Animating Figures with MetaCreations Poser Flash

MetaCreations Poser 4.0 is a 3D figure-generation and animation application. With Poser, you can create lifelike human and animal characters to use in illustrations or animations. Poser 4.0 sports a sophisticated user interface with dozens of options for every tool and component. In this section, we walk you through the process of making a running mannequin figure that is then imported into Flash. While you need not be an advanced user of Poser to understand this example, you will benefit from reading the Tutorial section of the Poser 4.0 User Guide (which ships with the Poser software package) before starting this example. However, if you don’t want to concern yourself with advanced functionality, it’s possible to simply read and follow the guidelines in the following paragraphs.

Creating a walking figure in Poser
Here’s how to create walking motion in Poser:

  1. If you open Poser with its default factory settings, a clothed male figure should appear in the center of a 350 × 350 view window. Using the Translate/Pull tool, position the figure to the upper portion of the 350 × 350 window. The figure’s shadow needs some room to fully display during the walk cycle.
  2. Next, open the Poser figure and object libraries through the Window➪ Libraries command (Shift+Command+B or Shift+Ctrl+B).
  3. In this window, select Figures, then Additional Figures, and then Mannequin.
  4. Access the Mannequin figure for the Additional Figures library.
  5. Click OK to the following dialog. This alert box appears whenever you change the current figure. Do not check the Keep Current Proportions option.
  6. Your Poser screen should now resemble below.
  7. The new mannequin figure on the stage

    The new mannequin figure on the stage

  8. Open Window➪Walk Designer (Shift+Command+S or Shift+Ctrl+S). In the Walk Designer window, set the Blend Styles Run slider to 52 percent. Click the Walk button to preview the current settings, and then select different angles ( 3⁄4, side, front, top) to see the walk from varying viewpoints. Click Apply. You’ll then be presented with frame settings for the animation. Make sure the End Frame is set to frame 10 and that the Walk in Place option is checked. See Figure below. Click OK, and Poser generates a complete walk cycle with ten frames.
  9. To preview your figure’s new walk, open the Animation Controls window (Shift+Command+ P or Shift+Ctrl+P) and drag the playback head through each frame. If you press Enter or Return, Poser plays back the entire frame sequence. To stop playback, press Enter or Return.
  10. Before outputting the animation frames, make a new folder on a local drive to store the files. Do this now, because Poser won’t give you the option to create a new folder during the save process.
  11. Next, to output the animation, go to the Animation menu, and select Make Movie (Command+J or Ctrl+J). Set an end time of eight frames. Because Poser counts time zero as a frame, we’ll have nine frames. Furthermore, because frame 10 is exactly the same as frame 1, we won’t need it in Flash. For this example, use Display Settings. This means the exported frames look the same as the figure appears in the workspace of Poser. (You can add more detailed texture and bump maps to figures in Poser, but that’s beyond the scope of this tutorial.) Also, if you want smoother-looking edges in the bitmap sequence, make sure the Antialias option is checked. If you’re using the Mac version of Poser, you’ll want to use PICT files as the Sequence Type instead of QuickTime. On the PC version, you’ll want to use BMP or TIF files. Use the TIF format if you need to use an alpha channel. Refer below for the correct settings.
  12. The Walk Designer in Poser 4.0 can create full-motion walks for any Poser figure.

    The Walk Designer in Poser 4.0 can create full-motion walks for any Poser figure.

    Animation controls Playback Head Current Frame

    Animation controls Playback Head Current Frame

    Export settings for Poser image sequences

    Export settings for Poser image sequences

  13. Click OK to proceed to the Save dialog, which prompts you to select a folder and filename for the sequence. Because Poser automatically adds the number extension to your filenames, just type the base filename. For example, typing mannequin generates successive filenames beginning with mannequin.0001 on the Mac or mannequin_0001.tif on the PC. Click Save, and Poser renders this little nine-frame animation. Save your Poser project and exit Poser.

Preparing Poser sequences for Flash
It would be nice if we could just directly import our .PICT or .TIF sequence into Flash, but first a number of small nuisances must be addressed. To begin with, on the Mac, Flash doesn’t seem to like the way Poser creates .PICTs if you’re using a PC, see the following note. This means that if you import a .PICT from Poser directly into Flash, Flash displays the file as a collection of horizontal and vertical lines. Furthermore, Poser creates inverted alpha channels, while Flash expects straight alpha channels, with black indicating hidden areas and white indicating shown areas. So, in order to make the Poser files read correctly in Flash, the alpha channels of the Poser .PICT files must be inverted and the file format saved correctly. To facilitate this transition, we’ve created a Photoshop action (located on the CD-ROM) that properly converts a sequence of Poser files into images that Flash understands.

To load this Photoshop action, first pop the Flash 5 Bible CD-ROM into your computer. Then launch Adobe Photoshop (you need version 4 or greater) and open the Actions palette (Window➪Show Actions). Make sure that the Actions Palette is not set to Button Mode. Then, on the palette’s pop-up menu, choose Load Actions. Browse to the Photoshop folder in the ch18 folder on the Flash 5 Bible CD-ROM, and choose Flash 5 Actions.atn.

Now choose File➪Automate➪Batch. In the Set property, choose Flash 5 Actions, and select Poser Alpha Inversion for the Action property. For the Source, choose the folder that you specified for your Poser sequence files. For the Destination, choose Save and Close. Now click OK, and Photoshop fixes the .PCT or .BMP alpha channels so that Flash recognizes them properly. There’s also a Poser Alpha + Image Inversion action that can be used to invert the RGB channels as well as the alpha channels this is useful for converting Poser’s white silhouettes into black ones.

Depending on your Photoshop color profile setup, you may encounter a dialog that interrupts the automate process. If you are presented with a Missing Profile dialog (as shown in Figure below), choose Don’t Convert. Photoshop continues with the automated processing of your image sequence. Note, however, that, if you receive this message for the first file, you’ll keep getting it for every file in the sequence. Just stay with it and repeatedly press Return (on the Mac) or click Don’t Convert when the Missing Profile dialog box pops up.

Depending on your specific color settings in Photoshop 5 or 6, you may receive a Missing Profile alert when an image without an ICC profile is opened.

Depending on your specific color settings in Photoshop 5 or 6, you may receive a Missing Profile alert when an image without an ICC profile is opened

If you’re using the PC versions of Poser, Flash, and Photoshop, then you can skip to the next section. The Macintosh version of Flash won’t recognize the 0001, 0002, or 0003 extension as an image sequence. You need to add a .PCT extension to the end of each of your .PICT files. This can be a time-consuming task for large sequences, so let the FileMunger shareware application do all the work for you. FileMunger is a great little tool that is used to batch process file-creator types, filename extensions, and file date names. After you’ve installed the application, run FileMunger, and click the Filename Extensions button on the left . This changes its operating mode to exclusively work with filename extensions.

Use the Filename Extensions mode of FileMunger to automatically add extension suffixes to a group of files.

Use the Filename Extensions mode of FileMunger to automatically add extension suffixes to a group of files.

Close the FileMunger application, and rename the actual FileMunger application file to FileMunger.pct. This causes FileMunger to work in what is called Filename Extensions mode, meaning that it adds the .PCT extension to any file (or group of files) that is dropped on the FileMunger application icon. Now open the folder with the mannequin sequence, select all the files in the window by pressing Command+A, and drag them to the FileMunger application icon. FileMunger adds a .PCT extension to all your files. Thus, mannequin.0001 is now mannequin.0001.pct. Now the Mac version of Flash recognizes the Poser images as a sequence.

FileMunger can perform timesaving operations such as adding extensions to multiple files.

FileMunger can perform timesaving operations such as adding extensions to multiple files.

Importing Poser sequences into Flash
Okay, now we can get back to Flash. Open an existing Flash (.FLA) file or create a new one. Make a new symbol (Insert➪New Symbol; Command+F8 or Ctrl+F8), and set it to the Movie Clip type. Give it the name mannequin or something similar.

Automatically, Flash changes the stage to Symbol Editing Mode. Choose File➪Import (Command+R or Ctrl+R), browse to the folder containing the Poser sequence, and double-click the first filename in the sequence (such as mannequin.0001.pct or mannequin_ 0001.bmp). Now click Import. You should receive an alert from Flash 5 that asks if you want to import all of the images in the sequence. Click Yes to this dialog, and Flash imports all the images associated with this sequence. When the import is completed, as indicated by the progress bar, the mannequin symbol has nine frames and each of these frames is a keyframe.

Next, because Flash auto-aligned the top-left corner of the imported bitmaps to the center of the symbol, we need to change the symbol center to match the center of the bitmaps. Click the Edit Multiple Frames button on the timeline, and drag the End Onion Skin marker to frame 9. Select all the bitmaps in the symbol by pressing Command+A or Ctrl+A, or by using the Edit➪Select All command. Press Command+K or Ctrl+K to bring up the Align dialog; set both vertical and horizontal align properties to center, check the Align to Page option, and click OK. Your Movie Clip should resemble below.

The Mannequin Movie Clip Onion Skin Markers Edit Multiple Frames

The Mannequin Movie Clip Onion Skin Markers Edit Multiple Frames

Now you need to make a critical decision. Is it better to trace the bitmap files imported from Poser? Or are there advantages to leaving them as is? If you want to preserve the detail currently displayed by the imported sequence, then tracing the bitmap makes the Flash .SWF larger. If you want to minimize detail and can accept a loss of detail in your imported sequence, then use the Modify➪Trace Bitmap command on each frame of the mannequin Movie Clip symbol at whatever quality settings you desire. But before you leap to tracing those bitmap files, here’s a surprising comparison: The mannequin example was exported from Flash as is (with default .SWF settings) with a file size of 54.5KB. But the traced bitmap mannequin (using 10 for the Color Threshold, 8 for the Minimum Area and Normal for both Curve Fit and Corners) exported with a file size of 83.6KB!

Note that the traced bitmap version doesn’t even look as good as the regular bitmapped version. Granted, we could have used many other procedures in Poser, Photoshop, FreeHand, or Streamline to optimize the quality of the bitmap or its converted vector counterpart. The point here, however, is that vector equivalents aren’t always better than the original bit-for-bit raster graphics. (Here’s a related example of a situation in which the vector equivalents would have been better: a silhouette figure generated in Poser with one solid color fill. Tracing those bitmaps would have yielded better results because the figure has only one color and a relatively simple outline. Remember, for the most part, vector graphics are ideal for illustrations with solid color fields and lines. Raster or bitmap graphics are ideal for continuous tone or photo-quality images.)

Now you have a running mannequin Movie Clip that can be referenced from your Flash Library and placed anywhere in your Flash movies. Once placed in a scene, this Movie Clip can be scaled, rotated, or tweened to any position or size.

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