by Joe Gillespie — Mar 1, 2001

Where Flash works just fine for two dimensional animation, the third dimension is elusive - at the moment. You can create pseudo-depth using layers and object sizes, but creating convincing three dimensional objects needs a little help from outside.

Enter, Swift3D.

Swift3d is an easy to use 3D modelling package that works with vector graphics and outputs .SWF files - (plus sequential .AI (Adobe Illustrator) and .EPS). As 3D drawing programs go, it is fairly basic. The restrictions of vector-only output means no bitmap surface textures or bump maps. In fact, the only materials available are colored plastics with variations of shininess.

The program has a few 'primitives' - ready-built shapes - such as a sphere, cone and torus (doughnut), but why no cube? These basic shapes can be distorted horizontally and vertically and joined together to make more complex objects but don't expect Jurassic Park-style dinosaurs, you will need something a lot more heavy-duty for that.

There are no drawing tools as such so you can't extrude along a path or lathe 2D shapes. You can import 2D shapes in .EPS format and give them thickness and bevel the edges but more elaborate 3D models will have to be produced in another modelling program that can export in 3D Studio format (.3DS).

Where Swift3D really scores is in the 'Flying Logo' department. You can enter any text you like (with TrueType fonts), or import an .EPS logo, give it thickness and a variety of bevelled edges. You can set up lights to point at the objects and apply one of the preset motion paths. There are quite a few twists, turns and tumbles that you can apply by dragging and dropping or you can use the very Flash-like timeline to set up your own tweened keyframes. Having even simple objects move into and out of shafts of light makes them seem very realistic.

If you've used any other 3D program before, you will be able to get good results straight away. If you are a newcomer to 3D animation, the simplicity of Swift3D is a major bonus. 3D programs can get horrendously complicated and intimidating but this one can be used with very little reference to the manual, although there are some very useful tips in there, so do read it.

Output to Flash Player documents (.SWF), the models look pretty good. The lighting and limited surface textures work surprisingly well for vector-based illustrations. If you try to do anything too complex though, Flash has trouble rendering it at 12 frames per second and movement becomes jerky. You either have to simplify the model or reduce the frame rate. As always, we are at the mercy of bandwidth and processing power.

Swift3D is available for Windows and Mac machines. The very literal port from Windows to Mac will probably annoy and frustrate Mac users and I can't really recommend the Mac version it in its present form. Peculiarities of the interface and lack of ATM and Type 1 font support are being addressed in version 2.0, I am assured.

Overall, Swift3D suffers from the lack of maturity that you might expect from a version 1.0 of anything but if you want to get some extra depth into your Flash movies, this is a fairly painless and simple way to do it.

Features red bar65%
Ease of Use yellow bar85%
Value for Money green bar75%
'Must Have' Factor blue bar80%
Manufacturer Electric Rain
Price $139 Windows/Mac
Summary Adds 3D animation to your Flash movies.
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