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Bad to the Bone - Creating Your Own Poser Characters

For use with Poser 5 and Poser Pro Pack

It is easy to create your own Poser based characters. There are new tools that make the whole process much easier and quicker than it was before. Creating your own figures and characters is such a rewarding process; it really is worth the relatively short amount of time it will take you to learn how to do it.You Can Create Your Own Characters

Many of us have the same problem. Lots of ambition, maybe even lots of character models we have created in our favorite 3D program, but we also have a real lack of understanding about how to use them in Poser.

Poser makes it easy to create your own Poser based characters. There are new tools that make the whole process much easier and quicker than it was before. Creating your own figures and characters is such a rewarding process; it really is worth the relatively short amount of time it will take you to learn how to do it. While learning how to create your own figures is a fairly quick process, you can spend the rest of your life mastering it. That's where the art comes in. The Poser Pro Pack is a must have for this sort of work and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in creating their own Poser figures and characters.

I recommend that you follow along with the examples in the rest of this tutorial, and take the time explore the options. All of the examples I use in the rest of this tutorial will assume you have Poser 4 and the Poser Pro Pack installed.

What's Involved?

There are a few steps involved in creating a custom Poser figure. The basic process is:

* Create, purchase or otherwise acquire a 3D model

* Import the model into Poser Pro Pack

* Add bones to the model

* Adjust groups, hierarchy, rotation order and other parameters

* Save the model as a Poser figure

The Source Model

The first step is to create a model that you would like to use as a Poser character. You can use just about any 3D modeling program that you feel comfortable with. Poser Pro Pack imports a wide range of file formats, including Wavefront OBJ, 3DS, DXF and Lightwave LWO. Just about any modeler worth its salt will export 3D geometry in one of those formats, and if you're thinking about making your own Poser character you are probably already familiar with its modeling tools.

While Poser will import many different file formats, there are advantages to working with Wavefront OBJ files over the other formats. Poser uses Wavefront OBJ as its native file format; in other words, a Poser figure's geometry is stored as an OBJ file. Also, you can create a UV Map for your figure's OBJ file, to use when applying color, bump and transparency maps.

So Just What is a Bone?

By now you are probably already painfully aware of how complex a 3D model can become. Trying to move all those polygons into pose after pose would amount to a whole lot of work and take more time and patience than most of us have available. Bones are a way to animate a complex 3D mesh in a much cleaner and simpler way.

Think about your own arm for a moment. You know there are bones inside of your arm to which all your muscles, flesh and skin are attached. If you move one of your arm bones, everything attached to it will also move, following along with the same motions that the bone takes.

This works the same way for bones in Poser. You create a series of bones inside of a 3D model that you wish to animate within Poser. You then assign those polygons of the model nearest to each bone to be "grouped" with that particular bone. When you move a bone, the polygons of the model that are grouped to that bone move along with it, just like your own arm.

Bones make the whole animation process much easier. Bones are what allow you to simply select the "shoulder" of a character and drag with your mouse to move the whole arm into a pose. When you are working in the Poser room the bones will not be visible. You can only see and edit bones while working in the Setup room.

While assigning bones to a model, you also set up a hierarchy for the bones.

How does the Hierarchy Effect Bones?

A character's bone hierarchy determines how the bones relate to each other. Remember that old song; "the thigh bone's connected to the leg bone. The leg bone's connected to the…." It goes something like that. If you were creating bones for a human character, you would tell Poser that the foot bone is connected to the chin bone, the chin bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone to the hip bone. These connections are expressed as "Parent – Child" relationships. Basically, the bone farther up the chain is the Parent and the one that is dependant upon that Parent is the Child. If you move a Parent bone, the child bone will move also. This is a good thing when we are talking about animating something like the human leg. If you pivot the hip bone forwards and up you would expect the rest of the leg to move in the same direction. It certainly would be unsettling to find that the rest of your leg detached itself every time you moved your hip!

You will probably have several parents and several children all in the same model, and one bone can be both a parent and a child at the same time. For instance, if you created a bone in a character's chest and then another bone in the character's shoulder, the chest would be the parent and the shoulder would be the child. But if you then created an arm bone, it would be the child and the shoulder would be the parent. Confusing? Maybe at first, but it all becomes much clearer when you look at the Hierarchy visually, which is exactly what the Hierarchy Editor is for.

This is what the hierarchy for the P4 Nude Male looks like:

In this window, the hierarchy is somewhat collapsed to show a more basic view. The "Body" with the little figure standing to the left of it represents the P4 Nude Man. You can see that the Hip, Right Foot and Left Foot are children to the Body because they are below and indented. By clicking on the little + icon next to a line in the hierarchy you will tell Poser to display all the body parts (bones) that are children to that parent. Expanding this hierarchy a little we see:

The Hip has a whole series of children under it, each indention representing a new Parent – Child relationship.

Explore a few of the standard Poser models to see how the hierarchies work and what they are comprised of. You will probably be surprised at just how complex some of these models really are. Spending some time studying existing models will help you understand how Poser characters are laid out, valuable knowledge when you start to make your own figures!

For more information on hierarchies, consult Chapter 14, "Hierarchies" in your Poser 4 Manual. The Poser Pro Pack User Guide also contains valuable information about hierarchies, and using the Hierarchy Editor to create IK chains (Inverse Kinematics chains).

Final Adjustments

After boning and grouping your model you will need to adjust the joint rotation order and joint limits.

The joint rotation order specifies how the joints between the bones will move. This helps you pose your figures body parts reliably.

Joint limits are used to restrict the range of motion for a particular joint. For instance, your knee does not allow your chin to move forward from a straight vertical alignment with your upper leg, only backwards away from your body. You can set limits for the joints on your model to help mimic real life restrictions and assist you in more accurately posing your model.

For more information, refer to the Poser Pro Pack User Guide, "Setting up a Poser Figure", Step 5: Assigning Rotation Order and Step 10: Setting Joint Limits.

Let's look at a typical scenario for creating a new Poser figure.Create a Model

Knowing that a tutorial about modeling characters could fill volumes of books, I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume you have already created, purchased or otherwise acquired a 3D model that you would like to turn into a Poser figure.

If you don't yet have any characters of your own that you have created, you could download a figure from one of many resources available on the web. A great place to start is:

3D Café –

3D Café offers a large selection of human, animal and other characters and parts for free.

If you have modeled a figure yourself, you will want to make sure you have a single mesh model with no overlapping geometry. Refer to the section "Importing Geometries" in the Poser Pro Pack User Guide, page 43, for detailed information on prepping models for import.

I would suggest starting out with a fairly basic model while you try out the figure creation tools in Poser. Trying to bone a complex high-resolution human model will surely prove frustrating to most of us when starting out. Rest assured that once you get the hang of creating a simple Poser figure, the same processes apply to the more complex ones.

Import the Model

Open Poser and clear the Pose room. You don't want any other figures or props present when you import your model.

From the "File" menu select "Import" then choose the format you are using. In this example, I am selecting a Wavefront OBJ file called "Rabbit.obj". Click "Open".

You will be presented with the "Prop Import Options" screen. Click on "Place object on Floor" to ensure your model is not floating in the air.

You can also enter a value in the "Percent of standard figure size" box to scale your model during import. The standard figure refers to the P4 Nude Male, which the manual states to be around 6 feet tall. In this example, I am importing a model that will become a stuffed bunny toy for children-sized characters, so entering "30" in the "Percent of standard figure size" box will make the rabbit about 30% the size of the standard Poser male figure. If we set him on the ground, my rabbit's ear tips will come up to about the P4 male's knee's, which should make him a nice big rabbit for our kids to hold onto.

Note – You can enter values larger than 100%!

Click "Ok" to continue and Poser imports your model. This may take a few moments depending upon the complexity of your model and the speed and ram of your computer. My imported rabbit is now displayed in the Pose room.

Your model may be facing away from the front camera, as my rabbit is. I can fix this easily by setting the "Y Rotate" value to 180 degrees.

Moving into the Setup Room

Click on the "Setup" tab in the upper right corner of your screen. You will be greeted by the message:

This screen is telling you that your model is going to be adjusted a bit so that Poser Pro Pack can work with it to make it a figure. This is what we want. Click "Ok" to proceed.

Take some time now to adjust your view so your model takes up the entire view window. It is often good to start with the single, head-on view by pressing the top icon in the row of icons to the left of your view window.

This is where I will begin to place bones in our rabbit.

We are going to start making bones for our rabbit by using the "Bone Creation Tool". You can find this tool on the far right side of the floating tool palette.

Click once to make it the active tool.

It is important to choose carefully where we place our first bone because this will become the Parent bone for all the other bones we are about to create. Later, when we are posing our rabbit for use in a scene, this is the bone that we will select when we want to move, scale or adjust the entire body at once. For this model it's probably best to put the first bone in the chest. The chest is the center of the model, and while the chest of this figure will not move itself, we will want to move/pose every part of the model around the chest, so this makes it the best candidate for a starting point.

To place the first bone, I put the point of the Bone Placement Tool right in the middle of the rabbit's neck, just under the chin. Left-click with the mouse and hold, then drag straight down until reaching a spot just under the bottom of the arms. The bone takes shape as the mouse drags. Release the left mouse button when you are done dragging.

NOTE – Your model might change to a big colored box while you drag, which will make it hard to tell how far you have dragged. This is ok because you can adjust the beginning and end points of the bones later. In fact, you can be assured that you will need to!

Not too hard, is it? Now that you're a pro, lets place some more bones.

Now I will make a bone for the body. With the Bone Placement Tool still selected, move the cursor over the bottom tip point of the bone just created in the chest. The bone will highlight when the mouse is over it. Starting from that point, click and drag again to draw out another bone, this time pulling straight down and ending just before the bottom of the rabbit.

Now we will make a bone for the head. The Bone Placement Tool will automatically make the last bone you created the parent to the next one you create. In most circumstances this is very handy, but in this case it would present a problem. We want to create a bone for the head and have it's parent be the chest bone, not the Lower Body bone. Click to select the "Translate/Pull" tool from the tool palette, then click once to select the first bone created in the chest. This makes the chest bone the currently active bone, so the next bone created will be parented to it. Reselect the Bone Placement Tool. Locate the top point of the first bone you created in the chest, and using it as a starting point, drag out a new bone moving straight up through the head, ending somewhere near the top of the head.

Now is a good time to take a moment to fix up the bone placement to make sure they are where we want them. Use the Translate/Pull tool to select a bone, then hover over one of the end points and you will see the cursor turn into two black circles.

When you see the cursor change, left-click with your mouse and hold, then drag the point to where it should be.

Naming the Bones

Now that we are getting a few bones in our model, lets take the time to name them so we can properly identify them later. Select the first bone we made in the chest. Press Command/Control+I to open the "Element Properties" window, or select the "Object" menu, then "Properties".

Among other options, you will see "Internal Name" and "Name". Internal name refers to the name Poser uses to keep track of the bones and their relationships to one another. You will see these names appear in the Hierarchy Editor when you work with it later. If you are creating a human figure there are advantages to naming these bones with the same naming structure that they standard Poser models use. (REFER TO PAGES IN THE MANUAL.) This lets you use some of the cooler Poser tools like the Symmetry functions and the walk editor. IF you are just starting out with figure creation, I suggest leaving these names alone until you feel more comfortable with the entire process of boning and character creation. You are free to change the Name value right away. What you enter here is what Poser will use to show you the names of body parts in the pose room. It's best to name these with obvious names that need no explanation, something that will make sense to you later. For this bone, change the "Name" to "Chest" and click "OK".

I repeat this process for the other two bones, naming them "Head" and "Lower Body".Bony Little Arms

We want our rabbit's arms to move similar to a human, bending at the shoulder and the elbow. We should be able to accomplish this with only two bones.

Once again, be sure to select the chest bone to make it the currently active bone. Then use the Bone Placement Tool to drag out two new bones in the right arm (the rabbits right, not yours).

Use the Translate/Pull tool to adjust them to your liking.

At this point you would reselect the chest bone, then make two more bones in the rabbits left arm. If you do forget to reselect the chest bone first you may wind up with some pretty strange bones pointing in unpredictable directions. This is because Poser is trying to make the last bone you created (the currently active one) the parent. When that bone is on the other side of the model from the one you are creating, Poser will do its best to connect them, resulting in unwanted bone placement. Don't worry if you make a mistake (and you will!). You can always delete a bone by clicking on it to select it and then pressing "Delete". You can also move the points in the bone back to where you want them if they end up moving to an unwanted location.

More Bones

Eventually I will go on to add even more bones to this rabbit. Probably three bones in each ear, all parented to the head bone. This will ensure that when I move the head the ears come along with it, moving as you would expect them to. If you instead parented the ear bones to something other than the head bone, you could see some really unpredictable and undesirable results when you did move the head.

I will probably use two bones in each of the legs. This will give me enough control to move the legs a little, but since this is a stuffed toy rabbit the legs don't need to actually move enough to reflect locomotion as a real rabbits legs would.

Align the Bones from Other Views

After placing bones in the front view, you will want to view the model from another view, say the side or top. This will let you align the bones more precisely in all dimensions.

I moved to a right camera view window to move the ear bones of my rabbit. After placing them in the front view they were all lined up vertically right on top of one another. You can see from the image below that my rabbit's ear is actually curved a bit forward. I used the Translate/Pull tool to move the three ear bones into position within the ear.

One of my favorite new features of the Poser Pro Pack is its new multi-view window. Use any views you need to create and arrange your bones. I prefer to build bone structures from the front view first, but, depending upon your model and working style, other arrangements may work better. If you have a big enough monitor, it's also handy to be able to see several different views at the same time.

How many bones to add?

How many bones you add to a model will depend upon what you want to do with it. In the case of my stuffed toy bunny I only need a few bones. I want the arms to move enough to represent a hug. The head should be able to flop around to all sides. The stomach area of the rabbit should bend a little, to look like it is squashing when a child hugs the rabbit. The ears I would like to be very expressionate, so I am going to put three bones in each ear rather than the two I put in the arms and legs. Three bones will give me much more resolution, allowing a larger range of motion for the ear than one or two bones would provide.

Be careful not to go overboard though. The more bones you add to a model the more complex it will become. You should assess the intended use of the model and then bone accordingly. For example, my little rabbit has no fingers so two arm bones is enough. But the Michael and Victoria models from DAZ 3D each have the full 5 fingers you would expect to find on a human hand, as well as some added functionality at the wrist and hand. A complex hand by itself could have more bones in it than my whole rabbit does!

Using Someone Else's Bones

There is more than one way to bone a rabbit! You don't have to create your own bone structures from scratch. You could import the bones from another model instead, arrange them within your model, and group them. This could save you a lot of time, especially when you are working with a model that is similar to ones you may have already created. If you created a human character, you could use the bones from one of the standard Poser characters, such as the P4 man or woman. This would greatly speed up your figure creation process and give you a similar posing experience with your custom figures to the one you have with the standard Poser characters.

To use a bone structure from another figure you follow the same steps you would use to import that character in the Pose room. Open the tray located on the right side of your screen. Select the figure who's bone structure you want to use, and then add them to the scene. As long as you are in the Setup room only the figure's bones will load, not the whole figure's geometry.

Once the bones are loaded, use the tools and views to place the bones appropriately inside your model.

More about Bones

While I hope you now have a good understanding of what bones are and how to work with them what I have provided is really only an overview. To learn more precisely how to create and work with bones you should refer to the Poser Pro Pack User Guide.

Grouping Your Model

After you are satisfied with a set of bones in your model, the next step is to group the bones to the geometry. Basically, a bone will be assigned a set of polygons in the model, which it will effect when moved. If you move that bone it will drag the polygons in its group along with it.

Poser Pro Pack offers a very cool tool called the "Grouping Tool".

Selecting this tool will open up a new palette with many options. Click on the "Auto Group" button toward the bottom of the palette and Poser will take its best guess and assign polygons from the model to the various bones you have created. While Poser does a pretty good job of setting your figure groups up, it will inevitably make some choices that you might not have. Fear not, for you can use the Group Tool to reassign polygons to new groups later. First you will want to close the Group Palette, exit the Setup room and return to the Poser room to test out your new figure!

Click on any of the body parts, then adjust the controls to pose the character. Congratulations, you have created your own Poser figure!

Fine Tuning the Figure

It probably didn't take you long to find some problems with your new figure while working with it. Most likely you will see some tearing and bending in the mesh as you move body parts, or some groups that contain polygons from area's of the body not directly related. Notice the tearing of the mesh I found when moving my rabbit's head.

Problems like this one could be caused by groups that don't contain enough polygons to bend accurately, or even possibly a model that just doesn't contain enough geometry in that area to bend the way you want it to. If the model needs more detail added, you will have to return to you're modeling program and start this figure creation process over again after the problems have been corrected. But you can also return the model to the Setup Room and make adjustments to the groups. In fact, you will almost always want to do this after using the Auto Group tool.

When back in the Setup room, once again select the Grouping Tool. The pop up menu at the top of the Group Palette lets you select from all of the bones in your model. Select the bone whose group you want to edit and you should see all the polygons in that group highlighted in red on your model.

Here I have selected the head bone/group on my rabbit.

Notice how many of the polygons on the side of the head have been assigned to something other than the head group? They are probably assigned to the lower ear group/bone. I will need to fix that by reassigning those polygons to the head group. Otherwise that area of the head will deform when I move the ears! Not something my rabbit would appreciate.

When you use the group tool you are basically choosing a group to work with and then using the group tool and your mouse to select polygons to add to the current group. The group tool works like a marquee selection tool from a graphic editing program. You left-click and hold, then drag out a rectangular selection. When you let go of the left mouse button, anything within that selection turns red and becomes part of the currently selected group.

I used the group tool in the front view to add some polygons.

You notice that the green lines still indicate the original groups. We will have to use the "Weld Group" button on the bottom of the Group Palette to merge the current selection (red polygons) into one complete group. Do that step last, after you have added all the polygons you want to add.

The trick here is to realize that you probably can't select all the polygons you would like to in one selection. For best results, plan on taking your time and making smaller selections. This will cut down on mistakes. When you do make a mistake, use the pop up menu on the Group Palette to select the group that the polygons you just accidentally selected should belong to, then reselect them to add them back into that group. Take your time with these steps and be patient.

I switch to a side view to look for more polygons to add to this group.

After a little work, I have a complete selection from this side.

When making these selections, check from all views possible to make sure you have found all the polygons you want to add. Zoom in and out as necessary, and once again, take your time and be patient.

When you are satisfied you can click "Weld Group" to glue all these polygons together into one selection.

Repeat this process until satisfied, frequently checking the results of your changes in the Pose room. You may find it necessary to move bones or even add or delete bones.

For much more information on grouping consult your Poser Pro Pack User Guide.

Moving On

After boning and grouping your model, you will need to adjust the joint rotation order, joint limits and blend zones. The Poser Pro Pack User Guide and the Poser 4 Manual have a wealth of information on these topics, so I wont go into detail here.

You can save your new figure at any time by adding it to the library. You should plan on creating your figure over the course of several work sessions, with the entire process getting quicker and easier the more you do it. While creating a custom Poser figure is not overly difficult it will take you a significant amount of time. More complex models will take much longer than the simple ones, and I recommend you start with some fairly basic projects to get you comfortable with the tools and the process. The tutorials in the Poser Pro Pack User Guide are a great place to start!

Once you have completed your own Poser figure you can do all the things you would normally do with a Poser figure; animate it, add morph targets, create custom textures and more. You might even want to share it with other Poser users in the Poser community!The Wrap Up

So now you have a really good idea how important the Poser Pro Pack is for empowering you to create your own custom Poser figures. The sky's the limit with these tools. Let your imagination loose, then dig in and start creating!

Christopher Orth is the Webmaster for, and a contributing author at Poser Arcana, where you can find more Poser tutorials covering a wide range of topics.

Poser Arcana

You can contact the author, Christopher Orth, at corth@nwlink.com