Many people who've explored the field of 3D graphics will have come across DAZ Studio. Available to download for free, it's the simplest entry point into a distinct area in the 3D community, where artists create models for anyone to use in their own images and animations.

Like its rival, Smith Micro's Poser, DAZ Studio enables you to bring characters, clothing, props and more into your 3D scene, then position and pose them before rendering a final image. With the release of DAZ Studio 3, DAZ has opted to offer this advanced edition alongside the standard free version.

The benefits of paying for DAZ Studio for the first time are not immediately obvious when you run the program: DAZ Studio Advanced looks the same as its free sibling, the initial steps in creating a scene are identical. Both editions offer improvements in their core functions.

Detail and control

The viewport better shows the range of lights as you position them, for example, taking some of the trial and error out of staging scenes. Rendering the final image yields better and faster results, with the system taking advantage of multicore processors if your Mac has one.

Render

HOT WHEELS: This render by experienced DAZ Studio user joelgecko shows the results you can achieve if you invest the time

Achieving good renders takes practice, but DAZ Studio 3 produces highly polished still images. It's also possible to animate scenes, although it's not DAZ Studio's main focus. The plug-in aniMate was introduced in 2008.

DAZ Studio 3 now includes a Lite version that works along the same lines. As with characters and props, you can buy ready-made animations to apply to your characters, then re-order snippets of movement to create original sequences.

Although you've spent hours assembling scenes, creating renders and perhaps doing some animation, all of this functionality is available in the free edition. That's when you realise that the Advanced suffix for the paid edition is well-chosen: DAZ has assembled a set of bonus tools designed to appeal to the dedicated DAZ Studio user who craves precise control over every aspect of their renders.

The Figure Mixer, for example, enables you to blend parts of two figures together to create distinctive new characters. This is easy to use in practice, with DAZ Studio's usual slider controls enabling you to set the balance between the two shapes. There's also a lot of emphasis on shaders – components that describe the look and behaviour of a particular surface, for example how shiny a metal is.

Some complex shaders are included, and you can also create your own. The Shader Mixer that helps you do this achieves its results through a network of nodes that is instantly familiar to anyone who's used professional software.

In the mix

The Shader Mixer is typical of the tools that are exclusive to DAZ Studio's Advanced edition: liberating in experienced hands, but daunting for newcomers. They turn DAZ Studio into a powerful tool to create high-quality images.

If you're new to this area of 3D, however, the free edition represents enough of a learning curve for the time being.

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