form-Z 3.0

auto-des-sys's form-Z, with its strong feature set and range of geometry-creation capabilities, has long been the high-end modeling package to beat on the Macintosh. Version 3.0.2 expands form-Z's modeling prowess in both obvious and subtle ways, and it offers (at a price) an improved renderer that delivers a degree of realism not previously attainable without a separate rendering program. It's not designed to appeal to the 3-D novice, but the many enhancements will please advanced users.


form-Z's forte has always been 3-D modeling, and this revision brings a variety of enhancements to the drafting table. Unlike previous versions, form-Z 3.0 supports true NURBS (nonuniform rational B-spline) objects. In addition, the program now lets you mix and match editing modes regardless of how the objects were created–for example, you can easily convert a cylindrical shape created as a basic primitive into a NURBS or patch object (one that can be broken into nonuniform constituent chunks). Version 3.0 supports the full range of patch operations, including custom subdivisions and attaching and stitching patches. Spline handling has also been beefed up with B-splines and quadratic and cubic Bézier splines for creating complex shapes. These major improvements–combined with an already potent variety of modeling tools–solidify form-Z's position as the most capable 3-D modeling package for the Macintosh.

Some of the more subtle improvements in the modeling realm include support for skinning between sources that have different numbers of vertex points and the ability to preview the expanded alignment options–for example, you can select different alignment modes for a set of selected objects, and form-Z interactively displays the objects with the selected alignment settings. The new hierarchical layering and manipulation features are tremendously useful for editing and managing complex objects made up of many smaller parts.

Version 3.0's interface, although it still takes some effort to master, is more intuitive for the production-minded 3-D artist and a bit more approachable for new users. For example, it's more customizable; you can edit the core tool palettes to display only the items you use the most, and arrange tools in any combination. The new Options palette displays most of a selected object's vital statistics–a simple task that required bringing up a dialog box in previous versions–and lets you edit object parameters. Overall, this version seems more accessible than previous ones, even though learning the program still requires a substantial investment of time and effort.


In the rendering arena, form-Z's improvements include new shaders for rendering snow, fog, and volumetric lighting–welcome additions for architectural applications. An optional module, RadioZity, offers strikingly realistic radiosity rendering (which simulates light energy in a scene, resulting in much more realistic shadow and color detail than ray tracing can offer). If you need ray-tracing capabilities, you have to purchase the RenderZone module.

It's also important to note that RadioZity, while delivering very high rendering quality, is simply not fast enough for even the most basic camera animation–for example, flying around a building that is illuminated by more than a couple of light sources would take an inordinate amount of time to render. This is not a limitation of form-Z or RadioZity's implementation of radiosity rendering; the complex calculations that radiosity requires are simply too much for anything more complicated than a still image frame.

Although objects and scenes are usually best exported to a separate animation program (such as Electric Image's ElectricImage), form-Z now offers basic tools for animating the camera in a scene. These tools allow you to create fly-throughs of 3-D scenarios and form-Z documents. Unfortunately, because you can't do anything more -complex (such as moving the actual objects in a scene), you still need an external animation program for anything but the simplest tasks.

This requirement is a drawback for anyone seeking a one-stop solution for 3-D animation; on the other hand, form-Z's intended audience is clearly more interested in industrial-strength modeling than in advanced animation. But the relatively high price of the rendering options, combined with form-Z's limited animation controls, still force serious users to buy a separate rendering and animation program–not an attractive option for those on a budget.


form-Z remains the most powerful, flexible 3-D modeler for the Macintosh. Although better object animation would have been welcome, form-Z has never been billed as an animation package. The bottom line: if you can't model something in form-Z, chances are you can't model it on a Macintosh.

RATING:

4.5 mice
PROS: Useful additions to modeler; true NURBS support; customizable interface; enhanced scene-organization tools. CONS: Animation limited to camera movement; expensive rendering options. COMPANY: auto-des-sys (614/488-8838, http://www.formz.com ). LIST PRICE: $1,495; with RenderZone, $1,995; with RadioZity and RenderZone, $2,390.

June 1999 page: 36

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