I remember when Blender became first available for me. It was a 3D rendering engine and it looked fun, so I downloaded it, installed it and tried it. This was somewhere around 1999 and I still had a lot to learn back then. Still, I did not like the user interface of Blender (and still don’t) and I considered it too complex and not useful enough for myself so I soon forgot about it again. I still was interested in rendering 3D images, but I also wanted something simpler.
So, around 2004 I purchased a copy of Poser and it had the user-friendliness that I was looking for. I needed to collect all kinds of models, though. But by using models I could create some interesting images and could use my own CGI artwork instead of my own photographs for the software development that I like to do.
Being able to generate your own artwork for your applications is a better option than depend on stock material or purchasing/hiring others to make it for you. I don’t want to violate copyrights of others, but when you create websites, you need some graphical parts too and I needed to be my supplier of these images. Buttons were easy, since Paint Shop Pro and other 2D software had plenty of functionality to create them. But more complex things like showing a person behind a computer either required taking pictures or rendering a 3D model. Poser made the second option available to me.
When Second Life became hot, I also played a bit with that. Here is a 3D environment where you can build 3D objects simply by combining several basic shapes, or prims. (From primitives.) The game gave me a more comfortable feel around 3D environments and made me wanting even more.
And now its 2014. I have a piece of land in Second Life where I can build all kinds of things. I use the Firestorm viewer which allows me to exports my own objects from Second Life to use in other 3D software and from there I can continue to change them even further. Second Life also allows me to import back those objects I’ve exported and modified and allows me to import other objects from 3D software, although it does have a lot of problems with many of those models. Unfortunately, Second Life isn’t very clear when it reports errors and doesn’t seem to be able to simply fix some problems during import.
But in all this time, I’ve gotten a nice collection of 3D software which I will mention now, including where you can find it and what I think about it. All software I have are used on Windows systems.
Blender is a very popular product but I consider the user interface a bit complex. Too many buttons and options are polluting the screen and make it difficult to understand. To make things worse, it’s user interface behaves different from standard Windows user interfaces. Dialog boxes tend to appear anywhere, with plenty of different options instead of Yes/No or Ok/Cancel. Information is visible all over the screen so you have to look everywhere to find it. It’s just not intuitive, which is probably because this is an open-source collaboration between many developers who each left their own marks on the application.
Personally, I think the Blender user-interface needs a complete rewrite…
POV-Ray is another 3D render engine and even older than Blender. POV-Ray uses scripts instead of a 3D graphical environment thus it’s not easy to use if you want to generate some 3D model. You just have to write each line in code for this software. Fortunately, there are plenty of 3D modelling applications that you can use to generate POV-Ray scripts. One of them is:
AC3D is a commercial product that makes 3D modelling quite easy. Not as easy as Poser or Second Life, but it has plenty of good features. It’s user interface could use some sanitation, though. On my dual-monitor setup, some of the dialog boxes tend to pop up on the wrong monitor. But it’s very practical and supports several 3D image formats. For all others, you might want something that’s able to convert many different formats. Something like the Online 3D Model Converter or an application like:
AccuTrans 3D supports a few 3D image formats, allowing you to convert your models between different applications. This software also allows you to make some simple modifications to your models and I’ve used it to convert my Poser models to a format that Second Life understands. During this conversion, I also merge the parts of my models that all use the same texture, thus making the models simpler within Second Life. Of course, there’s an alternative that’s free:
MeshLab is open-source, but it has a clear user interface. It still has a few flaws, though. For example, it’s a bit slow compared to AccuTrans 3D. And it fails to correctly import some of my models correctly. It also fails to generate an export file that Second Life can read correctly, thus I need AccuTrans 3D to create those. (And even then Second Life tends to have problems importing them.)
Still, MeshLab is useful and allows you to make several changes to your models. But if you want to put models in proper poses, you will need:
Poser and Poser Pro
Poser is my favorite tool to create 3D models to use within my software. If I need a model of a person behind a computer, I can make it within 20 minutes with Poser. Just take a model of a person, add clothing models and a computer model, perhaps a desk and chair model and start rendering. It is very easy to use and it can import models created by other applications, although those will be less flexible than regular Poser models.
Another application that can be used with Poser models is:
DAZ Studio is free, thus making it very popular. It uses the same models as Poser does and DAZ also sells those models! Thus, DAZ has become very popular as supplier of Poser models.
But maybe it’s because I’m too used to Poser already, but I don’t like the user interface of DAZ Studio. To make it worse, I’ve tried to open some of my Poser models with DAZ Studio, only to discover that DAZ Studio did not accept many of the changes I’ve made to the models. Body parts were reset to their default shapes and it just did not look right.
Still, if you use Poser or DAZ Studio to render some new images, you’ll often want to have some interesting background too. Indoors settings aren’t much of a problem but outdoor images would need a more complex environment. One solution would be:
Bryce can make some great environments, although it seems to be missing some functionality. It also looks very small on my screen with a resolution of 1920×1200. While the results look very good, the user interface is less practical than the alternative:
I use Vue a lot to render models that I’ve created with Poser. The reason for this is because Vue generates very good environments while Poser creates fine models. I could use Poser to render those models, but the lack of a good environment makes them look a bit boring.
Still, one problem with Vue is that it cannot export my generated environments for use in other software. Although Vue does have an export option, it also has many models that are not allowed to be exported. Thus you can create a nice sea, with boats and an island, and try to export it only to discover that you can export just one tiny rock from the whole scene. Vue is also quite expensive, compared to Bryce.
There is far more 3D software available, for all kinds of purposes. DAZ Studio also has Hexagon and Carrara:
Hexagon is just another tool to create models in 3D. I like to use it and have created a few things with it, but it tends to crash a lot. It’s not reliable enough for big projects because it can unexpectedly crash while you’re working on some project. While it is very user-friendly, the instability is just annoying.
Carrara is similar to DAZ Studio and Poser, since it’s meant to put models in certain poses. But it combines this with landscape modelling, making it more useful. It has a simple interface, making it very practical to use. Less is more. Well, at least for user interfaces. Users tend to get lost in very busy interfaces.
Carrara can use Poser models and more. It can import templates I’ve created based on Poser models, although it doesn’t always succeed at importing Poser scenes. It can export to a format that Second Life should be able to read, but this too has some incompatibilities. Second Life is just too picky.
It’s easy to forget but Second Life itself is also very capable of building 3D images. And it seems to be very user-friendly at this too, since it does so in an interactive way with the user. You have an avatar that can walk or fly around the object, which helps you to create models at a nice scale. It supports several primary shapes that can be used to build more complex items. It also allows great control over textures on your objects.
However, to build objects in Second Life, you need some land where you can build. This happens to be limited to certain areas, unless you yourself own some land. You also have to pay small amounts to upload images to the Second Life environment, making it costly in usage. So, there is an alternative:
The OpenSimulator is an alternative for Second Life. It’s open-source, thus free. But it can be used by the same viewers that are used for Second Life. It is a bit complex to set up your own simulations and OpenSimulator itself lacks a useful graphical interface. For this, you need a special viewer:
FireStorm happens to be a great viewer for both Second Life and OpenSimulator. While Second Life has its own viewer, FireStorm has some more advanced features and can be used for OpenSimulator. You can use it to build objects within Second Life or OpenSimulator and then export these for usage in other 3D software. Thus you could use Second Life to make a building or fortress and export it and use it in Poser with some models around it.
There are more viewers available for Second Life and OpenSimulator, but I would recommend to use Firestorm.
One more simulator. Unlike Second Life, VastPark seems to focus more on businesses who want to make more interactive presentations. And what better to use for this than a virtual environment.
But like OpenSimulator, you can’t really use this without first generating the virtual environment. This takes time and some skills with 3D images. You need to create models and create textures for those models, else it’s just a lot of white on white…
VastPark could also be used to create complex animations by recording the actions within the virtual world. This would be useful for creating training material or support documentation of special events, like car accidents or office fires.
I haven’t used LightWave but it looks quite nice. However, I use the LightWave file format as export format for Poser. I then convert those with AccuTrans 3D to the Collada file format, which Second Life can import. The only problem is that Poser models are extremely detailed because they are used to generate highly detailed images. Second Life can’t really handle that much details and often fails to import these models. I can use AccuTrans 3D to split the Poser model in several parts and import those parts one by one, which seems to have a better effect. However, the models that you will import this way in Second Life eat away a lot of your land usage, thus you need a large piece of land. Or your own simulation!
FreeCAD is just another modelling tool. It has some good examples but it lacks some practical functions. However, missing functionality can be added through plug-ins. It is a good tool to combine with POV-Ray. It can do a lot based on the design mode that you’ve selected.
DeleD is another modeller, which is more used for game development. It is useful for simpler objects, not Poser models. It works a bit like Second Life, where you select cubes, spheres and other primitives to build more complex objects.
Speaking of game development, there are also libraries for developers that can help them to create their own 3D software. For example:
This is an open source 3D rendering engine, to be used in games and 3D applications. It has been created for speed, thus less practical if you want to generate highly detailed images. But in a game, you want animations, and you want them in real-time, running smoothly.
Ogre 3D is another 3D rendering engine, written in C++ and with wrappers for use with Python, C# and Java. It too is great to use with games and other interactive environments. It also supports Linux, iOS, Android, WinRT and the Mac OS X. Basically, it’s a library around the OpenGL specifications.
OpenGL isn’t really an application but today, it is part of almost every computer that has a graphics card. The Khronos Group is responsible for maintaining this standard, thus every graphics card can be used by the OpenGL protocol. (At least, if the manufacturer added the support for OpenGL.) Most 3D software relies on OpenGL to display its graphics, although there are plenty of games that use DirectX instead. However, DirectX is an API created by Microsoft to be used for Windows applications only. Thus, many developers are focusing more on OpenGL while Microsoft seems to try to push them back to DirectX.
The greatest dream of 3D will be the Oculus Rift, a special piece of hardware that’s supposed to give you a 3D virtual environment. Basically, it’s made of two screens, each of them showing you a scene from a slightly different angle. Since each eye will only see one screen, your brain will see the virtual world in 3D. (Unless you’re a cyclops.) It will respond on the movements of your head and development for this device will ask a lot from future developers. The 3D worlds are arriving for consumers and companies. It’s still mostly eye-candy to have nice, 3D environments. Development for such 3D worlds is more complex than having a simple web page with text on it. It will need to conquer its place in this world.
However, there’s also development done on 3D televisions and monitors that would not require special glasses to view its content. If such a device would hit the market, then 3D development would become even more important…
So, developers… Prepare to go 3D!