DAZ|Studio is a rare find, a fully featured 3D package that costs nothing. Developed by the company that creates and sells figure models for Poser – and which also took Bryce off the hands of Corel – DAZ|Studio is tellware, which means you agree to recommend it to at least two other people. Obviously DAZ has to get revenue from somewhere, so it gambles that you will purchase content for Studio at its online store. It's a razor and razor blades scenario in other words, but at a rather more attractive price.
Studio was available as a beta for a long time, so you may already be familiar with the basics, but version 1.0 brings several notable new features to the mix. These include a high-quality software renderer, an inverse kinematics (IK) system and a set of 3D primitives. The last two are available as plug-ins from the DAZ site and there are others in preparation.
Installation was cursed by permissions trouble on one Mac but was straightforward on another (it's also worth noting the system requirements for graphics hardware). Once installed successfully, a Search for Content Directories window appears on launch. This prompts you to search for usable content – Poser-compatible figures, props, etc. – that you have on your system already. The interface will be familiar if you're a Poser user or 3D animator; if not, it's a very cheap way to get your head around thinking in 3D.
You can view a model from a variety of camera positions, move or zoom the camera view and add custom cameras. The main viewport can be split into a number of subdivisions, which can be assigned their own viewpoint. Working on models is easy – just double-click on the object in the content window and it appears in the main viewport, along with an accompanying list of parameter dials. These let you adjust the elements of the model in the scene, posing the fingers on a hand or twisting a frown into a smile, for example. Some models also contain a number of Morph sliders in the parameters section, which allow you to deform specific parts of the figure. With these you can fine-tune a hairstyle or make a character gain weight.
On the animation side, Studio's timeline tool is nothing to get excited about, but it does offer an IK System in the form of the free PowerPose plug-in. This has some limitations but lets you pin specific bones as anchors for the IK movement. It can give rise to some natural poses, more so than is sometimes typical with traditional IK methods.
The Save Filters tab is a useful feature, as it allows you to specify how the information in a scene is saved as a preset into the DAZ|Studio Library. Save options for Pose Presets, for example, will let you either save part or all of an animation as a single Pose Preset file, or just the Transform or Morph Data or both sets of data together.
Studio doesn't have the full battery of pro lighting, materials and rendering facilities that came with Poser 6, nor is the UI as elegant, but then again there is that price difference. Apart from that you can work with the same models in the same manner in both applications – both also offer sophisticated OpenGL display styles such as cartoon shading. You'll need a fairly powerful graphics card to take advantage of these OpenGL features, but help is at hand. DAZ|Studio now offers 3Delight, a fast and good-quality RenderMan-compliant renderer that features programmable shaders for surfaces, displacement, lights, volumetrics, and images. Camera controls such as depth of field and motion blur, as well as atmospheric effects and ray-tracing, also serve to make 3Delight a worthy contender to Poser's FireFly rendering engine.
It has to be said there were some glitches in Studio, with the software hanging several times during working with surfaces or dragging dialogue boxes, for example. DAZ is working on a fix for this. In the meantime, it provides a startup script to solve the problem if you email the tech support team. That aside, you really can't go wrong with this free application. Download it now and throw some shapes.