Creating 3-D graphics on the Amiga has fascinated me ever since I saw the Juggler demo at my Amiga dealer's in 1986. Creating objects on graph paper and typing in coordinates, or trying to draw the starship Enterprise using only triangles, however, did not intrigue me.
Now Cryogenic Software has developed 3-D Professional, the modeling and animation program for "the rest of us." 3-D Pro is extremely easy to use and has an intuitive user interface, but it's still very powerful.
Scenes like this are easy to render using 3-D Pro's ray-trace module.
Objects in 3-D Pro are built from simple shapes, called primitives. There are 13 predefined primitives, including a sphere, a cone, a cube, a cylinder, a line segment, and even a torus. It's amazing how many objects can be created from these primitives, but if your needs are more complex, 3-D Pro also has lathe, conic, and profile tools that let you create more complex primitives. You can even create fractal trees and landscapes or convert Amiga fonts or IFF brushes into 3-D objects. You can also import VideoScape 3-D, Sculpt 3-D, AutoCad, Forms in Flight, Turbo Silver, 3-Demon, and Atari ST Cad 3-D objects. Your 3-D Pro objects can be saved in VideoScape 3-D format for editing with a third-party object editor.
The objects you create can have a wide variety of characteristics. You can choose an object's color, transparency, roughness, reflectiveness, glossiness, index of refraction, and amount of specular reflection. There are also a number of predefined surface properties, such as plastic, stone, aluminum, and glass. The most impressive effects can be created using the editable textures. With a single click, you wrap your objects with wood, marble, checkered patterns, bricks, or a host of other textures.
Once you've created your objects, 3-D Pro makes it easy to arrange them into a scene. You can edit an object from one of six different views (left, right, top, bottom, front, and back). Only one view can be displayed at a time while editing, but there's a Model view that lets you preview your scene from four different angles.
The camera view shows your scene as from the observer's viewpoint. This is very handy—most 3-D packages require you to render a test scene to see exactly how your objects will be displayed.
Instead of just displaying a wire-frame view of your objects while you're editing them, 3-D Pro shows you a solid, dithered, color representation of the scene. This makes it easy to remember which colors you've chosen for individual objects and gives you a basic idea of how objects will be shaded.
Once you've created your scene, it's time to shed some light on your subjects. You can have up to 99 different light sources in a scene. Lights can be points (like a light bulb or the sun), cylindrical (like a laser beam), or conical (like a spotlight). Light beams can have different colors, handy for creating effects like red laser beams or purple spotlights. You can also control the amount of ambient light and create haze effects.
Your lights are in place, the camera is ready, and now it's showtime. Options abound at rendering time, too. There are four different rendering options built in: pattern, solid, gourad, and phong. Pattern is similar to the shading used in the work modes; the shading of each polygon is achieved by dithering gray patterns with the polygons in each object to make varying shades of the polygon's color. Solid rendering uses more colors, but each face of the polygon is rendered in a single color. Gourad employs a smoothing algorithm to remove the faceted look of each object.
Pattern-, solid-, and gourad-rendering algorithms are good for first-draft pictures, but you'll want to use phong shading for final output. Phong rendering determines shading on a pixel-by-pixel basis, so it shows all textures and specular highlights, and it's much faster than ray-tracing. While phong-rendered objects often look as good as their ray-traced counterparts, they don't cast shadows, so phong-rendered pictures generally aren't as realistic as ray tracings. To get the most out of 3-D Pro, you'll want to purchase the optional ray-tracing module.
I examined an early beta version of the 3-D Professional Ray-Trace Custom Rendering Module. This program can be run in conjunction with 3-D Pro (select Custom Rendering and 3-D Pro will send the file to the ray tracer), or as a stand-alone (the program loads a 3-D Pro data file). The module gives you an incredible amount of control over the tracing process. You can select the number of rays to trace through each pixel and toggle features such as soft shadows, fuzzy reflections, and smoothing. 3-D Pro's ray-tracing module is the first to support atmospheric distortion, so your pictures can even have a foggy or hazy appearance. The module should be available sometime late this fall.
You can display 3-D Pro rendering on a wide variety of devices. Of course, 3-D Pro will render directly to the Amiga monitor in lo res, hi res, or HAM. You can output 24-bit RAW RGB files, so you can modify your renderings with programs such as ASDG's The Art Department. The program also supports the 2024 and Moniterm 1008 × 800 monochrome monitors, the Mimetics Frame Buffer, and the MicroIllusions Transport Controller. You can even output to a PostScript or EPS file if you're planning on using your creation in a laser-printed document.
3-D Pro isn't limited to just creating pretty pictures, either. You can create animations using scripts or the menu interface. ARexx scripts can be used to set up each frame in the animation, or you can use the key-frame feature to set up starting and ending frames and let 3-D Pro handle the movements necessary to get objects from Point A to Point B. You can tune up your animations using the included Animation Station software, a powerful frame-by-frame animation editor that's also available separately from PP & S.
The program comes in a huge box that's packed with documentation. There's a 310-page tutorial manual, a 450-page reference manual, and another 100-page manual covering the Animation Station software. There's even a two-hour tutorial videotape included in the package. The manuals are well written and logically organized.
I have only a few complaints about 3-D Pro. When you first start the program, you're faced with a requester asking how many objects, primitives, vertices, and other elements you'll need for your scene. While you can usually just accept the default values, the requester is an intimidating element in a program that's otherwise very friendly to novices. Also, the program is slow on 68000 machines. Using the sample scene file, it took the program 13 seconds to redraw the screen after I moved a single object. On a 25-MHz 3000 using the supplied 68020/68881 version, the same scene was redrawn in only 3.5 seconds. Finally, because of the $499.95 retail price of 3-D Professional, PP & S should charge only a nominal fee for the ray-tracing module, considering that it should have been included with the package in the first place.
Amiga with 1 MB (1.5MB needed for tutorials), and two floppies or a hard drive—$499.95
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