I now work in the slot machine industry as well as a freelance illustrator. When I have an illustration due, with one or multiple figures I like to thumbnail out several ideas. Then I break open DAZ Studio and load up Michael or Victoria. DAZ Studio allows me to pose and light my figures anyway I want. Even though I spent 5 years as a character animator posing characters, I still find it beneficial to grab the new poses that DAZ 3D offers. With a pose preset, I can instantaneously give my character some life. I've found the poses sold on DAZ 3D's site to be very good and helpful, saving me time and research. Of course, I tweak the pose to suit the needs of the illustration, but by trying several poses that someone else has created allows me to experiment very quickly and to come up with new and possibly more dramatic poses than I had originally penciled.
Another reason I like to work with DAZ Studio is the virtual lighting. I don't have lights or studio space to correctly set up a live photo session to have someone stand there and wait while you try out different lights. It just isn't practical. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely good things that come from that. However, I have found that quick lighting solutions and the ease with which DAZ Studio lights can be used are a tremendous value.
One of my first assignments at my current employer was to paint an alluring, but dangerous vampiress. I started to play around with the lighting in a scene with Victoria 4. I discovered in about 5 minutes that a pink under lighting served to make her stand out, give her a certain girlish appeal, and make her dangerous looking without going over the top. I discovered that a red light was too harsh for this type of picture, and a blue light lost too much femininity. Maybe I would have figured that out in the painting process, but it would never have been as easy as tweaking a color slider. I don't think I could have ever discovered that in a photo session.
I think both Michael 4 and Victoria 4 are very good looking models, and I would use them just the way they are for the purposes mentioned above. What really amazed me as I got started was how many morph settings DAZ 3D offers for these 2 characters. I have had a lot of fun tweaking the character settings. It's very important to me, since I paint a lot of muscle men to be able to set up a big muscled character in the right pose. These tools allow me to do just that. With its sliders and muscle morphs I can quickly look at "the Hulk" from an angle that just would be impossible for me to find anywhere else.
Once I nail the pose, lighting and body shape then I render out a high resolution image. I save it out as a PNG which automatically creates an alpha channel (transparent background) for it. I then take that into Photoshop and begin to paint right over top of the image. Sometimes I will allow the original render to show through, it just depends on the image.
I think it's worth mentioning that I own a copy of both Zbrush and Max, but both of these programs take a long time to get usable results. With DAZ Studio's drag and drop features, I can have my 3D reference done before the other guys have modeled out a head. Second, DAZ Studio is free! With no upfront cost to purchase the program and use its most fundamental features, how could I not try this software? With the pay as you go system I can buy only what I need and just when I need it. The content that I can purchase is continually fresh and getting better. I am free to use not just my own creative mind and resources, but can also leverage the creativity and hard work of a lot of other artists.