3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 22: Getting Started in 3-D | 3
Lesson 22 - Getting Started in 3-D - Part 3
Browsing through the most recent Publisher's Toolbox, the well-known mail-order catalog for graphics software, I note a number of 3-D modeling and animation packages. Ray Dream Studio (in the new version 5) is $299.95, for both Windows and Mac. Caligari trueSpace 3 is $595 for Windows only. Specular Infini-D 4.0 runs $559.95 for the Mac alone. Macromedia Extreme 3D (both Mac and Windows) is included as part of the Director Multimedia Studio, but probably runs about $300 if purchased separately. And there are other offerings I haven't mentioned.
Are these all good programs? Absolutely! The feature sets in these newest versions are remarkably rich for what they cost and some truly amazing things can be done. I encourage anyone who wants to get started in 3-D to buy one of these packages are start learning. Indeed, I began this way myself, and I produced the first lessons on this website on a low-end application (Ray Dream Studio) deliberately to demonstrate that real 3-D is quite possible on such platforms.
But "real 3D" and "professional 3-D" are two different ideas at present. Whatever their merits, the programs in the price category just mentioned are not used at the professional level, nor will command any of these applications secure you a job in the industry.
Once we jump beneath the price level of Alias and Softimage, we find our professional choices limited to 3D Studio MAX from Kinetix (Autodesk), Lightwave 3D from Newtek, and Electric Image. Let's put Electric Image aside for the present. We are limiting our discussion to software than runs on Windows NT and to complete modeling and animation packages. Once EI introduces its complete package on NT, it will undoubtedly be a very important player. But right now, the aspiring professional must make a initial choice between Lightwave (under $2,000) and MAX (around $3,000). (The Macintosh user must make a similar choice between Lightwave and Electric Image, though I do not have the expertise to help them here.)
I'm in an excellent position to compare these products because I'm teaching both of them, side by side, to my students at Cogswell College in Sunnyvale, California. This, by the way, is a great advantage of attending a school like Cogswell. It's one thing to read about these applications in advertisements and reviews, or hear them gossiped over, and another thing entirely to work with both together. In any event, my purpose here is not to compare these products from my own point of view so much as it is to share what I have seen in my students.
Next week's lesson will be devoted exclusively to comparing MAX and Lightwave from the position of the newcomer, but we can get started here with an understanding. I am not a salesman, and am not trying to sell or disparage either product. In the process of comparison we will be trying develop a kind of sophistication about 3-D tools, understand their nature and implementation. The same sophistication could be achieved by comparing any two or more programs, but I have chosen these because they represent the present pool from which the vast majority of aspiring professionals will have to make at least an initial choice.
MAX and Lightwave make for particularly strong comparison because they differ so greatly in an underlying way. When you check off the specific features of each package (e.g., Boolean operations, mesh editing, skeleton animation, etc.), it would seem they share 90 percent or more. Yet there is a distinct logic or personality behind each program that causes these apparently overlapping features to feel enormously different in the hands of the artist. It is ultimately this "personality" of a 3-D package that ends up appealing to one individual and irritating another. MAX's personality naturally leads the artist into a certain kind of creation that is easier or more intuitive in that program, but would be difficult and forced in Lightwave. Just so, certain objects are readily modeled in Lightwave that would take much planning and struggle in MAX. Getting a feel for these differences in software is as much a part of the artist's training as is the theory and methodology that we've typically been stressing in these lessons.
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Created: September 23, 1997
Revised: September 23, 1997