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Version 3.0 of Poser is a powerful and cost-effective character creation tool, which offers major improvements in both modelling and animation Walk like a man

When Poser first saw the light of day, it was an application looking for a use. It was one of those things everyone liked to play with but which had no real purpose.

One of the first areas in which it eventually began to find success was architectural visualisation, as it allowed anatomically correct (or otherwise) figures to be placed in scenes to give a sense of scale. Things improved further with Poser's next incarnation, and now, with the release of version 3.0, MetaCreations is offering an extremely powerful and cost-effective character creation tool.

The creation of realistic human forms is one of the most difficult tasks for a computer. Poser allows the user to create quickly both still and animated characters based on a set of figure templates.

The first thing you'll notice when opening the application is the interface. Users of other Meta products will be used to the organic look and feel of the interface, which aims to make operations intuitive while moving away from traditional menu and palette structures. In this case it pays off as you only have to deal with a limited set of objects. Other applications have tried this approach but with less success (how many of you use Amapi on a regular basis?) Organised like a multimedia project, this interface maximises the number of tools that can be accessed at any time without over-complicating the screen.

Work is carried out in a single window in which the character appears. The figure works in the same way as an artist's mannequin, with the added benefit of full ik structures. In version 3.0 you are no longer limited to the human form - it is possible to create horses, cats, dogs, and even the odd dinosaur.

The first thing to point out is that this is not Character Studio - while it does offer a high level of functionality, it is still not in that league. Figures can be worked on as stick figures, skeletons or models, and you even have the ability to control the appearance of genitalia - a menu item I haven't come across before. You are not limited to producing figures, as Props can also be included in a scene. While Poser is not a modelling application, it does have the ability to import geometry from other applications. Props are useful when animating figures which will later be placed in a scene created elsewhere.

This new version offers a number of significant improvements in both modelling and animation. The new animation controls include a Walk designer, which allows the simple creation of realistic walking motions that can then be applied to a human figure. The Walk designer provides the means to control both large movements such as gait and more subtle movements that allow personality to be added to a character. A real-time preview window in the dialogue box shows the results of changes on an animated stick man. Transition options allow smooth transitions from one walk style to another. This can be used when moving from a walk to a run, with the software interpolating between the two patterns. An option to force the animation to complete within an allotted time is also available, proving the means to animate to fit.

Hands and faces can now be animated, as within Poser 3.0 both are fully articulated. Faces are now very flexible, allowing a far greater level of emotional expression to be produced. Another useful feature is the ability to generate speech patterns to synchronise with sound files.

The first release of Poser was limited by its inability to deal with surface materials, making the creation of clothes impossible. This area has been addressed, and it is now possible to provide your digital friends with all manner of garb. This is achieved by the use of texture and bump maps to differentiate elements within a model. You don't actually place clothes on your model; you simply make elements of your model look like clothes. A number of templates are provided with the full install, which make producing this level of detail much easier. Poser uses Implicit uv mapping, so imported props must include this information if you intend to apply textures to them. dxf files do not carry uv co-ordinate information, so it's worth saving things in other formats before importing them.

Version 3.0 is a major leap forward for Poser, which to be fair really has no competition at this level. Every game developer and serious 3D artist should own a copy of this even if it's just to work out ideas. What's more, you get both the Mac and pc version on the same cd!

Poser 3.0 £179. Upgrade £69

Contact Computers Unlimited, tel: 0181 358 5857

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