The Third Dimension
Four hundred years late; its time to go beyond perspective:
3-D graphics on the desktop are here.

Ever since the 16th century, when painters started using
perspective, graphic artists have struggled to cram our
three-dimensional world into a flat, two-dimensional space
╤whether that space was a canvas or a color monitor.
Artists have always longed for a way to stick their hands
into their work to create and manipulate a realistic, three-
dimensional world, but until recently that capability has
been beyond their grasp. The arrival of 3-D-graphics ap-
plications, however, has finally given them the tools
they need.
The 3-D products reviewed here are primarily visualiza-
tion tools intended for illustration and animation, not the
numerical accuracy that's required in CAD software, for
instance. (CAD software offers the precision needed for
manufacturing, but in contrast to 3-D-graphics applica-
tions, CAD packages tend to have more-limited rendering
and animation capabilities.)

  The 3-D Program Market
The interest in Mac 3-D visuali~ation software is much
more intense than you might imagine╤at least judging
by the plethora of 3-D programs available. We've divided
the potential market into beginning, intermediate, and
advanced users (see Table 1).
You need at least a Macintosh II-class machine to do
any serious 3-D modeling and rendering. Generally,
Quadras are the machines of choice, because you want the
fastest machine you can get.

  Going to Work
Typical 3-D creative sessions can be broken down into
three separate stages:
Ñ Modeling: creating the basic shapes, or skeletons, of
3-D objects.
Ñ Rendering: specifying surface attributes and textures,
lighting, and camera attributes.
Ñ Animation: adding motion to objects and lights in
order to create a sequence of moving images.
Not all programs offer a full set of modeling, rendering,
and animation features, and price point does not really
play a role in the equation. Table 2 outlines the various
programs' capabilities.

  Modeling: Making the World
All the programs that include modeling enable you to
create basic primitive shapes (cubes, spheres, and cylin-
ders) and use basic tools such as extrusion and lathing
tools to modify the shapes, but a variety of modeling
features differentiates one modeler from another:
Ñ Spline-based tools: the ability to use spline curves to
create smooth, flowing geometries. Spline-based model-
ing dramatically extends the ability to create organic-
looking shapes, at the cost of increased redrawing and
rendering time. Alias Sketch !, MacTOPAS, Presenter Pro-
fessional, and Ray Dream Designer all offer spline-based
tools. NURBS (nonuniforrn rational B-splines) is an ad-
vanced derivative of spline-based modeling that gives you
exquisite control over shape characteristics. Alias Sketch!
currently is the only program with true NURBS.
Ñ Vertex editing: the ability to grab individual control
noints. or vertices, and reposition them, giving users fine-

detail control over their models. Alias Sketch!, MacTOPAS,
Presenter Professional, Ray Dream Designer, Sculpt 3D
and 4D, and Super3D all offer vertex editing.
Ñ Lofting: the ability to stretch a "skin" over shapes that
are in effect cross-sectional ribs. Think of a boat hull: It has
cross-sectional ribs along the length of the hull, with
fiberglass or aluminum sheets laid across the ribs to form
the main hull wall. Alias Sketch!, MacTOPAS, Presenter
Professional, Ray Dream Designer, Sculpt 3D and 4D,
StrataVision 3d, and Swivel 3D Professional/SwivelMan
all offer a form of lofting.
Another important consideration for Mac artists is 3-D
type. Typically, you need ATM and/or TrueType in order
to create extruded 3-D type. Most of the programs offer
extruded fonts, but you should consider the following
Ñ Infini-D and MacroMind Three-D can extrude only
TrueType fonts, which is a hassle for artists with large
libraries of PostScript fonts. Although several commercial
utilities let you convert PostScript to TrueType, it would
be easier if these programs simply supported ATM.
Ñ Presenter Professional, Ray Dream Designer, Show-
place, and StrataVision 3d all give you some way of
beveling the edges of extruded text. Mr. Font, a separate
application in the ElectricImage package, is unique in that
it automatically creates the bevels as a separate object,
letting you easily specify different texture and surt;ace
attributes for the bevels (extruded type with a shiny bev-
eled edge and matte-finished front and back faces is a
common television effect).
The final things to take into consideration are input and
output formats. Every program (except for Showplace,
which uses RIB [RenderMan Interface Bytestreaml as its
native tormat) has a custom file format for its models and

scenes, but many programs import and export DXF as
well. However, DXF often presents interapplication com-
patibility problems and inconsistencies that make it some-
what flawed as a universal standard. We found the Trans-
porter utility, which ships with ElectricImage, to be the
most powerful file-forrnat converter available for the Mac.

  Rendering: Making It Real
The rendering process is the most computationally in-
tensive part of 3-D work and one of the most important,
because it delivers the final product. Most of the packages
we reviewed offer the following types of rendering: wire-
frame, hidden-surface, Z-Buffer (most basic shaded view)
Gouraud (basic smoothing and shading), and Phong (shad-
ows, environmental reflections, basic transparency, and
Another type of rendering called ray tracing simulates
light bouncing around a room, complete with interobject
reflections; refractivity; and better shadows, transparency,
and lighting effects. Alias Sketch!, Infini-D, Presenter
Professional, Ray Dream Designer, Sculpt 3D and 4D,
Showplace/MacRenderMan, and StrataVision 3d all offer
ray tracing.
StrataVision 3d provides a unique rendering mode,
Raydiosity, which is similar to Radiosity, a technique
developed at Cornell University that takes into account the
conservation of light energy in a scene. With either scheme,
colors "bleed" from objects onto other objects, resulting in
an uncanny and seductive realism. The Cornell technique
and StrataVision's Raydiosity are both ravenous CPU
vampires, so even simple scenes can take weeks to render
on the fastest Macs.
One of the more important but often forgotten features
to look for in 3-D software is the ability to generate an
alpha channel, a mask that isolates the foreground objects
from the background. You use the mask to combine, or
composite, multiple rendered 3-D objects into a single
scene. With this technique, you can simulate shadows and
reflections without greatly increasing the rendering time.
Alpha channels are also crucial for cleanly integrating 3-D
computeranimation with live-action surroundings. Electric-
lmage, MacroMind Three-D, MacTOPAS, Presenter Pro-
fessional, Ray Dream Designer, and Showplace can all
generate alpha channels.

  Animation: Making It Move
Although people tend to envision flying logos when
thinking about animation, you actually have animation
even if only part of an image changes over time. The
easiest way to create an animation is to set "keyframes"
and use software to create the in-between frames (tweening)
that fill in the action between keyframes.
Although all the programs that support animation let

you move objects around on the screen, this is only the
beginning of creating an animation. The most des*able
scenario is one in which you can modify any parameter of
any element over time. For example, you might want to
have a stationary object with an animated light source.
MacroMind Three-D has the best animation interface, an
extension of the VideoWorks/Director Score metaphor.
Another form of animation is "morphing," which lets
you change the basic geometry of an image, or 3-D model,
over time╤metamorphosing a car into a dolphin, for
example. Typically, if you want to morph one model into
another, the beginning and-ending objects must have ex-
actly the same number of vertex points. Only one Mac
program, Infini-D, supports true morphing, which lets you
morph between two totally different objects. Morph ani-
mation can be somewhat unpredictable, however.

  Beginning Users: General Graphics
Users getting started in 3-D often find themselves in-
volved in general desktop-publishing tasks and perhaps
multimedia. For them, the all-in-one packages are ideal.
Infini-D. Infini-D offers the most balanced set of fea-
tures for beginning and intermediate users. The general
interface, with some minor exceptions, is a study in clarity
and interactivity. The object floater displays the current
status of any selected object, including position and scal-
ing and size data. As you change an object's attributes with
~h~ in~eractive tools, the object floater instantly updates

and displays the new object statistics. But although the
modeling portion of the program includes some neat good-
ies, such as the Terrain Tool, Infini-D' s lack of spline and
lofting tools may frustrate advanced artists.
Infini-D comes with an excellent selection of procedural
textures, however, along with an enormous preprogrammed
texture library. Unlike surface maps, procedural

are actual descriptions of a surface, so, for example, a
wood procedural texture lets you punch a hole through a
"wooden" object and have the grain inside the hole match
that on the outside faces. Textures can be animated, and
the Surface Composition dialog box (see Figure 1) lets you
layer and combine static and procedural texture maps in
just about any way. You can scale, rotate, and reposition

any texture, and you can view a sample of the textures
mapped onto a selected object.
Infini-D's animation interface is better than Strata-
Vision's but not nearly as good as the one in MacroMind
Three-D. Infini-D is unique in its ability to morph between
two entirely different objects with different numbers of
vertex points as well as between two textures (the texture
morph is really more of a cross-fade between the begin-
ning and ending textures). A minor but frustrating problem
is the program's swapping of the z and y axes: Instead of
representing depth, the labeled z axis represents width, a
convention not found in any other 3-D program. Also, the
rendering speed and rendering quality of objects (espe-
cially straight edges) and texture maps leave something to
be desired. Although you can choose to render a rectangu-
lar selection of any image in orderto see the effects of your
settings without rendering the entire image, this feature
works only with the ray-tracing mode instead of with all
rendering modes.
Ray Dream Designer. Ray Dream Designer is a rela-
tively powerful renderer╤it's one of the faster ray
tracers, offers great rendering quality, and has wonderful
procedural textures (see Figure 2). Ray Dream is espe-
cially attractive to print designers, because of its ability to
render at very high resolutions. The program's modeling
abilities include a lofting-extrusion mode and text extru-
sion along variable paths. There's also a fast, shaded-
preview window, which is extremely useful for viewing

the results of a complex modeling task without fully ren-
dering the object. Ray Dream offers wonderful soft shad-
ows in its ray-tracing rendering mode. The program's
modeler, LightForge, offers a great set of fully modular
built-in textures plus a "wire texture" shader that combines
transparency with a variable horizontal and vertical grid.
Although Ray Dream's modeling features will satisfy
most beginning-to-intermediate users, the fact that Light-
Forge and SceneBuilder, the program's scene-composi-
tion tool, are separate programs is more of a nuisance than
a benefit. Users may also find the SceneBuilder interface
confusing. Animators will want to look to Infini-D, but
print artists should consider Ray Dream Designer.
Showplace/MacRenderMan. A front end for Mac-
RenderMan, Showplace assumes that you are already us-
ing an extemal modeler with the ability to save models in
RIB format. Showplace requires MacRenderMan, so un-
less you already own MacRenderMan or SwivelMan,
you'll want the bundle (see the "SwivelMan and Show-
place/MacRenderMan" review, August '92, page 58).
Showplace is a composition and lighting environment
with a highly graphical interface╤novices will feel
comfortable with it in no time. The program has no model-
ing or animation tools, and although you would expect a
Pixar program to offer a good interface to the complex
world of RenderMan shaders, it offers only limited access
to shader parameters. The Showplace/MacRenderMan
bundle might be more attractive if it were less expensive.
StrataVision 3d. Although StrataVision 3d offers some
of the best rendering quality of all the packages we re-
viewed, it's unfortunately one of the slowest renderers we
StrataVision offers exquisite, precise control over all
surface attributes (see Figure 3) and also uses any 2-D

texture both as an alpha channel for diffusion, transpar-
ency, specularity, and glows and as the more standard
bump and color maps. Adding a texture to a diffusion map
lets you create subtle embossing effects. StrataVision also
lets you attach alphas to light sources, which makes it
effortless to simulate light streaming through a paned
The program has a fairly robust tool set, and many of the
included modeling tools are stored as external modules,
making future expansion a snap. StrataVision is also the
only program in our group that includes a Radiosity-based
rendering mode. Unfortunately, that mode is so sluggish
that it' s virtually unusable. Given the program' s generally
slow rendering speed, you probably won't want to use
StrataVision as your main animation generator. For still
images, though, StrataVision's general rendering quality
is hard to beat.
Super3D. Super3D is a good basic modeler that in many
ways feels like a 3-D MacDraw. The program adheres
well to the standard Macintosh interface, and CAD/2-D
artists will find the transition to 3-D relatively painless.
Unfortunately, Super3D lacks advanced modeling tools
and quality rendering modes, which limits its overall value.
The big question is whether Aldus will update Super3D
in the future. The last update, version 2.5, added Mac-
RenderMan support, with few other improvements, and
Aldus seems uninterested in taking the program any fur-
ther. The modeling and rendering abilities of the program
have been surpassed by other packages, and although
some novices might want to look at Super3D, we think
that most who are just entering the 3-D world would be
well advised to look at Infini-D as a starting point.
Swivel 3D ProfessionaL Swivel 3D Professional is the
workhorse of Macintosh modelers. It sports a workable
interface and straightforward modeling tools (see Figure
4). The hierarchical object-linking abilities can be con-
strained in a variety of ways, so Swivel 3D is a good choice
for building characters and complex moving models. The
program's built-in smooth rendering is lightning-fast and,
in many cases, good enough for final images.
Although Swivel 3D also offers basic keyframe anima-
tion, you'll want a separate animation and rendering pro-
gram for professional-quality work. SwivelMan bundles
the Swivel 3D Professional and MacRenderMan programs
together, but unless you plan to render images with Mac-
RenderMan, there is no reason to choose SwivelMan over
Swivel 3D Professional. If you're considering SwivelMan
because MacRenderMan is your main renderer, you'll be
better served if you spend the extra money on Presenter
Professional, which offers much better control of, and
compatibility with, MacRenderMan.

  Intermediate Users: Multimedia
Although animation isn't the primary goal for interme-
diate users, it is a part of their work╤often within the
context of an authoring system such as HyperCard or
Director. Package designers, architects, and graphic de-
signers also fall into this group.
Alias Sketch! Alias Sketch! is likely to interest those
who want to model smooth, curvy organic images beyond
the realm of most of the other modelers reviewed here. The
modeling interface is a bit unusual and has an unavoidably
steep learning curve. Although the program' s main strengths
are its NURBS modeling abilities, it does offer decent
rendering quality. You can import a scanned background
image and interactively match the perspective of a model
with the background perspective, an incredibly useful
feature that's unique to this program (see Figure 5).
Alas, there are some problems worth noting: The pro-
gram is sluggish on even the fastest Macs, and it's very
difficult to accurately position 2-D texture maps. Although
NURBS can be a very powerful modeling method for
creating complex objects, it probably won't serve well as
the primary modeling paradigm for most users. Alias
Sketch! 1.0.2 has fewer bugs than version 1.0, but it isn't
totally bug-free. Still, Alias Sketch! might interest those
who want an advanced NURBS modeler.
MacroMind Three-D. MacroMind Three-D has the
most-powerful animation controls of the programs dis-
cussed here. Every detail of every element of a scene can
be interpolated over time. The Score interface will be
familiar to Director users and is well worth its reasonable
learning curve. Although the built-in-rendering quality
isn't superb, MacroMind Three-D can use MacRenderMan
as a rendering engine (MacroMind Three-D is the only
program that offers plug-in rendering engines, but unfor-
tunately, Macromediahasn'treleased any alternative, more
powerful rendering engines).
We did run into problems importing certain models
(imported models sometimes mysteriously expanded to
fill most of the visible "world") and encountered various
bugs and crashes during more-complex rendering tasks.
The included FireWorks application╤a postprocessing
engine for compositing multiple rendered, animated ele-
ments; applying limited filters; and dumping the anima-
tion to a VTR╤was unpredictably problematic.
Presenter Professional. For its price level, Presenter
Professional is in a class of its own. It offers a balanced set
of modeling tools, decent animation capabilities, and good
rendering quality. The intertace has a definite learning
curve (well worth the effort to master) but is not nearly as
complicated as Sculpt's modeling interface. Presenter's
Digital Clay teature makes it easy to create nonuniforrm
geometries: When you select a vertex point and pull on it,

the program automatically warps and stretches connected
surfaces. Although the modeler doesn't offer the NURBS
power of Alias Sketch!, Presenter Professional is notice-
ably faster than Sketch! and its tools will satisfy even
discerning advanced users.
Presenter Professional has some capabilities that are
more closely related to the traditional CAD world. For
example, the program can calculate an object's volume
and surface area, which should make it especially attrac-
tive to package designers.
Presenter Pro offers the best interface to the MacRender-
Man language of any of the packages reviewed here. It
provides access to all of a shader's attributes and param-
eters and produces the most-stable RIB output. This pro-
gram is a solid performer for intermediate and advanced

  Advanced Users: Production Pros
For advanced users, 3-D modeling and animation╤
with total control over the highest-quality rendering╤are
the key. These folks' livelihoods depend on their 3-D
packages, and they mix and match products as necessary.
Electriclmage Animation Sys~em. Electriclmage is the
choice of most professional Macintosh 3-D animators. Its
rendering speed and wide variety of file-format importa-
tion options make it both fast and flexible, two essential
factors in a production environment.
Although ElectricImage does not offer ray tracing, its
Phong rendering is the fastest of any of the packages'. The
program has the best texture mapping and texture controls,
even though it lacks procedural textures. Textures can be
applied to objects through an alpha channel, and alphas
can also be used to restrict luminance, diffusion, and
reflectivity attributes (for example, you can use an alpha
channel to create irregular, shiny "embossed" areas on an
otherwise dull matte surface). The biggest omission in
version 1.05 is that it lacks shadows, but version 1.5
should include them (see the "Future Dimensions" sidebar).
The Transporter file-conversion utility is excellent and
can convert just about any type of 3-D-geometry file, even
high-end files created with programs such as WaveFront
(a 3-D UNIX-based visualization package). The anima-
tion interface tends to be a love/hate affair, but the pro-
gram offers better technical feedback during the rendering
nrocess than do anY of the other packages. As noted
earlier, Mr. Font, Electricimage's text-extruding program,
is in a class by itself. If your work consists primarily of still
and animated 3-D text logos, Mr. Font alone is worth the
price of admission (see Figure 6).
ElectricImage comes with a CD-ROM full of textures,
sample models and images, and a variety of animation
files and utilities. The current version of the software
suffers from a weak, disorganized manual and some strange
model-importing quirks (particularly trustrating is the way
ElectricImage resets the standard axis orientation of im-
ported models, a real pain for advanced users who do a lot
of tweaking). Regardless of these drawbacks and its high
price, ElectricImage has clearly established itself as th~
industrial-rendering workhorse of the Mac 3-D universe.
MacTOPAS. MacTOPAS is among the most expensive
of the all-inclusive packages. Although it has a balanced
set of modeling, rendering, and animation tools, it's over-
priced in comparison with the potential competition. A
good variety of basic and advanced modeling tools, very
good rendering quality, and speed are the strong points of
this package. The documentation is relatively weak. though,
which is a problem, given the hidden power of the program' s
tools. If MacTOPAS were priced to compete with Pre-
senter Professional, it would be a much more reasonable
contender for intermediate and advanced users.
Sculpt 3D and 4D. Sculpt 3D is probably the most
capable modeler of the bunch╤if you're willing to spend
substantial time tacklin~ the dense, nonintuitive modeling

interface. The poorly written documentation doesn't make
the task any easier, although the three bundled videotapes
are actually fairly useful. The learning curve is steep, but if
you learn to think the way Sculpt does, you'll be able to
model just about anything, regardless of the complexity of
the geometry. Sculpt's general rendering quality is top-
notch, as are its procedural textures.
The animation capabilities of Sculpt 4D are not really
worth the extra $1,000. If you want the ultimate Mac 3-D
animation setup (ease of use and price notwithstanding),
Sculpt and ElectricImage are a potent team. A hard-core
group of aficionados has mastered the Sculpt interface,
and Byte-by-Byte recently unbundled the modeler portion
of the program to sell for $1,495. With a reworked inter-
face, this program could be the modeler to beat.

  The Bottom Line
If you're a novice who's looking for the best combina-
tion of features and performance at a reasonable price,
Infini-D and StrataVision 3d are the two main contenders.
Infini-D is more useful for those who are primarily inter-
ested in powerful animation capabilities, whereas Strata-
Vision 3d is a better package for high-quality still render-
ing. Users primarily concerned with rendering speed might
consider Ray Dream Designer, which offers better ray-
tracing rendering performance than either Infini-D or Strata-
Vision 3d, at the cost of a more complicated interface.
Swivel 3D Professional is a good workhorse modeler, but
you'll probably want to wait for its future incarnation,
MacroModel (see the 'Future Dimensions" sidebar).
For intermediate users, Presenter Professional is a good
modeler and renderer, with a balanced set of features and a
reasonable price (compared with MacTOPAS'). Mac-
RenderMan artists should consider Presenter Professional
as the best front end to the power of MacRenderMan.
Although Sculpt is the most powerful modeler of the
bunch, it really needs some interface help. If you're will-
ing to spend the time tackling it, though, you'll be able to
model just about anything you can imagine.
We'd like to recommend MacroMind Three-D for ani-
mation, but before we do, Macromedia needs to spend
some time making the product more robust. With better
pertormance and some fine-tuning, Alias Sketch l could be
a great NURBS modeler for intermediate users.
High-end users will probably end up turning to Electric-
Image Animation System as their primary rendering and
animation program, feeding it models from just about
anything (thanks to the flexibility of its Transporter file
converter). On the modeling side, Sculpt 3D and 4D, Alias
Sketch !, and Presenter Professional all come to mind, even
given the performance limitations of Sketch! and the inter-
face quirks of Sculpt. MacTOPAS simply prices itself out
of the running.