• Price When Reviewed: $599

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Pixels3D, the Mac-only high-end-on-the-cheap 3D-animation tool, has been updated. Pixels3D 4.0 features a fresh interface, NURBS modelling, character tools and a RAYES-based renderer. The program features some high-end tools, yet costs less than half of most mid-range packages. So, it’s interesting to see what the new package can offer budget-conscious 3D artists. One of Pixels3D 4.0’s great strengths is its NURBS modelling. It’s good at organic modelling and sculpting for a NURBS app, plus it’s one of the few 3D programs on the Mac that features relational modelling. It also has a unique pinch feature and proportional drop-off for sculpting surfaces such as clay. However, there’s no Subdivision Surfaces modelling, though that’s probably because it costs around £425. Sophisticated IK system The IK system has been revamped, and it now features a more sophisticated IK (inverse kinematics) and surface-deformation system, which is integrated into the program. The IK Builder lets you create an IK chain with goals in a single click. Pixels3D takes a different approach to IK chains than other programs, because an IK goal is created for every joint in the chain. This sounds odd, but works fairly well. It’s reminiscent of Softimage|XSI, where to move a foot you need to select all of the handles from the ankle down. When setting up a rig, you’d link these handles to Null for easy selection – however you can’t in Pixels3D 4.0. At least, we couldn’t get this to work, despite there being constraints and object linking. There is no automatic skinning for single-skin skeletons, you have to manually select and link groups of surface CVs to each bone. To smoothly deform meshes, Pixels3D uses Morphing rather than deformers, in a similar way to Hash Animation Master. You save a base pose for the mesh, bend a joint and move the CVs to exactly the positions you want them to be in, and create a morph target. From then on, as the joint is bent, the surface morphs to the desired shape. Animation is handled with keyframes and function curves, but the interface is clunky. Shades of genius A strong point, though, is the Shading and rendering system. ShaderMaker is a graphical-shader system that can create complex networks from simple shader-nodes using drag-&-drop. Rendering is done via the separate Tempest RenderMan, which features motion-blur and depth-of-field. It’s also theoretically able to distribute single frames over a network, though I couldn’t find a way to do this. The new interface is a welcome addition, but requires a large monitor; it doesn’t really work at 1,024-x-768 – you need more space, but the interface is customizable. The end result is that Pixels 3D has some impressive features, but is let down by glitches and workflow bottlenecks in some areas. It looks like it will be a very competent application – especially at the price – but it’ll need further updates before it really cuts the mustard.