3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 22: Getting Started in 3-D
Lesson 22 - Getting Started in 3-D - Part 1
With your permission, I'd like to take a couple of weeks off from the direct exploration of 3-D methods and theory to talk a little about how the newcomer gets started in this field. The email I receive from this site suggests very strongly that many people are interested in this topic and are seeking practical advice.
We've passed briefly (and noncommittally) over the software landscape in Lesson 6, and in Lesson 11 we familiarized ourselves with the basic Windows NT workstation that has emerged as the present hardware standard. Please look back over these columns if you haven't already read them. The information in them both is still valid (remarkably, considering the speed of developments), but I should add a word about the position of the Macintosh before proceeding further.
I received a numerous letters in response to the previous columns suggesting (strongly) that I had slighted Apple. Indeed, I do not work on a Mac myself and cannot provide guidance specific to this platform. But the simple fact is that Apple failed to seize (nor did Adobe seize for Apple) the position in 3-D graphics that everyone might have expected. The Macintosh was undoubtedly the platform on which traditional 2-D computer graphics was born and flourished. And even when the Windows operating system swept the Intel hardware base, most graphic artists stuck with Apple, whether out of belief, loyalty or habit. But 3-D graphics was not born on the Macintosh. Standard professional 3-D first emerged on workstations built by Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI), using UNIX (or, more specifically, IRIX, a flavor of UNIX) as the operating system.
This is a most important point for the new 3-D artist to understand. Most persons familiar with personal computers (and especially graphic artists) tend to think of competition between the Macintosh and the PC running Windows. But 3-D graphics are enormously demanding on hardware, and until recently, it was not clear that professional level applications could run on anything less than a UNIX workstation, whether by SGI, Sun, or anyone else. This kind of hardware is very expensive, and necessarily limited 3-D graphics largely to the entertainment industry, where big profits make big investment possible. The revolution that has brought true professional-level 3-D to the masses was due to:
1. The arrival of Windows NT as a workstation-quality operating system rivaling UNIX;
2. The appearance of the Pentium Pro and now the Pentium II microprocessors, and;
3. The development of affordable specialized 3-D graphics hardware to replace the traditional 2-D graphics cards.
These developments have created a world in which expensive UNIX workstations are no longer necessary, even at the fully professional level. The ultimate proof of this outcome occurred only a couple of weeks ago. Silicon Graphics Inc. announced that it was, in fact, throwing in the towel. By late 1998, SGI will be producing Intel Pentium workstations running Windows NT. The company that created the professional 3-D industry has acknowledged that the market has moved definitively to the Windows NT platform on Intel machines, and has decided to swim with the tide rather than fight it.
Had Apple released a workstation-quality operating system a year ago, it might well have built itself strong place in the professional 3-D world. The Power PC microprocessor is undoubtedly an excellent product on which to run 3-D applications. But the failure to introduce the necessary operating system, along with numerous management fumbles on other levels, have greatly compromised Apple's position and future in professional 3-D. This reality is brought home by the actions of Electric Image. Electric Image is the manufacturer of the only truly professional-level 3-D application for the Mac. It is a rendering and animation package only, without a modeler. In order to compete with the full-strength packages, EI is now developing a modeler--apparently an excellent one. But the company is also porting the entire package over to Windows NT. Thus the company that had established itself as the leading Mac developer in the industry has acknowledged, just as SGI has, that the future is on Windows NT.
I fully expect to hear from Mac loyalists on this subject, and I welcome your comments. But the truth of the matter is hard to deny.
Let's move into the meat of our subject.
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Created: September 23, 1997
Revised: September 23, 1997