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ricochet
06-04-2005, 09:40 AM
Hey there,

I'm looking for advice & you guys have had good advice so far as I've been lurking around. :) Can you help me by answering a few questions, please? There's a long intro, just to give the questions some context, sorry for the book! :)

Due to significant health problems, I'm suddenly finding myself in a position where I have to leave my job, move, and recover for a few months. I've decided to try turning lemons into lemonade with being ill etc. so I'm planning on buckling down & getting to work on my own 3D imaging & animation projects with the longer term goal of starting my own studio while I recuperate.

I'm in the market for programs to use in conjunction with Lightwave 8.x that will complement it, not be too hard to use, & assist me with my workflow. My primary focus right now is animation. I started out with Ray Dream Designer 4 many years ago, and have been consistent with that program through the current incarnation, Carrara4 Pro. I started working with Lightwave 7.5d a year ago & am now upgrading to LW 8.3. (Thank you, Newtek, for the $250 upgrade!!!!) Due to my job, I haven't had as much time to work on LW as I'd like to have, but that's all changing now, so I can focus on it in depth for a while.

My 3 main systems are:
1. ibook G4, 1.33ghz, 1.25gb ram, 32mb radeon 9200pro
2. powermac g4 dual 1.42ghz, 1gb ram 128mb 9800pro
3. athlon64 3700+(2.4ghz), 1gb ram, 256mb 6800GT

My platform of choice is my powermac, due to the OS stability, the fact that I can run multiple programs without them conflicting, and for its overall workflow & reliability. Ergo, my main media creation/LW box will be my powermac dual G4. My athlon system is used for gaming - which it's great for - and will be used as a backup modeling/render box. I'm planning on using my ibook for modeling and as an extra rendernode. I'm looking at getting a new powermac/imac and will migrate the g4 tower to being a render box.

Here is my current animation software toolset:
1. Lightwave 8.3
2. Hexagon - I will be using this primarily until I'm more comfortable with LW's modeler
3. Carrara 4 pro
4. Corel Photopaint/Draw
5. Macromedia Dreamweaver/Flash/Freehand/Fireworks MX

Here is what I'm looking at to round out/complement Lightwave:

Maestro or T4D animation setup plug-ins: which do you all use? which do you recommend for multiple characters in a scene, ease of use, ease of setup?

DAZ: Mimic2 for Lightwave: is this a good plugin? do I even need this if I have Maestro/T4D/Lightwave 8? is there something better already out there?

Zbrush 2 or Bodypaint 2: which should I get? I am leaning toward Zbrush...

Vue 5 Infinite: is this a good plug-in for LW for landscapes, trees, rocks, grass, etc.? Is there a better product out there or should I get a different version than Infinite?

Ozone: do I need this if I have Vue Infinite?

Poser 6: although I dislike the Ken & Barbie look to the models, is this a good figure starter for realistic humans? Does it interface well with LW? I'm not sure why else I would purchase it...

Are there other LW plug-ins that you would recommend I look at/invest in?

Finally, as far as editing video, I'm planning on using iMovie in the short term, then graduating to Final Cut Pro. I'm a little stymied on which compositor to choose: Aftereffects or Shake? Is compositing really worth doing versus animating everything in-scene? (a loaded question, I'm sure, but that's the one area that I don't have experience with.)

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I'd sure appreciate any thoughts & opinions you'd be willing to share!
-James

Darth Mole
06-04-2005, 12:32 PM
Can't comment on character animation plug-ins - although Maestro does looks good (is there a Mac version?).

Mimic 2 is very clever and can provide pretty good lip-synching, but - as with any lip-synching - it still requires you to build all the phenome morph targets. However, once that's done, the animation part is a piece of cake, as it blends all the morphs targets together based on your imported audio track. I don't think any other LW plug-in does that currently.

ZBrush 2 is both a modeller and paint package in one. I haven't tried bopdypaint (I've got ZB2 so I don't need to!), so can't vouch for its usefulness, but I reckon you can do an awful lot with ZB2. It also works great with Hexagon - just rough out your basic models in Hex as an OBJ file, add displacement detail and text maps in ZB2, then render it back in LW. I'm a huge fan of ZB2 - at the price it's a bargain - but you really do need a good graphics tablet to get the most from it.

Vue 5 Infinite is not a plug-in but a major standalone app, which generates terrifc scenery populated by multi-million polygon vegetation or objects. There are lots of scenery generators out there (some either very cheap or free), but Vue 5 I is very impressive and plays well with LW. In my opinion, if you're going to get Vue 5 you may as well get the Infinite version with all the bells and whistles...

I don't think you need Ozone if you get V5I - it can render out HDR sky images which you can use back in LW - or just render plates for comping into LW scenes. Also, you can do a lot right in LW with SkyTracer, Eki's Skygen, Hypervoxels etc.

Poser 6 is by far the most impressive release of this app. The renderer is great and the new included figures (plus Victoria and Michael which are free from Daz) don't look like Ken and Barbie any more. You can export OBJ files for loading into LW, either as single meshes or as an object sequence, so you can add walking, running or mocapped figures into your scene. Only thing is, actually animating in Poser is pretty hard, and you'll need to put in some effort to get anything good out. Also, meshes export as high-poly OBJ files and you'll have to relink all the textures in Modeller, so it's not exactly plug 'n' play... Poser is fun, but it's only an essential addition to your armoury if you need quick human figures.

In terms of LW plug-ins, there are plenty I'd buy before Poser, Mimic or Vue 5:
Worley's FPrime for previewing scenes is brilliant, so is Sasquatch for fur and hair.
I very much like Evasion|3D's X-Dof for realistic depth-of-field.
Pawel Olas' Tree and Leaves generators are great for vegetation.

Take a look at www.flay.com and do a search for 'Mac'. There are some very cool plug-ins out there which you'll find useful day to day, not just once in a while...

And finally, my only other advice would be to download a few demos of this stuff first, see how you get on.

Darth Mole
06-04-2005, 01:16 PM
FYI: Here's one of the new Poser 6 figures imported into LW, re-textured with the bundled UV maps and rendered.

(NOTE: This is a 78,000-poly mesh! Also there's some strangeness with the UV maps around his neck, but this is only a quick test, so I haven't had time to figure out what's going on).

Nigel Baker
06-05-2005, 04:10 AM
Hello Ricochet,

I think the advise that Darth gives is pretty good all round.
I would second the recommendation on FPrime. For me this is a must.
There is a lot out there. And it really depends on where you want to go.
There does seem to be one part of your request missing.
What is the output for.
Are you using Final Cut Pro.
Combustion would be a another composition piece of software that would be useful.
Again if you are getting Vue 5 Infinite - you will not need Ozone.

Hope this helps some.
And all the best with everything, hope you get better sooner.

ricochet
06-06-2005, 01:07 PM
Darth Mole & Nigel -

Thank you for the guidance! I looked at the plug-ins you mentioned -- the Worley ones look great! I'll definitely be getting FPrime. I thought that 'Sasquatch Lite' came with Lightwave... Is that version good enough for hair generation or not really?

I'll go with Zbrush2 since you recommend it so highly. When I import an obj from Hexagon or LW into Zbrush2, will I need to bring in the lowest poly version or a higher-poly version? Do I have to bring in separate pieces or will all the objects in the model's hierarchy come in?

Darth - I'm not sure whether Maestro is for mac - I guess I saw the mac logo next to Mimic2 on their website & somehow made the mental jump that Maestro was cross-platform. T4D is tho - and is an excellent price to boot.

Nigel - I'm outputting to web (320x240ish quicktime/divx) and to video/dvd (720x480 NTSC). I was planning to upgrade to FCP in a bit. I'll take a look at Combustion - thanks for the tip!

Thanks again!
-James

sk810
06-06-2005, 03:47 PM
Cgchannel had this link off there site for free Deep Paint 2
http://www.download.com/Deep-Paint/3000-2191_4-10398243.html?tag=lst-0-1

Darth Mole
06-07-2005, 02:04 AM
Sasquatch Lite is very good, but it ain't a patch on the full version. You can't do spline-based long hair, for instance, and there's no built-in dynamics (for short hair).

When you build a Hexagon model, before saving it, reduce the subdivisions to their lowest level, so you get a simple poly cage. Open that in ZBrush and save it as a morph target. Increase the subdivisions and add all the fine detail, wrinkles, creases etc. Now you can save the difference between those morph targets as a displacement map for use in LW. Or just export it as a high-poly mesh.

But I'll warn you now: I've used loads of software over the years, from Bryce and Infini-D to After Effects, LW, C4D, Poser, RealFlow... and ZBrush has the steepest learning curve of them all (with the possible exception of Maya which I hated). It's like the app speaks Japanese when you're fluent in English. It's a whole different mindset and does take some getting used to - but it sounds like you have time on your hands so it should keep you busy!