Yes, they are free from www.daz3d.com, but only for the month of February!
To my knowledge, these programs have never been offered free before. Daz Studio has been offered for free, but not the Pro version of it. The combined value of these programs is over $800 US.
Hexagon 2.5 is a 3D modelling program. The only problem that I see for Second Life modellers is that this program does not export in the collada format. However, Daz Studio does. You can export your model to an .obj format, and then take it into Daz Studio, or Blender, and export it as a collada.
To test the compatibility of the programs with Second Life, I imported a mesh object I made in Blender (a kitchen knife) into Hexagon as an .obj file.
Kitchen Knife in Hexagon 2.5
I then exported it again as an .obj file from Hexagon, and imported that into Daz Studio.
Kitchen Knife in Daz Studio 4 Pro
From Daz Studio I exported it as a collada .dae file and uploaded that to Second Life.
Kitchen Knife in Second Life
I originally made and UV mapped this Kitchen Knife using Blender. I applied the texture to a copy of the collada version from Daz Studio. As you can see, the texture works perfectly, indicating that the UV map was perfectly preserved through the process. Hexagon .obj format and the Daz Studio .dae format seem to be compatible with Blender and Second Life.
Hexagon 2.5 has features in it that were designed to specifically accommodate the Second Life sculpty format. There is a tab along the top labelled “Second Life”, and you can import sculpty .tga files into Hexagon, and export sculpty .tga files from Hexagon.
To test this, I imported a barrel sculpt map I had made in ZBrush.
Importing a Sculpt Map to Hexagon 2.5
It imported perfectly. I then exported it again as a Second Life Sculpty (.tga format).
Exporting a Sculpt Map from Hexagon 2.5
I uploaded the barrel sculpt map from Hexagon to Second Life, and applied textures I had made for the original sculpt map in ZBrush. As you can see from the pictures below, the shape is perfect, and the textures fit perfectly.
Uploaded Sculpted Barrel from Hexagon 2.5
I love mesh and in most cases I will use mesh over sculpties. There are some cases where you may still wish to use a sculpty, such as in a case where you need to use UUID switching. An example of this might be holding something that you wish to change shape, such as a flower that wilts in your hand. Hexagon could be useful for this. (Blender also handles sculpties well with the addition of some Primstar python scripting available from Machinimatrix.org and on sale by Gaia Clary in world.)
I have not used Hexagon 2.5 and have only taken a very cursory look at it. The user interface seems simple and user friendly. Some in the Mesh Dev group said that it does not have all the features that Blender does, and you might as well bite the bullet and learn Blender. For those who are intimidated by the Blender interface at first glance, Hexagon 2.5 might be a good choice. When I looked at the interface of Hexagon and rolled over the icons, the tool tips that popped up referred to familiar terms that I learned using Blender, such as faces, edges, vertex points, orthographic or perspective view, solid shading, UV mapping, and extrude surface. Once these basic concepts are learned in any 3D modelling program, another 3D modelling program will be easier to learn than the first. I would suggest to newcomers to 3D modelling that Hexagon may be less intimidating to learn, and if at some point it fails to meet your needs, then learning Blender or some other modelling program will be easier.
I took a quick look at Bryce 7.0. It specializes in creating terrain, plants, trees, with the purpose of creating illustrations or sets for movies in mind. I thought it might hold some potential to create terrain for Second Life. I am aware of .raw files that you can upload to apply terrain to your private island estate, but I have no idea how to create them or if it would be possible to use Bryce to do so. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable in this area would be kind enough to give us more information in the comments.
I did create a terrain, was able to modify it a little bit, and export it as an .obj file.
Terrain mesh in Bryce 7.0
I then imported it into Daz Studio and exported it as a collada .dae file, which I then uploaded into Second Life. at 10m x 1.5m x 10m it came in at a land impact of 57 prims (with no physics shape). I imagine you might be able to reduce this land impact with a physics shape and through optimizing the mesh (reducing poly count).
Terrain mesh uploaded to Second Life
The last program I quickly looked at was Daz Studio 4 Pro. When I first opened the program, a window appeared offering to take me through some tutorial videos to learn the program. I took the time to watch them and was impressed with the quality of the videos. I think this program would be fairly quick and easy to learn.
Daz Studio Opening Screen
It would appear that Daz Studio is good at animating, and you can import the SL avatar and animate it, exporting the animations in the .bvh format used by Second Life. It is also good for bringing in models, clothing, backdrops, sets and making illustrations or movies.
Perhaps it is coincidental, or perhaps not, that 3D Magazine is offering the popular Victoria 5 model for free with its March 2012 issue.
In the magazine there is a disc with Victoria on it. It is accompanied by an article, “Render Beauty with Victoria 5″ by Alexandru Banuta on how to use the model in Daz Studio, and another article, “Become a CG Broker” which tells you how to make characters and props for programs such as Daz Studio and Poser and make money selling them.
I have ordered a copy of the March Issue of 3D Magazine. It is a bargain, for Victoria 5 sells for about $40 alone.
I will read the article with interest. I am wondering if I will be able to adapt some of the mesh clothing I make for Second Life to the Victoria 5 model and open a new market for myself.