Things have been rather busy at ElectricImage of late, with the company buying itself back from Play, porting the ElectricImage Animation system to a multitude of platforms, and still having the time to knock out Amorphium Pro. Amorphium debuted a couple of years ago as an easy-to-use modeller with a new twist on sculpting organic forms – literally letting you ‘knead’ a piece of digital clay.
Amorphium Pro has beefed up the toolset a bit, and added stronger animation facilities while at the same time giving the interface a bit of an overhaul. The interface is still a little Kai Krause-inspired, but support has been added for quad views onto the workspace – the previous version had only a single view. Amorphium is one of those programs that completely replaces your computer’s interface – and is all the worse for it.
Gone are the standard File and Edit menus, replaced with an almost–unreadable row of text along the top of the screen. Only one of these actually contains a menu (the Project menu) and the program’s designers have continued the use of ten-point embossed text, which is distinctly lacking in legibility, especially at higher monitor resolutions. Amorphium Pro also doesn’t appreciate resolutions being switched – palettes get lost and menu text gets shifted around.
The toolset is, at least, represented by large, clear icons, in tear–off palettes, but the Mac version froze on occasion while tearing off palettes. While ElectricImage has gone some way to adopting a standard look, they haven’t gone far enough. The company’s Modeller interface is a paragon of good design – it’s a pitysome of that didn’t make it into Amorphium Pro.
So, onto the modelling. What you get is a series of modules, each accessed from the ‘menu bar’ at the top of the screen. Each module allows the mesh to be modified in some way, and the Composer module is where you put your creations together and apply animatable characters to them such as moving, scaling and rotating. The most common action is simply painting onto the mesh. Brushes can be set to indent or extrude the mesh, and when used with a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet you get a reasonable level of control. Of course, brush strokes can be animated.
Responsiveness is pretty good, but it’s best to turn on OpenGL rather than use the proprietary SoftDraw engine. FX gives you an extensive series of deformers, such as twist, taper, spikes, bend, shear, and so on, and the Masking tools allow you to selectively apply any of the effects to the surface.
Wax is a new object type added in Amorphium Pro. This allows you to extend the mesh’s geometry rather than distort the existing geometry. Wax objects must then be converted to mesh objects to use all the other tools on them. Morphing is also supported, and, amazingly, Amorphium Pro allows you to morph between objects with a different number of vertices – a feat that even some of the big guns can’t manage. It also includes a Radiosity rendering engine, but you’ll have to be prepared to wait – it’s achingly slow, even on a dual Power Mac 450MHz G4.
All in all, Amorphium Pro is an intriguing product. The ability to paint geometry in real-time is great fun, but more than any other package, it demands that you develop a ‘feel’ for the tools. Designers used to 2D applications who want to try 3D may feel at home, but the rounded appearance that Amorphium Pro delivers to its creations won’t endear it to 3D Pros.