3D Spectacular (CU Amiga December 1994)


All three are excellent packages. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Real is superb for freeform modelling, complex animation and it’s sheer flexibility. Imagine has a wealth of procedural textures which everyone likes. Lightwave is incredibly easy to pick up and use.

Imagine scene

real3d scene

real3d scene

Lightwave Scene

With something as complex as a rendering package, the manual is essential. Lightwave is good, but manuals are crippling both Real and Imagine. Impulse has never been a company for good manuals, and it’s a shame to report Imagine 3 continues the trend. It is rushed and has not been proof-read. Phrases like “Imagnie” drive you mad and the tutorial on bones is, quite simply, a great bit of creative fiction. The manual also begs the question of why there’s 150K of text files to read, as it was so obviously rushed. Real’s manual is complete but very heavy work and hard going.

Real 3D – “Perhaps the most feature packed and open ended 3D software I’ve ever seen or used” says David Ingebretsen of Binary Illusions (a US company who produce 3D anims for broadcast and courtroom demos and use all three packages and the Video Toaster). It’s power is awesome : consequently harnessing this power may be seen as being difficult. It’s a completely new way of thinking for a 3D package too. Fortunately, technical support in the UK is excellent. Andy from Activa UK knows Real inside out and is on the end of a phone whenever you need him. This is worth bucketloads. He’ll quite happily spend time to make sure you get your money’s worth out of this. One thing is missing, and that’s the now overly used cliché of lens flares. In real life, people carefully set scenes up so as to minimise the fault (which lens flares are) but every 3D animator seems to use them to death. Still, they are a necessary evil and it’s the only thing that real is missing. I’d also like to see more examples of procedural textures as they are possible with Real just a tad more complicated. At least you can write your own ones, though, given time and skill with RPL. I like the way the system is also truly multitasking – you really can do as much as possible at the same time without a crash. Imagine should look carefully at this.

Imagnie’s (sic) lens flare is fully featured if unnecessarily complex, as is the Depth of Field function. I love the procedural textures, though why Impulse didn’t license them from Apex (the producers of Essence) and spend their time improving the interface is beyond me. The six editor system (five of which I was used to from Imagine 2) seems unnecessary after using only one in Real and two in Lightwave. I’m disappointed with Imagine 3 – it should have been so much more. I’ve heard reports from Stateside users saying that 3.1 fixes much of this, but I haven’t seen it so cannot comment.

Of the interfaces, Imagine also irked me the most. Non-interruptable refreshes are mind numbingly bad and make for slow going, even on a 50MHz 030/882 machine.

Lightwave is the least powerful of all three with the weakest-featured modeller. The idea of a bone not being linked to an object but having a radius of influence needs a complete re-think. However, with these limited bones it is possible to create nice effects if you are careful not to let things overlap (all hell breaks loose). Without a shadow of a doubt though, it is easily the most productive of the three – it takes seconds to set out a convincing scene using the keyframer. The interface is very well designed : someone thought about it a lot to the extent that when you press the “Help” key you get a list of keyboard shortcuts that apply to what you are doing at the moment. It’s very welcoming. Modeler (how NewTek spell it) is a bit strange to get used to, but once you’re used to it it’s pretty good to use and will do most things. The manual is a good idea. Page 1 is part one of the tutorial. The tutorials are a good idea too – it leads you gently in and then tells you if you don’t understand anything, use the reference section (which is very well written).

Despite being the weakest featurewise, Lightwave is at the top because of it’s sheer productivity for easy animations – it’s quality of renders is also better than Imagine. I’m not alone in the view that it’s the best phong shader on the Amiga. The features that it does have allow for excellent effects in animations or with stills. Real is up there too, as I reckon it can be just as productive as Lightwave when you’re fully used to it. I’ve witnessed it being used by a pro : they were lightning fast at using it. Both need slight improvements and I’ve no doubt they will get them. I’ll re-iterate that Imagine could and should have been so much more. Third party support for Lightwave and Real is rosy too, with Essence being released for both and a plethora of add-ons for Lightwave such as WaveMaker and Sparks. But they are for another feature…


Family man, international businessman and geek at heart.

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