Humble Beginnings

What maddeness drives someone to become a 3D artist, texturing, sculpting, rigging and animating? Let's take a little stroll through the history of how I got utterly hooked into all of this.

Going way back, yeah... I always loved to draw and paint. Sculpting things with my hands from anything I could imagine would work, however, has always been my favorite - even sewing my own hand puppets with heads made of foam or paper mache or even sewn cloth or fur.

I was introduced to computers a bit in high school learning Basic on the Apple II. I knew that this is Not something I wanted to do - but I still had fun writing code to draw in pixels, turning in a screen saver of my original art as my final. But I truly had no love for typing code, and that's all I ever really felt computers were good for, so I went back to racing my BMX bike, playing my drums and making art any way I could. But that's going waaaaay back! Let's skip forward quite a way...

It was after I got married to my Beautiful, Wonderful Wife, when my Awesome Brother gave me my first PC with Windows 98. I liked using it for many things but spent most of my time manipulating pixels in MS Paint. Getting a new printer from my Dad shortly afterward was a big step forward - it came with Microsoft PictureIt! software, meant for creating all manner of projects to print. Lots of fun was had.

Wow... that was a l o n g time ago!!!

My wife was always trying to get me to find a computer game that I like. She and I (and others) tried and tried... I'm just not a gamer, I guess. Watching other people play was fine, but I had no love for taking the controls myself. That is, until she found the perfect solution!

Apple II

I loved Dungeons & Dragons and Games Workshop's Warhammer Quest. My wife saw the way I'd look at the box for Baldur's Gate, by Bioware. When she got me to the store, even Baldur's Gate II and it's expansion were old enough to be on clearance at our small town store, so she bought all of it!

Even without the expansions, these are 80+ hour games - and I was a kid in a candy store, so I was in no hurry to find the end. Instead, preferring to explore everything I could whenever the plot allowed it.

I was playing through a second or third time when Bioware released the amazing game from the trailer on my Baldur's Gate II disc: Neverwinter Nights! I bought it right away but was unable to play it because I didn't have a 64mb (mb!!!) Graphics card! LOL - So I continued to complete my third time through the BG series. Anyway...

Baldur's Gate amassed a wealth of fans that enjoyed extracting the game into pieces, modding it and putting it all back together. TeamBG was a good example of this. I think that's a Big reason why Bioware chose to build user customization directly into NWN. Regardless, they did and they did it well! Wow, a game that actually invited me to create art to be used within the game? I was thrilled!

I began my modding career making retextures of many of the models. Discreet (then developed 3ds Max) offered a free version called Gmax, and the plugin maker who crafted NWMax for 3ds also made a version for Gmax, both of which are still available.

NWMax plugin could import NWN assets and export them back game ready. Packed with tools it gave the Neverwinter Nights community inspiration and the ability to expand the game to exponential levels - it's still being developed by fans to this day - and the game was originally released for Windows in 2002!!!

After creating an ambitious mod that gave roleplayers the ability to wear backpacks and assorted weapons, etc., and either put them on or take them off (with animations) in-game, which was awarded Hall of Fame honors, I was invited to join a team of brilliant minds who were working on a Spelljammer (D&D in Space campaign setting title) conversion for NWN. This image shows the 'fully loaded(with weapons and torch)' backpack on the character on foot, and again after mounting the community-made horses, which I also enhanced with some fun scripting modifications ~ the backpack with or without weapons automatically converted to packs for the horse! ;)

The Arcane Space Team was a blast to work with and we became fast friends. One team member taught me how to use many 3D tools so that I could go beyond just re-texturing existing models - using UV Mapping techniques. I loved it! I did textures for several of the ships for this magic-in-space campaign setting. He also got me into playing multiplayer mode of the game as I joined him and his wife on amazing adventures made by the community.

So I really tend to give Neverwinter Nights and Bioware credit for getting me started into all of this in the first place.

Funny thing: Some of the core members of Bioware have formed their own computer game company called Beamdog Games (also based in Canada) whose initial game release was an all new Enhanced Edition of Baldur's Gate. They also created Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition as well as an all new campaign for Baldur's Gate EE - The Siege of Dragonspear. Also Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment Enhanced Editions, completing the Interplay/Bioware D&D saga game collection in versions that work on modern computers with modern screen ratios and sizes and iPad/Android compatibility. These great titles sold well and met an eager audience of fans, veterans and newcomers alike!

Check out this great documentary on Beamdog Games' story - Awesome!!!

Beamdog then released Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition. But not just the base game, no. They included both major expansion packs and some additional content along with some cool new enhancements (hence the title!) - but that was just a start! Looking into the Beamdog community, even just a little reveals that they are feverishly working on updating this game to the hilt!

Something about NWN to keep in mind, however, is that it is a D&D game. I think a lot of people miss out on that when they post a review. Here's the thing:

D&D is a game that is played around a table with friends. Books, dice, miniatures, etc., are all entirely optional. One might want to use the rules - having a rulebook on hand, but even that is truly a matter of choice.

D&D 3rd Edition Core Rule Books

Neverwinter Nights uses a fine version of the D&D rules - 3.0

D&D 3.5 was expanded upon even more, but 3.0 was a very flexible core set that has an enormous wealth of expansion to draw from - and so the community did.

Something magical happened when my Arcane Space team friend invited me to play multiplayer. As you might learn from many reviews of the game, it kind of falls short in the realm of exciting action and stunning visuals. Playing multiplayer with a small group of friends changes all of that.

Story writers and D&D module fans create some really cool (and free!) expansion adventures for this game - and the NWN interface was designed to allow for games to be hosted and controlled by a live Dungeon Master - what a trip that is! Being a DM in NWN is a blast, as much as it is being a player in a game run by a DM.

That said, I learned to think of Neverwinter Nights as the perfect way to play D&D even if we can't sit around the same table or even in the same state or country. Our miniatures are animated, and the animations are actually really cool! For roleplay purposes like this, we even have a multitude of "Emotes" built into our character that each have a unique animation and might even trigger some voice-over dialog - just a short one-liner.

I see that many people like to zoom in really close to these characters. This wasn't possible in the original game until much later - and only by popular demand. These models are very low-resolution, which actually is a huge boon to a system like this. We can download massive amounts of creatures, plots, custom anything without being too heavy on our system.

Another thing I haven't seen in any review is how incredibly fun it can be to just go into the toolset and build a custom world or design a new faction with a custom AI (artificial intelligence), easily done by activating or deactivating code lines in an existing script, or adding new lines of our own. The Aurora Toolset with which Bioware used to create the game is a limitless realm of enhancement for users of this game - making it very powerful indeed for a DM.

Anyway, I wanted to make a nice callout to Bioware for inventing this awesome series of games, and Beamdog for rejuvenating it. The community has been alive and kicking through all of these years - since 2002! Just amazing!

Okay, I'd like to add a few really cool Bioware videos ;)

...and along came Poser

While using Gmax and 3ds Max to create and edit low resolution models for the game I found myself messing around with posing the figures for the promo images and started making some horribly basic animations. It was all just a matter of discovering more tools in the software and becoming awed with the possibilities.

My friend sent me a present in the form of Poser 5, then by Curious Labs. This was the thing that changed my world forever!

Poser software was created by artist and programmer Larry Weinberg as a digital replacement for artist's mannequins - first release in 1995. By the time Poser 5 was released it had already acquired support for dynamic cloth and hair, and had quite elegant posing and animation tools for users of any experience level.

Poser comes with a lot of 3D content to manipulate into any sort of imagery you want it to be, and then their store offers a whole range of extra goodies to bring the library more in line with the individual tastes.

So this is where the importance was because this was when I discovered Daz 3D with their exceptional 3D Human figures for Poser - and those figures were gaining a Lot of support from the 3D artists who made things like clothing and hair, poses and animations and character textures and shaping morphs.

I had a lot of fun designing D&D character portraits and putting them in motion, experimenting with just about everything I could think of. One thing was sorely lacking for me - the ability to actually model within the software. Still, it's excellent software and has since been developed into quite the amazing suite of tools for creative minds to realize their visions in a fluid and comfortable way. There are a lot of artists still using it as its original intention - to be mannequins from which to draw by hand, or even on other computer software.

In 1997 Fractal Design (Poser and Ray Dream developer), was acquired by MetaCreations where Phil Clevenger redesigned the interface into what has remained to this day. Around the same time, another 3D graphics program, named Infini-D, was acquired from Specular International. Now owning two 3D graphics programs, MetaCreations decided to merge Ray Dream and Infini-D into one application, giving it the new name Carrara!

More on Poser later...

MetaCreations released version 1.0 of Carrara with significant bugs. They soon released a patch for the code, then afterwards stopped support of the package. For a short period, the only way Carrara users could get the patch was through other internet sites or Carrara interest groups in different places on the web.

Around the year 2000, when MetaCreations was divesting itself of most of its products, it sold Carrara to a new company named Eovia, founded by former employee Antoine Clappier. Eovia developed Carrara for several versions, culminating with version 5 in 2005. That same year, Eovia shipped a new 3D modeling application, Hexagon.

Eovia made significant upgrades to Carrara, which included the Ray Dream physics engine, originally not licensed in the MetaCreations version of the code. Improvements included soft shadows, caustics, global illumination, and better atmosphere models. Important to me was that they also included support for Poser articulated figures and their support content!

In 2006, Daz 3D acquired Eovia along with Carrara and Hexagon. Several former Eovia employees moved over to Daz and continued development on Carrara. Daz 3D added posable figures, models for hair, and animation tools. Daz 3D worked in an "open development" environment, releasing early and turning to its users for bug reports and feature input.

In May 2010, the company released Carrara 8.0. It included the addition of the Bullet physics engine, with which Carrara can more realistically animate scenes involving collisions of multiple bodies or particles. Daz has also added models for soft-body dynamics, for better cloth and clothing animation. Carrara 8 was also completely ported over to 64 bit support!

I bought Carrara during the beta phase of version 8. I was running my first Windows 7 64 bit machine at the time, and Carrara 8.0 featured 64 bit support in addition to the host of other improvements and additions, so I never really used the Carrara 7 that I bought to get 8 for free upon release. It was awesome testing the new releases and working with the development team!

I've been happy ever since.

Daz 3D introduced an 8.5 upgrade to support their new Genesis figure, which was being developed along with Daz Studio 4.0 - a major new step in modern 3D technology for Daz 3D. Many die hard Carrara users were quite upset that such a large development cycle went into "Daz Dollies" instead of going in other directions with Carrara's development. To me, however, it couldn't have been a better move for Carrara and for Daz 3D. Having Genesis support in Carrara is a game changer. Without it - and without any other further development of Carrara as we've seen in the past many years, Carrara would have a lot less going for it today.

Contrary to popular belief, I still hold to the idea that Daz 3D will eventually fire up another development cycle for Carrara one day. It's the perfect software for the home filmmaker, I think.

Carrara 8.5 had a lot more additional upgrades and updates that make it a much stronger 3D application than it ever was. I am ever thankful to Daz 3D and their outstanding development team for what they've accomplished!

Being a customer/supporter and artist for Daz 3D over the past 10+ years, I've come to know of the company as being very generous with their content. Yeah... it's a good way to get people to spend money - true. But it also gives us piles of great content to work with even when we aren't spending anything at all!

They certainly deserve to be where they are today. With (myself having) such a meager budget, I've acquired a good library of content - enough to keep me very busy. Their incredible artists are constantly creating new cool stuff that I love to shop for and add to my collection, and Daz 3D continues to be wonderfully generous along the way. Spend a little, get a whole bunch!

Just check out the whopping pile of goodies they give us when we buy Carrara 8.5 Pro, which is priced Really Low right now if we're PC+ Members!

Daz 3D Content included with Carrara 8.5 Pro

...and Carrara 8.5 already comes with an amazing library of example files from the Eovia days as well!

The pdf mentions CD-ROM, but it's now installed through your Daz 3D account: Carrara Native Content

Locate the models within the Objects browser in Carrara


...and that's just the models. There's a plethora of various examples for things like lighting, effects, rigging/animation/Inverse Kinematics, scenery terrain, skies and atmospheres, shaders (materials), constraints and other modifiers... there's a Lot of examples to learn from!

...Back to Poser

Poser is now developed and sold by the fine folks at Renderosity!

The cool part about that is that they were the other major marketplace for Poser Content along with Daz 3D. Both big hitters in the industry made their mark on the web by providing content to the Poser user community. Daz 3D sort of silently supported the major platforms like 3ds Max, Maya, etc., but Renderosity actually catered to them, offering content availability, articles, forums, etc., as Daz 3D also does now.

I knew about Renderosity before learning of Daz 3D. It was their support of the Daz 3D figures that led me to them.

Anyway, there is a good bit of competition between the two, while also maintaining a nice, professional peace between them. You see, Daz 3D began developing what has now come to be the incredible Daz Studio when it really looked like Poser software was going to disappear. It never did, but who could possibly blame the good folks at Daz 3D for protecting their interests.

Well by the time we all discover that Poser development was going to stick around, Daz Studio was well under way, yet immature enough to not cause any real threat to Poser software.

Poser got moved around a bit from house to house. It was SmithMicro who had them when Daz 3D's amazing Daz Studio 4.0 and Genesis figure platforms were being developed. According to what I was told back then, Daz offered the technology to SmithMicro to include into Poser to achieve compatibility with this giant leap into the leading edge of mainstream human figures. SmithMicro originally agreed, but then simply didn't implement any of it.

That was a pretty poor move for SM, I think because it wasn't long after that when droves of Poser users aborted Poser entirely and switched to the now free Daz Studio 4.0 Pro, which includes an enormous amount of developmental tools for figure artists, a carefully chose database system to make finding content as simple as can be, along with an all new, highly successful figure that can transform into just about anything!

Still, there are a lot of Poser users still using Poser and who ever really wants that to end? Certainly not Daz 3D. So they took it upon themselves to create the system for Poser and offer that freely to Poser users. It's not as slick as it could have been if it was developed into the software fully, but at least Daz did their part. Yeah, business move, I know. But I still feel a warm generosity coming from Daz on this!

Anyway, it was very (very) recently when Renderosity acquired Poser, and they have an excellent team of artists hard at work on it as we speak. They've already introduced their first Human articulate, L'Femme (female), who has a morph dial included to turn her into L'Homme (male). Still very young in this whole 'developing Poser' thing. I look forward to seeing what they come up with!

Now, speaking of "Generosity", Renderosity has always had an incredibly large selection of Free content. So large that it has its own part of the site. That stuff isn't free here and there - it's always free. There's some really great stuff in there too.

Some of my favorite content artists are at Renderosity. I'll be writing more on that in other pages.

Click the banner below to check out what they're giving customers who buy Poser Pro 11, along with pricing for this most excellent software!

Wow - even the community bundles of HiveWire's human figures is included!

Awesome Promo Reel!!!

As much as I love Poser and Renderosity, I'm still not a fan of L'Femme/L'Homme - and I've even felt that way when I was recently still using V4 and M4. Still, I'm really glad to see them pushing forward. There's only one way to improve - experience!

HiveWire 3D

Speaking of which, I love HiveWire 3D and what they're doing. Chris Creek, founder of HiveWire 3D was also the co-founder (with Dan Farr) of Daz 3D. That's another whole sad tale in its own. Those two were the most generous, wonderful people to work under. However, with Daz 3D's popularity granting them such power in attracting figure/support artists, it's going to be very hard to compete with them for articulated human figures.

They do have a good bunch of artists working under them, many of whom followed Chris from Daz. More on HiveWire 3D in the future.

For now, let's let Eric take us on a virtual tour of the HiveWire 3D store! If you see something you like, please contribute and support these fine artists! ;)

*** Since this article was written, HiveWire3D has closed and is now part of Renderosity

and support this site at the same time!!! :) Thanks!!! :)