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REVIEW • June 12, 2001

Amorphium Pro

by Chris Manners

  • Electric Image, $249

  • 3D Modeling and Animation Tool
System Requirements

PC: Windows 95, 98, 2000, or NT 4.0; Pentium 133MHz with 64MB RAM; 32MB to 189MB hard disk space; 16-bit graphics card.

Mac: OS 8.6 or later; PowerMac processor or faster; 64MB RAM; 32MB to 189MB hard disk space; 16-bit graphics card.


Score: 3.0

Pros
Cons
Bottom Line
Interesting and unique sculptural mode of operation. Great for creating organic shapes and 3D Flash content.
Workflow and interface remain idiosyncratic. Lacks precise controls.
An interesting addition to a 3D toolkit, particularly for creating 3D Flash content. Not sufficiently powerful to be the only tool in the box, though.

Amorphium Pro has come a long way from its Kai Krause-inspired origins. Electric Image has stripped out a large amount of the old interface and replaced it with a set of tools that are more standard, though they remain somewhat idiosyncratic. What this means is that the work-flow and some of the iconography remain similar, but the program has had a thorough facelift.

Nonetheless, Amorphium Pro remains the same tool at its core: It's a unique organic modeler that is suitable for a mode of work that's like sculpting. Some powerful new features have also been added to make the tool a more professional 3D application.

Amorphium Pro is targeted at 2D artists who want to enter into the realm of 3D, and as such it has been designed to be as intuitive as possible. To that end, the entire program takes up the entire workspace (presumably to avoid distractions), and is extremely modal.

Only one type of task can be performed at a time, and each type of task has its own module that you must enter to perform an action. These modules—which include areas for masking, painting, applying effects, modifying polygons, and other tasks—run across the head of the interface.

Figure 1: Amorphium Pro's Composer module is active in this image. The Object transform, Camera transform, and Heirarchy tabs have been detached from the left-hand toolbar and moved around freely.

The layout and design of the interface is non-standard (see Figure 1). With the exception of the Projects tab, there are no pulldown menus at the head of the screen. Instead, the headings take you into each individual module. Initially this can be confusing, particularly because the standard File and Edit menus don't exist. In fact, the common copying commands (the Mac Command+C and Windows Control+C) don't actually copy anything—instead they close your current project. For an application that's supposed to be intuitive, Amorphium's divergence from standard OS operating commands and interface traditions isn't helpful.

The modules—Project, Tasks, Mask, Tools, FX, HeightShop, Morph, Paint, Mapper, Material, BioSpheres, Wax, and Composer—contain tools that appear on the left side of the screen. Some of these tools include multiple options, whose tabs can be removed and placed anywhere on the screen.

The program now also provides quad views and supports OpenGL, which updates the canvas more speedily than the proprietary SoftDraw engine provided by the application.

New features

Amorphium Pro's animation capabilities have been completely revamped. It's now possible to create an unlimited number of keyframes, animate more than only a single object, and create parent objects that can be animated with children in tow.

A new feature called Wax, represented by its own module, has been introduced. This tool Adds, Smoothes, or Subtracts polygons in a manner similar to molding wax. It's great for adding noses and other appendages to character models. But Wax doesn't have a symmetry option, an oversight that makes it more difficult than it should be to create things like ears. However, the Potter's Wheel feature, which spins the model as if it were on a wheel, is an impressive concept that makes it easy to preview a model quickly from all angles within a variety of the modules.

A key feature of Amorphium Pro is its ability to import and export to a wide variety of the most common 3D file formats, including FACT, LWO, 3DS, OBJ, and DXF. The program's EPS support lets users import and extrude Illustrator files. The program integrates well with other 3D applications, which is great because it's really more of an addition to a 3D toolkit than a core element of one. Perhaps the most dramatic addition is support for the SWF Flash file format. It's possible to export an animation (or still, for that matter) as a native Flash file and then import the file into Macromedia Flash for further development. The rendering options cover a variety of styles, including drawing outlines, wireframes, and shading objects (with either gradients or a flat-cartoon style). Specular highlights can also be added to the final Flash file, and Amorphium also includes the ability to output soft shadows to the vector formats.

The addition of Boolean tools gives you the ability to create objects with hard edges—something the original program had considerable trouble doing. Amorphium Pro's masking tools for painting on objects remain a solid feature, and texture capabilities now include the ability to apply a number of procedural textures, as well as JPG or PCT texture maps (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Masking module. In this example, a mask has been created so that the brim of a hat can be painted without coloring the crown. The brushes (on the right) are all customizable.

One standout component of the application is that you can set up Morph targets between objects with different numbers of vertices—a feature that even some of the higher-end packages have had trouble developing. Amorphium now supports multiple light sources and a decimation function that acts as a polygon reduction tool. When this reduction scheme is used in combination with masks, it can reduce the number of polygons on a specific portion of a model. To cap off all of these new features, Radiosity rendering has been added. Although it's processor intensive, it generates high-quality results.

Unfortunately, though, there are some serious omissions. First, the program doesn't have grouping capa-bilities. Although it's possible to parent objects and move them as a set, you can't apply a single texture to multiple objects in one step.

Second, the lack of copy and paste features is perhaps even more serious. It's not possible to paste a texture from one object onto another, for example.

Conclusion

Amorphium Pro is evolving from an organic modeler to a more complete 3D tool. The new Flash export tools also widen its user base.

Similarly, Amorphium Pro's ability to extrude EPS files, animate them, and render out QuickTime files or image sequences makes it a useful addition to a video editing toolkit, while its organic tools are also great for adding realistic imperfections to objects. So while the program may not be the best application for a newcomer to the 3D world, it's a handy addition to an experienced designer's armory.

Chris Manners is the design director at LimeVoodoo, a San Francisco-based digital design studio.

(This article first appeared in DV, August 2001.)