3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 23: Comparing Professional Packages | 3
Lesson 23 - Comparing Professional Packages - Part 3
It's easier to explain why MAX is complex than to explain why Lightwave is comparatively simple. Autodesk produced the original professional 3-D package for the PC, 3D Studio for DOS. When Windows NT arrived, the company, now using the Kinetix tradename for their animation products, decided that merely porting their existing product was insufficient. Rather, they chose to redesign the product from scratch, and in particular, to take maximum advantage of object-oriented programming technology that was just then coming to the fore. To that end, the programmers developed huge overarching concepts to be implemented throughout the program. These concepts, however powerful (and they are very powerful), are nonetheless not intuitive to artists and nonprogrammers generally. Thus, to use MAX, one must become familiar with its sophisticated and subtle logic. Once the many underlying theories of the program are mastered, the tools are fabulously flexible. But there is much of a conceptual nature that stands in the way of the beginner.To put it in concrete terms, let's take the most salient example.
All graphics applications (indeed, most applications of any kind) rely on an "undo" command to permit experimentation. The undo command obviously relies on a traditional "stack" concept. The last given number of commands entered by the user are placed on a stack in RAM, and undo reverses the commands by knocking them off the top of the stack. There is an obvious limitation to this method. If I perform commands A, B and C in that order, I can undo C and B, and be back to A. But what if I wanted to undo just B, but keep C?
To oversimplify only a little, the MAX programmers decided to implement a method that allowed the user to enter into the middle of the stack of sequential operations and delete or edit operations at any point. This is, in effect the old magic trick with the tablecloth. The table is set with glasses and plates and silverware, and the magician pulls the cloth out from underneath the whole spread without knocking anything over.
To implement such a system placed demands not only on the programmers--to their great credit, it works! The entire approach generates a kind of conceptual complexity that the user must understand before he or she can effectively use the product. He or she must understand the fundamental nature of this "modifier stack," the logical (but often peculiar) results of adding and subtracting to it, and the consequences of "collapsing the stack" such that only the result (and not the modification process) is preserved. To obtain a sound grasp of this kind of sophisticated logic, however useful, does not happen overnight. And for those who shy from or are intimidated by sophisticated logical concepts, this aspect of learning MAX can be far more intimidating than mastering the complex interface, which any 3-D packages must necessarily have.
Lightwave handles the editing problem in a completely different way which, though less sophisticated, is easy to master and extremely flexible. Like MAX, of course, Lightwave has a deep undo buffer (up to 15 levels). But the unique feature of the application is a group of 10 so-called "layers." These layers amount to 10 coexisting screens at once, that can be merged into a single image, or viewed separately. Say, for example, that I wish to experiment with the modeling of an object. I have the original object in layer 1. I copy it to layer 2 and make modifications in that layer without affecting my original. I decide to make different modifications, so I recopy the original from layer 1 to layer 3 and make the new modifications there. I can compare all three layers by flipping between them, or even by making all the layers active at once and seeing them simultaneously in one window. By intelligent use of my windows, and particularly by copying objects (or parts of them) to other windows, I can preserve many earlier states of my editing process. This ends up achieving much of what the MAX system does, though be no means all. Yet it is much simpler to understand, and requires no investigation into the basic underlying logic of the program.
As with so many comparisons between Lightwave and MAX, the easier (though more limited) is compared with the more difficult (though generally more powerful).
We'll go on with this comparison in the next lesson. See you then.
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Created: September 30, 1997
Revised: September 30, 1997