3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 6: The Software Landscape | WebReference

3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 6: The Software Landscape

Lesson 6 - The Software Landscape - Part 1

We listen to your comments.

Many of you have written to ask what software I recommend to those who want to get started in 3-D graphics and animation. Thanks for you input. We want this site to be as valuable as possible. These tutorials are premised on the idea that general education in 3-D graphics and animation transcends any particular application. Although we've touched on this subject briefly in Lesson 4, I can see that some basic explanation of the software and hardware landscape is in order at this point. This tutorial will provide that explanation. Thus we will forgo our usual lavishly illustrated page for this lesson and stick mostly to some valuable information in text form.

Before jumping in, let me stress that I will be making no specific product recommendations here. The reason is simple. Even the most basic 3-D animation packages are very sophisticated applications, and the higher-end programs are fantastically so. To be able to work comfortably with any given application requires a commitment to that product, and no one can have more than the most passing familiarity with more than a few of the many different offerings. In traditional 2-D computer graphics, it is easy to recommend the few products that dominate the field--Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, Fractal Painter--because these are all standards that have established themselves over time. By contrast, 3-D graphics is still evolving very rapidly and there are no such standards. The interested beginner must simply be willing to pick an application, jump in, and get started--hoping that his or her choice will turn out to be a winner, and willing to move on to a new application if necessary. These are the risks of any new and rapidly evolving technology.

I work in Fractal Design's Ray Dream Studio, NewTek's Lightwave 3D, and have recently been moving into Microsoft's Softimage 3D. The latter two are high-end applications, and Softimage is a very high-end product. All of the still graphics and animations in these tutorials, however, have been created in Ray Dream Studio to demonstrate what can be done in an application that is affordable to widest possible audience (around $300). I run Ray Dream Studio on an old 90MHz Pentium on Windows 95 with 24 MB of RAM, and the results are satisfactory. (The other applications are run on a dual Pentium Pro system using Windows NT.)

What is a 3-D Graphics Application?

A 3-D graphics application is a software package that permits the user to create models, to place them in a scene with lights and camera, and them to render them from the camera's viewpoint. Thus it contains, at a minimum, both modeling and rendering tools. This combination is not essential. There are specialized rendering packages that perform only the rendering function, and require the 3-D models to be brought in from other applications. These specialized rendering packages are professional tools that produce extremely impressive results, but are beyond our interest here.

The 3-D animation package adds animation tools to the modeling and rendering tools. Without the animation tools, a 3-D graphics package can only produce single still images of the scene. The animation tools allow the artist to plot changes in the objects and the lighting and the camera over time, and these changes are rendered in sequence frame by frame.

The current landscape of available tools is the product of two converging revolutions. High-end, very expensive, professional tools developed for the workstation market are now moving rapidly to the personal computer (as the distinction between the personal computer and the workstation dissolves generally). Low-end tools designed for interested amateurs and hobbyists are, at the same time, improving drastically to take advantage of the enormous improvement in standard personal computer hardware. Let's take these two developments separately

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Created: Apr. 1, 1997
Revised: Apr. 22, 1997

URL: http://webreference.com/3d/lesson6/