Price: £359 plus VAT; upgrade from version 6, £143 plus VAT; upgrade from version 4 or 5; £215 plus VAT
Most 3D programs these days are all-singing, all-dancing, modelling/animation/rendering applications. It’s rare to find one that concentrates on a certain aspect of 3D production, such as modelling. Amapi Designer 7 from Eovia is the latest version from the company that also produces Carrara, and it’s a 3D tool with a focus on modelling. In many ways, this version marks the coming of age of the program; it feels a lot more mature than previous versions. Amapi became famous for its interface with a floating iconic tool bar that curved along the top right corner of the interface. Flicking the mouse off to the side of the screen caused the tools to cycle – an innovative, gestural system that helped to reduce screen clutter, and one that predated current gestural interface designed by quite a few years. Many people didn’t like it, though, so later versions offered an optional ‘standard’ interface as well. Version 7 offers a simplified version of the previous offerings. The gestural system is now on all the time, but you can choose to have the other panels in a well on the left, or let the view windows fill the screen with the panels floating. Persistent tool palettes debut in version 7. By clicking a check box on the options palette for a tool, you can keep it displayed while other tools are selected. For instance, the Primitive creation options can remain open, allowing you to click on it to create a new primitive directly, rather than having to activate the tool first. Another new feature is support for multiple frames views. Previously, you could only open multiple views as floating windows – now, you can have quad and various split views. Here we discover the first problem. You can pan the views with the middle mouse button – but as you drag, if the cursor crosses the boundary into another view, that view starts panning. It’s easy to muck up your views, plus you have to pan in small steps to prevent crossing the view boarders. Ctrl-middle-click orbits the view, and this works fine when crossing the borders. There are also controls on the right for zoom, orbit, and pan, but these refused to work at all. Navigation glitches aside, the OpenGL display is pleasingly zippy, and the quality is good. Numerous display modes are on offer, but the default wireframe-shaded option works nicely when modelling. Amapi is all about modelling, though – and in this respect, it’s genuinely competent. It’s a polygon modeller, with added support for NURBS and Subdivision surfaces. You can choose to draw polyline curves to generate polygon objects, or NURBS curves generating NURBS or polygon surfaces. The program’s hands-on approach makes modelling a natural and intuitive process. Amapi excels by combining this with a powerful toolset, making it a highly capable organic modeller, but equally as good at mechanical modelling. Re-editing polygons The Dynamic Geometry (DG) feature stores certain modelling steps – so you can go back and edit those steps later. An extrude can be re-edited because it stores the extruded polygons’ path as a polyline that can be accessed and edited, thus modifying the extrude itself. Steps are displayed in the DG Tree on the left of the screen. You can select any step to access its parameters for editing. There are limitations, however. It isn’t a full modelling History as in Alias|Wavefront Maya, for example – but it does offer a similar level of control for the operations it can store. What you notice about Amapi is that the tools tend to offer more options than you would normally get in most 3D applications. The Boolean tool is a good example. When active, you can choose to use the typical options – Subtraction, Union, and Difference – plus surface intersection, and derive line of intersection. What’s more, you can see the results of each option in real-time before you accept your choice. New modelling features include new select Object, Point, Edge and Face modes; up to seven saved selections; new stretch components option; Repeat Clone; Symmetry Clone (ideal for head modelling); and Weld Closed Points, to name a few. Importantly, the program is much more stable than before – at least on the PC. The new version is available for OS X as well, but the program (especially the interface) was terribly slow on an older single-processor G4. Once you finish modelling, you’ll either want to export the model, or surface and render it in Amapi. Trust us – you’ll want to export it. While there’s a surfacing ‘room’, we found it extremely slow – frustratingly so. The rendering is OK, but in this version of Designer, there’s only a simple material system. There are shaders with various patterned surfaces whose scale can be edited, but that’s it. There is no texture mapping or advanced surface control – just the usual material channels. Rendering quality is fine, and it works for checking the look of your design, but if you want to make proper use of your model, you’ll need to render, surface, or indeed animate it elsewhere. Because of this, Amapi 7 has improved export options, and supports 3DS, OBJ, IGES, STL, and DXF, to name a few. It can also export hidden-line vector images and Carrara format files. Amapi 7 Designer should really be seen as a modelling companion to another 3D program, since it isn’t a fully-featured 3D application in its own right. As such, the program is great. It could certainly get you out of a sticky situation now and then, and once you get used to it, there’s no reason why it can’t be used for modelling duty fulltime, not simply as an adjunct to another program. With the price a hair’s breadth under 360 quid, though, it isn’t expensive, either.