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3D DIRECT • February 8, 2000

Review:

Compiling Creatures from Components

FXRealm Studios Creature Creator 1.5

by Douglas A. Sahlin

Creature Creator 1.5, the brainchild of FXRealm Studios of Goteborg, Sweden, creates 3D characters by mixing and matching preset body parts. FXRealm markets the program as "Your Personal Mad Scientist Lab." It is available as a plug-in for Caligari trueSpace4.3 (Windows 95/98/NT), NewTek LightWave 3D 5.5 (Windows 95/98/NT, DEC Alpha, and PowerMac), NewTek Inspire 3D (Windows 95/98/NT, DEC Alpha, and PowerMac), Discreet 3D Studio MAX 2.0 and 3.0 (Windows 95/98/NT), Alias|Wavefront Maya 1.x and 2.x (Windows NT), and is also available as a standalone program. The price of the plug-in ranges from $199 for the trueSpace version to $499 for the Maya version. The standalone version retails for $199.

What It Does

Creature Creator's only function is to create 3D characters. A session with Creature Creator consists of mixing and matching various creature presets to create a finished model. The program ships with 500 preset body parts.

Unlike its competitor, MetaCreations Poser 4.0, Creature Creator has no provision to animate the completed characters, nor can it apply surface textures. The characters do not have an inverse kinematics (IK) hierarchy. A model can only be posed one way, with its arms out and its feet spread, a standard starting pose for character animation.

After a model has been created, it can be saved as a Creature Creator project for future editing or exported as a .3ds editable mesh. There are no other export options. The mesh exports as a group of individual body parts which can edited and posed in a full featured 3D program. The exported figures are highly faceted. FXRealm recommends subdividing exported meshes a minimum of three times to increase character smoothness.

FIGURE 1. The Creature Creator interface consists of a large workspace where the creature takes form and five tabs. The Main tab is shown with one of its body parts menus expanded.

Interface Intricacies & Inconsistencies

The interface is a wonderful example of minimalism at work. There are no toolbars to navigate or complicated menu commands to memorize. The interface consists of a large open workspace where the creature is assembled and a menu area to the left with five tabs (Figure 1).

The Project tab takes care of creating, loading, and saving projects, as well as exporting the creature as a 3D mesh. There's also a convenient About button that provides direct links to FXRealm's web site and customer support information.

The Main tab is where the majority of the work is done in Creature Creator. Here you'll find a list of drop-down menus, one for each body part. Click the downward arrow to the menu's right to expand the menu and select a body part, or click the directional arrows to tab through the current menu. After you've added one body part to your model, you then go to the next menu selection to add another.

The Prefs tab allows you to specify paths for program object directories and export directories. There are also options for selecting workspace and mesh colors.

The Edit Body Parts tab lets you customize a mesh by shaping individual body parts (Figure 2). Select a body part from the drop-down menu and its mesh is highlighted in yellow. There are parameter sliders for each axis that scale the entire body part along the selected axis.

FIGURE 2. Three parameters sliders allow you to edit individual body parts.

The last tab is for Clothes, but oddly enough, there are no clothes available for Creature Creator 1.5. This feature will reportedly be available in version 2.0, but there is no sign of an upgrade any time soon.

The user's pointing device doubles as a pan and virtual trackball tool. To pan a model while editing, right-click and drag. To rotate a model during editing, left-click once inside the workspace and drag. A slider at the bottom of the interface is used to zoom in and out on the work in progress. There are three preview modes: smooth shaded, flat shaded, and wireframe.

A Random Creature button generates a model by randomly selecting body parts and aligning them. There are also two buttons labeled OK and Cancel at the bottom of the interface. Oddly, clicking either button terminates the program without giving the option to save the work in progress.

One disturbing feature of the interface is its inability to size to the user's desktop. To view the entire interface, the desktop must be sized at 1152x864. This was confirmed by FXRealm's user support. The parameter sliders for editing body parts are also partially hidden by the workspace, and resizing the workspace is not possible.

I downloaded the demo versions of the trueSpace and MAX Creature Creator plug-ins to see if this interface anomaly is consistent. Due to the limitations of the demo, I was not able to properly test it in MAX 2.5. In trueSpace4.3, however, Creature Creator's plug-in interface expanded beyond the bounds of the host interface at both 800x600 and 1024x768 desktop settings–a most annoying glitch.

The Lowdown

The lack of IK and built-in texturing capabilities limit Creature Creator's effectiveness as a stand-alone program, but that's not really its goal anyway. Some minimal posing capabilities would be a plus, and it would also be beneficial if the program were capable of exporting a finished model as a group of individual body parts. To get the most from Creature Creator, you'll need to import the finished models into a robust 3D environment for subdivision and texturing. Owning a good 3D paint program or having experience with texture mapping is helpful to circumvent the program's complete lack of texturing capabilities.

FIGURE 3. An exported Creature Creator mesh as rendered in 3D Studio MAX. The mesh was subjected to four iterations of smoothing before rendering.

The program may have some vices, but it is not without virtues. The meshes are detailed and blend well to create a finished model (Figure 3). The individual body parts were obviously created by some talented modelers.

Creature Creator shows promise. A 3D hobbyist or graphic artist can mix and match Creature Creator parts, create characters, and export them as scene objects in a full-featured 3D program. If the program the model is imported into has Bones capabilities, the model can be posed or animated.

For graphics professionals seeking a standalone program for character creation, there are better ways to go. For hobbyists seeking an easy way to populate 3D scenes with goons, ghouls, and aliens, Creature Creator may just be the answer.

Doug Sahlin is a writer, digital artist, and web site designer living in Central Florida. Doug's first book, Carrara 1.0 Bible (IDG Books), will be published in March, 2000. You can contact him via e-mail at [email protected].

Sources

Creature Creator 1.5 • $199
FXRealm Studios
+46-0031-191085 (Sweden) • www.fxrealm.com, [email protected]
System Requirements:
Windows 95/98/NT, OpenGL drivers, CD-ROM, 5MB hard drive space.