3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 23: Comparing Professional Packages | 2 | WebReference

3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 23: Comparing Professional Packages | 2

Lesson 23 - Comparing Professional Packages - Part 2

As promised last week, we will be comparing two professional-level 3-D packages--Lightwave 3D from Newtek and 3D Studio MAX from Kinetix (a division of Autodesk). These program were chosen because they are both available for Windows NT (MAX is only on NT), and because Softimage (the only other professional NT package) is far too expensive to use for discussion with most of this reading audience.

Our purpose here is most definitely NOT to persuade the reader to choose one of these applications over the other, or even especially to stress their pros and cons. Rather, the comparison is used to become familiar with the nature of a professional package, and the different alternatives that exist to implementing professional-level tools.

We noted last week in closing that these two packages offer, on the whole, remarkably similar toolsets. The 3-D software developers are always leapfrogging each other. If a new tool shows up in one application, one can be sure that the competitors will work it into their next version. Lightwave 5.5, the most recent version released just a couple of months ago, incorporated a number of important features that MAX already had. The upcoming version of MAX 2, which I've have a chance to review in beta, seems to be pushing closer to Lightwave's single most distinctive modeling feature. MAX 2 will be out soon (they say), and although it contains some major advancements, our comparison will consider only the presently released version. This is appropriate because, as we said last week, these applications have "personalities" that, in the end, are more important than the specifics of their current toolsets.

The first observation that anyone would make in comparing these "personalities" is that Lightwave is remarkably simple and that MAX is very complex. The second, almost dependent observation, is that MAX has much more explicit power--more tools, more commands, more controls. I stress the word "explicit" here. Often where Lightwave apparently offers less, the skilled practitioner discovers how to achieve the same ends using the existing tools. On the other hand, having a huge set of explicit tools makes MAX enormously deep, and the exploration of the toolset alone promotes creativity.

Because of its relative simplicity, the beginner gets going faster in Lightwave. This observation is based not only on my personal experience as a learner, but much more so on my experience as a teacher. As a teacher, Lightwave is a godsend because students get off the ground in the first few days and feel good about themselves and their progress. This creates a positive morale that is important in learning anything as difficult as 3-D graphics. On the other hand, given the simplicity of the tools, a student is unlikely to produce anything without some solid direction from an experienced teacher. It's like being given a pencil and a piece of paper and being told to "learn to draw."

MAX, by contrast, is a little more amenable to self-instruction. If you have the intelligence and persistence to get past the initial conceptual challenges of the program, the multiplicity of tools will tend, in itself, to guide the student into some kind of creation. To roughly continue the analogy of the last paragraph, if a child is given a complex "erector set" (do they still make these?) and has the stamina to sort out the pieces, he or she will probably be able to start building some sophisticated structures. There's so much to play with in MAX from which creative ideas and skills can blossom. The incredible range of options simply invites the kind of testing and investigation that cannot help but promote rapid and sophisticated development (at least in a certain kind of person).

But let's get more specific. How, precisely, is Lightwave simpler and more intuitive, and MAX more complex and ambitious?

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

URL: http://webreference.com/3d/lesson23/part2.html