Flash animations have become ubiquitous on the Web, so we liked the idea behind Electric Rain’s Swift 3D, an easy-to-use, stand-alone design program that lets you easily create and render 3-D animations and graphics in Flash format (SWF). We found, however, that the primary strength of Swift 3D 3, the company’s latest release, was not its ability to create 3-D art but rather its ability to output 3-D art directly into vector-based Flash files. The program intelligently renders various colors as discrete solid shapes, and it can even stroke the edges of shapes with colored outlines for a pleasing cartoonish treatment.
Intended mainly for Web designers who don’t need the complexity of a more expensive, higher-end 3-D package, Swift 3D 3 boasts a new ray-trace renderer, as well as a new importer for Macromedia Flash MX format, called SWFT, which even renders various components of an animation or image into separate layers that you can script individually. This is great when you want to animate those components or imbue them with interactivity from within the Flash MX–authoring environment without boosting file sizes.
In spite of Swift 3D 3’s additions and its ability to render high-quality 3-D Flash files from existing 2-D designs, we found the program hard to embrace. It’s disappointing that Electric Rain has made no public announcement about moving to OS X, so you’ll have to run the program either in OS 9 or in OS X’s Classic mode, where its performance is unimpressive. For example, moving cameras and objects — even with only a handful of objects in a scene — is slow enough to interfere with the design process.
For artists accustomed to a more feature-rich 3-D application such as Eovia’s Carrara Studio 2 (Reviews, November 2002), Swift 3D’s modeling and scene-creation tools pale in comparison. The modeler limits you to primitive 3-D shapes such as cubes and polyhedrons, and simple extrusions and revolves of Bezier paths, which you can draw in Swift 3D or import from Adobe Illustrator, EPS, or SVG (scalable vector graphics) files into Swift 3D. This set of modeling tools is adequate for producing basic 3-D logos and simple geometric shapes — staples for Web designers — but you’ll be hard pressed to create anything beyond cookie-cutter 3-D designs. Fortunately, Swift 3D does let you import 3-D models in DXF format, so you can use 3-D objects created in other applications or purchased from third-party developers, but we’re skeptical of supposedly stand-alone design tools that force you to either do the bulk of your creation in another program or buy your content from other sources.
For Web artists who need to do raster-style rendering and vector-based art, version 3 includes a ray-trace renderer. However, with the program’s minimal modeling, lighting, and scene-building tools and capabilities, you shouldn’t expect a lot of realism from your final products, even though Swift 3D has an otherwise decent-quality rendering engine. On the other hand, version 3 has vastly improved Flash rendering and allows transparent shadow effects and even reflections.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Swift 3D does a fine job of outputting good-looking Flash renderings, but in a world where rendering is only the final step of the creation process, the software’s 3-D tools barely live up to the challenge. If you already have 2-D vector art or 3-D models in DXF format created elsewhere and simply want to render them in Flash format, then Swift 3D 3 is a good choice.