Get ready to start seeing more of 3-D. Just as PageMaker brought drop shadows and multiple fonts to the masses, MetaCreations’ Canoma 1.0 brings effective, high-quality 3-D stills and animations to anyone with a Power Mac and $499. Although it won’t help you model organic shapes or finely detailed geometry, Canoma does let you create stunning 3-D architecture, interior scenes, and simple geometric renderings and output them as stills or animations. Best of all, you’ll do most of the work with a still camera or paintbrush rather than complex 3-D-modeling tools.
Even though it sports an interface inspired by Kai’s Power Tools, Canoma is fairly unique among MetaCreations products in that it’s easy to use. None of the tools are hidden, and you probably won’t have to return to the poorly written manual after the first read.
To begin working in Canoma, you import a bitmapped imagea scanned photo or paintingof the scene you want to render. Canoma displays the image in its single window and presents you with a simple palette of 3-D primitives, such as cubes, pyramids, cropped pyramids, and planes, containing tools for constructing your scene’s geometry.
To model the scene, you pick out a shape in your image and then select a 3-D primitive of similar geometry. Using a simple pointer tool, you drag the corners of the primitive to “pin” them to the corners of the object in your image. Canoma uses the primitive’s geometry to calculate focal length, perspective, camera angle, and interobject relationships and then maps your image onto the object. When you switch from Edit to View mode, you can rotate and move your object with its texture-mapped surfaces (a technology known as camera mapping).
Although the results are startlingly effective, if you rotate your image too far from its original location you’ll notice artifacts. The image looks like what it is: an object with pictures pasted to its sides. And anything that protrudes from the modelbalconies on a building, for examplewon’t rotate or scale with the proper perspective. To improve your model and give the rest of your scene more detail, you must add more geometry.
Behind the Scenes
Fortunately, MetaCreations has included some excellent features and tools to streamline modeling. By default, you create primitives on the ground plane, but it’s easy to stack a new primitive on top of the previously selected one. You can also duplicate primitives with or without the same orientation as the previous object.
But Canoma’s best tool is one you can’t see. As soon as you begin placing objects, Canoma starts calculating focal length, perspective, vanishing points, and camera angle and applies these calculations to new objects. And the program is amazingly accurate: after you pin just one or two corners of an object, you’ll find the program has already calculated the other corners correctly.
Still, we’d like to see a few more primitives (especially curvy ones; trying to model domes or turrets is a tricky process). And because it can be hard to understand Canoma’s 3-D space, the addition of multiple views would ease approximate placement of objects.
Since a photo typically shows only one or two sides of an object, when you spin the rendered object around the other sides are blank. Fortunately, Canoma’s powerful texturing tools can duplicate textures symmetrically onto blank faces. You can add more photos to fill in missing detail; you tell Canoma how to use them by pinning your existing model to the new image. The program can also interpolate missing pixels to fill in blank spaces. Though these areas appear smeared and washed out, the overall effect is fine.
To alter or paint on your source image, click on a textured surface; Canoma opens that texture in your image-editing application with all perspective removed. After you finish painting and editing and return to Canoma, the new image is applied automatically.
In addition to touching up your image, you can define an alpha channel to mask out unwanted objects, such as power lines or telephone poles. When Canoma renders the scene, it fills in the masked section with detail from another shot (one in which the telephone pole isn’t visible, for example).
Canoma can output still images; QuickTime movies; and using MetaCreations’ MetaStream format, streaming 3-D objects. The program can also export geometry in OBJ, DXF, TrueSpace, and VRML 2 format and textures as a series of JPEG files. You may have to do some work in a 3-D application to figure out where the textures go on your model, but for complex scenes this method is still faster than starting from scratch. Canoma is a great tool for serious 3-D users who need a camera-mapping (or an easier-to-use camera-mapping) tool.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Canoma 1.0 is simply breathtaking software. Although the camera-mapping effect is nothing new, it’s astonishingly easy to use. Even without a full complement of modeling primitives and navigation tools, Canoma is a fun, powerful, capable program for anyone who wants to delve into 3-D.