Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 9 (September 2001)

Pulse Animation Studio

By Michael Hurwicz

Pulse Entertainment develops three products for creating and viewing interactive streaming 3D content on the Web: Creator 4.3, for authoring; Producer 4.4, for ex porting content from Discreet's 3ds max; and Player 3.3, a browser plug-in. Collectively, they form Pulse Animation Studio. Each of the Studio products is free as a download-fees commence only when content created with Pulse is published.

The Creator authoring tool works with DXF, VRML 2.0, and 3ds max files. After importing them, you can manipulate the files using Creator's tools for bone deformation, lip synching, morphing, UV texture mapping, rendering, lighting, and animation. Creator also comes with a library of scripts, or you can create your own using Pulse Script, a proprietary, Java-like language for customizing interactivity. You can also customize through JavaScript/ Java.

Creator allows you to create and trigger unlimited behaviors independently, or use the behavior editor to modify and save each behavior separately. You can then define the behaviors to trigger at runtime via JavaScript, user input, or messages sent from other objects or events. You also can add and synch audio files to animations.
With Pulse's technology, users can create and view a variety of interactive streaming 3D content on the Web.

When content is finalized, you save the project and Creator compresses the assets, encrypting them for protection against unauthorized use, then compiles them into Pulse's .pwc (Pulse Web Content) file format for Web deployment.

Producer is designed for 3ds max users who want to publish content to the Web. After you've built elements in max, you use Producer to convert them into a Pulse-compatible format. Producer will export object hierarchies, colors, animations, cameras, and target morphs, so you can create lip-synch and facial expressions on your Web-based characters. Plus, it supports Discreet's character studio 2.2 and the Max R3 Morpher modifier, and it maintains biped structures and bones that control skin deformations.

The final product, Player, is a browser plug-in that enables users to view and interact with Pulse-created content.

Overall, the Pulse technology boasts several capabilities, including inverse kinematics, interactive behaviors, and lip-synching, that make it useful for Web-based 3D character animation. Other features such as antialiasing, reflection mapping, and bump mapping allow for realistic effects. It's all done with math built into the Player, so sophisticated behaviors and effects usually require very little extra connection bandwidth.

These capabilities give Pulse advantages over competitors such as Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Shout3D. The former develops B3D, a favorite for creating episodic, interactive 3D cartoons with multiple story paths; however, B3D doesn't measure up to Pulse in character animation or in realistic, interactive 3D objects. The latter provides a Java-based 3D rendering and interaction technology called Shout3D. But although Shout3D requires a standard Java Virtual Machine rather than a proprietary 3D player, JVMs aren't always compatible.

From a marketing perspective, the most direct competitor is Macromedia. Already the superpower of Web-based motion graphics thanks to its Flash player, Macromedia recently added 3D capabilities to its Director 8.5 authoring tool. Because today there is no widely used standard Web 3D format, the Director 3D format (W3D) could become a de facto standard.

Another giant entering the 3D Web authoring market is Adobe, with Atmosphere. Although a latecomer to the Web, Adobe is a leader in motion graphics with Premiere and After Effects, so it will be interesting to see how its product measures up over time.

Despite its power, Pulse has a few drawbacks. For example, Creator is a complex application with a unique interface and workflow. Getting good with it could take a user weeks or even months.

Producer is easier to use; you just define which objects and animation sequences you want to export, assign light maps, configure export options, and ex port. But it has some limitations. For instance, although Producer exports 3ds max models and behaviors as Pulse content, Pulse doesn't support raytracing, particles, motion blur, or shadow casting, so you can't export these from max.

These drawbacks aside, the technology is excellent in its design and the results it produces. If you need to create interactive 3D Web content, Pulse should be on your short list of tools to consider.

Michael Hurwicz is a writer and animator. You can contact him at

Price: Free downloads; fees to publish content start at $2500 per year.

Minimum System Requirements: Creator: 266MHz Pentium; 64MB of RAM. Producer: 200MHz Pentium; 3ds max 3 or 4; 128MB of RAM. Player: 166MHz Pentium or Mac PowerPC; 16MB of RAM.