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Pick and Click 3D
Should you take the plunge into the world of 3D?
(From PC Graphics & Video magazine, AdvanStar)

By N. T. Amur

Today's new crop of easy to use and affordable 3D software promises to take your 2D designs beyond the ordinary and breathe a new life into them. Pick and click does make things easier, and you don't have to sink deep into your savings to buy the software. But this is not to say that you are getting fully featured packages at fire sale discounts. So, is it for you?

Click here for full overview

Read on.

Please check with the software manufacturers for the latest status.
Andromeda Series 2 Andromeda Series 2--(Click here for full review)
Andromeda Software Inc. (Thousand Oaks, CA), $129

Series 2 provides the most direct and basic way to give your illustration a 3D look. You install it as a plug-in in host applications that support Photoshop (Adobe Systems, Mountain View, CA) plug-in standards.

Higher numbers indicate better ratings;1 to 5
Price/Performance: 4; Features: 3; Ease of Use: 5; Learning Curve: 4; Documentation: 3; Technical Support: 4

addDepth
addDepth, Version 1.0.1--(Click here for full review)
Ray Dream, Inc., (Mountain View, CA), $149

Ray Dream addDepth excels when it comes to hand-holding. From the Startup Dialog Box you can go with one of the four options. If you just want to create 3D text, select Step By Step Wizard.

Higher numbers indicate better ratings;1 to 5
Price/Performance: 4; Features: 3; Ease of Use: 5; Learning Curve: 5; Documentation: 4; Technical Support: 4

Typestry by Pixar
Typestry 2, Version 2.0--(Click here for full review)
Pixar, (Richmond, CA), $295

This new version brings unusual effects to font imaging and animation. You begin a new project by activating the Details dialog box by either clicking the Text, or the special Adobe Illustrator file import icon.

Higher numbers indicate better ratings;1 to 5
Price/Performance: 3; Features: 4; Ease of Use: 4; Learning Curve: 4; Documentation: 3 (Beta version); Technical Support: 5

Simply3D by Visual Software
Simply 3D, Version 3.2a--(Click here for full review)
Visual Software, Inc., (Woodland Hills, CA), $59

Simply 3D has extensive 3D capabilities, and it excels in achieving a high degree of realism. Its strong suit lies in helping you arrange objects, lights, and camera for a photo-realistic look. It also gives you substantial control over surface textures, and object and camera placement. You can actually fly around in your scenes by setting up keyframe animation sequences.

Higher numbers indicate better ratings;1 to 5
Price/Performance: 5; Features: 5; Ease of Use: 3; Learning Curve: 3; Documentation: 4; Technical Support: 5

3D F/X by Asymetric
3D F/X, Version 1.0--(Click here for full review)
Asymetrix Corp., (Bellevue, WA), $99

In the race to create no-fuss 3D effects and animation, 3D F/X carries the flag quite some distance. This latest entry into what has already become the next digital frontier, proves itself an important player.

Higher numbers indicate better ratings;1 to 5
Price/Performance: 5; Features: 5; Ease of Use: 5; Learning Curve: 4; Documentation: 4; Technical Support: 4

SoftKey CD ROM pack
Other Resources
SoftKey International (Cambridge, MA)
Wacom Co., LTD.

To get the high degree of precision you can get with the 3D software, I recommend you switch to a tablet for precision. To create the images in this article I've used the Wacom ArtPad. It has a small footprint and is accurate. Also, Visual Reality, and Pixar offer material and object libraries at attractive discounts, especially if you get them with the software. One other valuable and affordable resource is the Media Clips Super Bundle by SoftKey International (Cambridge, MA). This set of ten CD's packs a huge selection of great sights and sounds you can add to your creations. It is a real deal at less than $50.



Public Relations Internet Services Corporate Identity

CrossWorld +1 714.892.7037 (Ph)marketing, public relations, advertising, corporate identity
CrossWorld Communications
P.O. Box 5155
West Garden Grove, CA 92846, USA
webmaster@crossworld.com
Copyright © 2004 by CrossWorld.
All rights reserved.


Pick and Click 3D
Should you take the plunge into the world of 3D?
(From PC Graphics & Video magazine, AdvanStar)

By N. T. Amur

Today's new crop of easy to use and affordable 3D software promises to take your 2D designs beyond the ordinary and breathe a new life into them. Pick and click does make things easier, and you don't have to sink deep into your savings to buy the software. But this is not to say that you are getting fully featured packages at fire sale discounts. So, is it for you?

The claim to fame of the 3D software lies in its ability to deliver the kind of realism that you cannot expect to get with 2D software. Still, 3D software relies on you to use the specialized tools it provides to create this realism. So, you should know what these specialized tools are, and whether or not the software you are considering to buy includes them. Also consider the time you will have to invest into learning your new 3D software.

A fully featured 3D software will allow you to create from scratch 3D objects with its modeler. Also, you will need to render them. However, to give your rendered objects realism you will need to illuminate them with different kinds of lights-spot lights, soft lights, point lights, colored lights, and others-to create reflections, and shadows. In addition, you will need images to use as textures, materials, decals, and backgrounds. Finally, you will need to see from different viewpoints what and how you are doing.

You will also have to decide early on whether you will eventually want the ultimate kick, animation. Unless your software includes animation in its feature suit, you will have to start over, if you switch to another 3D software. Unfortunately, for now 3D software does not exchange each others' files readily. So, you may have to jump through some more hoops to get your animation. This is a bit like the earlier days of the automobile industry: that you knew how to drive a Ford did not necessarily mean you could drive a Buick, or anything else.

If you want animation, you should consider the extend of the animation capabilities you need. But if just a camera or object fly-by satisfies you, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results you will get with some of the affordable 3D software highlighted here.

Keep in mind bringing 3D software to the masses is new to the developers, too. The new 3D systems have their roots in powerful professional rendering engines geared toward professional use in films and commercials where power and image quality counts much more than ease of use. But for the 2D world, the user interface still needs more polishing, and reworking of some of the awkward menu systems, icons, and metaphors. So, expect to do a lot of head scratching while you are learning the stuff.

Having said all of this, I will also add that you'll be well rewarded for your troubles. Little else compares to the exhilaration you will feel when you see your 2D work come alive and fly around.

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Andromeda Series 2

Andromeda Software Inc. (Thousand Oaks, CA), $129

Series 2 3D plug-in Series 2 provides the most direct and basic way to give your illustration a 3D look. You install it as a plug-in in host applications that support Photoshop (Adobe Systems, Mountain View, CA) plug-in standards. In addition to Photoshop you may be able to install Series 2 reliably in an increasing number of 2D graphics applications such as CorelPaint 5.0 (Corel Corp., Ottawa, Canada), and Fauve Matisse (Fauve Software, Cary, NC). But check with Andromeda first.

Series 2 imports your selection from the host application and shows it in the dialog box in the image preview window. A default wireframe representation of your selection appears in a second one. In this wireframe window you set things up. In the image window you render the results of your effects.

When you select a particular operation its corresponding subset buttons appear in the dialog box. You can do all sizing and placement with sliders either by typing in the value, or sliding knobs. So, you have a full control of the extend of your 3D effects. If you lose your bearings after some experimenting, you get out of your dilemma by hitting Revert button. But this will put you back to square one.

The operations in Series 2 are similar to those you would do when taking pictures. Place the object, determine camera position, and set up lighting. In Series 2 you place the object by selecting the surface geometry you want for the 3D effect. You can place your object on a sphere, cylinder, box, and plane surface. Next, you fit the image to the geometry and position the entire setup in 3D space.

Series 2 provides precise controls to adjust illumination and reflection characteristics. By simply dragging around the hot spot, and setting intensities with sliders, you can get the lighting effects you want quickly.

Similarly, you can also experiment with your camera's position. In Series 2 your object stays still, and you move the camera. With your pointing device or using the sliders you can actually set what appears in your camera's view.

The software manual takes a minimalist approach, however, it includes all you need to know to get started. For more on Series 2 you can consult an excellent reference on filters Photoshop Filter Finesse by Bill Niffenegger (Random House, NY) to see how others use this valuable 3D tool.

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addDepth, Version 1.0.1

Ray Dream, Inc., (Mountain View, CA), $149

addDepth 3D software Ray Dream addDepth excels when it comes to hand-holding. From the Startup Dialog Box you can go with one of the four options. If you just want to create 3D text, select Step By Step Wizard. The wizards show each design on a proxy, so you have a visual reference. The first step will prompt you to point and select a depth and bevel combination among the fifteen predefined designs. Next you choose a rotation and perspective combination. Here again you can pick from a group of fifteen designs. Likewise, the software lets you point and click as it steps you through the selections for the color and effects, and light source. Once you are finished with the style selections, you type in your text, and you are done.

At this point, addDepth switches you to its main window. Now you can see the fruits of your short work. In this view you also see a grid, what addDepth calls the Working Plane, and the page. While the Working Plane is separate from the page, by default it sits on top it. But you can freely distort and re-orient the Plane in 3D space. Interestingly, your design will follow it if you so choose resulting in interesting effects.

Also, the main view gives you the geometry, and style palettes. Using your 2D designs as a starting point, in the geometry palette you build and edit the bevels, and set the extrusion depth. In addDepth, as in other 3D software, you actually fatten the object to create your bevels. However, this happens automatically as you set the bevel profiles. While you can only create straight line bevels, you can build and modify them easily just by dragging one of the two points on the bevel diagram. To set the extrusion depth you simply type in a value, or move the slider knob. Curiously, you cannot create bevels on the extruded edges. But then this is also true with all the other 3D software.

As a big plus, addDepth opens directly and reliably all popular vector files such as CorelDraw, Illustrator, Freehand, Windows MetaFile and CGM. You can put to work this critical capability to overcome some of the software's limitations. For instance, addDepth cannot fit text to a path. But you can do this easily in CorelDraw, open your file in addDepth and go from there. You can also use 2D illustration files as decals instead of colors on your object's faces and sides.

addDepth provides only the basic 3D capabilities. But its vector still images work particularly well in applications where you need to scale your images without losing image quality.

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Typestry 2, Version 2.0

Pixar, (Richmond, CA), $295

Typestry 3D sample This new version brings unusual effects to font imaging and animation. You begin a new project by activating the Details dialog box by either clicking the Text, or the special Adobe Illustrator file import icon. The Details box is the gateway to accessing, creating, and modifying object attributes, text or otherwise.

The Details dialog box shows four selectable tabs if you have already selected an object. The Text tab allows you to edit your text. The Build tab gives you access to Typestry's built-in styles. Here you have three to choose from: Extrude, Flags, and Tubes. You use the Look tab to set and edit surface attributes, materials as Typestry calls them. The last tab, Particles, lets the object emit particles from the sides and bevels. However, to see this in action you must create an animation sequence.

You set your object's physical appearance with Typestry's predefined and mutually exclusive styles. If you choose Extrude, you then can select the extrusion depth, plus you can modify the default bevel profile. To modify the profile, you first select the basic bevel type from the predefined shapes. But this is just a starting point. The software allows you to massage the profile freely by pushing and pulling its Bezier points and their handles.

If you pick the Flags Style, you are essentially choosing a plane surface-Typestry calls it Sheet-to place your object. This could be a wavy sheet, a flat surface such as a banner, or flag, a sphere, a tube, or a disc. For each selection your object conforms to your selection's geometry. For example, your object will wrap itself around the tube. You also get slider controls to fine-tune some of your selections.

Typestry's combined abilities to provide extensive surface texturing, effective lighting controls, credible animation sequences, and high resolution still image output make it a powerful type manipulation tool.

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Simply 3D, Version 3.2a

Visual Software, Inc., (Woodland Hills, CA), $59

Simply 3D sample image Simply 3D has extensive 3D capabilities, and it excels in achieving a high degree of realism. Its strong suit lies in helping you arrange objects, lights, and camera for a photo-realistic look. It also gives you substantial control over surface textures, and object and camera placement. You can actually fly around in your scenes by setting up keyframe animation sequences.

The software comes on a CD-ROM. The CD contains the software plus 110MB worth of high resolution textures, and object libraries (all at an amazingly low $59). You install the software from the CD. At your option you can also install the nine tutorials for a head start.

To start a new project, you start assembling your resources, objects, images, materials, and lighting. You can import your 2D work as Illustrator files. You edit them in Simply 3D to suit your particular needs. You create, edit, and format text in Visual Font utility, where you also design the bevels.

Once you get everything together, you then simply drag and drop them into the view window to make them a part of the scene. Next, you select your objects and position them in 3D space. You can manipulate your objects independently of their surroundings, and you can also move them relative to their surroundings. Likewise, you can do the same things with lights. You have a total control of number of lights and their illumination characteristics.

Finally, you move the camera (35 mm) in 3D space, and change its lens by entering values for the Field of View or the Focal Length. You see the differences in the wireframe mode, as well as when you render the image.

To create an animation, set the number of frames in your sequence, move the camera, and assign keyframe numbers to specific camera position as you go. The software computes the path and the in-between frames from your keyframes. You can edit this path and change it later. To preview your animation you play it in the wireframe mode before you render and save it.

Simply 3D exports still images as bitmaps. However, the maximum output resolution is 640 by 480 at about 100 dpi. For commercial printing you will have to resample your images to go to a higher resolution. But his is a small price to pay for a capable software that gives you so much for so little.

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3D F/X, Version 1.0

Asymetrix Corp., (Bellevue, WA), $99

3DFX sample image In the race to create no-fuss 3D effects and animation, 3D F/X carries the flag quite some distance. This latest entry into what has already become the next digital frontier, proves itself an important player.

Typically, affordable 3D software, such as the ones I review here, lacks key modeling capabilities, such as sweep, lathe, and free form editing. But, 3D F/X makes up for it by including an extensive library of high-quality and royalty-free 3D models by third-party vendors. You can also use software's own tools to generate some basic shapes and modify them.

In addition to the models, with the software you get bitmap image libraries you can use to create backgrounds, and surfaces. However, 3D F/X adds a powerful new twist to put these libraries into action. But more on this a little later.

The software opens up to a empty Scene Preview window. You use this 3D space to assemble and dress your objects, set up lighting, walls, reflections, background, and animation. To start your project, one of your several options is to get suitable models directly from the 3D F/X Catalog-the software stores its resources in tabbed libraries called Catalogs.

Your other direct option is to simply select one of the twelve predefined shapes from 3D F/X's Models menu. These shapes include sphere, cube, tube, plane, even a gear. You can edit these objects for size and shape, and have the ability to warp them Warping gives you unusual shapes from otherwise dull looking objects.

You create text objects using 3D F/X's text tools. With these objects you control extrusion depth, add bevels, assign surfaces, and modify them as you would with the other types of objects.

You can also import Autodesk 3D Studio format or 3D dxf files. As your next option you create your files in a 2D application and then, importing them as bitmaps or as Windows Metafiles (wmf). But 3D F/X requires simple shapes, preferably single-part objects. Otherwise, files with complex shapes and multiple-part objects confuse the software, and you end up with incorrectly rendered objects. So, before you bring in your objects simplify them, fill them with solid black and delete their outline in their native 2D applications. Follow this procedure with other 3D software, also. You will get better results.

Once you have your objects in place, you apply attributes to them. And this is where 3D F/X does something different and interesting that adds tremendous power to the software. In a single step you can assign attributes such as surfaces, lighting, animation, and background to objects and scenes. With this capability you can create fully dressed scenes within minutes, animation and sound included.

You select the Surfaces tab from the Catalog dialog window. Select a surface and drag and drop it on your object. Job done. You can modify the surface for finish, transparency, reflection, and other optical attributes, or change it altogether to another bitmap image. Similarly, you can add bump textures and define tiling.

While 3D F/X starts with default lighting, you can add different lights with different colors. Adding lighting is also a quick pick. Just select it from the Catalog and drop it on the object. Using this as a starting point, modify its attributes to fit your particular setup.

To add some life to your scene-you guessed it-pick a predefined path from the Catalog and drag and drop on the object. That is it. You can also select multiple paths for any of your objects and their subparts. As you define your paths, and their effects, you can preview your animation immediately before you generate your final rendered files.

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Other Resources

CD Pack To realize the high degree of precision you can get with the 3D software, I recommend you switch to a tablet for precision. To create the images in this article I've used the Wacom ArtPad. It has a small footprint and is accurate. Also, Visual Reality, and Pixar offer material and object libraries at attractive discounts, especially if you get them with the software. One other valuable and affordable resource is the Media Clips Super Bundle by SoftKey International (Cambridge, MA). This set of ten CD's packs a huge selection of great sights and sounds you can add to your creations. It is a real deal at less than $50.



Go back to top Home page
Public Relations Internet Services Corporate Identity

CrossWorld +1 714.892.7037 (Ph)marketing, public relations, advertising, corporate identity
CrossWorld Communications
P.O. Box 5155
West Garden Grove, CA 92846, USA
webmaster@crossworld.com
Copyright © 2004 by CrossWorld.
All rights reserved.