The Lady Gamer

Articles   Archives   The Gamers   Contact Us   Store

3D Character Art

by Nancy Schultz

All pictures in this article were created in DAZ Studio with no post-work by the author. Thumbnails link to larger images (opening in a new window) with notes on the image and what was used in the render.

So, you want some character art for your favorite RPG character. But the group artist is too busy (or tired of requests) and you canít find anything that the other players wonít recognize and tease you about, or if you do, itís the wrong genre. Your own artistic ventures are out of the question, regularly bested by the GMís five-year-old kid. Whatís a player to do? Generally, the answer is usually either ďDeal with whatís wrongĒ or ďDo without.Ē

Having struggled with these issues myself (okay, my art is better than my daughterís), I started looking into Poser, a 3D rendering program that started as an artistís tool for assisting with character posing and developed far beyond that into an artistic medium in itís own right. While researching Poser, I came across DAZ Studio, another 3D posing and rendering program. Iím not going to do an in depth comparison the two. Suffice to say, Poser has more support, has more bugs worked out, and has greater functionality. Itís also $250USD. DAZ Studio (D|S) can do about 3/4ths of the things Poser can do, including limited animation, can read most Poser items (except dynamic items), has a slightly faster learning curve, and is ďTell WareĒ, or more specifically, free. The free part is even more attractive when you take into account that even allowing for the starting items that come with either program (Poser has more than DAZ, naturally), youíre still going to be buying some things such as models, morph packages (without which you cannot significantly adjust the face and body of models that need them), and clothes for your humanoid models.

Starfrost My main problem with my own artistic skills was always that I could see the image fairly clearly in my mind, but actually getting that image from my mind onto paper was rarely a satisfactory process. Using D|S, Iíve gotten around that difficulty, and using pre-set character poses, face and body morphs, I can set up a scene in only a few minutes (depending on how quickly I can find the stuff). With a little (sometimes a lot) more time, I can adjust skin tones, lighting, and tweak the pose and faces to customize them further. Of course, the more things in the scene, the longer it takes to setup and render. But Iím also able to adjust the angle of the picture without re-drawing, and it takes far less time to make adjustments than it does when using paper and pencil.

Naturally, a digital medium such as 3D rendering has an extensive on-line support system, including many free items such as clothing, props, morph-presets and texture maps for the various models and items. Granted, the majority is of either the cheesecake or cheesy Fantasy/Sci-fi genre (which in some cases is redundant), but careful searching can reveal a few nice add-ons designed for normal, contemporary settings as well. Most freebies, however, are not intended for commercial use, and while thatís not generally a problem for someone who starts 3D rendering as a supplement to another hobby, it sometimes can be something to keep in mind if you plan on posting the items somewhere public.

George and the Dragon If you canít find what you want in Freebies (and feel free to ask on any of the many forums. There are a lot of freebie sites out there), then itís a matter of patience watching for sales on the various 3D sites* and/or investing in subscriptions or clubs for (usually greatly) reduced prices, or even access to large archives of items that cost nothing more than the original subscription. Several sites have many items (usually single textures or simple objects, but sometimes really wonderfully detailed items) available at $5USD or less.

The largest difficulty for any hobbyist in the 3D rendering world is going to be clothing. Not simply finding clothing to fit the genre, but also finding clothing to fit the characters. Some characters simply have more clothing designed for them than others, and they canít switch clothes without a lot of adjustment (or one of a handful of programs available to translate clothing.) Not all clothing available has the same morphs as the figures, and if you use a morph on the model thatís not in the clothing, it can sometimes be difficult to get the clothing to fit. Again, there are ways to adjust the clothing, of course, but they take both time and money. Fortunately the money part for both wardrobe problems is usually a one-time thing, though finding that one thing can take a while. Some conforming (as opposed to Dynamic clothes, which wonít work in D|S) clothes also canít handle more extreme body positions, requiring compromises on the clothing choices. Between these difficulties and clothing typically being high-polygon models (thereby raising render time), there are actually reasons beyond cheesecake why a lot of images include women in bikinis and lingerie.

Ginger Cat
Looking for the Professor

3D modelingís uses arenít limited to creating art to depict the characters, though. Using any one of several home design studios available, the GM can also take her maps 3D (though again, the more items, the longer it takes), providing a direct view of what the party sees. These two programs arenít usually compatible, unfortunately, but there are an increasing number of modular rooms available for Poser and D|S, and further expansion into systems such as Bryce (designed for larger scale modeling and rendering, with the price-tag to match unless youíre lucky enough to time it right) do allow for using the characters and the scenes together, bringing the GMís world to brilliant, vivid life.

Of course, as players, you want to bring your characters to life, and there are plenty of pre-packaged morphs and textures available (both free and pay) available to make your character look just right. When the description of the character begins with ďShe looks like (insert celebrity here) exceptÖĒ, it just might be possible to find that celebrity. Many artists put together character packages clearly inspired by celebrities. While the overwhelming majority of celebrity packages are for sale, as opposed to free, there are a few celebrity freebies that I have found, though usually they are pose positions for the face only, and don't include skin textures. For those that are not for free, they really are worth the price most of the time.

Typical DnD Party
Iíll admit, the last thing a gamer needs is a new hobby that costs money, but the world of 3D graphic art is becoming increasingly easy for people with even the simplest artistic vision and no talent for more conventional art to create the image of the character that actually is what they had pictured, or at least a lot closer than many of the other options.

*: Recommended large sites not linked within the article include Renderosity, Runtime DNA, PoserPros (a sister site of DAZ), PoserWorld, Content Paradise (a division of e-frontiers) and 3D Commune. There are also many other sites, some large, some small, out there.

Liked this article? Hated it? Have questions? Tell us directly

Copyright 2004-2007 The Lady Gamer. All rights reserved.