When it comes to idiosyncratic applications, Amapi has always been up there with the early offerings of MetaCreations. Its interface, however, proved to be a turnoff for many ‘serious’ users. Its recent transfer from YoNoWat software to TGS has been followed by a new release and a new lease of life for this very capable modelling application.
The most notable feature of the new version is that TGS now provides the option of having a more conventional interface. While this can make using Amapi a little faster for first-time users, it’s not nearly as much fun. Users can now display either the Standard or the Workshop interface. For users new to modelling, the standard interface is perhaps the best one to choose as it provides a familiar set of tool icons in a floating palette. Although you’re prompted to choose which interface to use when installing the software, the appearance of the application can be altered at any time from within the preferences dialogue.
Three basic sets of tools are available in version 4.1: Construction, Modelling and Assembly. Each set has icons that sweep around the right-hand side of the modelling window and can be rotated by moving the cursor to the far right of the screen. The other major toolbox is the control panel, accessed by moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen. This contains modelling support features such as object grouping, hiding, view controls and zoom options. The last major on-screen item is the Catalogue, which is a drag-&-drop container for 3D models or elements.
Each set of tools groups together all of the major creation and editing tools, which makes working with highly-complex elements as straightforward as possible. Orientation in 3D space is often confusing and Amapi provides a simple solution to this by placing a ‘work bench’ on a grid in the modelling window. In reality this is an image of a table, and like the grid, doesn’t appear in the rendered version of your scene.
Other helpful features are the Data window and Assistant Palette. The Data window displays information about the current object selected and the tool in use – useful feedback to have when making selections within complex models. The Assistant Palette has been designed to guide new users through their first projects. It contains iconized versions of the main tools used in the creation of basic models as well as providing access to some tool settings via the tuner icons.
The Scene Manager lets you organize elements within a scene and is opened via the control palette. When the manager is opened you’re shown three tabs along with an organized list showing the names of both groups and objects within the scene. Elements can then be organized to suit the project you’re working on.
Thumbnails of objects on layers are shown in the Layer tab, which is an excellent way to quickly see what is where. The final tab shows materials used in the projects and any element that hasn’t been assigned a material.
Amapi’s range of tools is impressive, with all the standard object-creation options available. NURB modelling is available as a memory-efficient way to create complex objects, while polyhedral modelling can be used for more basic shapes. A small letter in the bottom left-hand side of the modelling window indicates which modelling method is being used, and object types can be combined in a scene. Extrusion and sweeping are available along with some neat tools like the Hull tool and the Extract Curve and Extract Surface tools.
As with all objects in Amapi, the number of facets used to form an object can be adjusted using the slider that appears after hitting the return key. This slider is extremely useful as it allows every object in a model to be optimized for rendering depending on where it appears in a scene.
Amapi makes animation simple by using a key-frame system. To create an animation the Key Framer is opened and it records the current appearance of your object or scene. By leaving the Key Framer and making an alteration and returning to it another key frame is added to the timeline and so on. Other options for animation include assigning objects to a path and moving it along this path over time. These features work well, but Amapi hasn’t gone overboard on animation tools and many other modelling packages offer a lot more in this area.
Amapi uses ‘shaders’ for rendering, which can be tailored for most surface effects. Material shaders determine the appearing of surfaces onto which they have been applied. A large number of materials ship with the application and these can be used as the basis of new material by using the Material Editor. The Material Editor can be displayed in either simple or extended versions.
Once materials have been created they can be stored in a Catalogue window and be applied using drag-&-drop. A catalogue of model elements is also available allowing you to store objects you may want to reuse.
New in this version is ActiveStyles – a new rendering technology from TGS that allows for the integration of phong, raytrace and artistic rendering in a single scene.
If you need high-end rendering or animation features then Amapi may not be for you. But for those new to 3D modelling, Amapi is an excellent place to start. It offers a wealth of modelling options, organized in a clear and logical way (once you get used to the unusual interface).