Daz Studio 3 Advanced review

Daz Studio 3 Advanced is different from most 3D suites. Instead of creating 3D models using sculpting tools, you buy models of people, animals, props and vehicles from the Daz website and modify them to suit your scene. It’s aimed at 3D enthusiasts, but it’s also useful for animators looking to quickly pre-viz scenes or create storyboards, digital artists and illustrators who want to create 3D elements to be brought into Photoshop for compositing, or for sketching a scene with the correct 3D perspective.

Daz Studio has previously been free – Daz made its money on the models. Version 3 is still available as a free download, but Daz has introduced a paid-for Advanced version, aimed at professional modellers and animators.

There’s also the Advanced Bundle, which throws in some high-end figure setup tools, the 3D Bridge for Photoshop (a plug-in for moving content between Daz Studio and Photoshop), the FBX plug-in, and the Multi-Layered Image Editor. Both versions of Daz Studio offer the same upgraded feature set to a point, so it’s worth looking at the upgrades to the core application first.

There’s a new import and export format, in the shape of DAZ Collada. This allows you to export figures, conforming clothing, morphs, and scenes from Daz Studio into the company’s 3D suite Carrara (you need the free 7.2 update to Carrara Pro). The interoperability is aided by the ‘Sparse Morph’ function, which allows you to transfer large amounts of morph data within smaller files for greater speed. Perhaps more importantly, you can take advantage of a new feature in the Dynamic Clothing plug-in, which freezes dynamic clothing simulations into static morph data for transport in the Collada format. Although you can’t transfer shaders in the same way, this is a welcome feature that enhances both Carrara and Studio.

Animation has been improved with the addition of animate+Lite. This adds preset animation sequences that are broken down into portable and editable chunks (aniBlocks). You can preview the aniBlocks and arrange them together into complete animation sequences by dragging and stacking them into the timeline.

Daz Studio uses the 3Delight 8.5 renderer, which now offers better performance, and memory management enhancements. The Advanced version offers extra capabilities, such as support for area lights, glows applied to objects, light gels, caustics and final gathering. It’s a lot faster than before, too.

Morphing bodies

One of the most significant factors in Daz Studio is the use of morphs, and Studio 3 Advanced introduces some major enhancements to handling these attributes. Morphs are preset parameter values built into the mesh of some figures that allow the mesh to be quickly deformed through sliders. You can then easily mould parts of a figure or other objects into different shapes to give them a unique look, increasing musculature perhaps, or making a character pile on the pounds.

Morphs can be added to clothing as well as bodies. Usually this clothing only has morphs that match a number of specified figures, so if you adjust the body morphs significantly you end up with the clothing mesh being over-deformed, with the dreaded ‘poke-through’ occurring. This is where the new Morph Follower comes in. It allows conformed items, such as clothing or hair, to approximate the effects of the new morph on the base figure on its own geometry.

The process often leaves clothes in need of further tweaking in places, but it’s a rapid solution that works pretty well. You must remember to save the changes as morph target in order to add them as a morph parameter for the clothes – because once you remove the figure from the scene, the clothing reverts to its original shape.

Splice girls (and guys)

Another new feature is the Figure Mixer. This enables you to create new characters by blending two or more figures from a similar generation. The process is straightforward: choose one character as the base figure and others to mix with it. The base figure becomes a new blended character using parameters from each of the selected figures.

You can adjust the mix further by moving sliders that correspond to a percentage of the blended figures in the new Figure Mix parameters. Once blended, the figure can be saved as a Studio scene. The new figure contains a working joint rig and preserves the original morphs of the figure you started from. Only certain models can be blended, however, so you can make an androgynous character from fourth-generation Victoria and Michael models, but you can’t do the same with two female fourth-generation figures. There are other limitations, such as bone count and naming conventions, but it’s a great way of creating new character models, if weird-looking ones.

In a similar fashion, the new Map Transfer workflow allows you to transfer UV maps from one figure to another, if the figures have similar geometry.

The Advanced Studio offers a better way of using and creating material shaders, through the addition of three utilities. The Shader Mixer lets you work with attributes (or bricks) of predefined shaders, such as map, noise, random, lighting models, and volumes. Shader Builder is a visual-development environment for generating new shaders in Pixar’s RenderMan Shading Language (RSL) format. The Shader Baker, meanwhile, lets you ‘bake’ properties of complex Daz shaders down into a texture map.

The Advanced version now also supports a normal mapping channel, allowing bump settings to render more accurately. The application ships with a number of high-quality environment and surface shader plug-ins by omnifreaker, offering HDRI reflection support, Subsurface Scatterings, translucency and more.

OUR VERDICT

Daz Studio has a lot of uses beyond the realm of the hobbyist modeller and artist. The new features in the Advanced version make it an ideal tool for use in storyboarding, for example, and as the its whole concept is based on a photographer’s studio, it can be used to plan shots or create mockups for real-world situations. And at this price it’s well worth the money.

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