trend is in Manga characters and the U.S. equivalent — cartoon-style characters that are stylized but sexy, and clearly appealing to an older audience. These characters are a cross between Frank Frazetta's fulsome women and troll dolls. “The Girl” is the most popular of these new characters, and is available in a dozens of beguiling outfits and role-playing costumes. Similarly, there is the realistic Asian woman, Miki, that has sold thousands of copies. Like a hit book, movie, or comic, the Poser community now is able to produce best-sellers that can make a content creator a boatload of cash.
While not specifically a Poser community site, the most comprehensive site for user-created and professionally created content is Turbo Squid. While TS has some Poser content, it is really geared to professionals — the prices for models are five to 10 times more than Poser content. These are models that may be textured, but generally are not rigged, and do not have lots of props or costumes that are ready to go.
However, this is beginning to change as professional model makers are influenced by the ease-of-use strategy of Poser content. Cglocations is a U.K.-based company creating detailed environments suitable for sophisticated architectural or television animation as well as digital matte paintings. This is the first company creating sets and scenes suitable for visual effects, games cinematics, and other entertainment content creators.
This is a trend that is likely to grow, but even at this point in time, if you search carefully, there is a lot of great content available.
The biggest of the professional 3D content sites. Individual artists and software companies show their wares. The site has a good search engine, and pages load quickly. CG content ranges from low-polygon game models to high-polygon cars, which are suitable for use in a commercial, and which hold up to close angles. There are also sets of buildings and cityscapes, along with lots of characters and creatures. If you are looking for models for Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, NewTek Lightwave, or XSI, this is a good place to start.
Daz is a division of Zygote Media Group, a respected, Utah-based, custom modeling company since 1994. When the Poser user community took off around 2000, Daz was set up as a separate company. Daz helped move the community forward by creating models that were included in Poser 3 and 4, but then offered the Millenium Woman and Man (Victoria and Michael). These characters are very high-quality (70,000 polygons to 90,000 polygons) with excellent detail for a remarkably low $40-$50. These characters kicked off the Poser user created-content explosion. More recently, Daz has created its own 3D application, Daz Studio, which essentially competes with Poser — however, they both use the same models.
This is probably the largest Poser site for user-created content. There are tutorials, contests, user profiles, a magazine, and a ton of content. Renderosity does not create any original content, and is primarily a community site.
This is one of the newer community sites formed by two of the best-known asset contributors to the Poser community. RDNA has rapidly grown to one of the top Poser destinations and it brokers the work of many artists, but it also has exclusive content and its own hit models, such as Koshini. Some of the best features at RDNA are the tutorials — particularly those on image-based lighting and Ambient Occlusion. The IBL tutorials are useful for any 3D program from a conceptual point of view, and feature many examples of lighting maps and their results when used in a rendered scene. One active member of the site, Olivier Vinet, has created an innovative toon-shading system based on Firefly, the procedural renderer in Poser, which can be purchased at RDNA. Vinet is also an artist and frequent contributor to the tutorials on the site. He is perhaps the best example of a hobbyist who is working at a professional level and helping to grow the Poser community.
This is the official asset site for E frontier, the developer of Poser. Unlike community sites, Content Paradise is primarily a commercial site — although the overlap in services, freeware, and information with Renderosity and others may blur the distinction. This is a relatively new site, and it will take a while for it to develop a personality. Since E frontier also develops Manga Studio, it is aggressively positioning Poser in the comic creation community. There is a connection here to the video content community, because limited animation and Flash animation can be created as easily in Poser as high-end 3D programs — certainly for the burgeoning wireless market.
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