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Choosing a 3D Authoring Tool

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Working with the 3D objects definitely has its just rewards. Obviously a 3D object is more exciting than 2D graphics, and 3D objects communicate better to audiences. However, Shockwave 3D components and the tools used to create 3D objects can be intimidating. In fact, you may be avoiding both the creation of 3D objects and their authoring tools because of their reputation for complexity. epic software group, inc. explains why you shouldn't be afraid to author 3D graphics, and they offer you advice from some of the leading experts in the industry.
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Choosing a 3D Authoring Tool

So, you've decided to go to the next dimension in your web or multimedia project and add a Shockwave 3D component. Don't be surprised if you're more than just a little intimidated with the software programs available for creating 3D objects and scenes. Most 3D development tools have well-deserved reputations for complexity and require a significant investment of both time and money. No need to worry, however, because in the next few pages you will learn which 3D programs best suit your needs.

If you are new to 3D development, you might be feeling just a bit overwhelmed right now. You may wonder why you should bother at all. Roger Chandler, Sr., Marketing Manager of Intel Architecture Labs, said it best. "Fundamentally, 3D makes content more engaging; it allows you to do things that you can't do in a normal 2D Web environment; it really changes everything." It was reported that when 3D was added to their sites, SharperImage.com saw a 500 percent increase in visits and a 100 percent increase in sales, and Land's End saw a 200 percent increase in sales. The bottom line is that 3D graphics and animation can help you communicate your ideas better, which often leads to higher profits.

The long list of powerful 3D features Macromedia has included in Director 8.5 is incredibly impressive. Shockwave applications on faster connections can download models at 10,000 polygons per second. The models are visible quickly and increase in clarity as the download is completed. Keyframe and bones deformations are built in to the Shockwave 3D (W3D) format and are fully controlled by Lingo. Simply put, an animator or 3D artist can create character animations in his 3D program of choice, and that animation will be fully controllable through Director's Lingo. The conversion is accomplished by using an exporter, which is designed to convert the native file format of the 3D program into the W3D format needed for Shockwave 3D. This following section contains a list of several 3D development tools that have exporters for their products.

Keep in mind that if you talk with most 3D artists, they will insist that their 3D program of choice is simply the best with no room for argument. However, you should "test drive" several programs to see which one makes the most sense for the way you work. In some cases, you can even download a trial version of the software from the vendor's web site.

We contacted a number of software development companies to learn about products currently available and their thinking concerning the future of 3D in multimedia applications. In no way can we do justice to the specific features of the programs in this brief article. However, we do provide you with an overview and some helpful web sites where you can obtain additional information. So let's take a look at some of the leading 3D programs from which you can choose. Remember, this is by no means an exhaustive list. More than 40 companies have partnered with Macromedia for Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio. In fact, included here is a subset of the programs you'll find discussed in this book.

3D Tools with Shockwave 3D Exporters

3ds max by Discreet (http://www.discreet.com/)

Discreet is a division of Autodesk and a leader in digital content creation, management, and distribution tools. Discreet develops systems and software for visual effects, 3D animation, editing, and production used in the creation of digital moving pictures for feature films, video, HDTV, broadcast graphics, interactive games, and the web. Discreet products are used extensively in film and video postproduction, games and multimedia, broadcast graphics, programming, and on-air event coverage. The company has received more than 300 awards in the past 10 years, including 2 Academy Awards for Technical Achievement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The tag line for Discreet is "We make tools that let you make magic," and their 3ds max program has been making magic for years. 3ds max 4 claims the bragging rights as the world's best-selling 3D animation tool. The program is the product of choice for web professionals and offers tight integration with Director 8.5. Discreet's initiative to bring 3D to the web includes the support for exporting 3ds max content to the new Shockwave 3D format. The company has Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio exporters for 3ds max 4 available for download.

The 3ds max Shockwave 3D exporter includes support for rich character animation from character studio, dynamic physics from reactor, and the same multiresolution mesh technology from Intel used in Shockwave 3D that gives web artists the ability to preview streaming and level of detail results directly within 3ds max.

Phillip Miller, Senior Director of Software Products at Discreet, said, "Interactive 3D animation provides developers and web viewers expanded opportunities to experience 3D on the web delivered in a scalable format at minimum bandwidth." With authoring and playback solutions jointly developed by Macromedia and Intel and a strong bridge to Discreet's leading 3D content-creation tools, artists can now deliver the rich Web experiences that result in increased online sales, site stickiness, and customer satisfaction.

We asked Dan Prochazka, Product Manager for Discreet, why a Director developer might choose 3ds max for her 3D work. Dan said:

The Shockwave 3D exporter for 3ds max is the most advanced on the market. It is the only system that supports character animation with both bipedal animation and full skinning of characters. 3ds max, along with reactor, is the only 3D program that will allow for the preview and export of the Havok physics that are supported in Macromedia's Shockwave 3D. Using these programs, you can set up and preview sophisticated rigid body dynamics, export both the geometry and the physics, and bring them together in Director. Quite simply, a Director user would want to use 3ds max to generate his/her 3D content because no other program supports the exporting of so many 3D features and so much 3D content to Shockwave 3D.
CINEMA 4D by MAXON Computer (http://www.maxoncomputer.com/)

MAXON Computer is the developer of professional 3D modeling, painting, animation, and rendering solutions. Their award-winning products have been used extensively in film, television, science, architecture, engineering, and other industries. MAXON products have been used for The Mummy Returns, Gladiator, Tomb Raider, Logo, Inspector Gadget, Small Soldiers, Blast From the Past, TiVO, NBC, DirecTV, Mad TV, JAG, Comedy Central, The WB, Fox Kids, and many more. MAXON has offices in Newbury Park, California and Friedrichsdorf, Germany.

CINEMA 4D is a fully integrated 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package for Windows and Macintosh systems. It is well known for its surprisingly fast and photorealistic raytracer. You can download a free demo version of the program from their web site or purchase the full version for $1695. BodyPaint 3D, a companion product to CINEMA 4D, is an advanced 3D painting application for creating high-quality textures in a 3D environment. BodyPaint 3D seamlessly integrates into CINEMA 4D XL, enabling artists to add detail to surfaces at any point during the production process. It also can be used as a standalone application in combination with other popular 3D software packages.

We asked Paul Babb, the President of MAXON Computer, why a Director developer might choose this product for his 3D needs. Paul said, "We offer a great price/performance ratio, and our products are fast, both in the working environment and when rendering scenes."

Paul went on to say:

Our products are powerful. Both products handle very complex scenes in the millions of polygons, hundreds of shadow-casting lights, countless texture maps, particles, and complex animation with ease. Most programs cannot even open scenes of this size. Some have as many as one billion polygons per object. Our products allow you to have unlimited objects, unlimited materials and textures, unlimited lights, unlimited cameras, and unlimited animation tracks per object.

CINEMA 4D XL 7 works well with older hardware, requires less RAM than other 3D packages, and generates extremely efficient file size. The program will allow background rendering and enables you to open multiple projects simultaneously. In a development shop where both Windows and Macintosh systems are running, CINEMA 4D XL is only 5 percent OS-dependent, so using it feels the same on all platforms. It is completely customizable, so you can define your own keyboard shortcuts and even change the dialog boxes and menu structure. The product is available in German, English, Italian, French, and Japanese.

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