Sunday, October 9, 2011

Conan who --? In fact, SAV's "Atlas" for M4 and Genesis

Call this a product review ... in which case, it's a 5-star review. I'm not just impressed, I'm very, very impressed. Studio Art Vartanian have outdone themselves with this one. It's a skinmap and face/body morph to fit Michael 4 and the new Genesis mesh. The Genesis part had me a bit worried. I've been passing on skinmaps that say they're for Genesis for months now, because I was never sure if I'd be able to use it in the old fashioned Michael 4, in DAZ Studio 3 ... and as I've said here before, I can't run DAZ Studio 4. I have a powerful but older system which is 32-bit, and I've heard bad, bad things about trying to run Studio 4 on 32-bit systems. I won't be able to afford a new system for a year or so, which puts the new DAZ studio well and truly on the back burner -- and the Genesis mesh with it!

(In case you're puzzled: Genesis is a new 3D mesh technology; the base figure is packaged inside of Studio 4 -- you don't but it separately. But every single thing you want to do with it is an add-on, or a plug-in.)

But I was at Renderosity the day before yesterday, shopping for the props to finish off a commission piece, and there was this barbarian ... one look, and I was hooked. He was also on special, under ten bucks! I figured it had to be worth the risk, to find out of I could get the skinmap to work in the old DAZ, with the old figure. If it didn't work, I was out the price of a can of coffee. No biggie.

And the answer it, it does work!

The big challenge was in getting the files into the proper folders, the proper file hierarchy (or directory structure, as we used to call it back in the old DOS days. Yes, I'm afraid I'm that old), but the designer had given fair warning of this. As you know (or might), the old file hierarchy was:


...and after that, you copied anything you wanted to use in DAZ into Geometries, Morphs, Libraries, Textures, what have you. Tricky the first few times you did it, but soon enough, you can do it in your sleep. No probs.

With Studio 4, DAZ, in their infinite wisdom, have upended everything, changed the entire thing, so that none of the old installers will run (!), and from here on, when a third party designer like SAV wants to make something easily available for DAZ 3 and 4 (much less for M4 and Genesis), well, they're up against a bear of a challenge.

In the past, we bought a simple ZIP archive, inside which was a Runtime folder, and inside that, folders for Geometries, Libraries, Textures, and so forth. You just copy/pasted over the files and boom! You were in business. Now? That won't work. A designer would have to quite literally package the product twice, in two extremely different folder hierarchies, to make it plain-sailing for newbies... but that's not going to work either, because of the sheer size of the high-rez texture maps in a top-class skinmap. You physically cannot package that much content twice, so newbies are going to be stranded, doing some serius head-scratching.

Not being a newbie, I managed to get it figured out (as witness, the renders above), but ... gosh, thanks, DAZ. Newbies really needed this. I mean, the marketplace is now absolutely flooded to the eyeballs with easy-unpack products structured around the obsolete file hierarchy! Imagine a newbie coming along right about now ... downloads Studio 4 because it's the bang up-to-date prog, and the price is right (FREE), and then s/he is trying to shop at Renderosity, because it turns out that's where about 80% of the great content is hiding...! Total confusion.

So I'm making rude faces at DAZ for this, at the same time as giving a whopping five stars and a double thumbs-up to SAV for the Atlas character.

He's flawless. Literally. There are three face options (normal; wilder; and battle-face), and two body options (normal and battle -- ie, spattered with blood). The resolution is superb. The eyeballs are great -- in two colors and two iris sizes. In particular, I like the hands, which are battered enough to look ultra-realistic, and very, very high-rez. One runs out of superlatives.

This is the best SAV skinmap yet -- I've reviewed SAV-Eros and also Yannis in the last few months, too. In the above renders, Atlas (Conan, by any other name) is wearing SAV's Spartacos hair, set to black, and the Euros costume with elements turned off. The set is H3D's Lost Path, with some additional props added in from the Elven Shed set by DM, and the Fae Weaponry fantasy broadsword. The Greek column is from an old, old prop set from the DAZ marketplace ... is it called Eras Columns? Something like that.

The backdrop was specially painted for the occasion... Photoshop, using about 8 layers and numerous brushes by Ron, Mystical, DesignFera, Hawksmont and FrozenStar. Ron's brushes are available at DAZ, the rest can be found at very inexpensive prices at Renderosity. For the background, I started with a deep purple bucket fill, in another layer, painted in a black zone to represent the hillside, added the silhouettes of trees; then foreground trees in another layer, with layers of mist in a layer between them ... then the moon was added in a layer right on top of the purple, then an orange haze in a layer on top of the moon, and the clouds over the lot. Dot in a few stars, and then flatten the whole image and save it to a JPG, to be shipped into DAZ as a backdrop. Done. Simple when you know how. If you're in any doubts, I did a post a short while ago -- creating a watercolor from scratch. The basic technique is absolutely the same:

The finished renders are so clean, they didn't even need any post work -- you're seeing them just as they finished off in DAZ ... they're not even raytraced, just the trust old deep shadow map on a couple of the lights.

SAV Atlas: five stars, highly recommended, and don't be put off by the fact it'll also work with Genesis. So long as you know your file hierarchy in Studio 3, you can get it figured out in a few minutes, and then you're cooking.

The other thing I've been working on is rejacketing the NARC books ... we're getting there slowly but surely. Just ... slowly! Here's the new cover for EQUINOX:

Nice? Nice.

And if you're wondering what in the world the new Genesis mesh is all about, see this:

And sure, it's a fantastic new technology. But even though the basic program is a free download, you have to spend about $200 on plugins and so forth, to make it compatible with your existing content (when you've spent thousands of bucks on said content, there's no way you could afford to go back and start over with it!), and even then -- the old 32-bit systems, like mine, misbehave badly when running it. I'll need a brand, spanking new system before I can run Studio 4, which means ... oh, Christmas 2012! So till then, I'll be sticking with Studio 3, and watching from the sidelines as Genesis matures. It's still brand new, and probably has a bug or three! It'll be interesting watching it mature ... they might even be up to Studio 5 before I get the chance to upgrade!

Jade, October 10
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