at a Glance

Publisher: Electric Rain
Price: $139
URL: http://www.erain.com

Overall Impression: Swift3D is a nice, simple package that outputs 3D vector animations for importing into programs like Flash and LiveMotion. But it lacks options for more sophisticated 3D capabilities.

Key Benefits: Great interface. Very easy to use, Swift 3D generates simple 3D effects at very economical file sizes. It can also import models from other 3D programs. It has excellent documentation.

Disappointments: Lack of modeling capabilities (beyond simple shapes), lack of most of the features you'd find in any 3D package, including texture mapping, way too heavy memory requirements when working with 3DS models.

Recommendation: Neutral.


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Electric Rain Swift3D

3D Flash animation software

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

One of the features lacking in any Flash content creation tool, at least for the Mac, is the ability to generate vector-based 3D animations. Granted, you'll find this feature in some of the high-end 3D packages, like LightWave 6.5, but we're talking about a couple thousand dollars there, not to mention a lack of consideration for file size. So along comes Swift3D from Electric Rain to fill the void.

What it is
Swift3D is designed to generate simple 3D animations with a minimum of effort and output them either directly in the Flash (.SWF) format or as a sequence of EPS or Adobe Illustrator files for importing into Flash applications like Macromedia Flash 4/5 and Adobe LiveMotion.

The program has very limited modeling capabilities. You can create text and primitive objects like spheres and cones, and the program lets you apply common transformations to them, but you can't go in and create complex objects except by using primitives as blocks and stacking them together.

You can, however, import 3D Studio Max files, and Swift3D will even retain your animation paths, color and lighting. (3D Studio Max is not available for the Mac and won't be available for the Mac for some time, if ever, but many programs can export files to the .3DS format, such as LightWave 6.x.) However, even if you do import .3DS files, in my experience Swift3D's memory requirements are so extreme as to make their use impractical. In fact, I couldn't even give the program enough memory to render out more than 18 frames (1.5 seconds) of an animated Gundam model at 320 x 240, even though my G4 has 512 MB of RAM. (See below.) Swift3D would not even launch if I assigned it a memory partition larger than 256 MB, which just happens to be the physical size of my largest single DIMM. So that's an odd little quirk that could make this program utterly unusable by many of you.

Swift3D's other limitation is its 3D feature set. "Textures" in Swift3D consist of flat color and lighting. That's pretty much it. No texture mapping. If you create a model of the Earth in your favorite 3D program and then bring it into Swift3D, it will look like a shiny blue ball. The reason for this is, simply, file size. Swift3D is geared toward outputting small files based on the assumption that people who work in Flash need small files for the Web.

Working in Swift3D
At any rate, the main point of Swift3D seems to be text, and, in this respect, it has some nice features, not the least of which is its ease of use. Simply type in the text, choose your font face, size, bevel, etc., and you're on your way. To animate text, you just move forward in your timeline and interactively apply your transformation. Keyframing and "tweening" are automatic. If, for example, you move ahead to 30 seconds in the timeline and then rotate your text 720 degrees, you will have an animation that spins your text around twice in 30 seconds. It's that simple.

I also have to give high marks to Swift3D's interface, which is incredibly clean and easy to understand. It's just great design.

Swift3D's Mac interface. Click to see it at 1,024 x 768.

As you can see from this screen shot (if you click to enlarge it), all of Swift3D's features are readily available to you. Objects (text, sphere, cone, torus) appear in the top toolbar. Timeline and transformations appear just below that, with scene elements at the ready to the left. Your options for each scene element appear in a pane to the left of your working window. Cameras are accessible through a pull-down menu within your working window. The blue balls at the bottom there are your texture previews. This pane can also be used to display predefined animation paths, such as "Fly in Left" or "Rotate Right." And the gray balls are trackballs, the one on the left for rotating or moving your object, the one on the right for rotating or moving your lights. Menus are all where they should be.

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