NewTek has released LightWave 7.5, and is offering a free upgrade for all LightWave 7.0 users. The full product reaches UK retail in 2-3 weeks.

This release of the company’s 3D animation and video-production product includes a new multi-platform duo-dongle – so it supports Macs (including Mac OS X) and PCs out of the box.

“With four significant upgrades in about a year and a price drop that caused other 3D companies to react in panic, LightWave is poised to launch a second revolution – and we want as many people as possible to be part of it,” said Allen Hastings, chief software architect of LightWave 3D.

The application’s animation tools have been improved. Sliders are a fast and easy way to control anything LightWave can animate. The application lets designers create their own custom slider banks for specific tasks – the size, colour, and range of these can be customized.

New features Other animation improvements include new Expression Builder features, and interaction between objects has been improved. The Path tool lets users drag all of an item’s motion keyframes around directly in the 3D viewport. OpenGL support has also been improved.

Improvements have been made in the application’s Character Animation Tools – Motion Mixer 2.0 offers an improved user interface with powerful new motion-weighting and blending features, the company claims. A new X-Ray mode allows animators to see bones while working with characters in solid-shaded OpenGL mode.

New Lighting Effects have also been introduced in LightWave 7.5 – Colored Shadows allow animators to tint and create less-intense shadows. All options are adjustable on a per-light basis.

Rendering in the application has also been improved with the introduction of New Multiple Bounce Radiosity solutions to add realism to LightWave’s built-in global-illumination rendering features. The upgraded Virtual Darkroom 2.0 “puts the ‘photo’ back into photo-realism”, NewTek claims, “adding grain and realistic light responses to your renders.” Virtual Darkroom 2.0 includes a simplified interface and over 20 presets, simulating a variety of black -&-white and colour stocks.

This version of LightWave also lets multiple render buffers be saved into layered Adobe Photoshop files.

The product’s UK price is £1,199. The 7.5 software-only update is available for download from NewTek’s Web site, as well as international NewTek partners. NewTek recommends customers purchase the full upgrade (£50 for version 7.0 users) as this contains the multi-dongle and a collection of example and tutorial content to enhance the application. Registered owners of pre-7.0 versions of LightWave may upgrade to version 7.5 for $395 for the next 60 days – UK upgrade pricing for earlier versions of LightWave will be available May 10.