Price: £161 plus VAT
Since its announcement in early summer, 3D Toolkit has got a lot of people excited. It’s a set of education tools for the Mac, designed to turn humble folk into 3D whiz-kids even if the only 3D construction you’ve done before was playing with Lego as a child. Much of the buzz around the product has also been about the inclusion of the full version of Electric Image 2.9. For under £170. The current version of Electric Image is 3.1 (aka Universe), which costs a smidgen under £1,400, while 2.9 was the version used on films including The Phantom Menace. dvGarage is the brainchild of Alex Lindsay, an ex-Industrial Light and Magic employee with eight years of Electric Image experience, several of which were spent working on the Star Wars prequel. The company’s mission, according to Lindsay, is to give everyone the opportunity to create stunning 3D images and animations by giving access to the tools and skills that previously were only available to a select few. 3D Toolkit ships on a single DVD (or a set of CDs). There’s no printed documentation – it’s all in PDF form. This may seem cheap but when you add up just how many pages of information ship with the product, you realize that a full printed version of 3D Toolkit’s documentation is not really feasible. On the disc(s) you get the two constituent parts of Electric Image (Modeller and Animator), the central tutorials – plus a movie that lets you know what’s on the disc, two movies introducing Modeller and Animator, manuals for the two tools, and whole bunch of goodies. These include scenes and models for you play around with, some extra tutorials on specific subjects, a few motion-capture data files, and Photoshop and QuickTime plug-ins. The tutorials include movies showing you exactly what to do, PDFs with step-by-step guides to each technique and project files to begin with a show you what you’re trying to achieve. They are split into three levels – basic, intermediate and advanced. The basic guides are very basic, but gently lead you up to the intermediate and then advanced tutorials. The guides are well written and easy to understand. Each step has a picture – and even basic tutorials have over 80 steps. Tools for no fools Electric Image 2.9 is a powerful tool, with a huge list of movie and TV credits to prove it. It can’t compete with the latest versions of 3D tools (including 3.1 of itself) but it’s better than anything else you can pick up for under £200. Previous to version 2.9, Electric Image was a pure animation package. This is the first version of the modeller and it has a few glitches. For example, it uses a different type of model structure from the animator, so you have to import and export – with no test rendering possible from the Modeller. This is the same in version 3.1, though. Unlike the previously available version there’s no dongle, though this does mean that commercial plug-ins generally won’t work. 3D Toolkit isn’t for everyone. To get to grips with it you really need to be proficient with basic design tools such as Photoshop and know what things like bézier curves are – which should apply to all Digit readers. 3D Toolkit is an excellent solution for any creative from a graphic arts, Web design, or video editing background that wants to get into 3D. And for anyone who wants get their hands on movie-level special effects software for a ludicrously affordable price.