software reviews

Swift 3D version 5 by Electric Rain


A little bit about Swift 3D and Electric Rain.
Created in 2000, Swift 3D was the first 3D program created for implementing 3D graphics and animations for Flash. It incorporates a vector rendering engine that creates vector images of the 3D models created. The result is impressively small .SWF files sizes that are completely web-ready. Each new version of Swift 3D has incorporated more functionality allowing more complex 3D animations to be created. Version 5 allows users to create complex 3D morphing techniques making it a comprehensive 3D animating tool.

Standard Features

(Skip to New Features Section if you are familiar with Swift 3D):
Swift 3D is made up of tools that make creating 3D models easy. Over the years Swift 3D has incorporated more and more tools allowing for more complex modeling. Here are the main tool sets that Swift 3D utilizes.

Primitive Models: Primitive models are a staple of 3D modeling. The idea is that you can create most models by manipulating simple models like cubes, cylinders, pyramids, spheres, etc. Using primitives make developing complex structures fast and easy. Swift 3D makes accessing primitives practically impossible to miss. They are right there on the top bar like they have been since version 1.

Extrusion Editor: If you can draw it with a pen tool, Swift 3D can make it 3 dimensional. It has been here since version 3, and still works as great as ever. This tool is fantastic for importing 2D Illustrator files into Swift 3D and making them 3 dimensional.

Lathe Editor: This feature has also been around since Version 3. You can create 3D models by using the pen tool to draw out a profile of an object then wraping the profile around an axis making it spherical. This feature is a must for making "Cans" "Table legs" and anything else that is round.

Advanced Modeling: Polygon Modeling was added in version 4. This feature made Swift 3D a full fledged 3D modeling software. By editing wire frame primitives, you can mold your primitive models into super complex 3D models. Creating models that aren't precise in nature (i.e. any type of living, breathing thing) is practically impossible without this ability.

Preview and Export Editor: Ravix 4 vector rendering engine created by Electric Rain This allows you to render as SWFT files, which are ready for importation into Adobe Flash. You can also export your renderings to .MOV, .AVI, .FLV, .SWF, .EPS, .AI, and finally .SVG. On the Raster side of things you can export as .TGA, .BMP, .PNG, .JPG, .TIF, .AVI, .MOV, .FLV, and .SWF.

You can render single static frames or render entire videos made up of hundreds of frames if you don't mind waiting around for the render (Which could take hours, based on the speed of your machine and the amount of frames of your file)

Web Assistant: built in web access for accessing tutorials and communities without leaving the program. This isn't entirely true, since the program will kick out pop ups in Internet Explorer. Whatever the case, it is nice to have such a rich community at your finger tips, ready to help you out of a sticky situation.

New Features

Mesh Morphing and Animations: This is the biggie that makes the upgrade to Swift 3D V5 worth every cent. This new feature takes the animation portion of Swift 3D to the big leagues by allowing users to create Morph targets for 3D objects. This support is an absolute must for animating objects that are continuous objects that don't have joints. This new feature will allow Swift users to animate faces, mouths, fish tails, and any other solid object that moves in a way that can't be achieved by standard methods. The ability to morph really adds a new dimension to Swift 3D.

Enhanced User Interface: This is the first time in 5 years that Swift 3D has changed its interface. It is much more sleek and user friendly. This is in part by the requests and advice of its users. It seems that Electric Rain is a company that actually listens to its customers. Wow.

Keyframe Easing: Easing controls for smoothing animations and creating more realistic animations

Per Object Fill Rendering: You can now choose how the Ravix 4 Rendering engine renders objects in your scene. This means you can output as many different looks as you want to on each object of the scene by overriding the settings in the preview and export editor.

Extrusion / Lathe Free Transform: Users can now transform their 2D shapes freely while editing them in the Extrusion and Lathe Editors. This addition will ultimately improve workflow in both the extrusion and lathe editing environments.

Drag / Drop Animation Visuals: QUickly select the perfect prepackaged animation from the animation library by previewing the animation directly on the tool bar, saving time and confusion.

Viewport Consistency: Improvements have been made in the actual scene editor.

Per Object Line Options: You can now apply individual line styles and colors to individual objects within your 3D scene.

Undo Restructuring: Unlimited undo operations across editing environments. VERY NICE!

HTML /w SWF Export: Makes an HTML page with your SWF in it.

.3ds Export: Yay!

Export to XAML for WPF and Silverlight: I've not really heard anything about Silverlight, but Swift 3D exports for it, so it is there if you need it.

Usability

Swift 3D is by far the easiest 3D program to pick up and start using. They even state in intro video that Users with a little Graphic Design knowledge can easily be up and producing content within an hour. I believe that statement. Swift 3D is awesome for creating models with very little training necessary. By viewing one or two tutorials, you'll learn all the necessary skills to make basic models. The biggest hurdle I experience was learning to model in the advanced model editor. It takes some getting used to, but within an hour you will understand the functions necessary to build a dolphin (that is what the tutorial teaches you). With a little patience and some creativity, anyone can recreate real life objects into 3D objects. In a nutshell, Swift 3D is great for modeling.

So what about animating? How can I say this nicely . . . It's clunky. I've been using Swift 3D since version 3 and I still have major problems animating my models. The time line is very different from any other time lines I've used (Flash, Final Cut, Swish etc.) I understand that it is animation on a 3D plane, but still I just can't seem to consistently animate with the precision I would like to have. Does that mean I can't get it to do something? No, I most definitely can get it to animate. Unfortunately I just can't animate it exactly like I want it to. I'm sure it is just user mistakes, and if I used the program daily I would get through the muck necessary to gain the consistency I long for. Whatever the case, it is still very amazing to actually get results as fast as you can with Swift 3D.

Overall

Swift 3D is an amazing product. It was designed for graphic / flash designers in mind. It is perfect at what it does and the company that develops it really loves its product, as well as its customers. Swift 3D continually gets better and better. With support for .3Ds you can easily import prebuilt 3D models and animate them and export them to flash, or you can create your own models using the integrated tools. Each new version gets more refined and more feature rich, making it a more complete program each version.

The upgrade from 4.5 to 5 is pretty ground breaking with the inclusion of morph animation. I think this feature alone will make upgrading essential for hardcore users of Swift 3D. The slick new interface is an added bonus that users will definitely embrace. As always, any version of Swift 3D is recommended for new users. It is easy to get started and you'll start seeing results immediately.

Swift 3D v5 is a great tool for any flash developer/ graphic designer looking to add 3D to their Websites and Flash. I highly recommend this program.

Reviewed By: John Harbison
Publisher:
Electric Rain
OS:
Windows XP