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Across-the-board improvements, from 3D-workflow integration to Flash output, help give Poser a high-end focus.

The original idea behind Poser was incredibly simple - to simulate the moveable wooden mannekins you find in art supply shops designed to help artists draw realistic human figures. Since then the program has developed into a powerful 3D tool with features such as multiple character scenes, props, morph-based deformation, keyframe-based animation and artistic rendering. After the break-up of its developer, Metacreations, doubts rose about the program's future but now Curious Labs has stepped in and, with its Pro Pack, is aiming Poser even more firmly at the high-end 3D market.

The first new feature though would be appreciated by all users. You can now view your scenes through up to four live camera views simultaneously. In the past you had to constantly swap camera to get into the best position to manipulate your model - now you can just click on the desired pane and carry on working which boosts productivity enormously. Also generally welcome is the ability to compress library and scene files - especially if disk space is tight.

New features include multiple camera views, animation sets and scripting.

Animation control is boosted significantly with a new tab on the Animation palette that lets you mark off and save key-framed changes as named Animation Sets for later re-use. You can also now animate material parameters so that, for example, clothes or skin change colour subtly - or not so subtly. Best of all is the ability to set up a customizable motion blur. One of the main criticisms of Poser is that its results are too clearly computerized and this slight motion blurring subliminally makes movies far more realistic.

The area that Curious Labs is making the most of in this release is its new export capabilities and top of the list is the ability to output to Flash files. This is enabled through a new SWF option in the Make Movie dialog that lets you set the number of colours to render and the level of detail (though in practice the best way to manage this seemed to be to change the size of the output). Compared to AVI video output the vector files are smaller, stylish, scalable and can be imported into Flash for further control. To achieve the same in Flash itself would take weeks and offer next to no editability, so prepare yourself for a rush of Poser-based Flash animations.

Poser Pro Pack's main selling point is its Flash output.

Flash output is certainly impressive but it's important not to get carried away. In particular the frame-by-frame nature of SWF means that file sizes are still reasonably large - even when using the Pro Pack's seven new Web-optimised characters - and of course the results are resolutely 2D. An alternative export option is to output to the new Viewpoint Experience Technology Web 3D format (based on the former Metastream). This has a number of benefits - smaller file size, the ability to interactively explore the true 3D scene and, if you've set up animation sets, the ability to control your figure's action. Sadly though there's no output to the new Shockwave-compatible Web 3D format.

Another important new export option is Lightwave LWO format to go along with the existing support for 3D Studio Max 3DS files. Even more useful are the two bundled plug-ins that let you host Poser models within either Lightwave or 3D Studio Max. Set up a walk-in place animation, for example, and you'll then be able to load, size and position it and then set up an animation path so that you have realistic people moving through your design. Integrating Poser's unbeatable figure control within the industry-standard scene modelers is a huge step forward, but to fine-tune animations you'll still have to modify the original in Poser and then reload the file.

The remaining new features in the Pro Pack are definitely only for the power user. The first of these is the ability to create your own Poser models in the new Setup room. Here you define a skeleton based on the elements of your model by sizing, aligning and inserting bones to match the geometry. That's the relatively easy part as the real work comes in defining the IK (inverse kinematics) chains, blend zones, favoured angles and joint limits that make your model's movements naturalistic. Thankfully you can base your bone structure on existing models, but I still have a feeling that most users will stick to the ever-increasing range of pre-supplied and third-party characters.

The Setup room lets you create your own posable models.

The same is true of Poser Pro Pack's final feature - scripting. This is based on the open-source, object-oriented Python language and offers absolute control of the Poser environment. The supplied scripts show what can be done with samples for converting all Poser files in a directory to Flash and randomizing figures which roughens the model geometry and breaks up the over-computerized feel. Only a minority of users are likely to become Python experts but it's certainly reassuring that the power is there. More importantly the introduction of Python should lead to a healthy third-party scripting market just as there is for models.

Ultimately not all Poser users need the Pro Pack - especially as the add-on costs exactly the same as its host! However for Lightwave and 3D Studio Max users or those interested in the potential of outputting to Flash, the upgrade could well be worth the money. And all Poser users should be relieved to see that the program is in safe hands and still moving in exciting new directions.

Ease of Use
4
Features
5
Value for Money
3
Overall
4

ratings out of 6

Poser
Software / Upgrade
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Tom Arah

August 2001


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