Brush options for
Amorphium Pro's tools.


Effects available in
the FX mode.


The Material palette

REVIEW MARCH 21 , 2001
Electric Image Amorphium Pro 1.1

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Tools and effects
The toolset in Amorphium Pro is particularly impressive. Picture the toolset in Photoshop, then multiply it by 12 and add in options for 3D brushes, interactive effects, etc. As I've said, the program is divided into 12 modes for performing various functions. Each mode has its own set of tools. Common tools include move/rotate and interactive preview lights. (The lights let you rotate light around an object to check detail, but they don't change the composition's lighting.)

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 behaves—basically 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 objects—all the way through, if desired—to 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 Shop—basically 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.)

Animation
The animation capabilities in Amorphium Pro include numerous huge improvements over the original Amorphium. More than this, the animation stands on its own as exceptionally easy to use and feature-rich. Want to animate an object's shape? Just change the shape and add a keyframe. Want to animate the process of painting an object? Same thing. Just paint it and add a keyframe. Not happy with your keyframe position? Click and drag it to a different spot in the timeline. Want to increase or decrease the length of your composition? Just click and drag the composition length icon. (You can also change composition settings in the render dialog box.)


Amorphium Pro's timeline. Virtually anything can be animated simply by
making a change to an object (or camera or light) and creating a new
keyframe. You can also lengthen or shorten your composition's duration
just by dragging the red triangle on the top right. Or you can move
the whole active portion of the timeline to the right to allow
you do perform pre-animations.

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
Electric Image has an extremely beautiful renderer. (Regardless of platform prejudice, most would agree Electric Image is at least in the top two or three for render quality.) Amorphium Pro does not include all of the great rendering capabilities you would find in the company's high-end EIAS or Universe products, but it does offer some nice output. Plus it has tons of options for exporting to the Flash format, from the large and lush to the small and cartoonish.

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.

Performance
One of the things that impressed me the most about Amorphium Pro—and there are tons of things that impressed me about it—was its speed. Even on just an old G4 400 running in quad view with full OpenGL, I never felt a slowdown for most tasks. Strangely, the default in Amorphium Pro is a software renderer that is considerably slower than OpenGL. But a quick trip to the program's preferences will fix this up.

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
I'm so impressed with this program that I get all scatter brained just launching it. There's finally a 3D program for designers—and a great one at that. On top of all of that, it's really reasonably priced at $249. This is a thorough effort, one that delivers more than promised on every front. You will master this program in a couple weeks of heavy use, but you'll never cease to be surprised by the results you can achieve. I highly and wholeheartedly recommend this program. For more information or to download the demo, visit http://www.amorphium.com.

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.

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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.
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