Given the Mac’s graphics superiority, it’s surprising that 3D production on our platform of choice has, until recently, been a piecemeal process. One of the first fully integrated 3D packages to migrate to the Mac from the Unix world was NewTek’s LightWave, a powerful application for creating television and film effects.
LightWave is a collection of applications: Modeler, for creating objects; Layout, for animating and rendering; and Hub, for updating projects.
Modeler is polygon and spline based. It offers an efficient surface-subdivision mode that can create smooth organic forms similar to what you’d get with NURBS modelling. The program includes a collection of tools for patch modelling, along with “viewports” that you can use as UV-mapping editors for precise placement of textures.
Some notable additions in version 6.5 are an integrated particle system, a soft-body dynamics engine, automated Atlas mapping tools, and a new Schematic view. Other welcome enhancements include a reorganized interface, a bézier-curve tool, and resizable viewports.
Several powerful procedural animation tools make complex motions easier to set up. An integrated particle generator – when used in conjunction with HyperVoxels, LightWave’s volumetric-object generator – lets you simulate smoke, explosions, and fluids. Motion Designer can force objects to behave like cloth that can be influenced by any other element in the scene.
But, no matter how many impressive features a 3D package offers, it all comes down to rendering – and LightWave excels at this. The ray-tracing engine can calculate realistic reflections, refraction, and caustics; the radiosity engine allows you to illuminate a scene using photographs saved in the HDRI format.
For anyone looking to buy a complete 3D-production package, LightWave is tremendous value – especially when you consider that many standard features, such as particles and dynamics, are available only as plug-ins in other packages.