3D Spectacular (CU Amiga December 1994)

(Editor’s note: this article appeared in the December 1994 issue of CU Amiga, and ran over 4 pages)
Cast your mind back to late 1986. In computer shops around the country, an incredible plague was appearing in any available window space. The plague was known as the Juggler demo, and is quite possibly the only disease to be contracted visually. Once Juggler had been seen, an irresistible urge to buy an Amiga followed. For those who didn’t contract the Amiga virus from Juggler, let me explain: one for the first animated demos on the Amiga was of a robot juggling 3three metal balls and I still remember closely scrutinising the animation and eagerly pronouncing that, “you can see the reflections of the other balls on the balls”.

This was new. This was animation. This was ray-tracing. And this was on the Amiga. Eric Graham, author of the masterpiece, beavered away to produce Sculpt 3D, one of the first commercial ray tracers for the Amiga. At the time, this caused a storm: $99.95 bought you a software package capable of modelling complex objects and rendering them in all their glory using phong shading, different colours and some limited texture effects. This rendered image could be saved as an IFF or even to 24 bit hardware frame buffers. Remember this was 1987, and 24 bit was still very high end. The Amiga crowbarred its way into the 3D market…

Soon, the raytracing bandwagon was well and truly rolling. The Silver appeared from Impulse offering power along with a new definition of the words, “user unfriendly”. Then Sculpt came along and added the dimension of time, bringing animation. Turbo Silver appered, offering more power yet no real interface improvement. When Newtek, a small company at this stage, was primarily making video digitisers, Activa offered Real 3D which gained many followers with its unique hierarchical system. Turbo Silver grew into Imagine, offering yet more flexibility and a new interface. Many more packages became available, all with strengths and weaknesses. Imagine 2 arrived and gained many followers due to its flexibility. Then Newtek got bigger and created a video revolution with their Toaster editing system, which came with a free rendering package called Lightwave 3D.

Fast forward to 1993. Activa announces Real 3Dv2 with incredible list of features such as skeletons, b-splines, soft shadows and much more. Imagine 2 program disks can be had for a pittance and raytracing is undergoing an explosion on the Amiga. Imagine 3 is announced claiming to do everything you could ever require from a raytracer. The Toaster is heavily used in TV, with names such as Babylon 5 and Seaquest DSV under its belt. Lightrave, an intriguing system allowing Lightwave to be run on PAL systems without the Toaster is released yet it is prohibitively expensive and, technically, illegal.

Newtek are not happy with the situation and announce that Lightwave will be available legally for PAL systems. Which, by a fairly direct route, brings us up to the present. The Amiga is still ruling the 3D roost. Real 3D is at revision 2.49, Imagine 3 has arrived (only just) and Lightwave 3D 3.5 is still recovering from jet lag…

As each of these three packages have a pricetag which will stretch mere mortals’ wallets, you’ll want to know where you stand when you’re buying one – or at least dreaming of it.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

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