Pixels 3D 5.0

As a rule, you have two choices when you’re choosing a 3D-modelling and -rendering program: a rich set of features or a pauper’s price. But at US$399 (around £240), version 5.0 of Pixels Digital’s Pixels 3D breaks that rule. Similar to low-end 3D programs such as Eovia’s Carrara Studio, Pixels 3D has a user-friendly interface that provides easy access to tools and features. Its system of pop-up menus functions in a way that’s very similar to the pop-up Hot Box menus in Alias’s Maya Complete, which are for object-selection modes. Like most do-everything 3D packages, Pixels 3D offers modelling in a variety of styles, surfacing with bitmapped and procedural textures, a range of dynamic effects such as smoke and fire, and a high-quality raytrace renderer. But it doesn’t offer many of the features found in high-end programs – radiosity rendering, for example. And the level of control offered in areas such as texture mapping and particles isn’t nearly as deep as in higher-end programs. So, Pixels 3D is appropriate for print, Web, and multimedia artists, and for some broadcast environments, but it won’t meet the needs of sophisticated studios and advertising agencies. NURBS in paradise
One thing you won’t find in most low-priced 3D packages is NURBS modelling. Nonuniform rational B-splines, also known as b-splines, are great for modelling smoothly blended, curved shapes, such as the compound curves in the panels of car bodies. And with advanced capabilities including tangency controls and stitching, NURBS are well suited to creating realistic organic forms such as animals and humans. Unfortunately, the NURBS in Pixels 3D lack these capabilities, so they’re better for making objects out of individual patches joined by hard seams, rather than out of multiple patches that blend smoothly. For entry-level 3D artists, this distinction can be academic. But for character work – in particular, modelling faces, which have many smoothly blended surfaces – or for scenes that will be viewed or printed at a high resolution, it’s a significant limitation. On the other hand, the program’s polygon-modelling tools are useful for creating surfaces with points you want to manipulate. These tools also come in handy when you need to use Boolean operations to cut holes and quickly join surfaces. However, being able to split and weld them more easily would be useful. Ultimately, Pixels 3D would benefit most from an easy-to-use subdivision surface modeller, which would be far more accurate and more user friendly than NURBS. While it would be difficult to create extremely realistic character models in Pixels 3D, it’s a great place to do simpler character modelling where parts of a face, such as the ears, nose, and eyes, are glued on. It’s also a great place to begin exploring character animation. Version 5.0 offers a new automatic character-rigging system that makes it easy to set up both biped and quadruped characters, using a skeleton linked with inverse kinematic (IK) controls. And these controls, in turn, simplify the task of getting your character to move. Another area where Pixels 3D is lacking is in facial animation. It’s more than adequate for creating cartoon-style expressions, where eyebrows float in front of the face, instead of bending and deforming along with the adjacent forehead skin, for example. But the program simply doesn’t have the depth of control necessary for the shaping, tweaking, and blending that very emotive facial expressions require. Rendering options
Rendering quality is impressive, considering the program’s cost. The renderer does raytracing and includes Skydome, an approximation of global illumination (a rendering technique that simulates the light from a natural sky). Version 5.0 adds atmospheric rendering effects, such as volumetric fog, so you can create much richer, moodier lighting and renderings. The set of particle effects adds to the renderer’s potential with the ability to create convincing smoke, clouds, and other dynamic effects. Particle systems are fast to set up and preview, but we’d appreciate the ability to render particles in OpenGL hardware, which would be significantly faster than software-only rendering. The shading system, which lets you use bitmapped textures and procedural (mathematically described) surfaces, is remarkably flexible, and lets you create almost any type of surface quality you can dream up. For example, you can easily layer multiple textures by using the colour and luminance values of several image maps to affect the rendering qualities, such as specularity, bumpiness, reflectivity, and transparency. You can also combine these with procedural shaders, such as fractals and noise, for relatively painless creation of complex surfaces such as riveted, painted metal with corroded, dented, and rusted areas.


Pixels 3D 5.0 doesn’t provide the ultimate tool set for creating 3D animations and still images. But at $399, it’s certainly an excellent choice for beginners. It may even be a reasonable option for professional artists who don’t need the elaborate features of high-end, and more expensive, 3D tools.

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