How to Use Primitives in DAZ Studio
I’ve previously written a hub about how to make your own props in DAZ Studio, which pertains specifically to primitives. These objects, that come packed-in with the program, seem simple at first glance; a cube, sphere and cone to name a few. But I don’t believe that first article accurately portrayed just how versatile these are. With the exception of detailed character models, like Victoria and Genesis, primitives could easily become your most-used prop in 3D rendering. And it all comes down to one thing.
A sphere is just a sphere until an idea strikes you and you need a Frisbee. A cube is just a cube until you need a staircase. And a cone is just a cone until you need a witch’s hat. Using the parameters tab, you can adjust the x, y, and z axis of the primitive object. Shrink the y-axis of the sphere and you’ve got a Frisbee. Elongate the x or z axis of the cube to create a rectangle that can be stacked into a staircase. Parent your cone to your Frisbee and create an instant witch’s hat. You can probably see where I’m going with this. With certain adjustments you can build whatever prop you want. Granted, there are limitations to what kind of shapes you can create, and the more props you use, the more it’s going to bog down the scene. But, the idea here is that your creativity is your starting point. What does the composition need? And, can you make what it needs using primitives? In my experience, the answer is yes at least 75% of the time.
As I said, adjusting the x, y and z scale of the object can create some unexpected distortions, and so can the rotation options. For example, flattening the x or z axis of a cone, and rotating it to one side, instantly turns it into a cat ear that can be used as part of a character costume. But, another interesting way to change your primitive is in the window that first pops up when you load the primitive into the scene. Most will have options like sides, diameter and segments. Adding more sides or segments to a circular prop can make it look smoother, while removing them from something like a cone can create a four sided pyramid. One of my most recent revelations was the inside diameter of the torus primitive. By reducing the size of the inner circle, and adding a custom mat, I was able to create a cinnamon sugar donut. I encourage you to play around with each of these parameters to get a feel for how they work. The nice thing about playing with primitives is that they are quick to load into the scene. So if one gets really messed up, you can just delete it and start over. You might be surprised with how different a simple shape can become.
Props via Building
Once you’ve started to get the hang of manipulating parameters, you can start to conceptualize ‘building’ projects. For example, let’s say you want to make a hat for your steampunk character. Start by flattening a sphere to serve as the brim. Next, shrink a cylinder to serve as the body of the hat. Then use a second, flattened, cylinder as the band. It’s not the perfect top hat, but with some color and the right placement, no one will even notice. A hat is actually one of the easier things you could create. I once set out to create a billiards table, complete with balls and stick. It took quite a while, but I’d like to think that the final result is recognizable. Again, it should be noted that the more of these you use, the more it’s going to slow your scene down. But, since these are really basic shapes, they won’t hurt performance nearly as much as loading 3 or 4 detailed models into a scene.
Props via Mats
I covered how to make custom mats in a different article, but I can’t stress how valuable these are in conjunction with primitives. The golden-brown texture for the donut above was created in Adobe Photoshop using nothing but paint brushes. However, applying a flat image to a three dimensional surface goes far beyond a simple donut texture. Just recently I created a transparency map for the flat plane primitive that turned it into a pair of glasses. Basically I created the outline of glasses in Photoshop, in a 1000x1000 square, then applied it to the plane’s opacity levels. This gave me the ‘face’ of the glasses, after which I just used two additional planes (shrunken) as the ear pieces. It might not hold up as well for close up renders, but for distant ones it’s hard to tell. The plane is actually one of the most useful primitives because it can serve as walls, floor, ceiling and (with the right bump map and reflections) a water surface. It pays to learn how to use mats because it’s the polish on your primitive props that will take them from amateur to pro.
You might be asking yourself why I go to such trouble when a lot of my props already exist somewhere, as either free or paid items that can be downloaded. The first reason is that I’m cheap. So, while I do like to support the artists that create props, it’s unrealistic to purchase every complex object that may only be used once or twice. And, where free props are concerned, there are often compatibility errors that result in unusable props. So, ultimately, the primitives just give me more control with a system that I already understand. Again, it doesn’t always work out, and keen-eyed artists might be able to ‘spot the primitive’. But for casual users like myself, it’s a great creative outlet that can give your renders flare and originality they might not have had otherwise.