REVIEW MARCH 21 , 2001
Electric Image Amorphium Pro 1.1
3D modeling, painting and animation software
I've mentioned before that for designers, particularly those who work in Flash, skill with 3D is rapidly becoming a prerequisite. Last year, the only tool on the market for bringing 3D content into the Flash format was Swift3D from Electric Rain. Now, however, it seems that every 3D publisher wants a piece of the Web, and they're all either offering Flash expansion modules or are developing export options for SWF animation.
As a subset of these publishers, there are those who are not just expanding existing applications to make them useable on the Web but are actually tailoring them for use by those whose skills tend more toward 2D designprint and the Webbut who are beginning to need 3D for things like spinning logos, flythroughs and character animation.
Enter Amorphium Pro from Electric Image.
Now, many of you probably remember the original Amorphium (from Play Inc.), a 3D product also targeted toward designers that was introduced a few years ago. If you had the chance to use it, you probably weren't terribly enthralled by it. It didn't exactly deliver on the promise of 3D for the masses. But Amorphium Pro is different. Very different.
What it does
I say that this package is targeted toward designers not because it's a dumbed-down version of a high-end program. It's not. It's targeted toward designers in that its workflow and tools are organized in as close a way to 2D applications as possible while still being able to produce 3D. It's like your favorite image editor and painting program rolled into one and then extruded for 3D. And it's not a "dumb" program. This is unquestionably a professional tool.
By way of example, consider the problem of masking and painting a model while you're still in the process of building it. Say, for example, that you just want to make some hair on a head and paint it. You just click on the "Mask" tool, paint your mask on the object, and paint color with a tool similar to Photoshop's airbrush tool on the unmasked areas. Then just unmask you model to go back and do some more modeling. Simple, right? We'll take a look at masking later in this review. First let's take a look at how it all works.
From here, you can go into any of the modeling modes to shape a new model or edit an existing modelone you previously created in Amorphium Pro or one you've imported from a variety of common 3D formats. (You will also be able to export your work to common 3D formats.) Or you can do some painting, effects, masking or any number of other compositing or editing tasks you need to perform.
2D art is an additive process. You start with a blank canvas and add strokes. It's the same in Amorphium Pro, only you're doing it in three dimensions. For the face example above, you might start with a sphere, then use your mouse (or pressure tablet) to build up the object in some areas, reduce it in others, until you arrive at your desired shape. Your mouse or stylus becomes a sort of sculpting device. You can go into "Wax" mode, which allows you to "drip" geometry onto an object or scrape it away. You might use different tools that allow you to pinch or pull or poke the object to achieve your results. Or you might work with "Biospheres," which are strange objects like metaballs that sort of link themselves to one another in a way that resembles skin stretching from one object to the next.
You can work just as you would if you were sculpting clay, or you can turn on one of the many symmetry modes to save you a little time and ensure that eyes and ears are symmetrical, if that's what you want.
In addition to organic models, you have an equal amount of control over text. This mean you can not only make some 3D text that rotates, but you can also paint it, deform it, add spikes and noise, texture it and otherwise tweak it and animate it. You can even animate paint strokes over time.
There's one more particularly cool tool available in the Composition mode. It's called Interactive Decimation and Interactive Quad. You can simply click on an object to increase or decrease its polygon count. Or, what's even more impressive, you can mask off an area of an object and then just increase or decrease the polygons of the unmasked areas. Amorphium Pro automatically increases the polygons in that area and feathers out the polygon count toward the masked areas to provide a smooth transition from low polygons to high polygons.
You almost have to see the modeling process in action to appreciate it. We'll post some QuickTime demos in the near future to illustrate the point. Until then, you'll just have to take my word for it: This is so shockingly intuitive that you have to wonder why all 3D modeling didn't start out this way. (You really should, at the very least, download the demo to see how simple this whole process is. You can get it from http://www.amorphium.com.)
Tools and effects
In the primary modeling area, called "Tools," you get the option of several very easy to use tools for pinching, pushing, pulling and smoothing your object. (See the tool palette on the right.) You also get a separate palette offering you a variety of shapes to work with, from rounded buttons to hollow cylinders. (See the palette in the left margin.) You also have options for several styles of symmetry, tilt, pressure, radius and flux. (Flux is what determines how quickly a tool behavesbasically repetitions. You can set it low for delicate work or high for times when you want to do things quickly.) All of these tools can be used to shape mesh objects, including text, and all Tool functions can be keyframed. (See the "Animation" section below for more.)
You can also take your object into the FX mode to perform a number of effects designed to save a little time for common operations. These include bending, twisting, marble painting, adding spikes and a lot of other options as well. To get an effect to work, you just select it, edit it where appropriate and click your mouse on the object's window for the effect to occur. Dragging your mouse right or left will increase or decrease the intensity of the effect.
For another type of modeling mode, you can also convert a mesh object into a "wax" object, which will allow you to do a few different thing. "Wax" is a modeling mode unique to Amorphium Pro that essentially allows you to model as if you were literally working with wax. You can drip wax onto an object to build it up in areas. You can melt through wax objectsall the way through, if desiredto create sockets or holes or punctures or whatever else your sick little minds can think up. Or you can smooth it out with a sponge tool. What's also cool is that you can keep adding divisions as you need them. You might start out with an object that has 24 X, Y and Z division, but you can just Control click or right click to access the object's properties and change the values for X, Y and Z divisions individually. (See the Wax toolbar on the right.)
You also get a Paint mode, which allows you to paint directly on your object with a variety of brushes. You have a masking mode for creating masks (simply by painting them on the object). You have a Material mode, which helps you texture your object. (You can see the palette in the left margin.) There's morphing, which will even let you morph objects that do not have the same number of polygons. There's a Mapper function, a Height Shopbasically way too much to talk about here. (We will be posting separate tutorials and feature tours to explain certain features in more depth later on.)
Basically, you can animate anything you want. Just change something with your mouse, and make a new keyframe. Or move your timeline to an existing keyframe, and any changes you make will be added to that point in the timeline, with all inbetweening handled for you on the fly. Plus, you can do numeric transformations for more accurate rotations, moves, etc. And animation doesn't apply only to objects. You can also animate cameras and lights.
And, just as in other programs, you can use the timeline as a shortcut to selecting objects, hiding them, etc. Very handy.
Output and export
Renders can be output to any number of file formats, from still TIFFs to uncompressed or compressed QuickTimes to SWF files.
Rendering can be really zippy or pretty slow, depending on your output options. I found the slowest rendering to be with the Flash export when I cranked up the output quality. At maximum quality, it will almost seem like your computer has frozen (but it hasn't). With Flash output, there's no progress bar, so you only get a reading of the particular frame rendering at the time. A future minor release will likely take care of this. Electric Image has proved pretty reliable when it comes to releasing updates to fix whatever minor problems might exist. (Hence the program's already at 1.1 and only a month old.) The final render, however, is quite nice.
In addition, the program can output to a huge number of 3D and 2D formats, from LightWave objects to PNG.
On occasion, particularly when working in Wax mode with a high number of divisions (say 80 x 80 x 80), you will notice a marked decrease in performance, but this can be overcome simply by switching your display mode to the most basic setting.
My final comment about performance I has to do with stability. This thing doesn't crash. It just doesn't. I don't even get OpenGL errors. Nothing. I can't faze this thing. There was only one time I thought I had crashed the program, but it turned out it was just taking longer than expected to render a scene. I think this just might be the first invincible program for the Mac. (I can only assume it's equally stable under Windows.) Bravo for that!
The bottom line
Also be sure to stay tuned for some tutorials to help get you going in this versatile program. We'll be working with Electric Image to provide original feature tours and tutorials, and we'll be generating some on our own as well.
Post a message in the Creative Mac World Wide User Group.
Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of the Creative Mac, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion and Synthetik Studio Artist WWUGs; and executive producer of Creative Mac, Digital Media Designer, Digital Pro Sound, Digital Webcast, Plug-in Central, Presentation Master, ProAudio.net and Video Systems sites. All are part of the Digital Media Net family of online industry hubs.