Tuesday, June 23, 2020


As if all the time and money I already spend on hobbies 'n' stuff wasn't enough, I've found yet another enthusiasm that's taking up time and money: 3D art creation using DAZ Studio. Over the past week and a half, I've been fiddling with this new toy like a kid on Christmas Day with his new Red Ryder BB gun—so far without shooting my eye out.

I'd seen a lot of 3D art and always thought it was pretty cool. I also thought it was something that required a huge amount of skill and talent (so, not for me) as well as very expensive cutting edge software and hardware. I finally got curious enough to look into the tools that are available. To my surprise, I discovered that DAZ Studio (a.k.a. DAZ3D) is much less expensive than I imagined—much less in that it's actually free.

I downloaded it and expected to find that working in the tool was like landing a rocket on Mars, but it's not. I've used a lot of 2D graphics programs, so a lot of things seem pretty natural. I also fiddled with an early, early 3D environment creation tool at Adobe 20+ years ago. Getting used to working in a 3-dimensional space was only a little bit challenging. In no time at all I was working with characters in the 3D environment, posing them, dressing them, having them make funny faces, morphing them this way and that, etc., then changing the perspectives on scenes I'd created and rendering them out to 2D images. I was kinda hooked—and that's where the spending money part comes in.

I wondered why DAZ3D would be a free download given its intrinsic coolness. I thought maybe it's just a 'lite' version and to get the full features you need to cough up the Benjamins. Not so. The product you download is the full meal deal as far as tools and features are concerned (sort of). But like drug dealers selling their wares, only the first taste is free. The thing about 3D art is that it's like any hobby where you're always wanting to do a new thing with it, which meaning buying extra stuff.

DAZ3D comes with the basic figures, some clothing, a few props, a few simple environments. But you'll quickly exhaust those resources. If you want to do more cooler things, you need to start buying stuff to use. That's where you have to pay.

I think the best metaphor for doing 3D art is that it's like photography. Staging a scene may require elaborate props, which of course can be bought from daz3d.com (that's why they give you the free software) or other third party sources like Renderocity.com. There's also a lot of free stuff—of varying quality—available that you can use. Lighting plays a huge part in getting the right look for a scene. It's complicated, but you can also use a simpler default lighting.

The figures in DAZ3D are like Ken and Barbie dolls. You need to add all the costumes and props to set the scene you want to render. There's an amazing amount of stuff available. You can also buy character presets that have specific head and body parameters and preset poses, which you can use as is or as a base to start from for a modified pose. Once these are loaded in your system, you can morph them to the basic figures or to other presets to create unique characters of your own design.

As you add (i.e., purchase) characters and face/body morphs, you get more options for how the figures can be changed. For example, you can buy preset facial expressions that you apply to a character using a slider control, but some of the things the expressions do will appear separately in the controls. You may have multiple controls then for eyes, mouth, eyebrows, ears, etc.

One of the more precious items to have in your little cache of resources is hair. You wouldn't think it, but it's invaluable because the basic characters are bald. You've got to apply something to cover their pates and there are a lot of possibilities, all of which you have to pay for.

Right now I'm working in a sci-fi genre for my creations that I've uploaded to my DeviantArt page. I'm hoping to grow the collection over time. I have a lot of ideas for scenes that will keep me DAZzling for a while.

My first real render
My first real render (I fiddled with a lot of test renders) uses a character I created by starting with a base female figure (called Genesis 8 in DAZ), morphing a percentage of the head/body shapes from a couple of preset characters (which I purchased), and then finishing off by making my own unique morphs to the face and body using the built-in controls for that. It's amazing how detailed the options can be. I added freckles to her face and body, changed the eye color, added hair (a short military style buzz, which I bought) and colored it red. I applied sweat over her skin (purchased). I dressed her in a futuristic military uniform (also purchased) and gave her a big-ass sci-fi gun (another purchase). I posed her using a preset pose (the pose came as part of the weapon purchase, it's nice how they do that for some things), which I then modified using the controls than can manipulate things as detailed as the bending of the end bit of a pinky finger, the curl at the edge of the mouth, etc.

That render took only about 20 minutes or so using a fairly simple lighting setup. I just rendered the figure with no environment, so the background comes out transparent, which let me add a background in Photoshop. I played around with options and used a desert image I found on a site that provides free wallpapers for your computer screen. One size option is for the iMac 27" retina that's 5120 pixels by 2880. My render resolution is currently at 4:3 aspect ratio for a 3000 x 2250 px image.

Rendering a 3D creation has a lot of variables when it comes to time and effort. It also depends very much on the GPU (graphics processing unit) you use. DAZ3D loves Nvidia graphics cards and is optimized to use them. I'm working on my new iMac 27" with an ATI Radeon Pro 580X card with 8GB VRAM. That's not bad—much better than my older Mac—but it can take a hellaciously long time to render a complex scene that requires numerous iterations to render.

The render above has been at about 96% to 98% complete for several hours. It's not a complex scene; it only involves a single character with a vignette around it (and a cat). However, the lighting is subtle and that's something that takes a lot of iterations to do. The finishing time, that last 4% or so, can go on forever. The rendering is progressive, so I can see the 2D image as it renders and all the noise etc. that still has to be rendered out.

Still lots of noise in parts at 99% rendered
It's possible to get a eGPU (external graphics processing unit) that plugs into the Mac through its Thunderbolt3 port. Alas, Apple and Nvidia don't like each other right now. Both have removed support for the other in their ongoing feud over who knows what. That leaves Mac users like me with no other option that relying on our built-in graphics cards. As I said, it's not bad, but an Nvidia eGPU would significantly speed up render time. That's a good thing because while a scene is rendering, you can't do anything else in DAZ3D.

Getting a PC with an Nvidia card is a possibility. The low end of the high-end machines is about 1K for the box. The higher-end boxes can go up to 4K. I'm not tempted in either case. Unless I were to get really, really into 3D art rendering, it's a lot of money spent for a machine that I intend to do only one thing with. Ironically, if I knew I was going to be doing this 3 months ago, I may have bought a high-end PC rig rather than spending 3K on a custom iMac.

Multiple objects in a scene can slow rendering way down. That's because the relationship between objects has to be considered in lighting, especially if there are reflective surfaces like mirrors, shiny armor, etc.

I discovered early on that setting the max render time was important. By default, render max is set to 7200 seconds (2 hours). When it hits the max, the render stops right there, which may leave a very unfinished work. I bump that way up to the max of 259200 seconds (72 hours) to ensure that I get a full render. I believe it's possible to turn it off altogether, so there's no time limit at all.

Other renders after my first have built on the materials I bought for that and added more. Some have been set in environments that challenged my poor lighting abilities (I have much to learn), though it's very similar to what you'd do in photography only you're setting it all up digitally. I hated fiddling around with my lighting setup when I was doing photography.

That scene required a new character with new costume and props and new poses. (Are you seeing a theme about purchasing?) The nice thing with setting up a scene, is that you can change perspective and render from different angles with different lighting effects.

You can also take renders that have no environment and render them multiple times at varying angles (these are usually 'quick' renders of about 20 minutes or so), or with a some variation in placement or pose, and apply a variety of backgrounds in Photoshop.

There are a lot of possibilities as I add more props 'n' stuff. There are a lot of costumes, props, and environments available. I'll run out of ideas (or enthusiasm; let's be real, it's me and there are other shiny things out there) before I run out of options.

Do sci-fi girls actually require less body armor than sci-fi boys?
The render below took more than 15 hours and 1426 iterations to complete. Even then, I had to spend time in Photoshop despeckling it, which makes it better, but not best. It's dark. You can barely see that there's a cat rubbing against her leg.

It should have rendered longer, but the quality setting may have prevented that. My max time was fine, it could have kept rendering for another day, if needed. However, I kept rendering quality on the default setting of 1.0. I can dial that up to 15.0.

The render below used the same character, but without the environment and its lighting setup (the background is wallpaper). I dialed the rendering quality to 2.19, but it stopped rendering after 1 hour and 6 minutes because 'convergence threshold reached' according to the log. That's another setting to dial up to 100. I learn as I go...

The highly reflective body armor she's wearing is really causing grief with the renders. The cat, on the other hand, is non-reflective and an easy, though not instantaneous, render (50 minutes).


  1. That's impressive work. You did leave out some of the small details like buttons and zippers.

  2. Not omissions, wardrobe malfunctions. Actually there's limited control over the materials/props used. It depends on how they were made. Some items enable a lot of controls to morph the object this way and that. Others, not so much.