Curious Labs – Poser 5 review

3D human animation software
Photo of Curious Labs – Poser 5
$489 (approx £318.00), upgrade options also available

More and more designers are turning to 3D tools to enhance their designs and express their creativity, and this is where Poser comes in. Described by Curious Labs as ‘The Ultimate 3D character Solution’, Poser 5 is a package for modelling 3D ‘mannequins’, although that’s a very simplistic way of looking at it.

Poser has been around since 1995, but its initial appeal was probably to more of a technical audience than a design audience, and was used by scientific, medical and architectural people, among others. However, over the years, the features offered by Poser and a change of ownership have meant that it is now capable of some really amazing things.

The fully rendered output of Poser 5 is truly lifelike and of production quality. In fact, once you’ve seen what Poser can achieve, you will start noticing Poser-like figures everywhere, in adverts and illustrations, both printed and animated. This is surely set to increase with Poser 5′s new features. One of the rendering limitations of Poser 4 was hair detail, and Poser 5 has gone a long way towards addressing this. Now, a ‘hair room’ lets users specify how long hair grows, specify hair groups (you can put hair anywhere), style it, add spring, gravity and wind, to create very realistic renders. Enter problem number one: It can take a while to get hair to look right, which can take a lot of renders, and a very, very long time, depending on the spec of your PC.

Poser 5′s new features include a new rendering engine called FireFly which supports ray-tracing and photo-mapping onto 3D models. To use this, take two photos of a face (side and front views), specify four points where the nose, chin, ears, etc. are, and then modify the shape of the underlying model to your heart’s content. It’s also possible to add some excellent lighting effects to these models. Another feature is ‘dynamic cloth’, which is of most benefit when animating. There are a number of basic figures that can be posed, and it’s possible to create entirely new figures, which don’t necessarily need to be ‘humanoid’. Animals can also be animated, for instance. There is a massive library of common poses and facial expressions to choose from as well as some preset lighting, camera angles and animated sequences, such as a basic walk.

Poser 5 integrates some features which were previously only available in the add-on ‘Pro Pack’ which cost as much as the base product. Now Macromedia Flash export is standard, as is Viewpoint Experience Technology (a 3D viewing browser plugin). Which brings us back to system spec. Curious Labs states a minimum spec of a Pentium III 500 Mhz machine with 128MB RAM. We’re testing it on an Athlon 1Ghz machine with 256MB RAM, and it runs about as fast as treacle. Either plan on more coffee breaks while you’re rendering, or bite the bullet and buy a 2Ghz+ computer with upwards of 1GB RAM. Seriously.

When rendering just one frame, your PC is performing masses of calculations, including how light falls on around 3,000 individual hairs. An animation can take many times as long, with around 30 frames per second and several seconds of animation. And Poser can deal with complex scenes involving many characters and props, not just one character. Turn off that MP3 player and close unneccessary apps, because you’re going to need all the processing power you can get!

That said, Poser brings extremely advanced 3D animation to the humble (or not so humble) home PC, the likes of which were previously seen only in Toy Story and Shrek. It’s also an excellent introduction to 3D modelling in general, which makes 3D principles fun to learn.

Company: Curious Labs

Poser 5 is in many ways a significant improvement over version 4 and is becoming a genuinely important tool for 3D modelling and rendering. Don't be surprised if you find you need more processing power, though.