Many Poser users will remember Anomaly, Brian Haberlin’s best-selling sci-fi masterwork book, which was made with Poser. Now there’s a sequel set for February 2017, Anomaly 2: The Rubicon. Apparently “The sequel picks up right where Anomaly ended.” It’s pre-ordering now on Amazon.
Are you using Poser and DAZ Studio to make comic strips or faux-vintage artwork? Then you may enjoy these new freebie halftone brushes for Photoshop CS6 and up. Hi-res, and cleared for commercial use.
I’d almost forgotten that Vue XStream 2015 added a new NPR (Non-Photorealistic Rendering, or ‘toon and paint’ to the rest of us) module, when it shipped last spring. I took a quick look at what people have been saying about it, and doing with it over the last nine months.
Unfortunately there seems to have been very little interest in this feature. Judging by the half-dozen 2015 NPR renders shown online, there was even less use of the feature. Just a few tests.
Here are the better ‘not-too-Photoshoppy’ demo pictures made with Vue 2015’s NPR: Vue’s own planes’ promotional picture; some trees by CG-Garlic; and (with some Photoshop) Dave de Kerf’s “Trench Run”.
This again confirms my general theory that the mass of 3D users only really want “photoreal, photoREAL, PHOTOREAL!”. Though we may may occasionally go “oooh!” at an NPR picture for five seconds, before going back to using the magnifying glass to get each of Genesis 2 Female’s individual SSS skin pores looking just right.
But I also have a theory that the professional artists — those who can massage these sorts of NPR effects up to the level where most paying clients can’t really tell if they’re 3D or 2D — they just don’t want to say anything about it or show it off in public. Because they’re making money off it. Mostly that’s just my educated guess, but I have heard various people say things along those lines. Did you know, for instance, that the artist Dave Gibbons extensively used Poser to make one of the all-time-great graphic novels, Alan Moore’s Watchmen? Yup, Poser. And I bet most readers can’t get a third of the way through a copy of ImagineFX, without muttering: “they must have used Poser or DAZ for the basis of that one…”.
Anyway, here’s everything I could find on Vue 2015’s NPR. There’s not much. Nothing official from Vue on YouTube, which is kind of amazing. But Vladimir Chopine of Russia has a good solid 35-minute tour of the NPR module for free on YouTube, part of his longer paid-for GeeksAtPlay video introduction to using Vue 2015. The NPR module looks very powerful and flexible, able to combine and merge multiple lines and effects. If this was a Photoshop plugin for sketching and painting over imported 3D models in Photoshop, there would be a mini-industry built around it by now…
And 3D World magazine #196 (July 2015) offered a free downloadable preset (48Mb) for the NPR module, as part of its review of 2015. No-one else seems to have whipped up some cool presets for NPR in Vue 2015 and given them away free, so far as I can find. The same issue of 3D World also had a short Vue 2015 review, which said of the NPR…
“Vue contains a new, extraordinary NPR (non-photorealistic render) engine, which is simply awesome. There are several NPR engines in different applications, but e-on did something truly revolutionary and created a free and customisable tool for artistic abstraction. Here you can determine the full artistic style of the rendered image. This is a valuable addition because you have the opportunity to combine, for example, the brush weights with the colours of the pictures and other manipulators. […] For backgrounds in animation and feature films this could bring a strong uniqueness. Unfortunately, NPR engine only currently supports Vue xStream module.”
For artists to read that about a major 3D software in a major magazine review, and then give a collective shrug of the shoulders to it… it seems a bit sad.
How to get the best from the Comic Book preview mode in Poser 11: a basic workflow using two masked PNG renders of a character.
AIM: to show how the Comic Book preview mode works within a workflow. To get the ink lines onto their own Photoshop layer, with the flat colours underneath the lines on another layer.
USERS: This is for those intending to spend serious time creating a narrative comic-book or graphic novel, and who need the artwork to stand up under the scrutiny of seasoned buyers of comics and comics reviewers. If you’re just making a webcomic gag-strip, shown at a small size on a phone or tablet and seen by readers for 0.3 microseconds, then you don’t need this tutorial — instead just accept the ink lines that the Comic Book Preview mode gives you, rendering them to a big masked .PNG with anti-aliasing enabled.
REQUIREMENTS: Poser 11 Standard or Pro, Photoshop. Please note: this tutorial requires you to be familiar with using Photoshop, and that you can remove a flat colour from across a picture and replace it with 100% transparency.
1. Set up a new Poser 11 scene with a flat single-light IBL light at perhaps 30% intensity, so as to get a toon flatness across your character. Turn off the Ground (i.e.: make the backdrop and floor invisible), since we want to output a masked PNG later on.
Note that as well as having a dial setting for Intensity, your single IBL light also has Red | Green | Blue dials. Dialing back the Green a little can add a subtle extra warmth to a character’s skin when using IBL flat ‘toon’ lighting.
2. Then load a suitable character such as Aiko 3, seen here, who is still excellent for comic book tooning. Here she is with toon materials, but in Poser’s default lighting. As you can see it’s a bit ugly — this is what you would see if the special single-IBL light hadn’t cleared all that grunge up with its flat toon lighting. Without an anime/manga flat light you can’t tell if the toon materials do actually toon or not.
One of the nice things about Poser 11’s Comic Book mode is that older vintage characters such as Aiko 3, who are misleadingly deemed to lack something in the age of photoreal rendering, suddenly become useful again for comics and cartoons.
Once you’ve loaded your character then you’ll need to locate a dedicated toon skin material in your runtime, and apply it to the character. You don’t want one that gives you an ink line, though, since we’ve already got that. Ideally the toon skin material will just incorporate a very subtle paint wash effect, as seen in the example below. This helps to suggest rounded limbs, noses, and chins, but without the need for ugly dark shadows…
This example also illustrates why this tutorial’s method is needed. Close-ups will show errors in the ink lines, such as are seen here on the clothes at the shoulders. Having the ink lines on their own Photoshop layer makes these errors so much easier to correct or erase.
3. Activate Poser 11’s Comic Book preview mode panel (centre of the screen, at the bottom), and tweak this effect to your liking.
Now drop the flat or almost-flat colour materials, that you’ll already have scoured your runtime for, onto the clothes and skin. Ideally — in this special lighting and mode — the chosen materials will have just a tiny bit of shadow set to appear at the edges (as seen above on the clothes). Once you have found a suitable material, you can save it out and just use it again and again, simply tweaking its exact colour to your liking via a quick trip to the Materials room.
Find suitable hair, then apply a toon hair material that looks good with the new Comic Book mode (easier said than done, because such materials appear to be rare).
Ensure that any legacy materials are “burned off” by turning up the Threshold dial in Black and White mode, so you just have line-art when in Black and White.
4. Once you’re happy with your Comic Book look in both colour and black-and-white modes, ensure that “Enable Hardware Anti-aliasing” is enabled in the Preview rendering settings, and that the Style Options panel there has “Antialias rendered image” ticked. These should both be on by default, but it’s worth checking. Those without a graphics card should note that Poser 11 no longer requires a GPU for anti-aliasing.
Then set the render size to BIG. For this tutorial I worked with 5000px by 3750px. Render size just doesn’t matter here in terms of speed, since we’re working with real-time OpenGL rendering.
5. Ensure that you are in B&W Comic Book Preview, then Render your Preview + export a PNG. Even at 5000px the Preview render this should not take more than five seconds.
(NOT: OpenGL preview + anti-alias + export, since that won’t give you a masked PNG).
Note here that the line inking is not perfect. The mouth is a fairly ugly line. Bits of the gunbelt are missing lines. A bit of boot is missing a line. Her clothing top’s ink line goes haywire as it approaches her shoulder. There are also some thin mis-placed lines on the top of the thighs, and a line across the eyes (though the latter can’t be seen in this reduced-size picture). Anyone who wants to make a comic that deals in close-ups and a medium-shots is going to have to deal with problems like these.
6. Now turn off all the Comic Book preview inking effects. Yes, that’s counter-intuitive. But, now that we have the ink lines, we only want the Colour Flats or as close to flats as you can get. Without moving the camera or character pose, render the flats out to a 5000px .PNG.
Quite pretty on its own, admittedly. But if it’s going to be part of a narrative comic panel then Aiko needs the quick ‘visual readability’ that strong ink lines will give her, and which will help her to stand out from the background.
The hair still has lines, since they’re coming directly from the toon hair material I added.
7. OK, we’re done with Poser. Close it and start Photoshop. Open the colour flats .PNG in Photoshop. Copy | Edit | Place Special | Paste in Place. Doing it like that helps to avoid the clunky mis-registration of the two layers that might otherwise happen.
Now use Photoshop to knock out all the white in the B&W ink lines layer, so that you just have the black lines on top of the colour flats. Set the line art’s Layer Blending mode to Darken, 100%.
(Ideally, a future update of Poser 11 would enable a dual-layered .PSD from the Preview, for this sort of work).
8. So, why do all this? It’s because you now have the ink lines on their own layer, which allows you to clean up the line-work in a quick way that would otherwise be impossible. Simply chop out any ink lines you don’t like, with the Lasso tool. Or more carefully erase or soften ink lines with the Eraser.
Here you can see that I’ve removed the odd-looking stray lines that had crept up over the thighs, have totally removed the ugly ink line which had been placed across the mouth, and removed two tiny lines that were going right across her eyes. This sort of work may be especially important for larger comics panels containing close-up artwork of your characters.
Because of the large 5000px size it’s also now easy to ink in any lines that may be missing. Or if you have a shaky hand you can just steal nice lines from elsewhere in the ink lines layer, copy+paste them, then rotate and re-size. For instance I did this on the end of the belt-pull.
One can also use Photoshop’s Liquify tools to nudge, smooth and reduce certain lines.
You may also want to do some very light Dodge and Burn work at this point, just to bring back a little shape and weight to selected aspects of the character. The gun holster and gun body, for instance, might benefit from a subtle visual cue as to their roundness. Or if you’re skilled with art rendering, paint a whole greyscale values layer, blend it and then add highlights.
Perhaps you might even paste in a Shadows Pass from Firefly (Shadows-only render) as an additional layer. Though maintaining consistent self-shadows across all panels of the comic will likely generate vast amounts of extra work, and the result probably won’t be satisfactory as either 2D or 3D.
If you need your final .PNG cutout characters to cast a ground shadow, there’s Lyne’s Cast Shadows Action for Photoshop.
There may be a slight overall mis-registration of the layers, but that can add to the comic-cook art effect by making the art just a bit less than perfectly done.
9. Once you’re happy, save the picture as an un-flattened .PSD for future tweaks, emergencies and re-use. Then select the character, Edit | Copy Merged and paste into a new document. Reduce that to the size you need for the target comics panel and save it as a .PNG (so that it retains its transparent background).
10. Your output .PNG is now suitable for dropping into a comic-book page’s frame, and because it’s a .PNG output it will be seamless with any pre-existing background layer you already have in the frame.
Seasoned comic-book readers are now far less likely to sneer at your artwork because of oddly placed ink lines on noses, mouths, or other important areas, or because of some curiously missing lines.
A few additional things I learned in the process of this tutorial…
* In the Black and White mode, turning on Depth Cueing can very subtly change some toon outlines.
* In Black and White mode, adding a 50% spotlight and swinging it around can cause interesting extra ink lines to appear, at the cost of some loss of lines elsewhere.
* Conforming accessories such as belts and goggles etc seem to take toon ink lines especially poorly. I suspect it may just be poor edgework in the modelling.
* And as I’ve written elsewhere, the Sketch Render can be applied to just the ink lines of a B&W render, for a nice pencil effect. Try the Charcoal preset, with the stroke lightened up a bit and with no background sketching. Render it at 5000px, then reduce in size to smooth out the stroke edges.
Tutorial: How to combine the Comic Book Preview outlines and the Sketch Designer in Poser 11.
1. Load a new Poser scene. Turn off the GROUND visibility, since we just want the effect applied to the character.
2. Load any suitable toon character. Here’s Rufus, who ships free with Poser 11. His default grey plush material is certainly not suitable, but Poser 11’s new Comic Book Preview mode can now get the toon effect onto even a grungy character.
3. Now think ahead. Those thin white whiskers are highly likely to be a problem later. They need to be turned black. Go into the Material Room, find the character part Whiskers, and turn the Diffuse and Translucence to black instead of white. Or simply apply a generic black material to the whiskers. The eyes and nose are rather a dense black, but leave them be for now, to see how they turn out in test renders.
4. Set up a single flat toon light for the scene — set the light to be IBL, about 52% intensity, set to “Include in OpenGL”, no shadows. Have it point somewhat directly at Rufus. Make sure the light is NOT ticked as “Visible” in the Preview window.
5. It’s not looking promising for tooning… until one loads up the magic of Poser 11’s real-time Comic Book Preview mode.
Rufus has become ink outlines, as a real-time preview. There are two ways to tell Poser’s Sketch Designer to ONLY sketch into these ink outlines. One way is in the Comic Book Mode, where you switch on ‘Black and White’ and turn its Threshold dial up very high, until you see all the character textures ‘burn off’ to white. That’s what you see above. The ink lines are nice and clean, but a little dense.
6. How to make those ink lines look more like a pencil sketch? Go to Render Settings | Sketch Tab | load the Soft Charcoal preset. Run the Sketch render.
7. The Sketch Render has affected only the Comic Book Preview ink lines that have been dialed in.
Not all Sketch presets work well with such toon outlines, but the Sketch Designer can let you design ones that do, while previewing them in real-time. Make sure that you turn the Background tab’s Opacity off when designing such presets, since that will then allow you to experiment with turning Color on in the Comic Book Filter in Comic Book Preview mode…
8. The effect is still not ideal. For a softer and nicer-looking sketch, turn down the line opacity on the Soft Charcoal preset, to maybe 30%, in the Sketch Designer render. Then render out at 2000px and reduce it in size with Photoshop. As you can see, the lines then become much more like natural greasy-pencil outline sketch lines…
9. The outline’s OK, especially on the head. But as a hand-drawn sketch emulation it’s not ideal, partly because of Rufus’s general lack of edges. So you may want to experiment with combining Poser 11’s Comic Book Preview mode with a toon-edge shader (not Poser’s older method of adding toon lines, which is still in Poser 11 but which produces edge lines that are too clean and uniform). For more of a ‘greasy pencil and tracing paper’ look I combined the Comic Book Preview mode with a new and subtly toon-edged skin shader on Rufus. Running the Sketch effect (as per Step 8) then has the effect of subtly bringing out a little of the 3D shape, by elongating and thickening certain lines such as the belly, at the price of loosing subtlety on the head and ears…
10. Then I used Photoshop to finish this up, as a little coloured sketch. I could have made it better by combining the head from the first render with the body from the second…
Not that convincing as hand-made art, but it’s just a little ten minute proof-of-concept on combining two features of Poser 11. Someone willing to put in a day of experimentation with this, and with a toony character with more complex edges (SA Kitty, for instance) could probably take it a lot further. One could add to the final mix a shadows pass from a standard Firefly render, for instance.
Note that a sketch render can’t be output as a masked PNG of a character, even if you fiddle with background and opacity in Sketch Designer. To get a basic character mask, output a straight Comic Book Preview render of exactly the same scene in PNG — and then use that to make the mask in Photoshop.
An Xmas Day present, found for readers, Dragon’s Breath has a free sci-fi outfit for Star! for Poser…
E-on has just released Vue Infinite 2015 and Vue xStream 2015.
Key new things…
* A new non-photorealistic ‘sketch’ renderer, with 40 presets.
* Render performance has also been improved across the board
* Photometric rendering speed now twice as fast.
* Scene previews up to eight times faster.
* New displacement mapping engine that may reduce render times.
* Pipeline integration – exchange data with ZBrush via GoZ.
* The user interface is more customisable.
* Real-world terrains can be imported in DTED, SDTS/DDF, and GeoTIFF data formats, on top of the existing DEM import.
* New content browser for searching, browsing and previewing large numbers of files.
* Further improvements to the clouds and atmospheres.
* Export Vue scenes to LumenRT for real-time renders.
This picture is 3D, though 98% of people wouldn’t know that from looking at it. It features in the latest 3D World magazine (Aug 2014), along with a tutorial. It seems to me to be another example of how 3D (in this instance ZBrush, 3ds Max) is increasingly able to successfully mimic 2D illustration, albeit with a little tickling in Photoshop. It’s another example that suggests that 2D and 3D will likely become pretty much indistinguishably mashed up together, at least for stills work, and in the relatively near future.
Missing the survey of free brushes and brush sets, for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, that I posted here the other day? I decided that Sketchbook deserves its own blog and so moved the post over there.
Did you know there’s now a free script to export OBJ 3D models from Poser and import the OBJ into the 2D animation software Anime Studio Pro? It’s been possible for some years now, but Smith Micro now offer the free Poser Python export script — along with two tutorial movies, one of which shows how to adjust the toon line weight on the object.
See also this 10 minute tutorial video, in which DutchWorkingMan shows how he uses Poser and Anime Studio Pro to get a believable cartoon cel-shaded look on an exported character.
The Smith Micro comic-book software Manga Studio can also import OBJs — but in that case you simply drag the OBJ onto your Manga Studio canvas. Once there, you can still rotate and pan the 3d model, as seen in this video…
Now, I’m always reluctant to feature new whizz-bang shaders that promise much with their promo images. They almost always have inadequate documentation, in which the maker notes the basic technical features and then warbles “just experiment!”, rather than carefully presenting a step-by-step example of use from starting up Poser to finishing the completed picture. If a vendor is using the finished pictures to sell shaders to the masses, then at least show step-by-step exactly how one or two of the pictures were made. Given how much of a pain shaders are to use, it’s the least one can offer buyers.
And then I always think: if you could really do convincing natural media fairly easily and reliably in Poser, wouldn’t Poser have added it years ago as a major new easy-use feature?
But anyway, Nightsong’s watercolour shaders bundle — or her even larger PASS Bundle from Nightsong — look as good a starting-point as any, for a serious Poser user seeking that ever-elusive convincing natural-media solution. Nightsong’s individual shader sets are currently just $2.50 on RuntimeDNA, so there’s not much lost if you can’t get them working as advertised.
If you can get it working as advertised, you may also be interested in my guide to finishing and glazing a 3d picture with a transparent natural media overlay.