Beyond Poser for doing SL animations, residents’ choices were limited to Vince Invincible/Vince Plunkett’s most excellent Avimator, a free and open source project targetted to make the whole animation process simple, intuitive, and compatible across all SL-supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux.
A thread in the forums pointed me to the availability of the BVH export feature on DAZ|Studio. DAZ is a company promoting a community of 3D content creators and had a leading application called Bryce; a year ago or so, they thought to make a “Poser clone”, slightly low-end, to appeal to the content designers that weren’t willing to pay for Bryce (or its competitor Poser) but would like a solid, complete, professional solution. DAZ|Studio also has a free SDK for adding plug-ins and similar features.
When it was launched, it certainly attracted some attention. After all, it’s a “Poser-grade” application (differences between both are more a matter of style and preference, and of features already built-in on each application). It also had the Poser community as a target — it reads and writes Poser files, can use all libraries of Poser, etc. Now before you all think that I’m promoting this (free) product too much, remember that most SL animators have dozens or hundreds or thousands of animations in Poser format, and they don’t want to lose all their work by “switching” to another application!
The first release of DAZ|Studio (1.0) was for me a bitter disappointment. The animation facilities crashed a lot under the Mac version, and, worse than that, there was no export format — saving was only possible for DAZ’s own format. This made me quickly lose interest, although it looked promising. Many SL residents are members of both the DAZ and Renderosity communities, and there have been lots of requests for DAZ to add at least a BVH export feature. They replied early on that “soon there would be a SDK that will allow you to change DAZ|Studio however you wish”.
After several discussions on their forum threads, it was clear that this was hardly easy to do, because of the way DAZ|Studio saved animations to disk. People had to wait.
And waiting they did!
At some point, a new version of DAZ|Studio has been announced, and — surprise, surprise! — now it does feature indeed an export-to-BVH feature! And since it loads the “official” Linden Lab avatar mannequins, the resulting BVH files import into SL nicely — as a matter of fact, as easily as with Poser or Avimator.
I have just started doing some simple tests, and I was rather impressed with the way it works, although others have already claimed that DAZ|Studio has some problems on torso manipulations (I hope to be able to report on those as well). One thing I like about DAZ|Studio is the ability to cut, copy, paste and insert frames in the timeline — something that is much harder to do under Poser or Avimator, and something I never understood how professional animators can live without! There are naturally several tricks and workarounds (with a fast enough computer, you can save bits of animations under Poser, and re-import them in the order you wish; on a slow computer — my case! — this takes several minutes and is truly a pain), but I guess people use completely different techniques. Under DAZ|Studio at least it seems to be simple.
I also think that after doing some more experimenting with DAZ|Studio, it’s time to announce to the community there that the 3D content creators registered at the DAZ community have suddenly a brand new market with 300,000 users willing to buy custom animations… maybe the time has come for all those 3D modellers to seriously consider moving into this new market. After all, they’re used to charge very low prices (in US$) for their 3D content; they might get encouraged to produce low-cost animations that can sell in the hundreds or thousands easily using Second Life.
All in all, good news for the frustrated people in SL who lack the “thousands of animations” that other platforms have (just look at The Sims 2 — they have 22,000 animations by default, contrast that to SL’s 121!).