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Electric Rain Swift 3D 2.0

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on May 29, 2002

Electric Rain Swift 3D 2.0As impressive as Flash animation is, the integration of 3D objects and environments into a design can be even more exciting. Erain's Swift 3D is a simple but powerful standalone tool for the creation of 3D animations to be imported for use in Flash movies.

Most 3D applications have a steep learning curve, but Swift 3D is quite simple to grasp. The user manual is written in a very casual, conversational style. It's easy to understand and somewhat humorous, although nobody's going to be hiring these guys to script sitcoms. The manual provides a great introduction to 3D for Flash designers who haven't attempted to use a 3D application before.

Swift 3D's interface completely occupies the screen. Much like other 3D applications, different camera views of the stage are presented, along with object creation and surface editing tools. Tools are well defined and placed, and follow the standard set by professional 3D programs. While not as refined as some software applications out there, the interface is laid out well and fairly intuitive.

Interface

The interface is comprised of four separate editors: the Scene Editor, the Extrusion Editor, the Lathe Editor, and the Preview and Export Editor. Switching between editors is very easy, using tabs at the top of the interface. The Scene Editor dynamically updates objects altered in the Extrusion and Lathe editors, streamlining the creative process.

Lathe

3D objects can be created within the program a number of ways. First, there are several primitive object tools that will generate shapes on the stage. These follow the standard tools of other 3D apps. The lathe editor allows one to create a 3D object by drawing a line shape around a vertical axis. Vector artwork created in Freehand and Illustrator can also be imported, which means you can go crazy with that once-flat logo. Importing Illustrator files can be a bit of a pain, though, because it supports only AI 8 or earlier files.

Animation of objects and lighting is controlled by two trackballs in the Scene Editor. These can be locked at specific angle intervals to preserve precision. In addition to animating your objects, you can also animate lights and cameras. You are able to create multiple cameras and lights, and animate all of it! This opens up some very interesting possibilities, and goes far beyond things like rotating logos.

Of course, rotating logos was initially a big draw for early users of Swift 3D. Since version 1, the application has included several drag and drop animations that can be applied to objects. In addition to that, users can save their animations as presets, and apply them to other objects in the same manner. This is a nice feature and an excellent timesaver.

The timeline somewhat resembles the one used in Flash, but actually works differently. Instead of layers, there are five attributes that are animated over frames: Position, Rotate, Pivot, Scale, and All Surfaces. It's an easy way to keep track of what you're doing, and allows you to alter certain attributes without changing the others. Plus, the timeline's draggable scaling makes changes a snap.

Timeline

I only have a few frustrations working with Swift 3D. First, performance is a bit sluggish. Dragging actions and interface selections lag just a bit behind the cursor. This can sometimes lead to accidentally selecting the wrong thing, and sacrifices precision somewhat. Exporting, as in all 3D rendering programs, is also a wait, but version 2 is much faster than the rendering engine used in version 1.

Swift 3D outputs to SWF, EPS, AI and SVG formats. Its most common use will be for Flash, but it can also be used by Adobe LiveMotion. But because LiveMotion cannot import SWF files, the process of importing it into LiveMotion requires generating a sequence of EPS files, which means cumbersome workflow and possibly inferior results. The Preview and Export Editor offers a quick preview of the output before rendering, and there are numerous output options.

If you are a Flash designer looking to add 3D to the mix, then Swift 3D is the best solution. At only $159, it will pay for itself with one professional use. Its ease of use and impressive feature set go beyond what you'd expect for the price, and with Macromedia's recent show of support, it's a product that's likely to stick around. Take a few minutes to explore the Swift 3D website to see what it can do. There are some VERY slick examples produced by NYC firm WDDG that will knock your socks off. It totally redefines what you can do with Flash.

In addition to the standalone version, Erain also offers plug-in versions for high-end 3D applications like 3D Max and Softimage. If you use one of these 3D applications, this is great news. While the standalone version is a quality product, it doesn't touch the 3D creation capabilities of dedicated professional 3D apps.

Erain is currently developing a new importer especially for Flash MX. Apparently, the process of importing Swift 3D files will be easier and quicker, and result in smaller, higher-quality files. No word yet on exactly when this will be released, but we will provide a review when it's available.

Electric Rain Swift 3D 2.0
Full: $159
Upgrade: $89

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