19 tips for great Poser art

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Poser software is greatly underrated. With version 11, its PBR Superfly engine enables it to create tremendous realism across a wide range of areas of 3D art, rendering directly in-program without the need to rely on exporting, third-party plugins, or integrating into high-end programs for materials and lighting that obey physically correct laws. 

As with any tool, with great power often comes a bewildering range of options, parameters and tweaks that can quickly overwhelm even experienced users. That's why we've compiled this list of 19 tips for using Poser that will help take your renders to the next level.

01. Tweak settings for better reflections

This bathroom artwork, complete with reflections, is by Jura11

Noise in the light or shadows or on reflective surfaces may simply be the result of insufficiently high pixel samples in your Superfly render settings, but it may also mean that certain render settings need to be selectively increased. 

Sometimes tweaking these can save overall render time whilst producing the improvements you seek. In the image above, you can increase the Glossy bounces setting to account for the reflective floor and mirror without cranking up the overall pixel samples beyond 50. If you felt it necessary to add realism to the bath water, you could increment the Volume parameter, and even activate Caustics, although these three can greatly increase render times.

02. Check indirect lighting

This beautifully lit scene was created by erogenesis

If you are still using a version of Poser older than 11, be sure to check the Indirect illumination option for richer shadow detail when creating Firefly renders. Be aware however, that trans-mapped hair or other transparent/reflective surfaces can reduce your renders to a snail’s pace that takes many hours, even days for a single HD scene.

In general, using less shadow blur works well with bright sunlight and objects close to the surface they are casting on, whereas grey days, interior lighting or objects further from the shadows they are casting all produce softer shadows.

03. Use optimal render settings

Choose the Superfly rendering engine and select GPU rendering. Rendering with Branched Path Tracing turned off (for additional render stability), and a setting of just 5 Pixel Samples is enough to assess colour, lighting and general form of even 4K images in just a few minutes. Then you can ramp up the settings as needed. 

I find that a setting of 40 overall gives great results, and sometimes you can get away with as little as 30 or even 20.

04. Speed up transparency renders

Rendering transparency can bring Poser’s Firefly or Superfly rendering engines to a grinding halt, increasing rendering times from minutes to hours. Nowhere is this more apparent than when using multi-layered transparency effects such as DAZ’s more recent hair creations (yes Genesis 3 can be converted to fit your earlier figures).

For Superfly test renders, you’ll want to either hide these hair figures or set the max transparency in the render settings down to just 1 or 2. When you come to final render, you’ll want to bump the minimum up to 8 or even 16 in order to ensure that transparency looks good.

05. Increase bucket size

You can significantly improve rendering speed by increasing the bucket size on the Superfly render tab if you are using your GPU to render. The bucket speed determines the number of pixels that the program will render simultaneously, and the number of cores on your graphics card will determine the bucket size your card can manage. Try 128 and increase in increments until performance starts to degrade.

06. Send to the queue

In addition to its network rendering, you can instead send multiple renders to the render queue (Render>Send to). This is a great way to set up renders before you go to bed, however, it is somewhat twitchy about being paused if you require your processor for other tasks. 

I find that the best workflow is to only send jobs to the queue when you do not require your computer for anything else that night. Then it’s simply a matter of loading jobs to Poser, choosing camera angles, clicking the Send to Queue button, and going to bed.

07. Consider scene interaction

This example of how to draw figures is by Ladonna

The tiny details make all the difference. By all means start with off-the shelf poses, but then take the time to adjust them precisely to your scene. Off-the-shelf poses tend to work well when the figures are not interacting with anything other than the ground. 

However, you’ll want to carefully adjust the bends and angles of hands, fingers, feet, toes and any other body parts that interact with objects. Nothing spoils the illusion of reality quicker than stock hands that don’t interact properly, or feet floating off the ground. Ten minutes of extra work makes a world of difference.

08. Remove or add clutter

Keeping the near distance uncluttered can focus the viewer’s attention and avoid confusing figure profiles and distracting shadows, especially when background scenery is naturally busy (flora, textured walls or complex landscape topography). 

When it comes to scenes without distant backgrounds, adding clutter can create intimacy, and provide subtle additional threads to the narrative of your image, encouraging the viewer to explore beyond the central tableau. Carefully arranged clutter can lead your viewer’s eye around your image, creating a living narrative that has the central figures as the focal point.   

09. Focus on the eyes

 These stunning eyes were created by Ghostship

Aim to create a connection with the character’s eyes. The focal point for eyes can tell a story in its own right. Sometimes eyes that don’t meet another person’s, or that don’t look straight at the camera, can speak volumes. At other times, a direct gaze bespeaks honesty, openness or confidence. 

Convert your characters to Superfly-ready materials with Snarly Gribbly’s superb EZSkin script. Once you’ve run this, you can then replace the eye material nodes with Ghostship’s eyes, which creates much better realism. You can always swap your previous irises back into the material nodes if you need specific colours.

10. Vary skin tones

Create skin types for different ethnicities (or levels of tan) by altering the base colour or the subsurface colour. In an ideal world, you’d digitise real people and use those photos to create skin of the precise colour you need, but that takes a huge amount of work and time to accomplish. 

I created a pale skin base, and can create a range of different tones, from red-head white, rosy pink to darker skin, by changing the base colour. You’ll sometimes need to give an extra tweak to mouth, lips and nipple bases to create a consistent appearance.

Next page: More tips on Poser, including how to use lighting and materials

11. Consider body weight

Most off-the-shelf models come with morphs for shape and muscularity, but none have settings for interaction with other objects (the ground, couches and chairs, etc). Sinking a character’s feet slightly into the ground or their buttocks into a chair will avoid that floaty look caused by simply dropping to the ground or resting on a surface. Use the Morph tool or magnets to deform the skin or couch surface to give the illusion of weight.

12. Make use of area lights

When it comes to lighting, sometimes less is more. A single overhead or frontal area light will often provide sufficient soft lighting with no other lights needed. The more lights in a scene, the more the rendering engine has to calculate and the greater the likelihood of unwanted noise artefacts. The softness of an area light’s shadows are proportional to its scale.

In the past, you’d mess about with infinite lights, having to make building parts invisible to simulate internal overhead light arrays. Now you can simply insert a single area into the room at a scale of say 1,000%, and a brightness of 300% is a great size for lighting a large room or hall.

13. Check out EZDome

When it comes to lighting outdoor scenes, Snarly Gribbly’s free EZDome program is a versatile replacement for the old Firefly IBL system. It uses smart image-based lighting (sIBL) images which include the sun’s location. You can convert standard HDRI images to sIBL using sIBL Edit – which is also free. 

EZDome will add an sIBL or HDRI to a full or half sky dome, and can then be set to automatically add a shadow-casting light that will be applied at the correct point in the scene. This is a great and easy way to add realistic 360-degree lighting to a scene.

14. Don't be constrained by realism

Even though you may be using Poser’s powerful Cycles-based renderer, if your scene is better served by highlighting and accenting with lights that could not exist in the real world (such as spot whose origin is inside the visible scene yet has no visible source to the viewer), then don’t be such a slave to realism that you sacrifice the effect you are seeking.

One subtle effect for creating drama is a low-level, upwards-facing spot attached to the figure’s head (think of the old campfire horror-story trick with a flashlight). Turned bright, the effect is stark, but turned very low, it’s a great way to add some subtle fill-in colour to a dark scene.

15. Utilise gobos for shadows

Use gobos or billboards to cast shadows rather than depending upon expensive geometry. The old Firefly way of simply plugging an image directly into the light’s colour channel no longer works. In Superfly, the easiest way is simply to create a semi-transparent plane and attach it in front of the spot that you want to affect (much as a photographer would use a gel).

However, using this slightly more sophisticated setup (thanks to piersyf for the original), you can extend the effect to create stained glass and projector effects. You can use a mix of greyscale or coloured imagery to add interest and realism.

16. Apply displacement

Superfly uses a different displacement engine to Firefly (vertex displacement rather than micro polygon). With Superfly, the more polygons, the greater the displacement resolution. Before you can even apply displacement, you’ll have to open the object’s properties tab and increase subdivision to 3 or even 5. 

There is an option with a multipart model, such as a human figure, to subdivide only the parts that you need extra resolution on (the face for instance). This avoids creating unwieldy numbers of polygons that will needlessly degrade your system performance. Subdivision is also a great way to smooth jagged bends on older figures.

17. Set up Cycles

Don’t feel the need to create Cycles node rigs just because they are part of the Superfly PBR engine. These can be complicated to set up, and there are still imperfections and unpredictabilities  

in Poser’s implementation of certain features, such as transparency and displacement. The Poser surface root node does an excellent job of approximating many Cycles features for a fraction of the effort, complexity and rendering time. That said, notwithstanding the occasional feature that was not ported over, you can copy  Cycles materials from Blender across to Poser if you find any that you like.

18. Create hair gloss

If you are repurposing hair materials intended for the default renderer for use in Superfly (almost all off-the-shelf products), you’ll usually need to reduce the glossiness, reflection or specularity. These will usually be plugged into the ALTERNATE specularity channel. 

Lips and fingernails will also commonly need reworking. Expand Anisotropic nodes and look for values labelled ‘Glossiness’ or ‘K’s’. These can usually be reduced to 0.1 or less. The easiest solution is simply to delete anything plugged into the alternate diffuse or specularity channels. You’ll probably want to reduce any primary specularity or reflection values too.

19. Create grass

Importing polygon grass is expensive on your memory budget, and using the hair room to grow it is even more costly on your processing, especially during render.

If you are using the Firefly renderer, there’s thankfully an easy technique you can use to effectively create ‘fur’ grass or carpet. Simply attach a noise node to the displacement input. If you use a Clouds node in the Diffuse input, or a carpet pattern, this is a great way to transform bland polygons. For carpet combine the noise with a greyscale bump map using the Blender node if you want to give it deep pile sculpting.

This article originally published in 3D World, the world's best-selling magazine for CG artists. Buy issue 233 now or subscribe.

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