The Fastest Way To Stunning DAZ Studio Animation
If you’re into 3D animation using DAZ Studio, then the following tricks will make you design and render up to 10 times faster. Plus make it so much more fun and look stunning too, even on a low end PC or MAC. You’re probably already aware of aniMate lite now being built into the DAZ Studio software, adding amazing possibilities for super quick and easy animation of characters and figures. Although being a superior tool for animation itself, you’re still facing lighting, scene creation and rendering; which can be time consuming both during design and especially during rendering. Below, aniMate 2 fighting block added to Michael 4, making him instantly perform a moving kick:
Lighting animation is very different from lighting still images, since you have moving action, either with the characters and props, or with the camera. The easiest thing you can do here, is to use “less is more”. That is to use a single light as the main light source, place it in such a manner so that it works across your entire animation and then back it up with Uber Environment 2.0, adding additional overall lighting. Of all the light types, distant lights render the quickest. A distant light is also simple to use, since you only need to adjust its rotation. Distant lights cannot be moved. Well, they can; but it won’t affect the light itself. If you’re mimicking outdoor sun light, set shadow softness to 0.5% and use raytracing as shadow type. As far as rotation of the light goes, aim for creating as much contrast as possible, with lighting coming from the side /above and front or back. You can also select the light in the scene tab and adjust it in the parameters tab, using the X, Y and Z rotation sliders for instant feedback in the main viewport window, as seen below:
With the UberEnvironment 2.0 set to Ambient setting, you end up rendering much quicker at the cost of a somewhat flat look and feel. Choosing extra detail with indirect lighting and/or occlusion turned on, WILL create great results at the cost of extra rendering time, especially if you want less grain and more quality. That’s time you often don’t have. Let’s face it, if you spend only 10 minutes rendering a single frame (which is pretty fast for a still render), and you need 30 seconds of animation; at 30 fps (frames per second)–you’ll end up spending 10 minutes x 900 = 9,000 minutes, which equals 150 hours or almost a week of pure rendering time. Yes, that’s alomost 7 days. Below, UberEnvironment 2.0 assisted render using a single distant light. With maximum quality and indirect lighting turned on, it looks quite good, but takes several minutes to finish, even on a fast computer:
DAZ Studio is very resource hungry during rendering, so your system will most likely be pretty tight during the progress. An option is to lower the CPU usage for DAZ Studio. On a PC, you can hit CTRL + ALT + Delete and choose Start Activity Manager. In the second tab (Processes), select DAZ Studio, right click and choose a lower priority. This will enable your PC to function somewhat normal during rendering, but it’s still heavily burdened, uses lots of memory and you cannot run other heavy applications as smoothly. Another disadvantage of long render times is power consuption. Having your PC or MAC on 24/7 will affect your electric bill. If you have your system constantly on for 30 days, it will literally add tens, if not hundreds of extra dollars in pure power consumption per month, depending on how heavy your PC or MAC is.
A good goal to have, is to get under the critical 1 minute per frame render time. With only 1 minute per frame rendering, you would do the same animation as in the above example in only 15 hours. That’s a HUGE difference. 15 hours compared to almost a week. Now, to get down to such fast render times, you must ignore quality settings such as occlusion and indirect lighting when using the Uber Environment 2.0; and use it mainly to get the extra Ambient light. A setting at 20-30% looks pretty good in most cases, depding on the situation and your taste. Stick to only one light that uses shadows. 1 minute per frame sounds pretty cool, right? It is. In a moment, I’m going to show you how you can actually turn that into seconds. Yes, seconds per frame. Below, a DAZ Studio render done in 2 seconds flat:
But first, let’s adress one more issue. Another time consuming thing we 3D animators often face, is scene design. That is, the addition of props that shape the scenery behind or around the actors. It simply takes time to add the things we want, to position the actors and make everything match and look good. Adding a huge prop or scenery is also resource heavy, will eat memory for lunch, will slow down your system during design time (shows as lag when moving scene items or camera), and will also increase rendering times significantly, since you no longer render the actors only, but the entire frame / image. Below, a DAZ Studio scene showing how complex and cluttered scene design can get with multiple objects:
A good idea is to minimize WHAT you render. That is, instead of rendering the entire frame, you can use pre-rendered backgrounds. This can be done super simple with a flat plane primitive behind your characters, with a photo or pre-rendered still image applied to it. Don’t forget to turn off shadow casting on that plane and lower diffusion and specularity to 0%, while increasing ambient to 100% (RGB white). Although super quick, it’s somewhat limiting, since you cannot show the characters feet and you have limited camera movment. You can still zoom in and out, and rotate the camera as long as you have enough background, but that’s pretty much it. Below, a plane is placed behind Michael 4, with a camera framing him and the plane so that it stays behind him. When lighting is matched, you can’t see if the background is faked or not:
This very technique was used in the award winning DAZ Studio music video “Love”, where some of the scenes had faked backgrounds. A more advanced way of using the same technique, is to use a sphere instead of a plane. A sphere will surround your scene, thus making it a 360 degree background–giving much more camera freedom. To use such an effect, you need to map the sphere primitive with a spherical 360 degree image. These can be found online, or created in a 3D software that enables 360 degree rendering. The images need to be twice as wide and they come high. For instance; 6,000 x 3,000 pixels. Going below this resolution will result in a fuzzy / blurry background, which is ok if you need it. The extra dimensions are needed to cover the entire scene, going all around your characers, main props or action. Below, a sphere surrounds the scene and “embraces” the character completely:
Using this technique, you can fake an actual ground and show the characters feet; if the sperical image is “taken” or rendered at ground level. However, it will not produce shadow casting on to the faked spherical background, since it’s not virtually touching your characters. In order to get shadow casting onto the faked ground, you would need to actually create a transparent plane, and create a shadow casting “shader”. Yes, that sounds a little too much tech, so I’ll show you how to get it done INSTANTLY, literally with a couple of mouse clicks. Below, two renders done using Movie Maker for DAZ Studio, that uses this technique to automate the entire proces, making the illusion more complete:
Note that there is no physical ground in the above images, and yet it looks like Victoria is standing right on it. I mentioned rendering in seconds per frame. How is that even possible? With special optimized lighting, pre-rendered 360 degree backgrounds and a special shadow catching plane, you WILL actually get down to seconds per frame, all while keeping the quality at 100%. So, the above animation would not even take 15 hours to complete. It could happen in just a couple or few hours. All 900 frames. As quick as down to 3-4 seconds PER frame. It sounds fast, and it is fast (render times will vary on various systems). But not only that, it looks good too, since the backgrounds are already pre-made with maximum quality. Each background took actually 24-48 hours to render, just so it can fire off at your end in a matter of seconds. Below, a walking zombie render done using Movie Maker for DAZ Studio:
This is what you when using Movie Maker for DAZ Studio:
– Increase the fun factor by 10
– Lower design time by 10
– Lower rendering time by 10
– Lower system overhead (memory) by a factor of 10
– Keep quality at 100%, with pre-made backgrounds that already have maximum settings and fancy effects
– HD 1280 x 720 rendering in just seconds per frame (will vary on different systems)
Everyting else, such as lighting and shadows… matched and taken care of. In order to give camera freedom, Movie Maker was designed with so called camera nodes. You can freely switch between various nodes, and the appropriate background will be automatically loaded to match the new camera position. This not only works, it looks AMAZING too. Not to mention the OUTRAGEOUS rendering times. And yes, you can use as many characters in your scenes as you want; even vehicles, like cars. Below, the Movie Maker for DAZ Studio interface, with a selection of the background packs, showcasing a zoomed in image from the “Battlecruisers Background Pack” to the right:
All the issues we were addressing such as scene design, lighting and render time; are all gone. Even on a low end PC or MAC, you simply focus on the fun action with your characters, hit one button or two and hit render. The rest is done. You can even blur the background to get a nice DOF (Depth of field effect). Which in turn is another time saver, since rendering with real DOF requires not only set up time, but also additional X / Y samples quality setting, in order to avoid the grainy look and feel. Some background packs, like the new Prison Cells, have another very special feature. You can actually place items behind objects, although they are mapped to the sphere BEHIND your characters or action. Using advanced alpha masks, some objects, like the prison bars and 2nd floor, will appear as in front of your action; making the illusion more appealing; giving you even more freedom. Below, “Prison Cells Background Pack” with some of the camera nodes featuring foreground elements:
Movie Maker was designed with YOU in mind. So, you can easily create fabulous DAZ Studio animation, fast. Really fast (and it works well for stills too). Right now, we have a DAZ Studio animation special going on, so you can get Movie Maker for DAZ Studio and all 30 related items at up to 70% off for the entire month of January 2015.
Kick start 2015 and show off your new animation skills, the way it was meant to be. Fun, fast and good looking. Right now. Click HERE.
– Val Cameron
P.S. Kick start 2015 and show off your new animation skills, the way it was meant to be. Fun, fast and good looking. Right now. Click HERE for MASSIVE up to 70% savings on 30 items during entire Jan 2015.
Happily sharing how to create great 3D & 2D art in DAZ Studio, Lightwave and Photoshop, Val Cameron, CEO and founder of Dreamlight, has been coaching and mentoring hundreds of thousands of artists since 2005. Bestselling DAZ 3D vendor with over 230+ video tutorials, plug ins and light sets.