By Jeff Paries
Known previously as Real 3D, Realsoft 3D, a modeling, animation, and rendering package from Realsoft Graphics Oy, underwent a complete rewrite as well as a name change to avoid conflicts with a graphics accelerator manufacturer. Today, the $700 program boasts a new open design as well as NURBS modeling tools, advanced animation capability, and 3D painting tools, among other features. The software currently is available for Windows platforms, however Linux and SGI versions were scheduled for availability in the near future.
The most important innovation of Version 4 is its open design. For example, at the highest level, a new user can blend existing materials to achieve new combinations by dragging and dropping multiple materials from the material library onto a target object, and controlling the materials through a compact set of controls. Visual Shading Language (VSL) wizards and templates handle the details of shader construction. Beyond this, power users can implement unique shading effects and customize the rendering pipeline thoroughly by including suitable VSL elements into the materials. More adventurous types can implement and plug in material effects through the open API using standard C/C++ programming tools.
|Realsoft allows users to make models with subdivision surfaces and particles. (copyright Gunnar Radeloff/Magna Mana Productions)|
Another innovation partly related to the software's open design is the modular design of the GUI. Realsoft 3D has a completely configurable user interface that makes it possible to start using the program with just its basic, easy-to-use tools. As you gain skill and knowledge, you can add more advanced tools to the working environment.
The software also offers features such as compass menus; rational subdivision surfaces featuring creases, point weights, and an unlimited number of channels per vertex; NURBS modeling (the software previously offered B-spline modeling tools); construction history; metaballs; advanced choreography animation; advanced skeletons; post effects; 3D painting; dynamics; and particles.
Subdivision surface modeling enables you to model complex organic shapes without much thought for the details of the underlying mesh; you do the modeling, the software does the work. The subdivision surface modeling in OpenGL rendering mode is especially impressive, enabling you to easily see and manipulate the wireframe overlay on the shaded model.
Equally impressive are the particle and dynamics systems within Realsoft 3D. The dynamics system incorporates rigid and soft body dynamics, which solve quickly and accurately and enable you to incorporate real-world physics to control motion and collisions between objects. Some available physics options include mass, electric charge, surface friction, rebound energy, elasticity, rigidity, inertia, center of gravity, velocity, and spin. The simulations of dynamics incorporate gravity, magnetism, and fluid dynamics, as well as explosions.
None of the features listed above would be worth much if the end result from the renderer weren't of high quality. With 64-bit-per-channel raytracing and scanline rendering, however, there's nothing to worry about. The renderer offers control over ray recursion, fields, volumetric effects, multiple reflection/refractions, and the level, mode, and threshold of antialiasing. I found it easy to achieve excellent results. The software is fully multi-threaded, supporting symmetric multiprocessing and cross-platform distributed network rendering to produce completed frames as quickly as possible.
One of the few aspects of the program that I found bothersome were some of the default keyboard shortcuts. For example, toggling F2 causes the Select Window to show or hide (the Windows default for pressing F2 is Rename). While using the program, I found myself constantly hiding the Select Window accidentally, and then wondering what I did wrong. Likewise, the default keyboard shortcut to add a distant light source is SS (ALT+0167), which doesn't exist in key form on an English keyboard. Fortunately, the keys can be reprogrammed easily.
In addition, because Version 4 is a complete rewrite and still new, you might find yourself wanting specialized tools to perform certain tasks, such as creating plants or trees. As of yet, few such tools have been developed, so you'll need to model and animate such objects on your own for a while until some third-party developers have the opportunity to augment the program.
Overall, however, you will find, as I did, that Realsoft 3D v4 is an excellent addition to your toolbox at a reasonable price.
A site builder for a global interactive agency in Portland, Oregon, Jeff Paries has written three books on Hash Inc.'s Animation:Master.
Minimum system requirements: Windows 95/2000/NT; Intel Pentium; 64MB of RAM
Realsoft Graphics Oy