By Michael Burns | on September 06, 2004
Price When Reviewed: 149 . 69
Pros: Versatile, easy to use, good-quality animation tools and Flash importer. Vastly improved polygon-modelling environment and enhanced gallery options.
Cons: Rendering times can be a bit slow. Mac OS X version to be released later.
For the creation of 3D vector animation and 3D Flash movies, Swift 3D, is one of the most successful tools on the market. This is largely thanks to its ease-of-use. It allows 2D designers to draw shapes using bézier curves, and then using the extrusion tool to add both depth and bevels, or the Lathe Editor to convert paths into radial 3D surfaces. Animations can be keyframed, or created by dragging preset actions onto objects and rendering as vector or raster sequences. A range of high-quality output options includes SVG, SWF and SWFT formats.
The modelling tools have been revamped in version four. The most significant addition is the Advanced Modelling Environment. You can start modelling with polygonal meshes, using objects from the new Model Gallery as the basic mesh – there are new Bevel and lighting galleries too. You can bring objects in from the Swift 3D Scene Editor, with parent/child relationships preserved in the transfer. When you return to the Scene editor, all objects are placed back in the main scene regardless of their state of completion. There is no facility for creating new objects from scratch in the Advanced Modeller – you have to have something to work on but as well as vector artwork and 3DS/DXF model import, you can now bring in 3DS models with bitmap textures.
Other modelling enhancements include the ability to soft-select the mesh, using a ‘magnetic field’ as a cage that can deform a selected area, while polygons can be selected together as surface groups for faster manipulation and material editing. Animation has been given a boost, with enhanced drag-&-drop action galleries and the ability to animate 3D objects along an editable bézier path. Cameras and lights can be arranged as hierarchical animations, based on the same parent/child arrangement used in scene organization. There are new controls for texture mapping, and all materials, lights, animation, models, and environments can be saved to the gallery for later use.
Designers will be pleased that version four shows no sign of moving to a steeper workflow. However, the interface has been given a bit of a shake. Viewports have been improved to offer OpenGL rendering and enhanced camera and shading views, as well as now displaying more scene elements such as animated paths, hidden objects and parent/child relationships. Two new tabs have appeared, giving access to the Advanced Modeller and the Web Assistant. This latter HTML viewer and Web browser will be welcomed as a way to cruise the Web for assets without having to leave the main application, and as a viewer for custom interactive intranet content.