Electric Rain Swift 3D 3

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Improved realism, integration and a new rendering engine - but there's only so far the vector Flash format can go in terms of 3D.

Like Xara3D, Swift 3D is designed to produce 3D effects for the Web, but that's where the similarity ends. Swift 3D is aimed at a much higher level and at users wanting to produce high-quality vector Flash output.

The difference is immediately clear from the interface. Swift3D looks much more like a dedicated 3D package with two central viewports where you assemble your scene, two trackballs for controlling object rotation and lighting, tabbed galleries for applying materials and other presets, a properties panel for setting object attributes and a timeline for managing animation.

The 3D scene building control is also in a different league. Swift 3D lets you enter text with a range of bevels, but it also offers a whole range of primitives such as spheres, cubes and even "stellated polyhedra". You can also create your own 3D shapes by using the Extrusion Editor and the Lathe Editor. It's a lot for the new user to get used to, but for the advanced 3D modeler it's still going to feel under-powered. For these users the best option is to take advantage of Swift 3D's ability to import 3DS and DXF meshes exported from a dedicated package.

The main function of Swift 3D is to make your model or scene look as good as possible within the limitations imposed by vector output. Shadows and highlights make a huge difference to perceived realism and the handling of both have been improved so that now, for example, up to 32 shadows can interact. Totally new is the support for transparency and for reflectivity which enables the creation of glass and mirror effects. All of these can be handled purely as vectors, but this version also breaks new ground with support for bitmap and procedural textures.

To output your scenes you switch to the Preview and Export Editor tab. This is where Swift 3D really comes into its own thanks to its dedicated RAViX vector rendering engine which intelligently determines the best way to turn each frame of the project into vectors. To do this it breaks the scene down into groups of polygons occurring on similar surfaces and applies a fill based on its angle to the light source. There are different options for applying single, averaged, two colour, four colour, full colour, area gradient and mesh gradient fills each with increasing realism but at the cost of increasing file size.

New in version 3 is the ability to output to a dedicated and proprietary SWFT format. When used with the Swift 3D Importer for Flash MX this enables you to add layering information to your file. Originally I thought this would enable object-based access but of course this is lost during rendering. Instead you can access layers for stationary and moving colours and outlines along with layers, highlights, reflections and transparency. More regularly useful is the ability to import output directly as a movie clip into Flash MX's Library which makes updating much easier.

This improved integration is welcome but it's the quality of Swift 3D's vector output which is most impressive, even at surprisingly low file sizes. However nobody could call it photo-realistic. That's why Electric Rain has bolted on an entirely new bitmap-based rendering engine called EMO (standing for Electric Motion). This uses ray-tracing and, with its pixel-based output, is able to do full justice to features such as bitmap fills. The problem of course is that the resulting bitmapped SWF files take even longer to produce, aren't scalable and tend to be much larger.

More to the point, if you really want to output bitmapped animations, you'd be better off with a dedicated non-vector 3D package which means that much of the development push in Swift 3D seems wasted. Ultimately Swift 3D stands or falls by the quality of its vector Flash output. This is still the best in the business but in practice this latest version adds comparatively little.

Features
4
Ease of Use
3
Value for Money
4
Overall
4

ratings out of 6

System Requirements: Pentium 200Mhz or higher, 64 MB RAM, 20 MB disk space, Windows 95, 98, 2000, ME, XP or NT 4, SVGA

Tom Arah

January 2003

 

       
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