That being said, the default materials that Michael 7 comes with are not bad, in most regards. I tend to think that most of the default materials rely too heavily on effects, mistakenly amping up translucency and subsurface settings yielding some... unique results; which can be usable, some times, depending on what you are going for. I think they can be very misleading, however, to folks who are not going to delve into the settings themselves. At least I can say that they are pretty consistent in their look... you can almost always tell DAZ default settings when you see them. Sometimes that's a bad thing, sometimes its not.
One thing I did do pretty consistently was stick to the default Tone Mapping settings and use packaged light sets (its hard to go wrong with Painter's Lights and Dramatic Iray Lights). That's not my normal work flow. Usually, I will Tone Map an image with camera settings that are little closer to what would be "physically appropriate" and keep my light levels down. Recently I've discovered this can lead to extended render times, an side-effect that was unsettling to me. Further down, I'll show two images: one with the default lights and Tone Mapping and one with the lights turned down and the Tone Mapping a little more consistent with the scene.
But, on to the review.
Much was made of the new model's physique over at the DAZ forums, as happens every time there is a model release, especially so for an iconic model like Michael. I remember the huge hue and cry that went up with Michael 3. You'd think no one had ever seen a gymnast or swimmer's build before. He was quite an athletic appearing model, with developed trapezius muscles and the typical V shape you'd seen on either a gymnast or a swimmer. I liked Michael 3, even if he was a little lanky for my taste. Michael 7 reminds me of Michael 3 in his physique. He's much leaner than Michael 6, and though he has some fine muscle definition he's not bulky by any stretch. With his wiry upper body and lean legs, I'd have to type his as a runner's build. He's well proportioned, slightly more defined than you might expect, but really quite masculine.
There was quite a bit of discussion about the shape of Michael's pectorals. Being a man myself, with pectorals that hang in quite the same way, I don't see what all the fuss was about. We are not all shaped the same way. There is nothing funny or wrong about his pecs. They don't look like Michael 6, who in my opinion has extremely under developed pectoralis minor muscles, and THAT is what gives M6 that more rounded shape to his pectoralis major. M6 needs to do more pushups. Someone made a comparison to Chris Evans, the actor who portrays Captain America... well, Chris is an amazing example of the male physique, but his shape is not comparable. Chris bulked up his shoulders, with huge deltoids and that overshadows his pectorals. Catch him at the right angle, however, and you will actually see a similar shape.
Quite a bit was also made about what people felt was un-natural bending in the armpit area when the arms were pulled forward and down and strange looking biceps if you pulled the arms back and up. For a while there I couldn't not see these issues. But ... well, I think the positions you need to put him into to see these deformations are quite unnatural to begin with. I could go on... but I won't. I don't think they deserve the press they've gotten to this point and I am not going to further substantiate them by adding more. Look at the images I have posted. See anything obviously wrong or unnatural looking?
According to the promotional materials, these are Michael 7's vital statistics:
Lower Hips: 36"
I'd guess his weight at around 190. He's much too lean to be pushing much more than that, even at 6 feet tall. The thing that surprised me was the 36" lower hips...Mike's got back! I hadn't really noticed that yet. I'm going to have to go check that out.
I briefly touched on the M7 texture maps and default materials in the first review. I've gotten to like them even more. I can even live with the "specular" maps, even if I think they are extremely dark and do not accurately highlight areas where specular should be stronger. Have to thank the crowd on the DAZ forums, particularly over in the Fiddling with Iray Skin Settings thread (ArnoldC, AndyGrimm, Jag11, Khory and others) for their hard work and enthusiasm.
The package of textures is great. The diffuse maps are very good, they provide nice detail without being highly saturated and mostly do a very good job of removing evidence that they are actually photographs of human skin (highlights removed, etc). The normal maps, while not detailed enough to please some audiences, are nicely done and do provide some realistic detail beyond what the bump alone provides. I've become more critical of bump maps, mostly thanks to the people mentioned above. M7's are okay. But they could be better. Some definite work has been put into them, but its the most obvious things (eyebrows raised, detail in the lips). Some of the more subtle details are still not included (like the fact that the tip of the human nose is quite smooth in comparison to other parts of the nose and face). I have come around on the translucency maps. I like the gray with subtle details. Much more versatile than using the diffuse texture as a translucency mask; with the gray translucence mask you are much more free to subtly shade the translucency with different colors and not have to work so much in concert with the colors of the diffuse texture.
The default material settings that come with M7 are... passable. With a little bit of care, one could just plunk him into a scene with some reasonable lights and render something that looks pretty human. The settings are getting better, they are certainly better than Victoria 7; but my main gripe is still my main gripe: far too much effect. The diffuse textures are excellent, let them speak... don't drown them in additional color and effect that really isn't necessary. You can get away with a lot less.
I'm sticking with Iray these days, the limitations of 3Delight in Studio cause me aggravation (yes, I could spend my time developing new lights and shaders to conquer these limitations, but the joys of coding only go so far for me). That said, I did render M7 in 3Delight a few times. I feel the same way about his materials for that engine as I do for the Iray engine: less is more; they render reasonably well, but the effects are overdone.
Ok, enough bashing on the materials, I've already said something about them above.
Michael 7 poses really well. I haven't done a lot of manual posing myself, as I don't quite understand the rigging yet, but every pose I have tried on him has looked more than reasonable and the little bit of experimenting I have done (including some converted poses using Genesis 2 to Genesis 3 Pose Converter) has yielded very positive results. I really need to experiment more posing, but I am not sure what the recommended procedure is with all the new bones. Are the "twist" bones only supposed to be twisted? And the "bend" bones, are those only supposed to be bent? Or are those suggestions? Or am I making it more complicated that it really is?
Regardless, I haven't run across any major defects. He looks good in some pretty extreme poses: kneeling, crouching, arms over head...I have yet to see any really ugly deformations of the mesh.
Along similar lines, the UV mapping is very nice. I have yet to see any serious texture stretching or otherwise mis-aligned bits as he moves and emotes.
I think I'll end this part of the review here, with this last image (to the right) showing off the HD Add-On, compare it to the image that opens the article above; the hd morphs really pop.