[3ds max 6]
State-of-the-art organic 3D modeling available in both standalone and plug-in versions.
Xfrog from Greenworks Sofware is widely recognized as the top-of-the-range procedural organic 3D modeler, specializing in producing absolutely realistic vegetation. The name has nothing to do with frogs but instead is an acronym for X-windows based Finite Recursive Object Generator which gives some clue as to how the program goes about its business. Xfrog grew out of academic research into natural organic structures which recognized that apparently complex plants and trees are actually built on just a few relatively simple building blocks - the key is how these objects are repeated and distributed.
Which is where Xfrog the program comes in. It provides dedicated components for creating, distributing and affecting geometry such as the Tree component for handling branching, the Phiball component for multiplying elements across the surface of a sphere (think sunflower head) and the Attractor component for deforming geometry. Put them together – there’s only nine in total – along with a limited range of primitives such as Tubes and Triangles (ideal for branches and leaves respectively) and you can quickly generate the framework for a complex plant or tree simply by dragging and dropping from Xfrog Library panel onto the Hierarchy Editor.
Xfrog 3.5’s organic modeling is based on studies of plant development.
With the geometric framework in place you then fine-tune your plant to bring it to realistic life using the tabbed Parameter Editor that runs down the right of the screen. Using the Materials tab you control surface appearance, say loading a realistic bitmap of a leaf complete with alpha transparency onto the basic triangle primitive. And using the dedicated tabs for each component in your hierarchy you then take absolute control of the plant’s overall shape. With the Wreath component for example you set the number of repeated objects and their radius while with the Tree component specify whether branches should be arranged perpendicularly, laterally, in pairs and so on.
The central Tree component’s parameter tab also provides a whole host of advanced functions for controlling aspects that vary over distance such as trunk size, growth scale and density which are handled via simple onscreen graphs. These functional parameters are great for producing variations on a theme and particularly important as they can be keyframed to produce animations (you’ll need Xfrog Full for animation). And because Xfrog is based on the way that real plants grow, you can quickly create a realistic animation of your plant developing over time, putting out new shoots, growing towards the light and so on.
So once you’ve finished your model or animation what do you do with it? Xfrog can only handle one plant at a time and doesn’t offer rendering itself so you need to work hand-in-hand with another 3D modeler. Models and model sequences can be output to various formats including the OBJ, LWO and 3DS standards complete with texture maps so you’ll be able to load your Xfrog plants and animations into just about any package. However, with advanced plants consisting of thousands of objects, this can be unwieldy to say the least which is why Greenworks provides dedicated plug-ins for a number of packages such as 3ds max, LightWave, Maya and Cinema 4D that enable XFR files to be imported directly.
This is a big step forward, but of course you immediately lose the editability that Xfrog itself offers. And if you’re effectively just importing a mesh then there are plenty of other alternative methods to consider, not least buying in a third-party model. The ideal would be to have Xfrog’s organic modeling power actually there within your favourite 3D application. Greenworks clearly thought the same which is why its latest Xfrog 4.x technology no longer operates as a standalone but rather as a plug-in from within either Maya or Cinema 4D.
I looked at the version of Xfrog 4.2 which work with Cinema 4D 8.1 and higher. Cinema 4D makes a natural host as the hierarchical Xfrog components can simply be converted to hierarchical Cinema 4D objects. In the porting process Greenworks has taken the opportunity to rationalize, combining the former Tree, Horn and Leaf components into a single more powerful Branch object and merging the Hydra and Wreath. It has also added new power with a Variations object for alternating multiple repeated objects (handy for varying leaves), a dedicated Curvature object for parametrically defining and animating splines and support for Pruning objects.
Xfrog 4.x provides even more power as a plug-in.
Despite the new functionality I have to say that I still prefer the more intuitive set of components and the dedicated real-time environment provided by Xfrog 3.5. But providing the Xfrog functionality directly within the 3D application certainly opens up whole new avenues of power and creativity. With the ability to add any object to the hierarchy and to use advanced volumetric materials for example it’s possible to use Xfrog 4.x to produce some beautiful abstract imagery. And when you remember Cinema 4D’s excellent mesh editing, rendering, deformers, animation and level of detail handling (so that scene elements in the background automatically demand less processing), you can see why Greenworks has decided to go down the plug-in route.
Whether standalone or plug-in, Xfrog provides the most powerful dedicated organic modeling available - but it still has one major drawback. If you just want to drop a believable tree or flower into your scene, you’re talking about a huge amount of work to build it up from scratch. By comparison other options, such as Vue Professional with its SolidGrowth technology, let you generate a variation on a preset plant species with just a couple of clicks.
In fact Xfrog does offer similar convenience but to take advantage of it you’ll have to buy one of the 16 XfrogPlants libraries. These are divided into categories such as European and American Trees, Groundcover and Flowers each containing 20 different species represented in three or more different varieties or different stages of growth. Each high quality XFR model is a botanically-correct labour-of-love and comes complete with digitized images of actual leaves, petals, bark and so on. Crucially the results are stunning. Best of all, with the plug-in versions of Xfrog 4.x, most XFR files can be imported either as ready-to-render meshes or ready-to-customize Xfrog objects.
If realistic 3D plant handling is only an occasional requirement then Xfrog is almost certainly overkill; if it’s central to your work then Xfrog becomes essential.
ratings out of 6
Xfrog 3.5: Pentium II, 256/512MB of RAM , 20MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 or XP, OpenGL, CD-ROM.
Xfrog 4.x: 256/512MB RAM , 20MB hard disk space and Maxon Cinema 4D 8.1 or higher or Maya 6 or higher
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