Swift3D 2.0

by Joe Gillespie — Nov 1, 2001

When Swift3D came out about a year ago, it was the only program that could create 3D objects and export them as Flash movies.

It was better than nothing, but only just!

Rendering was very slow and many basic facilities just weren't there. In fact, Electric Rain had completely forgotten to include the very most basic 3D primitive object, a cube. Although you could extrude type, it had to be in TrueType format, it couldn't handle Type 1 PostScript fonts, which disqualified most of my collection.

Since then, the company has been very busy and has just launched Swift3D 2.0 - which is a completely different story.

Swift3D 2.0 has a set of nine primitive objects, ones you would expect from a serious 3D modelling program, including the aforementioned cube, a torus and variable polyhedron. It also has fairly decent extrusion and lathe editors which add a lot to the modelling capabilities. You can draw 2D shapes with familiar bezier drawing tools and give them depth, with or without bevelled edges, or you can rotate them round an axis to generate volumetric objects.

The interface has various palettes for choosing primitives, setting rotation and lighting plus a material/animation palette, a timeline, a contextual properties palette and a two-view workspace. These are all neatly docked together by default but need a lot of screen space. Keyboard shortcuts to hide and show palettes would have been useful.

Animation in ten minutes! Click to start.

If you want more sophisticated modelling, Swift3D 2.0 can import .3DS and .DXF format files which are fairly ubiquitous in other 3D modelling programs. In fact, there are vast libraries of pre-drawn objects available in these formats on the Web if you prefer more "instant" solutions.

Of course, if you just want to import a logo to do the old easy cheesy, spinning logo trick, it will accept Adobe Illustrator .AI or standard .EPS files - and retain the plain color fills. You can then extrude and bevel these and set-up lighting effects. The program's animation palette has a nice set of pre-set "spins" that only have to be dragged to the object to do all the hard work for you.

The new targeted camera and lights let you to drag and drop them into your scene and lock them to follow a moving object - just like a mobile film crew. So if you want a helicopter fly-through of your model, complete with colored, sweeping searchlights, you can do it very easily.

The whole program is about ease-of-use. Some 3D programs are torturously complicated but I learned everything I needed to know about Swift3D 2.0 in about half an hour thanks mainly to the good-humoured HTML tutorial and (mostly) intuitive interface.

On the rendering speed front, the new RAViX II rendering engine is up to 50 times faster than Swift3D 1.0, producing smaller files and providing the major advantages of shadows and specular highlights (metallic).

One thing that Swift3D doesn't support is surface mapping, it will only do simple, flat colored surfaces. Surface and bump mapping are tricks used in more sophisticated programs to make fairly basic models look complex and realistic but this is more a restriction imposed by the vector-based, Flash .SWF format than the program. There is only so much you can do with the Flash format. Swift3D cannot cope with bitmaps at all, if it did, file sizes would probably become too big for real-time animation on the Web.

So much for Raptors 'R' Us!

Once your animation has been generated, it can be used "as is" or imported into Flash or LiveMotion for further manipulation, to add other items.

Overall, Swift3D 2.0 is a much-improved program. It is easy to use, reasonably priced and a very worthwhile addition to any Web designer's toolkit.

Swift3D 2.0
Features red bar85%
Ease of Use yellow bar90%
Value for Money green bar80%
'Must Have' Factor blue bar85%
Manufacturer Electric Rain
Price $159 for Mac or PC - Upgrade from v1 $79
Summary Much improved Flash 3D animation package.
Del.icio.us Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl reddit Design Float