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As a 3-D modeler and animator, you've probably gazed longingly at the plethora of character-animation tools available for that other operating system. Yearn no longerwith Poser 4, MetaCreations has created a powerful 3-D character-animation tool that will appeal to 3-D animators as well as print and Web designers.
Poser has always been good for creating simple figure studies and animations, but with version 4, the program becomes a serious animation and illustration tool.
As with previous versions, you begin by importing a figure model into Poser 4's workspace. The application ships with more than 70 models, including humans, animals, and robots. Once you've chosen your figures, you pose them by dragging their body parts with one of three positioning tools. For difficult posings, you can also move parts numerically or by turning special Parameter Dials.
Like earlier versions, Poser 4 boasts full inverse kinematics (IK) for realistic body positioning. With IK activated, you can reposition a hand and have the rest of the arm move correctly. Unlike most other 3-D packages, Poser doesn't require you to define any complicated chains, limits, or weights. And unlike its predecessor, Poser 4 offers far more posing controls. With more-articulated models, you can create complex motion from head to toe. Joint animation is also much improved, with none of the weird splitting and intersecting of previous versions.
Despite Poser 4's level of control and detail, the models it creates can still look like well-animated mannequins. Fortunately, the program's new deform features change all that.
Deformers let you stretch, distort, and twist the geometry of any body part. You create a deformation by adding a magnet to a body part to pull the part into a different shape. By manipulating magnets, you can define everything from subtle deformations to extreme stretches and squashes. As with all models in Poser, you can animate deformers, creating bouncing bellies and twitching ears.
In addition to being powerful creative tools, deformers allow you to work around some of Poser's character-animation deficiencies. For example, because Poser doesn't take a bones-and-skin approach to character animation, you won't see any flexing muscles or rippling skin when you move a character's arm. Adding a deformation to a character's upper arm is a simple workaround.
Better animation features aren't the only improvements in version 4; nearly every aspect of the program has been enhanced. For example, although earlier versions included clothing, Poser 4's fashion functionality is vastly improved. You can select from more than 40 articles of clothing and mix and match them on any model.
More important, clothes now have the same hierarchies and parameters as your characters. With the new Conform command, you can make a shirt match your model's IK hierarchy. Animate your character, and his or her clothes animate as well. Unfortunately, Poser still implements hair as a prop rather than as a true particle-based system. Because the hair on a Poser model is little more than a wig with a few animation parameters, making it blow or wave takes some work.
Poser's rendering has been improved with transparency and reflection maps. The program delivers good rendering performance, although it lacks motion blur for more-realistic animations. The program's incredible new Sketch Designer makes up for these deficiencies, letting you create beautiful natural-media renderings of your work. Once you've completed a project, Poser 4's excellent import and export features make it easy to move geometry and motion data to or from other programs. In addition, Poser can export directly to MetaCreations' MetaStream format to create small streaming Web files.
Also improved are Poser's lighting features, which offer a simpler interface and more options. The new version lets you select individual polygons on a model for regrouping and reordering with the new Hierarchy palette. These features make it easier to correct texture mapping on imported models. The camera controls are also good. Particularly handy is the Point At command, which forces the camera to point at a particular object or body part.
Unfortunately, you still can't undo some actions, and there's still no way to lock objects. Poser also has trouble with large geometriesimport a very large prop, and you'll most likely crash the program. And the program's animation interface remains weak, offering poor visual feedback on keyframe location and lacking velocity tools for controlling a model's acceleration.
Although Poser has always been a good program, it becomes a serious production tool for animators and illustrators with version 4; its new features and controls are well designed and well implemented. Unfortunately, it suffers from a weak animation interface and needs to be able to handle larger, more complicated scenes. And Mac users may still want a true particle system, collision detection, and other character-animation features Windows users already enjoy. For many animation and illustration jobs that involve characters, however, Poser 4 is all you need.
RATING: PROS: Models are more posable; good distortion tools; beautiful sketch rendering. CONS: Trouble supporting large geometries; no velocity controls; weak animation interface. COMPANY: MetaCreations (800/846-0111, http://www.metacreations.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $249.
November 1999 page: 62