The latest animation export from Japan isn't a movie starring cute creatures with magical powers, but you could make such a movie with ETShade Pro R4/E, from Japan-based ExpressionTools. This 3-D-modeling, -rendering, and -animation program simplifies the production process more than its closest competitor, Eovia's Amapi 3D (Reviews, October 2001), does. But ETShade is limited compared with the more powerful-albeit more expensive-NewTek LightWave and Maxon Cinema 4D.
Keeping It Simple
ETShade's modeling tools generate 3-D objects from simple Bézier curves. Working with these splines is similar to editing curved objects in Adobe Illustrator; in fact, ETShade imports EPS files from Illustrator, as well as files in DXF and LightWave format. The program's straightforward interface simplifies the learning process for 3-D novices, although its reliance on a multitude of floating palettes creates annoying screen clutter.
To form 3-D shapes, you group splines into a curved surface and then convert curved-surface objects into polygons at whatever resolution you choose. ETShade is intelligent enough to insert splines automatically after you add new points to a curve.
Although ETShade's animation tools are logical, they're a bit unconventional. The program relies on objects called Joints; they're the only objects you can animate, so anything that moves in a scene must be linked to them. This approach makes sense for character animation, but it means that correctly setting up mechanical animations requires extra work. A major fault in ETShade's animation tools is the absence of curve-tangent handles on keyframes; the program offers only Slow In/Slow Out adjustment sliders.
ETShade's Phong shader is quick but doesn't render shadows, making it impractical for creating final images. Two ray-tracing modes produce stunning images, but at print or video resolution they take three or four times as long as the Phong shader to render.
Macworld's Buying Advice
ETShade Pro R4/E's ease of use and gentle learning curve make it a great beginner's tool for 3-D novices. (Amapi 3D offers more modeling features and costs half as much, but it's more difficult to learn.) If you're a 3-D professional, you'll appreciate ETShade's rapid modeling and simple workflow for quick-turnaround projects, though you may find its animation tools lacking. But if you use OS X, you'll have to wait until at least the end of the year for a Carbonized version.Group Effort ETShade Pro R4/E generates curved surfaces from groups of splines.