• Price When Reviewed: £155 plus VAT

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Hash’s Animation:Master is a peculiar package. Despite having been around for good number of years, this is the first time it has had a distributor in the UK. As such, Animation:Master has remained a cult package. For a program to maintain popularity (albeit on a lower level than most) without constant media coverage and advertising, it has to be rather good. And that’s exactly what Animation:Master 2003 is. As 3D applications go, it isn’t really an all-rounder, and nor is it meant to be. It’s aimed squarely at the character-animation market with a workflow and toolset to complement that market’s needs. It’s perfectly serviceable in other areas such as logos and print rendering, though we’d draw the line at architecture. A quick scan through the company’s online gallery confirms this, with almost every image containing a 3D character of some description, bar a tiny handful. The program is available on Windows and Macintosh, with OS X compatibility due as a free upgrade some time this year. We hope it’s soon, because the current Mac version is buggy (like its predecessors). However, Hash seems to have concentrated on squashing the more deadly variety of bug (the application-crashing kind), at the expense of allowing the more cosmetic variety to flourish. We suppose that this would make sense if resources were limited, but it does nothing for the impression given to a casual observer. On the Mac, it’s still unstable and glitchy. Animation:Master is based on patches – not polygons or NURBS. Again, Hash goes it alone here, and loudly decries the use of polygons in its marketing materials. The company’s reasoning is sound, however, since patches are easy to build, and deform well during animation. Hooks are special devices that connect the ends of splines to midpoints of other splines where no control point exists. This is useful for attaching a patch of high spline-density to another with low density – when attaching a hand to an arm, for example. In the latest version, there are some interesting new modelling features, such as the ability to add points to an existing spline without changing the curvature. You can also stitch a spline to existing splines to create new patches. Modelling is fairly basic, but this is a function of the simplicity of Animation:Master patches, rather than a limitation – at least when it comes to making characters. Other new features include built-in online community chat and tech support; several new rendering improvements (a-buffer anti-aliasing, deep-shadow buffers, and displacement maps); expressions; and particle sprite collisions. The key to Animation:Master, though, is the overall workflow and its IK and bones system. Once you get used to the quirks, it quickly becomes evident how powerful and well thought-out the program is. The FK/IK system and bones are sublime in use, as is the integrated muscle morphing (so simple when you know how). Constraints make more-complex character animation (such as the need to hold objects, and so on) a simple procedure, and the way that modelling, shading, and animation are separated makes total sense. Creating sophisticated character animations is extremely easy in Hash Animation:Master 2003 – and you would never think that a 3D application costing so little could be so capable.