How to Make Your Own Props in DAZ Studio
No this article isn’t about those super complex programs that let you model 3D figures. Those things are way too intricate for me to go into any great detail (I don’t know anything about them anyway.) What I do know, however, is that there are a lot of times where I have an idea for a 3D scene in my head, but I don’t have the figures to accomplish it. This guide will teach you how simple primitive shapes can become something much more when combined.
What is a Primitive?
DAZ Studio is a complex program, so you may not have even heard of primitives. They can be accessed from the menu along the top bar labeled “Create” then “primitive”. From the window that pops up you can choose the type of primitive (plane, cone, square, etc.) and how large it is and how many sides it has. When you choose one it will create that basic, three dimensional, shape in your scene. It will look pretty bland with its white surface, but don’t worry about that now, we will fix it later. But the overall idea is that you can create these basic shapes and use them however you wish.
Resizing and combining Primitives
Depending on what you’re trying to create with these primitives, you will probably need to resize them. On the right side menu under parameters you have the ability to move the object, rotate it, and adjust the x, y, and z scales. So, for example, if you wanted to create a sword, you would want to make a cylinder and a cone, then flatten them and move the cone to the top of the cylinder. As a rule of thumb, try to keep all of your objects centered where they were first inserted, it just makes it easier to shrink and maneuver objects around the ones you’ve already created (otherwise they’re easy to lose.)
Next you want to combine them. If you took the time to put the cone on the cylinder for your sword, you want it to stay there so you can move it around like a prop. For this you want to go to your left hand menu and click on the “Scene” tab. This will display, in a list, all of the items loaded into your scene. Pick one of your primitives as the base or main item, then click and drag all other items on top of the base item. This will link them all to one item and allow them to move together when you decide to use your item as a prop. Repeat this process as you add more pieces to your scene so you don’t forget.
For my example I’m going to be making a staff. I will be using a cylinder for the handle, a sphere and cone for a head and a torus for the effects around the head.
Adding a Texture
Obviously you don’t want your prop to be all white (unless that’s what you’re going for) so you will need to add a texture to the primitive. This can be accomplished from the left menu under the “Surfaces” tab. If you don’t see the surfaces tab click on the view menu at the top and select “Tabs” then check “Surfaces”. Under this new tab you will again see a list of items in the scene. Select the primitive you want to change then go down to the menu at the bottom left. You should see a basic and advanced tab. The first item listed in both tabs is color. You can change the basic color of the object with this, but by clicking on the arrow button to the right of this you can upload an image from your computer as the ‘skin’ of the object. If you’re making a sword you will want to upload a metal texture for the blade, but for me I’m going to load a wooden texture for the handle of the staff, and a gemstone for the head. You can find textures all over the internet, just be careful of copywrite infringement on certain images.
There are a lot of things you can do to make the primitives look better. Just playing around with the texture can achieve better results. But if you’re willing to dig deeper into DAZ Studio, there are some helpful options in the Advanced tab (which is next to the Basic tab under Surfaces).
Opacity is the first to pay attention to. This changes the transparency of the object. So some parts of it might be solid, and others might be see-through. This is useful for things like magic effects or windows. However you can also apply a transparency based on an image. A transparency map essentially tells the object what to show and what not to show. It’s not hard to make one of these because all it is, is a regular image with black and white. (Anything black translates to full transparency on the object, so shades of grey will produce various levels of opacity). You might be asking yourself why would you use this? Well let’s say I want to make the torus around my staff look like lightning. I can add a picture of lightning as the skin, but ultimately it still looks like a donut. With the transparency map I can black out the areas where the lightning isn’t traveling so it appears as if the lightning is just floating there. To apply one of these click on the arrow to the right of the “Opacity” option (just like we did for the image skin) and browse your computer for an image. You will achieve better results if you make your own, but technically any picture with black in it will achieve something different. If you want to make your own you can open any image editing program and just go wild with blacks and whites.
Another option is the Bump map. This one operates similarly to the transparency map in that all it requires is a black and white image. The darker areas translate to a raised bump and the lighter areas translate to an indent. In this one you want a lot of shades of grey, and the best way to do it is to take your texture picture, desaturate it (remove all the color) then invert it (change black to white and white to black). You will then apply this map the same way you did the other two, except this is under the bump category in the advanced menu. You may then need to adjust the bump strength as well as the degree of positive and negative areas. You’ll know its working when the object looks bumpy in the render (you won’t notice anything until you render it.)
As with all of these advanced options, the reflection ability lets you put a picture on top of your object that serves as a ‘reflection’. Say, for example, there was a mirror in your scene. You could render an actual reflection, but often times this will reveal parts of your scene that you didn’t fill in (because they aren’t visible on camera). Also it renders faster if you use the basic reflection option. Simply apply a picture to it, just like we did for the last few things, and adjust the picture’s opacity. You won’t be able to see it until you render the image. For mine I used a very basic blue and white picture as the reflection for the stone on the staff. This gives it a polished look. You aren’t restricted to colors. You could make it reflect a fully detailed photograph if you wanted to. This effect just gives your prop another added dimension.
Finally you’ll want to consider the ambience option under the advanced tab. This one will adjust how much ambient light the object gives off. By default this is set to the color black, which is what makes the shadows on the object black. By changing this to a lighter color and maxing out its strength, you achieve a sort of glow effect on certain parts of your object. However it is important to note that while the object will look lit up, it will not actually give off its own light, meaning it won’t cast shadows on other objects in the scene. However you can achieve this by inserting point lights (using the “create” menu at the top of the screen) and/or spotlights around the staff.
There are a lot of options when combining primitives, and fine tuning them can get pretty complex. While most of us would prefer to use custom made props for our scenes, sometimes we just can’t afford them, or one doesn’t exist the way we want it to. Therefore primitives are a cheap alternative.
Once finished you can merge your new prop with an existing scene. For my final scene I put the staff in Victoria’s hand. To accomplish this you must click and drag the base prop (our cylinder which contains all the other props) and drop it onto Victoria’s right or left hand under the “Scene” tab (just like we did when we locked the primitives together). This will lock the prop in place so you can change your character’s poses, but the staff always stays in place. You might have to adjust the rotation of the staff so that it looks like Victoria is holding it. I then took the render into Photoshop, added some glow and adjusted the color balance. It’s not the greatest picture ever made, but considering the prop was made from almost nothing, it has far reaching potential.