Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Software Review: Poser Pro From Smith Micro

Written by T. Michael Testi

Last year I reviewed Poser 7 and found that it was great for graphic and web design as well as for fine art and illustration work and that it could eliminate the need for live models. Or, in the case of the rock band Element 115, they used it to create their drummer. On November 15, 2007 Smith Micro acquired ownership and distribution rights of several products from eFrontier software including the Poser line.

This week Smith Micro announced the release of Poser Pro, the newest item in the Poser product line. Poser Pro was developed with a feature set and new functionality that is geared for professional content creators who work within studio and production environments.

According to Steve Yatson, the Senior Director of Graphics Solutions for Smith Micro Software, "When planning the feature set for Poser Pro, we noticed professionals using Poser 7 were looking for better ways to integrate Poser content into their production pipelines, As a result, Poser Pro is a significant step forward for professional 3D designers looking to add character content in a cost-effective way. With the new rendering features and image controls, we're confident that Poser Pro will be well received by production artists across various industries including advertising, architecture, entertainment and education, who use 3D imagery to bring their ideas to life."

Poser Pro is a tool for creating and animating human and animal figures. It is capable of customizing figures and scenes by mapping facial photos to create realistic 3D portraits. It can create both stills and animations, and output movies and images for use in web, print, and video projects. You can also export your creations for use in other applications and Poser Pro now makes this even easier.

So what is new with Poser Pro?

All versions

• Network rendering (three machines/nodes in Base version) – now allows you to transform multiple computers into nodes within your network rendering queue. Because the rendering of complex scenes into images can consume quite a bit of time, even on today's powerful computers, the use of multiple machines can really speed things up. You can set the time and the nodes that you want to render on and use the power of multiple machines.

• Queue Manager – is a powerful tool that lets you manage your rendering process. You can choose where and when to render. It can be in the background, overnight, or when the computer is idle. You can create nodes on both Windows and Mac machines and distribute jobs across the queue. You can process, suspend, resume, and delete jobs. Manage a job list, and control individual job options.

• Background Rendering – will let you increase your personal productivity by letting you work on poser scenes in the foreground, while rendering the time consuming still frame images with the Firefly render engine in the background. You can monitor the status of background projects with out interruption.

• 64-bit Firefly Render Engine – now takes advantage of today's more powerful 64-bit systems. You can run ever increasing amounts of system memory, and with the right operating system, you will see performance increases when rendering large 3D files. Poser Pro includes both 64 and 32-bit versions of the Firefly render engine. Depending on what system you are running on, Poser Pro will select the most powerful render engine so as to take advantage of every bit of available system memory.

• Gamma Control – lets you specify gamma and apply the values to textures, as well as specifying the gamma values that will be applied to exported images. This lets you perform linear rendering for increased luminance accuracy. Gamma correction on the Texture Manager allows you to specify gamma values per texture. This assures that full images and animation are color-accurate and comply with Gamma settings for output and displays.

• HDRI Support – allows you to create High Dynamic Resolution Images so that you can render the most vivid, life-like images possible. Because HDR images represent a wider range of intensity levels as you might see in real world scenes, Poser Pro images can be exported to Radiance (.hdr) or OpenEXR (.exr) formats to give you a greater control over luminosity, opacity, and reflectance range of your work.

• Normal Mapping support – is a resource-efficient technique to add the appearance of complexity and surface detail to 3D objects. This will allow you to transform object surfaces so that you can make them look more intricate than they are without the added overhead of polygonal detail. This saves time and adds flexibility to your rendered results.

• Distributable Content – is available with a set of four re-distributable 3D characters to help you save production time. This includes a male and female figure in both medium and low resolution. You can use these figures as starting points to create your own real-time 3D or game figures. When you are finished these can be exported via Poser Pro's export options including COLLADA for royalty-free use in your project.

COLLADA export (Geometry and Textures only in Base version) – is a collaborative 3D data standard initially established by Sony Computer Entertainment America and is currently administered by the Khronos Group. The COLLADA import and export is used to assist with the integration of 3D character content and scene data into third party applications. Please note that there are some important notes to consider when working with COLLADA data that can be found on the Poser Pro site.


Poser Pro Full Version also adds:

• PoserFusion plug-ins – includes hosting plug-in licenses for Autodesk's 3ds Max and Maya, Maxon's CINIMA 4D. The plug-ins allow you to integrate Poser Pro scene files within these production applications. You simply pose and animate the characters, save the file, then load the scene into your host application.

• Unrestrictive Network Rendering – allows you to use unlimited computers/nodes to render your images

• Full COLLADA support – gives you unrestricted ability for import and export via COLLADA.

While, as I write this, the announcement is going out about the release of Poser Pro, I have had the opportunity to work with it a bit and my first impressions are wow, there are some really cool enhancements. I can see some major benefits to this level of program especially for those who are using this in professional production environments.

The network rendering, background rendering, and the 64-bit support will make this a must have upgrade for those who are generating complex projects. Just to have the ability to throw more power, resources, and memory at a project is worth the price.

Add to this some of the other features such as HDRI export - something I have been getting into more and more - COLLADA import/export, normal mapping, and gamma correction, this version even makes sense for those who are in the upper level artist/hobbyist category as well. Poser Pro is available for $499 USD as a new purchase, but there are some special deals for those who currently own a previous version.

Keep in mind that this is an additional version of Poser. Poser 7 is still available and will continue along its own track, I would assume paralleling with Poser Pro to some degree. Poser Pro is targeted at that level of user that wants to take their work to another level.

In that vein, Smith Micro is offering a side-grade to Poser Pro on their website for users of Poser 6 and Poser 7. Until July 31, 2008 you can side-grade to Poser Pro Base for $149 USD and to the full version of Poser Pro for $199 USD. After that the prices will rise.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Update

Posted by PTN Staff


Explanation: This stunning image shows remarkable and mysterious details near the dark central region of a planet-sized sunspot in one of the sharpest views ever of the surface of the Sun. Just released, the picture was made using the Swedish Solar Telescope now in its first year of operation on the Canary Island of La Palma.

Read it all...


Scott Wade has the Dirty Car art gallery in which masterpieces are drawn on dirty cars. It is really amazing on how good they look, at least till it rains...


Also if you are in to Pano's you should really checkout the Virtual Reality Panorama site They have some great panoramic views that will give you vertigo.  Check out the one from the Eiffle tower.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thursday Tidbits

Posted by T. Michael Testi


First up we have the winners of the "I look like my dog" competiton.

Then for those who remember the dot matrix printers and how great they were for printing photo's. You can now go back in time to the day where characters were the pixels and the images looked just...well cheezey.  At ASCII-O-Matic you can upload an image and have it turned into a dot matrix representation.

This is really cool. The Arrow of time is a link where a family, every year on June 17, takes a photo of each member. Check it out. It began in 1976 and is current to 2007. I wish I would have thought to do this. It is interesting to see the changes over the last 30 years



Then there is Mr. Picassohead where you can create your own work of art based on the style of Picasso.  You are given parts that you can place and move around until everything is just right.  When you have your masterpiece just right, you can save it to the gallery.


That it for Today!


Monday, April 07, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Adobe Delivers Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 Beta

Posted by PTN Staff

Note: This is an unedited press release from Adobe Systems.


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- April 2 -- Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 beta, a public preview of new and improved functionality to be delivered in the next major release. Lightroom is the professional photographer's essential toolbox, providing one application for managing, adjusting and presenting large volumes of digital photographs. Lightroom 2.0 beta will feature enhancements such as dual-monitor support, localized dodge and burn correction and will be the first Adobe application to support 64-bit for Mac OS X 10.5 Intel Macs and Microsoft Vista 64-bit operating systems.

"Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 beta provides early access to requested improvements over version 1.3 and continues our ongoing dialogue and open communication with the photography community," said Tom Hogarty, senior product manager for Photoshop Lightroom and Camera Raw. "We're excited not only for our existing customers, but also for the general public who will have an opportunity to take Lightroom 2.0 beta on a test run."

New in Lightroom 2.0 beta

An improved layout in the Library module allows for a more intuitive approach to image organization by simplifying the location of the features needed to find and filter photographs. A new feature called Smart Collections automatically updates collections with images that match desired criteria such as star-rating, keyword or other metadata. "The Suggested Keywords feature eases the task of keywording by making recommendations based upon keyword associations across a catalog as well as the use of keywords in neighboring images."

Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 beta includes improved memory handling through 64-bit support for OS X 10.5 Intel Macs and Vista 64-bit operating systems. Additional enhancements in Lightroom 2.0 beta include support for a dual monitor configuration that maximizes a photographer's workspace and can be easily adjusted to meet a particular workflow. Additionally, the Develop module has been updated to provide the ability to correct specific parts of an image without affecting other areas. Now, fundamental photographic techniques such as dodge and burn can be performed using the same non-destructive approach, allowing unprecedented control within the Lightroom program.

Beta Availability

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 beta is available as a 30-day trial for free download on Macintosh and Windows platforms at Adobe Labs. Existing Lightroom 1.0 customers will be able to test the beta for an extended period until Aug. 31 and can invite friends to take part in this trial period. Recommended system requirements are Macintosh OSX 10.4, 10.5 1 GHz PowerPC G4 or G5 or Intel-based processor or Microsoft Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate or Enterprise, Intel Pentium 4 processor, 1 GBRAM and a 1024x768 resolution screen.



Thursday, April 03, 2008

Book Review: Layers - The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature By Matt Kloskowski

Written by T. Michael Testi


Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature was written because author Matt Kloskowski wished that there had been a book specifically on layers when he was first learning Photoshop. Everyone knows that layers exist, and most people use layers to one extent or another, but few really understand their full potential. Yet understanding layers is one of the keys to understanding Photoshop. This book will show you exactly what you can do with layers, and how to do it. The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature: Layers is 288 pages in length and is contained in 9 chapters.

Chapter 1, "Layer Basics," explains the basics of layers. But even if you are familiar with layers, you will still want to read much of this chapter because there are quite a number of techniques that are shown here that many may not know exist. This is divided into the true basics, the use of multiple layers and stacking, and another lesson that has a ton of tips and tricks that you don't want to miss.

Chapter 2, "Blending Layers," lets you take layers even further by showing you how to mix layers together. By using the techniques illustrated here you can go beyond simply manipulating the opacity and really start learning about blending. The author's goal is not to show you every single item with regard to blending, but rather show you only the ones that you need to know about to get the job done. He begins with the three most important techniques, and then fills in with some additional ones that can be used as well.

Chapter 3, "Adjustment Layers," shows that there are other layers available beyond the regular layers that you have been working with thus far. This is a different type of layer in the way that it lets you edit images nondestructively. It even lets you apply selective adjustments to specific parts of your image.

Chapter 4, "Layer Masks," continues a technique that you learned in chapter 3 when making adjustments. Layer masks let you nondestructively erase areas away from one layer to reveal the layers below. An adjustment layer automatically includes a layer mask, but a regular layer does not so here you will learn how to add a layer mask to a regular layer.

Chapter 5, "Type and Shape Layers," are two kinds of layers that have not been covered as yet. While type layers are what you use to add text to a Photoshop document, they have a lot more power available to them as well. With type layers you can let your text take on a life of its own. Shape layers allow you to work with shape in your documents. Here you will work to making a poster using the Shape tools. With these, you can go beyond the simple shapes and create complex one.

Chapter 6, "Enhancing Photos with Layers," is about how to enhance digital photos by the use of layers. Here you will learn how to combine multiple layers, paint with light, perform selective sharpening, dodge and burn, enhance depth of field, and create soft focus.

Chapter 7, "Retouching with Layers," is not a be-all, end-all stop for retouching, but there are a number of things that you can do to retouch photos within Photoshop. Here you will learn how to use some of the previously learned techniques to retouch photos as well as some techniques that have layer-related options. These include removing wrinkles, smoothing skin, whitening eyes and teeth, and removing distractions,

Chapter 8, "Layer Styles," are really layer effects that are contained within Photoshop. These are things like shadows, bevels, glows, and strokes that can be applied to any layer. What's better is that layer styles can always be edited, and they can be saved so that you can apply that effect to another image.

Chapter 9, "Smart Layers," discusses the relatively new addition to Photoshop CS2 and CS3. These layers allow you to do things to layers in a nondestructive manner, and, in CS3, you can even apply a filter to a layer and still go back and change the filter anytime.

What makes Layers such a great learning tool, and book as well, is that the author keeps each topic short and to the point. But he does it in a way that is not trivial. That is, it would be easy to show some trifling example, but instead Kloskowski shows a real world technique that, depending on how you use Photoshop, you can actually go out and use. In that way, this book is also, in a secondary way, a cookbook of techniques as well.

If there is a problem with the book, it is that it seems to end too soon. With the author's easy style of writing and the thought that there were probably more techniques that were out there, I guess I felt that it could go on longer. On the other hand, by keeping it at this length, it keeps it in focus for those who are just learning and would be overwhelmed with a lot more information. Not to mention the fact that there could be Layers: The Advanced Guide to...

Another other thing that I liked about Layers is that at the end of each chapters is a section called "How Do I…" in which the author asks and answers various questions that did not fit into the scope of discussion within the chapter clarifying the topic even more.

If you are a new to advanced novice Photoshop user then Layers - The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature is an absolute must-own. But even if you are an advanced user, I suspect that you will find so many useful techniques here that I highly recommend this book.