iSpace is the latest creation from Caligari – makers the 3D modelling, rendering and animation app trueSpace. iSpace is a Web authoring package, but not like any you’ve ever seen before. It aims to allow webheads to design visually rich Web page templates that can incorporate 3D graphics and animations, and then drop in specific content.
An iSpace project starts off as a blank ‘table’, divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant can be resized and split to produce new quadrant cells. The latter is achieved by right-clicking on the existing dividers. After the initial layout is decided then it’s a case of adding page elements. Along the left-hand side of the interface are icons that represent various libraries: from ready-made templates of whole pages to individual page elements such as borders, buttons, backgrounds, primitives and fonts.
So far, so good. However, you also notice libraries with names like Materials, Animobjects, Animeffects and even Lights. This is where iSpace’s unique selling proposition becomes evident: all the elements that you use to build your pages are true 3D objects – and so will cast shadows, and can be rendered and animated.
Probably the first thing you’ll want to do with a page is add some text. The 3D Font library contains 14 predefined 3D typefaces. You can also add any font resident on your system and it will be rendered with 3D bevels and the like. However, this is where we ran into the first glitch: on our NT 4.0 system we could only access the system fonts.
The properties of a text object – as with any object – can be inspected and changed by right-clicking on it. Text objects size can be manipulated by dragging directly on its bounding box and kerning is adjusted by dragging on the Kerning tab. Attributes such as text colour or material can be changed simply by dragging and dropping materials from the Materials editor.
It’s all very hands-on and elements can be laid out visually, although there’s always the option for precise numerical placement. While dragging text objects around we noticed a second glitch: fairly severe redraw problems. Obviously, under NT 4.0 we were using OpenGL, but iSpace seems to prefer Microsoft’s Direct 3D API, which isn’t supported under NT 4.0. Of course these effects disappear once the final render of the page is performed.
You can view your page in perspective, although this is confined to within iSpace only – in a browser the page must be viewed head-on. In fact, you have to wonder why the 3D feature is there at all, if the final output is going to be two-dimensional. Lights are the only justification. Since objects on an iSpace page can have depth, and be positioned at an arbitrary height above the base plane, they’ll have an effect on the length and spread of the shadows cast. In fact, iSpace even supports super-accurate, raytraced Area lights, which must be a first for any Web-authoring package.
Once constructed, pages can be rendered out to HTML and to Dreamweaver for tweaking of the Java code. iSpace also has excellent integration with FrontPage 2000, and can be launched from within. Certainly, iSpace is capable of producing content-rich Web templates and will take a lot of hassle out of the process for people who want a flash Web page. But you’ll have to be content with the rather cheesy templates, buttons and other interface elements that you’re provided with.