LightWave 3D Version 8
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 10 (October 2004)

LightWave 3D Version 8

In the beginning, a.k.a. the early 1990s, there was the Commodore Amiga, NewTek Video Toaster, and LightWave 3D. Hollywood saw it, and it was good. The Amiga is gone and Toaster is now on the PC, but the LightWave 3D animation and graphics program continues to be refined and improved.

LightWave 3D's greatest strength is its flexibility and versatility. Whether for modeling, texturing, scene layout, image correction, titling, or animation, the program suits a broad range of users in a wide variety of disciplines, including the print design and manufacturing industries. LightWave 3D is an affordable software package that can create whatever the designer's mind conjures. And that's especially true with Version 8.

Of all the 3D tools in my arsenal, LightWave has the cleanest and most user-friendly interface.

Installation was straightforward. I tested the program on a Mac G4 equipped with a 1ghz CPU and Mac OS.X Version 10.3.3. Software piracy, unfortunately, is rampant, so LightWave 8 ships with a USB dongle. While I understand and support the need for NewTek's developers to protect their hard work, I believe there has to be a better way. At the very least, I'd prefer a dongle that has a pass-through, so other USB devices can be used.

LightWave 3D Version 8 makes a great impression right out of the box. The package includes four CD-ROMs, including two discs of content, as well as a bonus CD of useful third-party plug-ins. The Getting Started guide and the full printed manual, which weighs in at a whopping 1500-plus pages, is comprehensive and includes several well-written tutorials to get you up to speed on using the tools. Those who purchase the electronic upgrade version (for $495) receive a PDF of the manual.

This latest release features several enhancements, the best of which is its improved stability. At the same time, LightWave has been optimized for speed via its support for the OpenGL standard. I experienced fewer crashes than with previous versions. The user interface is more intuitive, and the new menu layout felt more natural. Menu and interface refinements make things cleaner and more standard. One trait that I've always appreciated is the ability to configure the menu layout and hot keys any way you'd like so you can work the way you want.

New users or those working with earlier versions of the software are really in luck with the new real-time Help system, perfect for any beginner. With the push of a button, you have access to a large searchable database with an easy-to-navigate index and a full glossary of 3D terms. It's very handy indeed. The program also gained Autosave, which will save your work at any given point automatically—a useful tool for those 3 a.m. render sessions.

Version 8 also sports an improved work flow in Layout and Modeler, thanks in part to a new Bridge tool that allows one object to be pasted to another and unlimited layers. Yet, it is in the area of character animation where LightWave really shines. Setup and control of character animation is now faster, more flexible, and more intuitive than ever before. When it comes to character animation, NewTek has been listening to its users. Faster features like Bones, IK and FK functions, and soft- and rigid-body dynamics will have you making realistic little green men in no time.

Using fast dynamics and inverse kinematics, the software now automatically responds with real-world physics, motions, and reactions when one object strikes another. Import and export functions for character rigs have been improved, enabling you not only to apply old rigs to new meshes, but also cut, paste, or adjust the hierarchies of objects or characters easily.

LightWave 3D Version 8 is for virtually anyone involved in the creation and animation of characters. For me, the ability to switch from a single- to a quad-window view and back again quickly and without having to change the display menu parameters is a godsend. I can immediately see the object I'm modeling from three different angles. This feature alone is worth the price of the upgrade for me. For current users, the speed, real-time preview, and production flow enhancements make the upgrade worthwhile.

No amount of software horsepower will replace visual talent, but with some effort, learning, and NewTek's new LightWave 3D 8 animation software, almost anyone can create television network-caliber work.

Tom Patrick McAuliffe, a writer and video creator living in Hawaii, can be reached via e-mail at

Price: $1595
Minimum System Requirements: 230mb of hard-drive space, 512mb of RAM, 64mb of video RAM, Mac OS 10.3.3 with G4 CPU or Windows 2000 or XP with Intel Pentium 4 and DirectX