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Using Poser to Create a Reference for a Vector Superhero

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Read Time: 24 min

Although stock photography is really great, occasionally you can't always find exactly what you need reference wise. Maybe the angle isn't exactly what you were looking for, or an arm is pointing in the opposite direction, whereas the rest of the pose is exactly as you wanted it. You could contact the photographer and see if they have more of that series in their stash, or you could shoot stock photography yourself. But then there's a third option! Poser. It's a nifty 3D program that offers a great variety of 3D models which you can position in any way you like. It's probably not the exact purpose of the program, but it has essentially become my stock creator.

We're going to take a look around Poser and see how you can use the program to create your own reference, in this case a superhero in an extreme dynamic pose, and then use the reference in Adobe Illustrator!

1. An Overview of Poser

Poser, like Illustrator really, has plenty of things to offer. Before we start customizing and positioning the model, we're going to have a quick look at the tools we'll be using, and hopefully with this the following steps will be easier to grasp!

Step 1

At the top left, we'll be using the first three: The Rotate Tool (R), which allows you to rotate specific areas on a body - front, back, left and right. The Twist Tool (W), which allows you to twist the body around. And the Translate/Pull Tool (T), which is similar to the Rotate Tool (R), only when using it on a specific area of the body, the rest of the body will move along with it (quite a sensitive tool which if used too harshly will throw your model out of proportions).

Step 2

Below the Tools, you'll find Camera Controls. Starting with the Camera Controls, for this tutorial we won't be using the 'Select Camera' (the head), so moving on to the others. The Move Y and X, (the hands beside the head) allow you to position the view on your canvas. The four hands connected together allow you to zoom in and out. The sphere with arrows on it allow you to rotate around the character.

Step 3

Below the Camera Controls, you'll find the Light Controls. The small 3D ball you see there shows you how your light is set up at the moment, and the pins on it can be moved around it to change the light in your canvas. I'm assuming you all could have guessed this, but just in case, the pins with darker colors are the shadows, and the pins with lighter colors are the highlights. The small star beside the ball, when clicking on it, allows you to create a new light source.

Step 4

Your canvas, or called Preview in Poser, has two drop down menus at the top left. The first one will show the name of the model you're using, and when using multiple, you can go there to select a specific model. The second drop down menu will show the title of whichever body part you have currently selected. This one is quite handy when you want to select the entire body as you simply click on the drop down > Body. You'll notice that you can also directly select a camera, prop, or light from that menu.

Step 5

The Parameters panel will be especially handy when we start customizing a base model in later steps. This panel allows you to change body type, facial features and expressions, as well as the position of your 3D model on the canvas (moving it to the left/right, up/down, forward/backwards). The Transform section of the Parameters panel allows you to move the character on the canvas, and the Morph section allows you to change the aspect of the character itself.

Note that both the Transform and Morph sections adjust themselves accordingly when you select a specific body area and only wish to manipulate that area. For example, when you select the head with the Rotate Tool (R), the Transform and Morph sections will only show you the options to change the head.

Step 6

The Library panel (right side of the program) is like a cave of wonderful treasures really. This is where you can find lots of different people models, but you can also find animals, vehicles, cartoons, aliens, and more. Everything is pretty neatly organized in menus, and when you want to load something into the canvas, just double click the thumbnail of the model.

At the top of the Library panel, you'll notice a set of icons. We will be using four of these. The Figures icon, which is where you can find the models and load them into your canvas. The Pose icon, which gives you a variety of poses to start your model off with. The Lights icon, which gives you a variety of light set ups you can use. And then last, the Camera icon, which gives you different camera angles to play around with.

2. Personalize the Base

Step 1

Once you have opened Poser, you'll notice that a skeleton model will have loaded in automatically. You can simply delete that figure by selecting the Rotate Tool (R). Once selected click on a random area of the figure and then hit delete on your keyboard. Once the canvas is blank, we can load in one of the models available in the Library > Figure > People.

Step 2

There are quite a bit of things you can find in the Library, but for this tutorial we want a male figure that has plenty of customization options (some models have fewer options, others are entirely fixed in body type). We're going to use the model called 'Ryan', since we can change everything about him.

Go to Library > People > Ryan and double-click and the model will load into the center of your 3D preview. In Poser Debut you only have the Caucasian version of Ryan, whereas in Poser you'll have different skin color options. Note that the facial features and body types will be slightly different for each racial type. In this case I went with the Caucasian version of Ryan so that the following steps could be applied in Poser Debut as well as Poser.

Step 3

Since we are wanting to make a superhero, we need to bulk up Ryan a bit. So lets check out the Morph section under the Parameters panel. First we want to make sure we have the entire body selected, and not a specific area, because in that case you'd only be able to modify that area, whereas here we want to morph the entire body.

To do that, go to the top left of the Preview panel and click on the second drop down menu and select 'body'. Once that done, we can return to the Morph section under the Parameters panel.

Step 4

The Morph section under the Parameters panel will give you the option to customize the body in parts, or the entire body at once. We're going to use the Morph options that affects the entire body. Parameters > Morph > Full Body. You'll see a list of body types appear. Going to the one called 'Bodybuilder' we want to turn the control wheel towards the left to add muscles to the model and change his figure shape to that of a bulky guy. Know that Poser won't always keep realistic proportions in mind for you, so if you're aiming for realistic, be sure not to go overboard, or else you'll get Hulk.

To puff up his chest a bit and make his waist a bit skinnier, we're going to turn the control wheel beside the body type called 'Toned'. Superheroes tend to have tiny waists.

Step 5

Using the Rotate Tool (R), select the head (you'll notice at the top left corner of the preview that it now shows the head is selected instead of the body) and the Morph section of the Parameters panel will have adjusted itself to show you the Head Morph controls.

We want to zoom in on Ryan's face to get a closer look at what we'll be changing. Go to the Camera controls below the tools and use the four connected hands to move the camera closer. Use the hand 'Move Y and X' to move the camera around until the focus is on his face.

Step 6

The final step in customizing the model, is changing the facial features. The nose is pretty neat as it is, but superheroes tend to have very square jaws and pronounced eyebrows. With the head selected, go to the Head Morph > Head Shapes > Lower Face Shapes. Once that last folder opened, you'll see a lot of different controls to change the shape of the lower part of Ryan's face. In this case, we're only going to use the 'JawSize' control wheel and increase it.

Once that complete, hide the Lower Face Shapes folder and go to Head Shapes > Upper Face Shapes. Locate the control wheel called 'Brow Width' and increase!

I know that I won't be drawing any upper lip definition once the sketching starts (oddly, by drawing the upper lip a male character will look more feminine), and I find his lower lip thin looking, so lets fill that up a bit. Go to Head Shapes > Lip Shapes and locate the control wheel called 'Lip Bottom Full, now increase it just a bit.

The last thing we'll change in his facial features, are his eyes. We're going to make them a bit bigger. Go to Head Shapes > Eye Shapes and locate the control wheel called 'Eye Size'. Increase it, and now we're done with the facial features!

3. Position Your Model

Step 1

We could create a pose entirely from scratch, but because Poser has a great variety of superhero type poses available in the Pose section of the Library, we will be using one of those and adjust it to our needs. We could use the poses that are assigned to the Ryan character, but the variety of action poses is limited, so we are going to use the poses that can be applied on all male models. Go to Library > Pose Icon > People > Poser Original > Poser 5 Poses > Male > Action > Comic Book and select the 'Hero Action 06' pose. Double click on it and the pose will apply itself on our customized Ryan model in the Preview panel.

Step 2

You'll notice that once the pose has applied itself on our customized Ryan, the body isn't placed at the right angle and we'll need to adjust this before being able to adjust the pose. To do this, we will be using the Transform section in the Parameters panel and the sphere in the Camera controls.

Lets start by turning Ryan in our direction. Go to Parameters > Transform > Y Rotate control wheel. I turned it to 38 degrees and then continued to turn the 'X Rotate' to -20 degrees as well so that he is now slightly pointed upwards, since we'll want to see him from above to create the extreme dynamic pose.

Now we will use the sphere with arrows Camera control to angle it above Ryan. Place your cursor in the center of the sphere and then pull it towards you so the camera moves to see Ryan from a bird like angle. Now return to the Parameters > Transform and continue to tweak the Y, X and Z Rotate control wheels until you are happy with the angle.

I've set mine to:

  • Y set to 44 degrees
  • X set to -28 degrees
  • Z set to 20 degrees

Step 3

To adjust the pose, we will be using the Rotate Tool (R), the Twist Tool (W) and the Translate/Pull Tool (T). Starting of with the Rotate Tool (R) we are going to tweak the position of his limbs so we can make the pose a bit more interesting. With the Rotate Tool (R) I pushed the left arm (our left), further back so you can barely see his upper arm. Whereas with the right arm, I positioned it as closely as possible towards the front, whilst not covering his face and used the Twist Tool (W) to turn his hand around. Unfortunately there aren't any specific degrees I can give here, so you'll have to rely on what you think looks the best.

To see more of his face, we will use the Twist Tool (W) to turn his face towards us/the camera. And then the Rotate Tool (R) to pull his face upwards.

Step 4

Neat! Only now he's looking a bit too serious. To change this, select his head once more to have the Head Morph section appear in the Parameters panel. Go to Head Morph > Head Expressions > Mouth Expressions. I wanted to make him look quite happy with himself, so I decided to make him smirk. Go to Mouth Expressions > Mouth Smile R (R stands for right side) and use the control wheel to give him a cheery look.

To make sure the rest of his face matches, we are going to tweak the brows. Go to Head Expression > Upper Face Expressions and then use the 'Brow Up Down' control wheel to bring his eyebrows down just a bit so that he is smiling, but he's still concentrated in whatever he is about to punch.

4. Modify the Camera and Lighting

Step 1

Although we could go ahead and call this a complete reference, Poser offers some Camera settings that could make this dynamic pose, extreme. Go to Library > Camera > Poser 10 > Camera Sets. In there you will find a list of different camera settings, on we are going to use the 'Fish Eye Lens'. We could have used the 'Extreme Fish Eye' but this camera setting does distort the proportions a bit which is obvious in this case mainly because our sole focus is superhero Ryan.

Double click the 'Fish Eye Lens' and it will load onto your Ryan model.

Step 2

Now lets add a light source to give us something to work with when we start drawing! Go to Library > Light Icon > Poser 10 > Basic Light Sets. I chose the 'Dante Inferno' light set as it is a good shadow base to work with. Double click on 'Dante Inferno' and once it is loaded onto Ryan, move on to the Light controls and adjust until you are satisfied with the look!

5. Bring Your Reference into Illustrator

Step 1

Now we can save the reference we made and get started in Adobe Illustrator. To save the reference, simply go to File > Export > Image, select PNG and then save it to your desktop.

Note: We want to save the actual Poser file as well, just in case we need to come back to the reference and adjust something. Go to File > Save and place it on your desktop, or whichever document you want it located in.

Step 2

After opening up Adobe Illustrator, create a new file (File > New) and then place the reference in your Artboard (File > Place). Adjust the Artboard to your reference image (Shift + O) and once that complete, lets lower the Opacity via the Transparency panel (Shift + Control + F10) on the layer the reference image finds itself in, so it'll be easier to sketch over. I lowered mine to 60%, gave the layer the title 'Ref' and then locked the layer.

6. Sketch Your Character

Step 1

For our superhero, we will be using a default brush from the Brush Panel (F5) which imitates a wide paint brush (see screenshot). We will also change the settings on the fidelity and selection. To do this, double-click the Paintbrush Tool (B) (A comprehensive guide: Paintbrush Tool and Brush Panel) icon and a dialogue box will open. We are setting the fidelity to its lowest and unchecking the box 'Keep Selected'. We are changing the fidelity so that the brush will follow our drawn strokes as closely as possibly, without curving and smoothing anything out, and by unchecking the 'Keep Selected' we are making sure that once a line is drawn, we won't accidentally change it when drawing close to it.

The final setting will be the width of the brush stroke (this will depend on how big your artboard is - aim for something thin). Call up the Stroke panel (Control + F10) and set the Stroke Weight at 0.1 pt.

Note: Putting the fidelity so low creates a lot of Anchor Points, so if you are wanting to create something with few Anchor Points I wouldn't recommend this.

Step 2

I personally like to start off with a rough, to give me an idea of what I want him to look like before starting on the more defined sketches. Since we have created a very solid reference, we normally won't have to worry about proportion and perspective issues, as we worked that all out while making the reference. This doesn't mean it's perfect though, sometimes once you draw over the reference, you'll notice that it works in the 3D model, but not so much in your drawing.

We're going for a 'classic' superhero look, which means, body suit, waist belt, boots and gloves to break the tight look of the body suit and of course, a cape (we'll ignore Edna from The Incredibles for this drawing). Don't worry about it looking right, the purpose of the rough is to get an idea and help us in the next steps!

Create New Layer on top of your locked 'Ref' layer and title the new one as 'Rough'. Make sure your Paintbrush Tool (B) is in the right settings, and start sketching on top of your reference.

Step 3

Continuing on to draw out the superhero's figure and face! Before starting, select your layer titled 'Rough', go to the Transparency panel and set the Opacity at 30-40% so it won't get in your way. Now create a new layer, title it 'Figure' (make sure your 'Ref' layer is not hidden) and start sketching out your superhero figure with the Paintbrush Tool (B). Just trace the reference image, we can worry about free styling it with the clothes in the next step.

We want to draw out the facial features and a base for the hair in this step as well. Facial features are easy, since we worked those out in Poser, whereas the hair may be a little trickier. Remember that it has to flow backwards, since there would be wind. So no bangs hanging along the sides of his face.

Step 4

To sketch the clothes, we are going to use the same brush with the same settings, but we'll use a different color to make them stand out. Since most of his clothes are composed of the body suit, it means we really only have to focus on the gloves, boots and cape.

This is probably obvious to most, but when I first started drawing, I often forgot to pay attention to the perspective on clothes. Since our superhero is seen from a bird like angle, we would be able to see into his boots and gloves. So we want to curve out the edges outwards, rather than inwards.

Create a new layer above the 'Figure' layer and title it 'Clothes'. At this point, since we drew out the figure, we can hide the layer titled 'Ref' and draw the clothes out on top of the 'Rough' and 'Figure' layers.

Step 5

Before we move on to the line art, we want to take a good look at the sketch and see if there are any obvious things we can fix which wouldn't be as easy to fix whilst making the line art. In this case I realized the hand at the front looked too big. While that would be easy to fix by selecting the front hand's paths and sizing it down until it looked right, unfortunately the perspective looks off.

Since we saved the Poser file of the reference, I opened the file in Poser again and moved the arm over to the right, so it is more off to the side, rather than in the front focal. Saved it by exporting it as a PNG onto my desktop. Placed it in the Illustrator file, and then re-sketched only that arm. S

7. Create the Line Art

Step 1

For the line art we will be using the Pen Tool (P) (A Comprehensive Guide: Pen Tool) and the Paintbrush Tool (B). Whilst I could have made a new brush or used one of the defaults, I recently bought a brush set on GraphicRiver that suited my purposes for this drawing. It's not a high necessity, you could achieve a similar look with one of the default brushes or create your own brush. But if you wish to try them out, you may purchase the Easy Hair Brushes by ChewedKandi.

To load in a brush set that is not part of the default library, bring forth the Brushes panel and click on the small top right arrow. From there, Open Brush Library > Other Library and a dialogue box will appear. Locate the folder you saved your downloaded brush set in, double click and it will open in illustrator.

For this drawing I used the third brush available in the Easy Hair Brushes set, titled Basic Hair 3.

Step 2

We will be using the Pen Tool (P) to draw out the main lines on our superhero, leaving the details, facial features and hair for the Paintbrush Tool (B) to work with later. Before we start line rating away, we want to put all the sketch layers (Rough, Figure and Clothes) into one (to avoid clutter), title it 'Sketch', select it and lower the Opacity somewhere between 30 and 50% and Lock it.

Now we create a new layer above the 'Sketch', title it 'Lines' and start setting up the Pen Tool (P). In this case we want to put the Fill at null and only use the Stroke. Pick any color you wish to use for you line art, I went with black. We are going to bring up the Stroke panel and set the weight at 1pt. With that done, we can now start drawing the clean line art atop the sketch!

Step 3

Because we want him to look a bit 'chiseled', we want to accentuate his muscles on his body. To do this, we'll use the Paintbrush Tool (B), with the 'Basic Hair 3' and here we will set the weight in the Stroke panel at 0.3pt. Since we drew those lines in the sketch already, we can simply trace these.

Step 4

Using the same brush, we only change the weight at 0.5pt and shape out the hair!

Step 5

The final step in the line art will be his eyes, brows and tip of his nose. This could be done with either the Pen Tool (P) or the Paintbrush Tool (B). But since we want these lines to be thicker and there are a lot of weight changes, we are going to use the Pencil Tool (N) set at fill (stroke at null) and shape out the lines by hand. As you can see, I changed the direction our superhero is looking at.

8. Add the Flat Colors

Step 1

To put in the flat colors, we are gong to use Live Paint (Alt + Control + X). Before we can, we need to set up the line at first. Duplicate the 'Lines' layer and place the duplicate under the original. Lock and hide the original 'Lines' layer for the moment. Focusing on the duplicate, before we turn it into a Live Paint we want to close of the hair section fist. Using the Pencil Tool (N) set on Stroke (fill at null), doesn't matter what weight, zoom in on the hair and close the open areas.

Step 2

Once that complete, we can select the duplicate layer of 'Lines' and create a Live Paint (Alt + Control + X). You'll notice that there are now extra empty layers (since the Live Paint grouped the lines together). Delete those and then (make sure you still have the layer selected), put the Fill and Stroke at null.

Step 3

Before we start using the Live Paint Bucket (K), we want to make sure the original lines will blend well with the colors. Select the 'Lines' layer and set it's Blending Mode, via the Transparency panel, to Multiply. Once that complete, lock the 'Lines' layer and now we can start putting in the flat colors with the Live Paint Bucket (K)!

Note: You want to be careful with color choices when drawing superheroes, mainly so you don't use the same color scheme as popular superheroes or else people might automatically connect them back to one another. Unless that's what you're aiming for of course.

9. Add the Shadow and Light

Step 1

Since we created a light source in Poser (which I will only be using for shadow placement), we want to use it. You can hide the flat colors for the time being, leaving only the 'Lines' layer and the 'Ref' visible. Create a new layer above the 'Lines' layer, title it 'Shadows' and use the Pencil Tool (N) with a black color as Fill (Stroke on null). Shape out your shadows following the reference either exactly as it is, or using it as a vague guideline.

Once done, select the 'Shadow' layer, bring up the Transparency panel and set the Blending Mode on Multiply and the Opacity somewhere between 30 and 50%. If you are feeling fancy, you can also add some extra gradient shapes in the shadow areas (applied the same way as the shadows) and play with the Blending Mode and Opacity.

Step 2

Before adding the highlights, we can hide the 'Ref' layer and unhide the layer that contains the flat colors. Check to see if the shadows look good with the flat colors, and if you're happy, we can start with the highlights! Create a new layer above the 'Shadows' layer and title it 'Highlights'.

This process is very similar to adding the shadows. Instead of using a black color with the Pencil Tool (N), we'll use a white color and instead of applying a Blending Mode we will leave it at Normal and only tone down the Opacity somewhere between 30 and 50%.

Step 4

He's looking pretty neat! But before we stop working on him, maybe add some effects around his hands. Create a new layer above the 'Highlights' layer and title it 'Effects'.

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the same 'Basic Hair 3' brush, put the Fill at null and use a green color (or anything you like really) for the Stroke. I set the weight in the Transparency panel at 0.5pt and made some scribble lines around his hands, keeping the idea of fiery powers in mind to get a shape.

Final touch here is to add a very light fill color to the shapes. To do this, duplicate the 'Effects' layer, select it and switch the Stroke with the Fill so that now the Stroke is set at null and the Fill holds the green color. Return to the Transparency panel and set the Opacity somewhere between 10 and 30%.

Step 5

Since white is a bit boring for a background, lets add some speed lines to add to the extreme dynamic pose our superhero is striking. I have actually tried to find a way to do this other than by hand and unfortunately it turns out that making a brush or using the twist effects available in Adobe Illustrator have this way of overlapping in certain areas. So I ended up doing it by hand.

Using the Pen Tool (P) create long triangle shapes along the right side of our superhero. There is no real rule to follow here or guidelines I can give, so make them in a way that you think looks good and flattering for the composition as a whole. I used white for the Fill (Stroke at null) and a gradient composed of blue and green for the background.

Congratulations! You're Done.

There we are! One nifty superhero ready to save the world and kick villain behind. Hopefully this tutorial was helpful in one way or another. I especially hope I got some people interested in using Poser/Poser Debut, it can really help for those who rely on references a lot, or those who need just that extra bit of help on top of what they already can do.

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