This is going to be a multi-part review as befits such a major release as Michael is of course one DAZ3d's flagship models and he represents the first male character to be released for the newGenesis 3 line of models (Victoria 7 having been the first, followed by a virtual flood of female characters in a succession much faster than I have ever seen before and I have been following DAZ3d since shortly after the release of Michael 2 circa 2001). Since Michael 7 requires the Genesis 3 Male base, I'll cover that model and its starter assets (which are free, as is the DAZ Studio platform) in part 3.
Here's what I plan to cover:
- Part 1 (you're reading it now) - Initial Impressions, my own and some I gather from release chatter on the various forums
- Part 2 Michael 7, his shape, textures, materials, anything that comes with the base figure
- Part 3 Genesis 3 Male Starter Essentials, what you get for free (and its a pretty nice deal)
- Part 4Michael 7 Starter BundleandMichael 7 Pro Bundle; since there are quite a few pieces in these, part 4 might come in installments
Here's the forum thread at DAZ3d that seems to be garnering the most attention:Michael 7/G3M, in which a few items of concern are mentioned and that I will talk about further down.
I guess its not a surprise that neither Renderosity nor RuntimeDNA have much coverage; I remember when sites were more platform agnostic, but that was a long time ago and things have gotten a lot more competitive (thank you DAZ3D, for that; without you pushing the boundaries and introducing new concepts and adopting standards, this niche hobby would be mired in the same old, same old). Its too bad that I feel less than welcome at sites that used to be daily visits... but that's a topic for another discussion.
When I first opened my email yesterday and saw that Michael had finally arrived, I clicked on the link with some trepidation. I had bought Victoria 7 when she was released mostly just to see the direction of things with the Genesis 3 line. I wasn't disappointed, but since I don't prominently feature many female characters in my artwork, she mostly went back on the shelf while I waited for Michael. The promo pictures of Michael definitely mark him as a DAZ production with his bronzed skin, rich red and glossy lips... they've got a style and they stick to it. I'm not a huge fan of it and I hoped that I would find him easily convertible to something a little more naturalistic (though that's not necessarily a hallmark of my style either).
I discovered that his default materials actually rendered pretty well (see image to the left) with some of my preferred lighting styles. He's a little too red for my taste, I tend to feel that the default materials rely too much on effects and don't let the diffuse texture maps shine as well as they might.
For the uninitiated, a brief diversion into some of the more technical details of 3D rendering human skin. Generally you start with a 3d model that someone has meticulously sculpted and that someone else has prepared textures for (these textures are generally a combination of photographic references and hand painted detail, some times actual scans of human bodies). But the process does not stop there, because a photographic texture does not interact with light and it will not look at all correct. So one must describe how the skin is too interact with light using various parameters that are generally dependent on the rendering engine that one is using. The holy grail of 3D rendering is to achieve realism in human skin, because it is such a complex and interactive surface that requires the simulation of physical effects like translucency and subsurface scattering. The trick is to balance these effects and not let them overpower the photographic textures that contain the fine details that are also required.
I spent some time delving into the textures provided and was very pleased with what I saw. The textures themselves are rich in detail and finely woven together. I saw no glaring flaws and while there may well be some embellished details, I did not see any of the "tricks" that people have relied upon for years (things like obviously painted on symetrical bodyhair, or iris textures with highlights or reflections already in place) to fake realism. These tricks are no longer required and it would have been a shame to see them.
Michael 7 also comes with a full complement of effects maps (bump, specular, normal and translucency... for the layman, these help control those 3D effects that are so necessary for realism). The last character release from DAZ3D, Scott 6 from the Genesis 2 line was a little lacking in some of these extras so its nice to see all the options presented here with Michael 7.
The effects maps themselves are well done for the most part. We see a return to excessively dark specular maps, with what I consider to be very little attempt at masking the areas where one would actually see higher glossiness due to skin oils (facial T-zone). I question the adding of veins and arteries in the translucency map. I could be wrong, but I just do not see the effect being even remotely visible. The bump maps do show some effort to add detail to things like eyebrows and the normal maps are exquisitely detailed (something I have come to expect).
An added bonus that you don't often see is a second facial texture with different colored brows. So you have one light and one dark, a nice bonus. The details and skin tone on both match up so there is no difficulty switching from one to the other and keeping the rest of the texture maps intact.
Michael 7 does come with materials for both render engines supported by DAZ Studio: Iray and 3Delight. I was pleased to discover that Michael 7 renders extremely well in 3Delight as well as he does in Iray (both renders here are Iray). The 3Delight materials, in my opinion, suffer from the same over-reliance on effect, but that is personal taste and DAZ's artistic style.
Overall my initial impressions of Michael 7 are very positive. There are some negative notes floating around in Michael 7/Genesis 3 Male thread at on the DAZ3D forum and I did say I would talk about them. The largest complaint appears to be what some see as an issue with how his arms bend. If you bring his shoulders down and forward, the area around his armpit does deform a little unnaturally. After having several users point it out, some quite stridently, I cannot un-see the problem, even if I do think it is a small one. The Genesis 3 line of models has some very different methods that we as users are not used to seeing. Victoria 7 was a revelation with her many new methods for posing and bending and twisting. In my own experiments, I feel that there are ways around this problem that result in a very natural looking pose and only require one to use the methods at your disposal (use the Pose Controls rather than directly manipulating the limbs... its what they are there for after all). But I am not as particular about some of these issues as other users. Glaring issues are going to leap up and spoil the illusion... this one, I don't think is all that glaring, and if it hadn't been pointed out so vociferously by some users whose opinions I value, I probably wouldn't even have noticed myself.
I have more experimenting to do: more posing, more rendering, more delving into the textures and materials. I promise to be back with the Part 2 before long.
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave a comment.