Did I mention my new book?

Lampstack-SoftcoverOver the last few weeks I’ve written a book. It’s about how to run web applications in the comfort of your own home.

Yesterday it went live on Amazon! I have an author page and everything!

Turns out that writing was the easy part: formatting it so that it looks good on Kindle devices was a bit tougher. It’s a tech book after all, which means there are several screenshots and code snippets which need to be formatted to stand out from the rest of the text.

Before I call myself “best selling author”, let me describe how this book came to be.

 

Continue reading Did I mention my new book?

Say hello to Victoria 7

Victoria-7

Victoria 7 is here! According to the marketing hype she’s “totally amazing”, but we don’t know much about her yet. Feeling finally better, I thought I’d give the new girl a spin and see how DAZ have improved upon the previous generation of Genesis 2 (which – let’s face it – wasn’t shabby at all).

New figures are fun to play with, and I’m sure over the next two years we’ll find out more about Genesis 3 than we will in the first few days. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

 

Resolution Comparison

The first thing I checked was how many points the new figure was made of. To put this into perspective, let’s compare her to the other Victorias of recent years:

  • Victoria 4 (late 2006): 69759 vertices
  • Victoria 5 (Genesis 1, late 2011): 79059 vertices
  • Victoria 6 (Genesis 2, June 2013): 87805 vertices
  • Victoria 7 (Genesis 3, June 2015): 71202 vertices

How interesting indeed: we find that the new model actually has less geometry than Victoria 5, yet it promises to be “even more life like than ever before”. How is that possible?

Well probably much like the HD version of Victoria 6 could produce HD morphs without adding geometry: by some proprietary subdivision magic that DAZ Studio applies under the hood (see this thread for details: http://www.daz3d.com/forums/viewthread/31158/).

Don’t take my word for it though, I’m only guessing here.

 

Material Presets

Victoria 7 comes with a full body material preset, 7 make-up options, 6 different eye colours and three presets for eye lashes. All of these come as 3Delight and Iray versions (Iray being the default, which looks as shocking in the preview as Victoria 5 does).

There’s also an option to switch on (and off) Normal Maps, three subsurface scattering options for the skin and one for the mouth (discussed below). There’s also a medium and high translucency setting for the body.

And finally, there’s a material preset for Victoria’s geografted genitals too.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.09.26

 

The resolution for Victoria 7’s torso maps is still 4096×4096, but the UVs are different than those of her predecessors. This was also the case between V4, V5 and V6.

However, unlike with Victoria 7, up until now we could select which UV Set a map belonged to. This meant we could use a V4 or V5 skin on V6 (under Surfaces – UV Set). While this option is still there, Victoria 7 only lets us select “Victoria 7″ and “Base Female” and not other generations.

It therefore appears that older skins can no longer be used with Genesis 3. This may of course change with future updates, but for now it means you can no longer use existing skin maps with Genesis 3.

 

 

What is the Mouth SSS Option?

If you’ve ever wondered what the Mouth SSS / No SSS option was, let me show you. SSS means SubSurface Scattering and it tells the rendering engine that light refracts underneath the surface of an object. Think of a glass of wine in front of a candle: the wine isn’t just dark red, you’ll see the light from the candle dimmed through the wine, illuminating it.

Human skin behaves the same way, and for the body we have three different levels of SSS as presets. A problem arises when you place a light source behind your model, opposite the camera, for example a rim light. With the Mouth SSS on, it will shine through the head and teeth and make Victoria’s mouth look a wee bit scary (left). For such eventualities, simply switch the Mouth SSS off and she’ll look a lot healthier (right).

Mouth-SSS

 

Victoria 7 comes with Pseudo HD

Note that the current version of Victoria 7 does not appear to have HD built-in. There are several sliders for HD attributes, such as Mouth Realism, Cheeks Dimple and Brow Compression, but there’s no “head and body HD” slider like there is for the Genesis 2 HD figures. It therefore stands to reason that we may soon encounter a Victoria 7 HD product.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.12.16

In the meantime though, there is a material preset for Normal Maps (both for 3Delight and Iray). Normal Maps are not loaded by default, but when we double-click this option, Victoria’s abdominal area shows a lot more detail.

Here are two close-ups: on the left, Normal Maps are off. On the right, Normal Maps are on. The effect is much less pronounced than a real HD morph, but it adds more realism to our lady with very little rendering overhead out of the box (click to enlarge).

Normals-Comparison

 

 

Compatibility with Poser and Carrara

At the time of writing (July 2015), Victoria 7 and Genesis 3 are ONLY compatible with DAZ Studio 4.8 and presumably later. I could also load and work with the figure in DAZ Studio 4.7 without adverse effects (just in case you like an Iray-free work environment).

The sad news though is that Victoria 7 is NOT compatible with either Poser: there’s no DSON Importer like there is with Genesis 1 and 2. From what I understand, Poser currently doesn’t have the technology to make Genesis 3 “tick”, so allegedly even an importer script wouldn’t work. If this will change with a future Poser release, or if DAZ are no longer concerned with Poser compatibility is currently unclear.

You can export the figure from DAZ Studio (posed and clothed) as Collada, OBJ or FBX and then render it in pretty much any application that supports those formats though, including Carrara – which by the way is also not compatible with Genesis 3 (as of version 8.5.1 at least).

 

Using Genesis 2 Poses with Genesis 3

With previous generations of Victoria, any pose applied to any generation would kind of work, even if a few minor tweaks were required. Things have changed with Victoria 7 though: Genesis 2 poses don’t work on Genesis 3 anymore. Major tweaks are required to make them fit.

The good news is that you can convert your Genesis 2 poses with a choice of two third-party products: one by Zev0 and DraagenStorm, and another by 3DUniverse. I haven’t decided which product I’ll buy, so I can’t tell you much about the differences between them.

It’s not often you see an almost identical product on the DAZ Store 😉

 

Using existing V4/V5/V6 aniBlock animations

While Genesis 3 can of course be used with aniBlock animations, existing V4/V5/V6 aniBlocks do not yield usable results. Within reason most aniBlocks were up until now working with any generation of any figure and could be used interchangeably with promising results. So an aniBlock made for Genesis 1 still looked OK with Genesis 2 and even V4.

Sadly that’s no longer the case. Lucky for us, DraagonStorm has come up with another killer script that will convert an existing animation from Genesis 2 to Genesis 3.

 

Auto Fit

You’ll be pleased to hear that – in theory – Genesis 3 can auto-fit clothing made for Genesis 2 out of the box. While I thought this worked rather well for Genesis clothing on the Genesis 2 generation, I’m less convinced it works well with Genesis 3.

Many had long held a grudge against the results that auto-fit could provide. I’ve only seen this phenomenon with bottoms and the Genesis 3 crotch area. Tops seem to work OK, although they seem to be clinging to the body a little too much for my taste (something that was criticised with auto-fit for a long time, it’s called the “breast hugging” phenomenon).

Auto Fit Fail

In this example, notice the left side of her bikini bottoms (her left, not yours): it’s as if they’re shredded, and the outside of the fabric is stuck to the inside of her legs. Granted, perhaps this pose is exaggerated, but you’ll see it nonetheless with standard poses too. It’s annoying. Watch out for such effects!

 

Expressions and Accessories

A separate product are the Expressions for Genesis 3. I really like the subtlety they provide, and there’s a lot more here than with Genesis 1 and 2. Note that these are slider-based values (like angry, happy, disgusted, etc), so you can mix and match until you come up with that particular expression you like.

I must admit that I’m not a big fan of the “900 expression set” where all you can do is dial in a single particular face. This product isn’t like that, and I highly recommend it as an addition to your Victoria 7 purchase.

You have several other accessories too, such as the Head and Body Morphs that work by the same principle, but with the plethora of forthcoming characters, I wonder if these are actually necessary (unless you want to dial-in your dream girl tonight and can’t wait).

 

Conclusion

While it’s difficult to draw a conclusion at all, Victoria 7 feels a little bit different than the other Victoria updates I’ve seen since 2006. She’s a departure, a new beginning, something that looks like it doesn’t want to be part of the current ecosystem anymore.

The term “backward compatibility” hasn’t just taken a back seat, it’s literally non existent. This was something DAZ had previously implemented with every new figure update. Victoria 7 only works in DAZ Studio, and I get the message that “we should not be using any other software with this figure”.

The Poser audience has been left behind, unless there will be a DSON Importer for Genesis 3 at some point in the future. But will there be? Where does that leave Poser users?  Certainly not on the DAZ website purchasing content, that’s for sure.

Speaking of content: while it was previously a major selling point to say “you can use existing V4 content with Genesis, or Genesis Content with Genesis 2″, it is obvious that this is not in everyone’s best interest. The only way to sell new content is to make sure old content can’t be used anymore. PA’s can now go ahead and re-release everything they’ve made over the last 5 years for Genesis 3, and we’ll be the ones paying for it. Again.

But then, that is the price of a free DAZ Studio, whose development needs to be funded.

PA’s creating new products will find themselves in a slight pickle too: if you make an item of clothing, which figure to you make it for? The still popular and widely used Victoria 4, the very popular Genesis 2 figure, or will you make it for Genesis 3? Or should you release three separate products? Or perhaps 4, including one version for Dawn?

The truth is, I can’t really say “Victoria 7 is really soon much better than Victoria 6″, because I don’t see any major differences. She may bend a little differently, and of course she looks different than the other Victorias, but I have yet to discover an advantage over the Genesis 2 figures. If it’s there, I seriously can’t find it.

Yes I like her, but I can’t say I prefer her over the previous figures. It’s just a base figure at the end of the day. And right now I have no content to use her with.

The base figure though is never the end product for 3D artists: if you create a 3D render, you’re telling a story. Who cares which figure you use for that, as long as the message comes across. As long as you have usable accessories in your library.

And as long as she works in the software package you use most.

The one thing I do like are the wide range of expressions, and I’m sure I’ll discover a lot of other niceties – it always takes time to do this. If it sounds like I’m having a downer on Victoria 7, let me assure you that’s not the case! She just represents a very scary big shift into a yet unknown direction, and I’m not sure how I feel about such a shake-up.

Another great thing about new figure releases is that the previous generation will have huge sales very (if history can be trusted), which means you can stock up your Genesis 2 library for pennies!

How to preview HD Morphs in DAZ Studio

Michaels

In the above picture we have a render of Michael 6, the standard version on the left and the HD version on the right. Zooming in closer we can see that his abs and knees for example have a lot more detail – as we’d expect from an HD version of a model.

Comparing the two Michaels in our viewport instead of the render however, we can barely make out a difference. Both figures look nearly identical (except for the belly button indentation perhaps).

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 12.59.33

So why is that, and how can we preview those HD details before we render them?

The secret lies in our viewport’s subdivision levels.

Continue reading How to preview HD Morphs in DAZ Studio

Where is Save For Web in Photoshop CC 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 18.12.38The swanky new slash screen isn’t the only thing that’s changed in Photoshop CC 2015. One of those functions that I use probably THE MOST in Photoshop is File – Save For Web. It’s been around for ages and means that you can quickly create a flattened JPG or PNG of your otherwise well-stacked and complicated image.

The geniuses at Adobe recognized that the term “save for web” probably doesn’t describe accurately what we’re doing anymore, so they’ve moved this function to File – Export – Save For Web (Legacy). Thankfully they did not take it away!

You’ll be pleased to hear that the keyboard shortcut CMD+SHIFT+OPT+S (the worst ever keyboard combination ever – which is why I’ve mapped it to one of my Intuos buttons – WAAAAAAY easier to remember).

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 12.41.53

While this comes as a bit of a shock to long-term users, Adobe has added a new version of the Save For Web dialogue, accessible from File – Export – Export As. This will let you do pretty much what Save For Web did, without the gazillions of options we never really used.

An even easier implementation (without any default keyboard shortcut mind you) is File – Export – Quick Export as PNG. Without any options or settings, this will simply save your current well-stacked file as PNG in the same resolution as the original. You can’t resize the image with this option, but you can with Export As – just like we could with Save For Web.

One thing I did notice is that these new export options come with a bit of a performance penalty: my system about two seconds to bring up this new Export As dialogue. Safe For Web (Legacy) on the other hand opens instantaneously.

Let’s just remember that “newer” isn’t always synonymous with “better”.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 12.52.28

How to export a single frame from your timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro

Export-Frame

There’s an extremely handy shortcut that allows us to export single frames from the playhead’s current position in Premiere’s timeline. It’s not available via a menu command, it’s not particularly advertised, and it saves having to go via the File – Media – Export option, potentially downsizing the original footage.

Take a look at your Program Monitor and find the super tiny camera icon at the bottom right (just next to the Lift and Extract icons we’ve never seen or used before). Click it, and a still image in the format of your choice is created, in the full resolution of the source footage!

Position the playhead anywhere you like and create as many stills as you want. Using the File – Export – Media option will also work, but it will resize your image – and if your source footage is much larger than your target media then that’s not a good choice.

This isn’t meant to be for image sequences of course (for which the Media Encoder is a better option), but it works a treat for quick images you want to pull off your project.

Cardozo Textures for Peplum Dress – now available at Hivewire3D

Take Stephanie’s Peplum Dress and Blossom Shoes for a walk on the town with our brand new Cardozo Textures: 10 brand new outfits for the dress and the shoes, all carefully crafted with love from Miami Beach!

This gives you a total of 40 Material Presets for both DAZ Studio and Poser (via DSON Importer). This is our second release on Hivewire3D, and something tells me it ain’t gonna to be the last :-)

HW-Main-Promo

I’ve rendered the promo shots using Stephanie 6 (it is her dress after all, even though it fits all the Genesis 2 Females) and Stonemason’s fantastic Streets of the Mediterranean.

In the background you’ll find 3D Universe’s Jason and Amy walking up the stairs, the Millennium Cat licking his paws and the Toon Mouse fleeing in panic (and presenting the shoe compilation too). The red bike is courtesy of Carrara.

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All these things and the Peplum Dress are available from DAZ 3D.
In this article I’ll explain how to get the most out of our texture pack.

Continue reading Cardozo Textures for Peplum Dress – now available at Hivewire3D

Breakwater Textures for Frilly Triangle Bikini – now available at Hivewire3D

Promo-1

Summer Time means Bikini Time – unless you live in Miami Beach, where it’s Bikini Time all the time. May I present with pleasure a brand new texture set from Team V:

Breakwater Textures adds 10 new Material Presets for the beautiful Frilly Triangle Bikini by Nikisatez. Take your Genesis 2 ladies out for a dip in the lake or a stroll at the beach and give the Frilly Triangle Bikini a whole new spin (watch out for little green monsters though).

The set is now available from Hivewire3D.

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All the above were rendered in DAZ Studio, but separate Poser Material Presets have been carefully crafted from scratch. The backdrop was made in Carrara using HowieFarke’s beautiful Secret Lake scene, and the little green critter is another 3D Universe classic called “Monsters in my Cupboard” (both available from DAZ).

Our models are Victoria 6 (left) and Lilith (right, and in single shots), featuring textures designed by my wife Julia. Right on!

Let’s see how to use those Breakwater Textures.

Continue reading Breakwater Textures for Frilly Triangle Bikini – now available at Hivewire3D

How to change the launch image in DAZ Studio

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 15.25.20

Did you know that you can change the splash screen / launch image that comes up when you start DAZ Studio? It’s nothing major of course, but just in case you find the default image too distracting you can make DAZ Studio launch with something more plain, as pictured above.

Head over to Preferences – Interface and change the Splash Image option from Default to Alternate. You only have these two choices though, so you can display your own image (sorry).

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 15.22.24

The Alternate has just been a plain DAZ Studio slogan for the last few versions, and the Default is usually a render for the latest generation Victoria. My favourite so far was the image of the blue haired girl in version 4.7. I’m not so keen on the new Iray Victoria with the green crystals (pictured below).

But that’s personal preference for you, and at least we have a choice how of DAZ Studio can welcomes us when it launches.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 15.25.38

How to enable Hardware Acceleration in DAZ Studio

Are the viewport movements in DAZ Studio getting you down? Does it seemingly take forever to make a small camera adjustment, despite your decent hardware?

Check if Hardware Acceleration is enabled – because it isn’t by default. They do this so that most hardware will work with DAZ Studio out of the box, but they don’t really tell you where to enable it if you’d like to try for a much better user experience.

Head over to Preferences – Interface and take a look at the OpenGL section.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 08.07.06

The biggest improvement can be achieved under Display Optimisation. It’s set to “none” by default, which means no hardware acceleration is at work and your CPU does most of the calculations for the viewport. Try “better” or “best” and see how your hardware holds up. The change will be effective immediately, there’s on need to save anything or restart the app.

There’s a slider labelled Texture Resources that lets you move from Quality to Performance, it’s something else to play around with for smoother responses.

You can also take a look at the Hardware Details to get a list of features your system supports. If your hardware supports Pixel Buffer, turn it on too.

And lastly there’s Per Pixel Shading and Hardware Anti-Aliasing. The latter is switched on by default, while the other one is not – it’ll make your scenes look even better if your hardware can cope with it (otherwise, leave it switched off).

The effects of these settings will best be noticeable in medium to large scenes, anything with a couple of characters and a full background set. With Hardware Acceleration enabled you should be able to move your camera much quicker and smoother though the scene. And if it ever gives you grief, turn it off by switching it to “none” again – at least you’ve tried.

There’s no “one setting is best” approach here because every combination of hardware is different, but I can tell you that on both my Mac systems the “best” setting without anything else has increased performance dramatically – and it didn’t even cost anything.

How to reduce the Depth-Of-Field frost effect in DAZ Studio

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 12.16.01

Something that’s always been bugging me is the “frost effect” that DAZ Studio introduces on renders with depth of field. The above picture is a perfect example of it.

Where does it come from, and how can we avoid it? I’ve mentioned two approaches in an earlier article that discusses how to setup depth of field, but neither of them are particularly satisfying.

Thanks to Paolo Berto Durante’s super helpful post over on the 3Delight forum, I finally understand the setting that can smooth away the frost effect: simply increase the Pixel Samples under Render Settings.

Screen_Shot_2015-06-10_at_19_00_30

In DAZ Studio, the default is 4 (for x and y). This is a good compromise between fast render times and good results. But this default is not so good for depth of field renders.

The screenshot at the top of this post was rendered with the default, 4 and 4. The grain is very noticeable and seriously ugly. But the following one was rendered using 8 and 8, barely increasing render times:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 12.22.14

While a little frosty grain is still visible, it can be completely eliminated by increasing the Pixel Samples further. Here’s one I’ve made using 16 and 16. This did have an impact on render times though (added 50% give or take), but eliminated very trace of grain:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 12.27.54

I’ve been using DAZ Studio since 2006 and have always hated this frost grain in DOF renders. I just never knew what to do about it. I wish those basics would be explained alongside tutorials that tell you how to do DOF in the first place (perhaps, dare I say it, the DAZ Studio User Manual is a good start).

Kudos to Paolo Berto Durante, in whose honour 3Delight Version 11 was named I believe. Check out his article on sampling noise to learn more about this scary topic:

How to render DAZ Studio RIB Files on another computer

I have previously described how to render DAZ Studio Scenes without DAZ Studio. This is done by rendering to a RIB File (RenderMan Interface Bytestream), using the standalone 3Delight Studio to create the final render. The procedure frees DAZ Studio up and allows you to work on your next scene without having to wait for the render to finish.

I’ve been looking for ways to transfer such RIB files to another computer which does not have the content or even DAZ Studio installed, and I think I’ve found one!

When used as described in my previous article, DAZ Studio creates a RIB file that references temporary files as well files on the local system. Neither of those can be used on a different computer because they most certainly don’t exist. This means your render will likely be missing a few textures.

There’s a handy command line tool that will collate all those files needed to render the image. The drawback is that – depending on the size of your scene – this may result in a rather large file (1GB or more). However the approach is great if you’d like to render that super long animation for several weeks without blocking your regular office computer.

Here’s how to do it.

Continue reading How to render DAZ Studio RIB Files on another computer