3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 23: Comparing Professional Packages | WebReference

3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 23: Comparing Professional Packages

Lesson 23 - Comparing Professional Packages - Part 1

I think I may be on to something.

Boy, did I hear from readers concerning last week's lesson!. 3-D is a hot subject, and being hot, can be quite controversial. I thought I was being as staid and diplomatic as possible, but if you're going to really say anything, you have to take a stand. There's no reason to pretend that my opinion is better than someone else's on most of the subjects we deal with here--but as I'm the one writing the column, you're going to hear from me above all. Yet I welcome your comments and want to share them here, where I can. A little controversy is good for everyone, and helps the truth to surface. So if you have something to ask or add, let me know through the "comments" link at the bottom of every page.

Paul wrote to take me to task about UNIX. An obviously skilled 3-D professional, he uses both a Silicon Graphics (SGI) system running IRIX (UNIX) and a dual Pentium II system running Windows NT. He notes that the performance of his SGI system is much superior and that, apart from the hardware, the UNIX operating system is superior to NT. He goes on to stress how greatly SGI-UNIX systems are favored in the professional 3-D world, and questions whether I have something against UNIX.

If anything I've written suggests the slightest disrespect for SGI and UNIX, it was most unfortunate and unintended. SGI workstations (above the level of the least expensive O2 model) are undoubtedly more powerful than today's Pentium based systems--though not than DEC Alpha-based systems that can also run Windows NT. And UNIX is no doubt still a far superior operating system to Windows NT. UNIX is (correct me if I'm wrong) something like 30 years old, and is enormously refined.

But the point I made in the last lesson still stands. The movement today in 3-D is inexorably toward hardware (whether Intel or Alpha) running Windows NT. A year ago, the idea that NT could support professional 3-D graphics was novel and revolutionary. A year from now, with advancements in the NT operating system and further enormous increases in the power of Intel processors, the present SGI-UNIX advantage will likely evaporate. I respect the opinion of those who take issue with this prediction, but I don't know what else to make of SGI's own decision to offer Intel-based machines running Windows NT by late 1998. Those looking to buy expensive hardware today must make their decisions based on some assessment of the near future.

Jack wrote to ask me to clarify further the idea that certain excellent applications (in his case, Inifi-D) are nonetheless not considered "professional-level." I'll stress again the point I made last week. At the present time, there is a consensus that certain complete 3-D packages are "professional." This club includes Alias, Softimage, 3D Studio Max and Lightwave. Electric Image is a fully professional application also, but is presently only a rendering and animation package, without a modeler. A modeler is in the works and, once released, El will be a complete member of the club.

It was not long ago that the distinction between these tools and the lower-tier competitors was quite clear. But the lower-tier tools are moving up very fast. Gary Goodman, one of my favorite correspondents (and Softimage practitioner) wrote me recently, noting how impressed he was with the power of the latest version of Extreme 3D, a $300 package. The latest Ray Dream Studio also has major improvements pushing it much closer to a Lightwave or a MAX. It is entirely possible that, one year from now, the now-exclusive club of "professional-level" applications will be invaded by one or more of these improving newcomers. But as things stand right now, "professional" means those applications that have already carved a place for themselves in motion picture and broadcast work.

That said, let's get on with business.

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Created: September 30, 1997
Revised: September 30, 1997

URL: http://webreference.com/3d/lesson23/