capsule review

Swift 3D 1.0

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When Swift 3D debuted last spring at a Macromedia Flash conference, the big question was when a Mac version would be released. It's out, and it's the only Mac tool available for generating 3-D-style vector artwork and animations in the Flash format; however, its Windows lineage and problems with the Mac port hinder its usefulness.

A Matter of Some Import

Swift 3D can import EPS and Adobe Illustrator files, as well as objects and animations in the Discreet 3D Studio Max (3DS) format. The program analyzes the objects in each frame and assigns colors to them; surfaces can be shiny or dull.

Rendering Options: Swift 3D's polygon-outline redering (lower left) is surrounded by other possible rendering styles.

You can create spheres, cones, 3-D text, and basic animations in Swift 3D, but it's not a full-fledged modeling tool. For this reason, it's especially unfortunate that the only 3-D file format it can import is for a $3,500 Windows NT/2000 product. Although a number of other tools can export to the 3DS format -- and we were able to import the 3DS files that came with Swift 3D -- we had no luck finding a Mac modeling product priced below $1,000 that could export a compatible 3DS file. And if you want your artwork to be interactive, you still have to import it into Flash or Adobe LiveMotion.

Frontiers in Time and Space

Three things to keep in mind if you're considering Swift 3D are rendering time, file size, and RAM. In our tests, a simple animation took ten minutes to render on a G4. That's longer than a similar animation took in other 3-D programs we tested -- not surprising, since Swift 3D renders and analyzes the image to create the vector artwork. The full animation with mesh shading totaled 1.1MB as a SWF file and 100K to 200K in the other rendering modes, still larger than you'd want for a minor element in an online Flash movie.

We observed a number of small but annoying interface anomalies with Swift 3D under OS 9.0.4. More troublesome were the memory problems we encountered when working with moderately complex models: the default view of one model that ships with Swift 3D wouldn't render until we increased the application memory from 150MB to 200MB (Electric Rain suggests 64MB).

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