Poser – the program (X Professional)

Professional considerations

One day while visiting the Poser forum on Renderosity I ran into the following dialogue:

A: given my scene lighting (…), how can I get the proper shadows between the car/tires and the ground?
B: just paint them in, using Photoshop
A: that’s cheating!

The other day I visited one of my favorite galleries of a guy photographing fashion models. He wrote:

I do like to try to evoke an expression that is often not a young model’s natural go to look. Sometimes it works and other times it requires tweaking in Photoshop. Funny side note – there are at least 3 images in various places online where a model is getting comments referring to her amazing expression when most of the expression is the result of my application of the liquefy filter… .

Believe me, if I want to become the utmost Poser guru on Earth, the first route is the one to take. Never cheat anything. But if I’m on a budget, on the deadline, or just want to make a series of interesting images during my holiday leave instead of one single perfect render in my whole life, the second route is more profitable. That is what matte background painters do. That is what the special effects guys (and girls) are for. Professionals cheat, they do so knowledgably, and all pro software gives it the full support it deserves. Poser too offers some support, which can be extended using plugins like Advanced Render Settings.

In general, the golden rule for professionals is: never do in 3D what can be done in 2D, aka: invest in pre- and post production. For instance, in scene and object creation:

  • Background images instead of complete full depth 3D scenes
  • Billboard or simple texture mapped block objects instead of full detail 3D ones
  • Bump (at larger distance) and Displacement (shorter distance) textures instead of full detail 3D modeling

And in post

  • Separate renders for Color (Beauty pass, Diffuse), Shine (Specularity), Reflection and the like
  • Separate renders for (groups of) lights / radiosity, and of shadows / ambient occlusion
  • Separate renders for masking objects and material zones
  • No render at all but just a 3D import into Photoshop
  • And finally blending and adjusting image layers in Photoshop

The main reasons are

  • During design, it’s far more flexible. I, or any client, might develop new ideas on the spot when viewing the first concepts. This way it’s easy to create and annotate variations, and to evaluate them on the go. The result is a more robust evaluated concept which has a better change making it to the end.
  • In 3D, I can tweak shadows and highlights forever, and when I’m deploying IDL at print-size (3500×2500 magazine or even 7000×5000 poster) image format waiting another 24 hours for my tenth ‘final’ render is not something I’m looking forward to. Photoshop is just blazingly faster and much more interactive.
  • In 3D, some things just don’t work out unless I spend hours getting it sorted. Conforming clothes which don’t fully wrinkle, Dynamic clothes with a little poke-through, small areas without a shadow, reflections being too strong or too sharp, you name it. Everything that can go wrong, will. Especially when I’m on a deadline.

Surprisingly, this holds even more for hobbyists than pros. Most amateurs have a regular day-job, kids or whatever which leaves them with just an hour a day for their project. They also lack training, and a senior staff member teaching them the tricks of the trade. And while they might not have clients, they might have mental deadlines. Images which should be ready as a birthday gift. Images which should be done so they can move on to the next idea they got recently.

Remember, a lot of pro photographs are post processed for various reasons. Renders are just virtual photographs. So why not playing a similar game? So instead of mastering Poser, one should first master character, fashion or nude photography, and post processing techniques. The best arrangement for Material Room nodes or the best dial settings in Cloth Room might be a lesser concern. That’s my opinion, at least.

As I said, Advanced Render Settings will be your friend, but Poser itself offers some tools too.

  • Render A with Cast Shadows unchecked, and render B with both Cast Shadows and Shadows Only checked.
    Add image B in Photoshop on top of layer A, set B in multiply mode and adjust its strength. Now I’ve got full interactive control over my shadows.
  • Render without and with Gamma Correction switched on (Poser Pro only) and blend the results.
  • Render without and with Depth of Field checked, blend the results.
  • Render with groups of lights on / off, and add the results while varying the contribution of each (can be tedious with many lights)
  • And so on. What can result from interactively blending with and without Raytracing, with and without InDirect Light, with and without Ambient Occlusion on the lights? Photoshop layers can be subtracted to get the net effect only, which in turn can be blurred, or brightened, darkened, contrasted, etcetera.

Poser – the program (Z Appendix)

Appendix Poser.ini settings

This file hosts a lot of settings. Some of them can be changed by the user, via a preferences or settings dialogue. Some settings are just internal (colors, pane and window size and position, coms ports), some are for testing purposes (all sorts of logging), some make a legacy impression to me. This chapter is not completed yet, and might grow under Poser updates. More details are welcome.

BOUNDING_BOXES 1 Menu Display \ Tracking
DEPTH_CUE 0 Preview pane & Display menu
SHOW_LIGHTS 0 Hierachy Editor
DRAW_OFFSCREEN 1 Render Settings \ Preview \ Display Engine
BEND_BODY_PARTS 1 Menu Display
BACKFACE_CULL 0 Render Settings \ Remove Backfacing Polys
BACKGROUND_COLOR 22527 20479 17917
FOREGROUND_COLOR 16000 16000 16000
UI_BACKGROUND_COLOR 54227 51143 47288 Content of the BG Color node
UI_BACKGROUND_IMAGE 0 File \ Import \ Background Image
QUATERNION_ON 0 Menu Animation \ Quaternion Interpolation
USE_META_UI 1 Use settings from XML file for UI definition details
LAUNCH_PREFERRED 0 General Preferences \ Document \ Launch behavior
UI_PREVIOUS 1 General Preferences \ Interface \ Launch behavior
LAST_PROJ_GUIDE “” Menu Window \ Project Guide
PROJ_GUIDE_PALETTE_SHOW 0 Menu Window \ Project Guide
DONT_SHOW_QUICK_START_DIALOG 1 Menu Window \ Quick Start (front page: Don’t show…)
PYTHON_EDITOR_PATH “” General prefernces \ Misc \ Python
USE_COMPRESSION 1 General preferences \ Misc \ Save Files
HTML_WINDOW_LOC 240 120 681 642
UNIT_SCALE_FACTOR 2.621280 General preferences \ Interface \ Display – Units (@ meters)
DEFAULT_CREASE_ANGLE 80.000000 General preferences \ Document \ Smoothing
UNIT_SCALE_TYPE 5 General preferences \ Interface \ Display – Units
USE_OPENGL 1 Menu Display \ Preview Drawing + Render Settings \ Preview
OGL_ALLOW_PBUFFERS 0 Render Settings \ Preview
USE_EXTERNAL_BINARYMORPH 1 General preferences \ Misc \ Save Files
MTL_VIEW_SIMPLE_ADVANCED 1 Open material Room in Advanced Mode
CACHED_RENDERS_MAX 25 General Preferences \ Render \ Cache
CHECK_FOR_UPDATES_ON_LAUNCH 1 General Preferences \ Misc \ Software Update
FIGURE_CIRCLE 1 Menu Display \ Figure Circle
TABLET_MODE 0 General Preferences \ Interface \ Mouse Input
RECENT_FILE “…” Filled on the fly, max 10 entries
RECENT_FILE “…” … ditto
DO_UNIVERSALPOSE 1 General Preferences \ Library \ Pose Sets
HARDWARE_SHADING 0 Render Settings \ Preview \ Enable HW Shading
ENABLE_HARDWARE_SHADOWS 0 Render Settings \ preview \ Enable HW Shading
PREVIEW_TEXTURE_SIZE 512 Render settings \ Preview \ Texture Display
PREVIEW_TRANSPARENCY_LIMIT 1 Render settings \ Preview \ Transparency Display
PREVIEW_TRANSPARENCY_LIMIT_TO 90.000000 Render settings \ Preview \ Transparency Display
CACHED_COMMANDS_MAX 100 General prefernces \ Document \ Undo-Redo
RENDER_IN_SEPARATE_PROCESS 1 General Preferences \ Render \ Render process
FFRENDER_PROCESS_PORT 4414 Communication Poser ó FFRender process
RENDER_THREADS 12 General Preferences \ Render \ Render process
FILE_SEARCH_POLICY 2 General preferences \ Library \ File Search
TEMP_PATH B:\Appdata\Temp\Poser Pro\9 General Preferences \ Misc \ Temp files
LIBRARY_IS_AIR 1 0 for Flash, 1 for Air when available
NO_LIBRARY 0 General preferences \ Library \ Launch behavior
FOREGROUND_POSER_ON_LIB_LOAD 1 General preferences \ Library \ Launch behavior
MULTITHREADED_BENDING 1 General Preferences \ Document \ Optimizations
CONTENT_INSTALL_RUNTIME D:\Content\PPro2012\Downloads\Runtime\libraries
UI_COLOR_SCHEME standard.xml
TEXTURE_DISK_CACHE_SIZE 500 General preferences \ Render \ Texture caching
CACHE_TEXTURES_IN_BACKGROUND 1 General preferences \ Render \ Texture caching


Which Poser version?

Although the full details are revealed at the Smith Micro website, I’ll summarize the main differences between the various Poser versions. This might be of help for those who consider an upgrade, or might be of help in the “to Pro or not to Pro” quest. Hence:

  • Upgrading to Poser 9?
  • Upgrading to Poser Pro 2012?
  • Poser or Poser Pro?

Roughly, my advice reads as follows.

  • When you’re relatively new to this software or to this kind of imaging, it’s better to concentrate on learning the main features and on developing the artistic side: camera, light, rendering, post-processing, materials, posing. And hence to leapfrog versions. From Poser 8 to 10 to …, from Pro 2010 to Pro 2014 to … .
    I see no need to rush.
  • When you’re a seasoned user on the edge of the features Poser / Poser Pro offers, then following versions makes sense. From Poser 8 to 9, from Pro 2010 to 2012.
  • When you’re suffering scene-size or render-speed issues, when you’re on 64-bit, when you really want more grip on scene handling, posing detail and render quality, then taking the step from Poser to Poser Pro might be just for you.
  • When upgrading, the preliminary, initial offer from Smith Micro is by far the cheapest. From the moment the new releases are out, prices won’t drop to that level anymore.

Upgrading to Poser 9?

The main features you’ll get when upgrading from Poser 8 to Poser 9 are:

Various former Pro features:

  • The Recent Render palette, so you can easily compare two recent render results
  • Indicator for parameter change, indicator for Joint Strength
  • Full Body Morph import


  • Support for scripts in Python 2.7
  • Expanded Context menus
  • Morph brushes are pressure sensitive (handy for Wacom / tablet users)
  • Object grouping and Hierarchical Scene Inventory
  • Camera’s for Frame Object and Rotate Object
  • Full Body Morph deletion
  • Single mesh characters (as derived from Daz Genesis)
  • Using Weight Maps for rigging (making WM’s is a PPro2012 feature)
  • New Subsurface Scattering and Skin materials
  • Improvements on: focal / motion blur, reflection and indirect lighting
  • Realtime (=Viewport) support for soft shadows, ambient occlusion etcetera
  • Some performance improvements
  • More content with the package, and a somewhat improved Library
  • More constraints in Animation

Upgrading to Poser Pro 2012?

The main features you’ll get when upgrading from Poser Pro 2010 to Poser Pro 2012 are:

  • Everything you’ll get from upgrading Poser 8 to 9, except for those features which were already available in Pro 2010


  • 64-bit application for the Mac (was: Win only)
  • Weight Map creation tools (as Poser can only use created weight maps)

Poser or Poser Pro?

The main features you’ll get when upgrading from Poser 9 to Poser Pro 2012 are:

  • Interfacing with other software (Photoshop, 3DS MAX), via COLLADA or PoserFusion
  • 64 bit application, 64-bit Firefly rendering, Render queue and network rendering, and background rendering
  • HDRI import/export, PSD export with layers for post-processing
  • Gamma Correction for shadow/highlight strength management,
  • Weight Map creation tools (as Poser can only use created weight maps)

What about Poser?

Poser dates from 1995, when Larry Weinberg created this software replacement for life models and artists mannequins.
The basic purpose was, and to some extent still is, to enable pose and light studies. In an individual and inexpensive way, in order to help the artist establishing the drawing or painting at hand. The real stuff I mean, not the digital variety of media creation.

Version 2 (1996) increased resolution, and added props and animation so one could have a synthetic model throwing and catching a ball, or getting seated. Version 3 (1998) added facials expressions and hand / fingers posing while version 4 (1999) added conforming clothes, transparency in materials and figure sculpting using deformers (morphs and magnets).

After those first 5 years of gradual development a second period of 5 years took off, which included a major overhaul of the program.
It introduced Python scripting, custom rigging (the Setup room), interfacing with other software like 3DS Max, Lightwave, Cinema4D and other using Collada export (Maya, Photoshop) and mainly included some major software pieces from Reyes Infographica: the sketch and toon rendering, the FireFly rendering with raytracing (reflections and refraction) capabilities, dynamic cloth and hair, and some collision detection functions.
This roller coaster ride which included the Poser Pro Pack and a series of ‘version 5.x’ releases ended with version 6 (2005) which included OpenGL, Image Based Lighting and Ambient Occlusion, and showing genitals.

From then on, Poser 7 (2006), 8 (2009) and 9 (2011) show a shift from artist support to a creation tool by itself, ready to generate digital images for presentation directly. Focus on content delivery and content management, lip-sync speech, motion capture posing, better hardware usage (improved OpenGL, multi-thread rendering), HDRI output, inclusion of PhilC’s Wardrobe Wizard, Global illumination, Tone mapping (better output) and Normal mapping (handling game-figure input), and the recent addition of Weight Map deformation (usage only) as seen in high end systems like Maya, and more photoreal material handling.

At the same time, a Pro line of the software got launched, starting with Poser Pro (2008) with just some added software interfacing, followed by Poser Pro 2010 with loads of content, some new functions, 64-bit rendering, gamma correction and output to Photoshop PSD layers for better post processing. Of course some of the new functions can be found later in Poser 9 as well, while Poser Pro 2012 (released at the same moment) leapfrogs to Weight Map creation and more.

Simultaneously, the galleries and forums (the ultimate end user channels) show a serious development too. Of course, beginners questions and people showing either their rendering abilities or their merchandise will always be around. People still use Poser as the foundation for further image development, although the use of real oils and crayons made place for digital illustrations. Some examples:

But I also see an increasing demand for photorealism, and other ways to produce the final image right from the package. Some examples:

And I see an increased competition, as Daz Studio evolves to a serious toolkit on its own (as Callad is demonstrating so well). Both make great tools for Virtual Portrait Photography nowadays. I do hope all users can benefit from these developments.