• Price When Reviewed: £1,595 plus VAT

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Well, it’s finally here: NewTek LightWave 6.0 is shipping, and Digit has its hands on one of the first full versions to land in Blighty. It’s been worth the wait, as we’re seriously impressed – indeed it’s difficult to know where to start. A lot of changes have occured to interface and workflow, and while the look is unmistakably LightWave, a lot of things have moved and new features have been introduced. The application is still split into Layout (rendering and animation) and Modeller, but the distinction is a little more blurred. For a start, you can now define and render your surfaces in Modeller, not just name them, and the surfacing interface is the same between both applications. Layout and Modeller are now also connected by a background process, called The Hub, which has a minimal interface, but synchronizes changes made to objects in one half of the program with the object in the other half: change a surface in Layout, and if the object is loaded in Modeller, the change will be reflected there also. The Hub also has an option to Autosave files, although there’s no facility yet to save the last few versions of a file (which lets you backtrack, if you mess up). The interfaces in both halves are now much slicker, with user-customizable menus (for keeping favourite plug-ins, for example), multi-pane views available in both applications, and each view can now be set to any shading mode. In fact, Modeller introduces a new shading mode that has a deep effect on the modelling process: Weight Shade. This reflects the weighting for each point in a Subpatch (formerly MetaNURBS) object. Basically, any point in a control cage can have a weight painted onto it, which defines how much it attracts or repels the underlying surface. This means that you can mix sharp-edged and rounded features on the same surface without having to increase the control cage’s complexity, either by subdividing or using the Knife tool. The object file format has been completely overhauled: it now supports unlimited named layers, as well as the old-style foreground/ background system. This is one of the aspects that takes a little more mental retraining, but the approach gives increased flexibility, and if you want to do morphing, it’s the only way to go: individual morph targets now sit on these new layers. LightWave’s Bones feature also intrudes into Modeller in the form of Skelegons. These can be drawn just like Layout’s bones, but since they’re polygons, they remain associated with the model file, and Skelegon networks can be used to provide template skeletons for use in Layout. Since they’re just placeholders, they must be converted in Layout before they can be used, but they have their rest length and position set and are made active. But here’s the thing: Skelegons can also be associated with individual weight maps that limit their effects on top of their fall-off values. So you could have an octopus model with a different named weight map for each leg, the map strength falling off towards the octopus’ body. You now have your fall-off from your weight map, but the bones from each leg can’t interfere with any other leg, since each set of bones is associated with a different weight map. Very clever. Layout has a more streamlined interface, with multiple viewpoints onto the scene if required. Again, multiple rendering modes are supported, as well as OpenGL fog and lensflare. Requesters (dialogs) have been significantly reworked to reduce their size – they no longer cover almost all of the workspace. Layout can read all of Modeller’s data types natively – you can import Subpatch (MetaNURBS) objects directly into Layout. Subpatch objects show up as their control cages in Layout, but the render and preview resolution can be changed so that they render perfectly smoothly. Also making their appearance are gizmos for movement, scale and rotation. Just grab the relevant colour-coded axis on the gizmo to produce a transformation in that axis. This does away with the need to lock off separate X,Y,Z or H,P,B channels. Bone rotation is also controlled by these gizmos, and Bones introduce an important new capability: mixing Forward and Inverse Kinematics in each chain. This lets you to set the heading and pitch controllers for individual bones in a chain to either IK or Keyframe control. This can be mix-&-matched for any of the chain members, allowing better control, but at the cost of some mental gymnastics. Morphing is now handled by object files called Endomorphs. Each target is now defined by a morph map (LightWave 6.0 likes its maps), which means that any changes in the base object is reflected immediately in the targets, so changing the number of points or the point order in the base won’t mess up a morph sequence. Each map is then controlled by a slider on the MorphMixer panel, and an expression can then be constructed by varying the percentage of the sliders for all the morph maps in a particular Endomorph. Rendering is still the same high-quality raytracing and there’s now a Radiosity option, to accurately calculate the reflected light in interior scenes. The results are beautiful, but it’s slow, and needs some settings tweaking to get the best results. One important rendering addition is VIPER (Versatile Interactive Preview Render) that updates the appearance of the current object in a small floating window as changes are made. This gives very fast feedback on surfaces but with a much greater accuracy than OpenGL and removes the need for all those tiresome preview renders – although you will need to preview render each time you scrub the time slider. There’s so much more that we could go into but space doesn’t permit. NewTek has made the changes that needed to be made, although some hangovers still exist: no real multiple undo in Layout, no real curve-drawing tools in Modeller and UV mapping isn’t yet supported for bump channels, but the company are taking the program in the right direction, and at its selling price it represents the price/performance benchmark in the professional animation market.