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Amorphium's packaging tells you everything you need to know about the software. The blurb describes it as "Real Time 3D Sculpting and Painting," and sure enough, you can poke and prod fully rendered 3-D forms, paint on their surfaces, and view the changes instantaneously. The artwork on the box appears molded out of plastic, and rounded, rubbery figures are precisely the kind of images at which Amorphium excels. Even the name of the vendor, Play, is appropriate. The same company sells the high-end ElectricImage Animation System, but Play fits Amorphium like a latex glove. You'll have a ball experimenting with the program, but its emphasis on brush controls in lieu of construction tools makes creating predictable artwork difficult.

Amorphium provides several ways to create 3-D forms. For starters, the program invites you to mold a shape as if it were a lump of putty. After loading a primitive–such as a sphere, a cylinder, or a doughnut–you can use different brush tips to bore holes, draw spikes, and carve grooves. The object reacts immediately, but it's often hard to gauge the effects of your edits because you're brushing directly into the shape. A long protrusion can look like a small pimple when viewed straight on. And if you bore too deeply, Amorphium will create a spike on the opposite side.

The problem is magnified by Amorphium's single-level undo. If you make a series of bad edits, you can cancel only the last one. As a result, it's a good idea to rotate the shape frequently so you can judge your edits from multiple angles. The program offers an optional second view–for observing edits from the side, for example–but it's awfully small.

To make painting easier, Amorphium offers a set of sophisticated symmetry controls, which are useful for shaping faces and other regular images. You can also choose from an assortment of distortion effects that stretch, twirl, and reshape the object. To apply an effect, you drag on a command name as if it were an invisible slider bar. The process is intuitive, but old-fashioned numerical fields that remember your last settings would be more useful.

You can also reshape objects by applying a height map–a gray-scale image that molds the object inward and outward according to shadows and highlights.

The best creation tool, though, is biospheres, magnetic balls that fuse into one another. These are great for shaping fingers, arms, necks, and other appendages. It would be nice if you could use biocones, biocubes, and other connecting shapes, but Amorphium generously lets you adjust the roundness of each ball to avoid the knuckle-like ribbing that would otherwise appear.

If you've ever used a 3-D rendering program, you know how difficult it is to assign multiple colors to a model. Amorphium makes it easy. At any time in the sculpting phase, you can switch to the Paint&Optics mode and paint colors directly onto the object. You see exactly where the colors go and how they reflect and refract light.

The program also offers straightforward morphing and animation controls. Creating a 3-D movie is as simple as modifying an object, repositioning it in the Composer view, and clicking on a keyframe icon. Amorphium automatically generates the intermediate shapes between the keyframes to create the effect of continuous motion. You can then render your composition as an animated GIF file or QuickTime movie.

Although you can modify paint, shape, and distortion attributes from one keyframe to the next, you can animate just one object per movie. Sadly, this single-object constraint holds true throughout the program. When editing an object, you see that single shape and no other. To view how multiple objects interact, you have to switch to the Composer view, which lets you adjust the placement of objects in a wire-frame mode and then preview the rendered shapes in a separate step (see "Extra Dimensional"). If you don't like what you see, it's back to the wire-frame mode or single-object view for additional editing.

Amorphium takes over your screen and hides all other applications, including the Finder. A button lets you switch to the Finder and hide the Amorphium window, but there's no way to switch directly to some other application. If this sounds reminiscent of Kai's Power Tools, that's because Amorphium owes much of its implementation to various MetaCreations programs. Play even goes so far as to tout its own ready-made guru, the slinky Kiki.

If you liked Kai's Power Tools, you'll think Amorphium is the cat's polymer pajamas. But if you found that KPT did more to impair your productivity than enhance it, Amorphium will likewise get in your face. I come down somewhere in between. Although its approach is too whimsical to make it much use to professionals, Amorphium is a wonderfully addictive recess tool.


3.5 mice
PROS: Highly responsive; offers fully rendered preview mode; has intuitive painting and animation controls. CONS: Single-level undo; interface takes over screen; can edit and animate just one object at a time. COMPANY: Play (916/851-0800, ). LIST PRICE: $149.95.

August 1999 page: 37

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