DATELINE: January 1999 Issue
Industrial-Strength 3-D Graphics Tool, Even Without ModelerBy David Biedny
With a vast number of major motion-picture and broadcast special effects to its credit, ElectricImage has established itself as the state-of-the-art 3-D graphics program for the Mac-even if it does cost more than most CPUs. The latest version still lacks an integrated modeler, but with version 2.8’s new features and tweaks of existing ones, ElectricImage remains the best Mac-based rendering and animation tool for production professionals.
Relief in Changes
The ElectricImage interface’s many improvements will be welcome to longtime users. For example, the new Selection Set feature lets you group subsets of object parameters, a critical addition for managing scenes with large numbers of objects and textures. Grouped objects can now have bones that allow you to deform them, an important feature for making characters walk and move.
You get two flavors of morphing. One requires the source and target objects to have the identical polygon and vertex count. The more-powerful and -flexible multitarget polygon morphing lets you select subgroups of polygons for morphing, a crucial feature for facial animation.
ElectricImage’s animation controls still define the standard for Mac-based 3-D graphics and include a new Function Curve Editor, which delivers extremely fine control over advanced keyframe and animation parameters.
Texture handling has received perhaps the most attention in this upgrade, bringing it up to truly professional standards. You can apply an unlimited number of texture maps per object; advanced texture caching handles memory overflows that would plague lesser rendering environments. Displacement mapping allows an imported gray-scale image to distort an object’s shape, yielding amazing special effects. For example, you can animate the displacement amount to have one shape “grow” out of another. (Displacement mapping is different from bump mapping, which adds the appearance of surface deformations without changing the object’s geometry.)
The texture-map interface has been overhauled and is much more straightforward than in previous versions. New procedural textures-such as woods, stones, and rust-are a welcome addition, but they still pale in comparison with those found in MetaCreations’ Bryce 3D. However, ElectricImage cannot preview texture maps in its working windows. The program does not support OpenGL or QuickDraw 3D, either of which would permit limited texture previews.
Rendering has been speeded up, although by how much varies, depending on polygon counts, volumetric lights, and texture settings. A new depth-of-field capability adds to realism by automatically applying specific levels of blurring as objects recede from the camera.
ElectricImage is available in separate editions for film and broadcast production. The broadcast edition is limited to supporting video resolutions; the film version supports the higher resolutions used in motion pictures.