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Electric Image Amorphium Pro

Typically if you are skilled in any high-end 3D program, you are used to the often-tedious mechanics of creating with that type of software. You might spend a chunk of time sketching out coordinates on graph paper or whittle away hours piecing together hundreds of polygons to create just one element of your scene.

For those less familiar with the machinations of high-end 3D, Electric Image brought out a very highly regarded first version of the software called Amorphium in early 1999 and now follows it up with some really kicked-up pro features that should get any video producer up to speed. Amorphium Pro sets out to achieve one primary goal: to give 2D artists a way to create 3D graphics.

Upon startup the program greets you with a typical 3D-space window called Composer. You can load in any number of primitives such as spheres and cubes, and quickly start to arrange your 3D scene. The program sports a fairly robust software-based 3D display engine called SoftDraw. It spins the scene around and shows the effects of lighting and texture in realtime. You can also flip the program over to OpenGL mode if you have an accelerator card. With an Nvidia GeForce card, I was able to use OpenGL under Windows 2000 and get positively silky-smooth navigation of 3D scenes.

The Transform tools take some getting used to. These are the ways you move objects around the scene. A future version of the program would do well to employ the right mouse button for alternate movement commands on different axes.

The fun begins once you get your primitives into the work area. Smash, pull, carve, and slice 3D objects in all kinds of ways. Use the Brush tools such as smooth, smudge, and pinch to shape and mold. You can adjust each of these tools via parameters such as flux, symmetry, pressure, radius, and direction. The program lends the feel of molding with clay, only with dozens of high-tech tools for intricate construction. The brushes themselves can also be carved into different shapes and saved as presets. Or use one of the many built-in effects that come with Amorphium Pro. These include bend, spikes, twist, waves, bank, and many more. Each applies with a single click.

Painting is another big part of Amorphium Pro. You can paint detailed designs and even throw on textures and bump maps. The program allows masking and makes it so easy to use that 3D pros might be loath to return to the convoluted masking tools of higher-end programs. Block out certain parts of an object via masks so that painting and other commands do not affect those parts. Creating a mask is as easy as merely drawing one on an object. Another clever feature is the ability to do a height map by importing a graphic image. So rather than creating a bumpy cube, simply import a still of a bump map and interactively slide the mouse to set the height of the bumps.

Biospheres allow you to push and pull objects together and create new ones based on the energy, radius, and oblateness. Think “liquid” objects that join and repel as you slide them.

Also very cool is the Wax option that lets you melt and smooth objects as if they were actual wax. All of this cool stuff can be animated, and creating macros allows you to apply different sculpting sessions to new objects.

Those familiar with the previous version of Amorphium will be happy to note the many new features that make this Pro version more enticing. The interface received an overhaul and now benefits from multiple windows, unlimited undos, unlimited layers of editing, and tool palettes that can be moved around and torn off. Also new are booleans. Now all brushes in sculpting, painting, and morphing can be edited. Animation now features parenting and grouping as well as unlimited keyframes. The rendering engine has been pumped up to pro status as well with crystal clear radiosity and raytracing.

Perhaps the biggest news is that Amorphium now renders out 3D animation, complete with object shadows, directly as Macromedia Flash .swf files. Obviously there are certain limitations with vector-based animation, but as a Flash developer myself, I have never seen a simpler animation program produce such great 3D Flash renderings.

Any problems with the program? Undo should be an interface button rather than a pulldown menu or keyboard command. Any program that promotes this much experimentation needs to provide a quicker escape for when things get crazy. A history palette would also be a nice touch. Unlike most 3D programs, Amorphium Pro does not show the construction of the frame as it renders. Thankfully the renderer is fast, so idle time is minimized.

Some masking tools have jagged edges. There is an option to smooth the edges, but this generally smoothes out the transition more than you’d want. The macro feature allows you to load in a script that can create an object from scratch, but I could not stop a macro from playing back once it started. Often I would need to hard-boot out of the program if I didn’t want the object to continue to completion.

As I explored the program I continually had to step back and set aside my years of working with 3D programs such as LightWave 3D. Amorphium Pro is not a high-end 3D package, and it doesn’t set out to be. The lack of coordinate-based detail for creating and animating objects will likely restrain traditional pros. But those video producers and 2D Photoshop artists just getting into 3D will be able to produce amazingly rich and detailed content.

Ironically, you’ll be able to sculpt objects much faster than your 3D pro buds. Amorphium Pro exudes instant gratification. Thinking of adding some 3D to your video production arsenal? Amorphium Pro is an excellent first step. I’ve never seen a 3D program this easy to use that produces such powerful results. Its output is nearly indistinguishable from that of the big boys.

Frank McMahon is a media artist specializing in directing, editing, animation, and graphic design. He can be reached via his media company at www.fmstudio.com or via Portland Media Artists at www.mediaartist.com.

QUICK FACTS

Company: Electric Image
Pasadena, Calif.; 714-433-0400

Product: Amorphium Pro

Features: Overhauled interface; robust software-based 3D display via SoftDraw; easy-to-use masking; renders directly to Flash .swf files.

Price: $249

Website:www.amorphium.com

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