Without a doubt, one of Amapi’s (pronounced I’m ‘appy) main talking points is its non-standard user interface. It’s an acquired taste, but beneath the plethora of icons lies an interesting 3D-modelling program.
Now in the hands of TGS, version 5 of Amapi promises much. Top of the new feature list is Dynamic Geometry, where the construction history of a shape is remembered. Like the History facility in Adobe Photoshop 5, you can go back and alter a shape’s profile, outline or basic structure. While version 4.1 added rendering features, such as OpenGL support and texture mapping for objects, the new smoothing tool takes this further; uneven surfaces can be smoothed and angular meshes can be improved. Version 5 also has a set of new deformation tools that can taper, bend or twist objects automatically – a welcome addition.
Another new feature, Decimation, examines the complexities of a mesh, algorithmically reducing its density. Objects can be created then their detail, and file size, reduced – useful for games modellers in particular.
The most interesting new feature is an export option: ZAP, a proprietary solution for publishing 3D work on the Internet. Similar to Macromedia Flash’s handling of 2D objects, ZAP is bandwidth-friendly with, apparently, a 5KB ZAP file equating to a 1.5MB VRML equivalent. It works by sending only key data for the re-creation of a 3D model. The ZAP player then reconstructs the full image at the receiving end. Note the word “apparently” – unfortunately, the ZAP player is only available for Windows 95/98 and NT4, and works with Internet Explorer 4 only.
The animation module, a weakness in previous versions, has had a total facelift – the interface is now easier to get into. Other additions include a Cinema4D export option, a 3D-text tool that displays edited text in real-time, and a filleting tool palette.
Amapi still suffers from a basic failing – the interface is difficult to use, as many icons are too abstract to show their real use. Pop-up name boxes that appear as you pass over each icon would solve this problem. It appears to be a little more robust than before, but can be slow to respond – especially when clicking on dialogue boxes – and there are some problems with on-screen translations (“open” still appears as “ouvrir”).
Amapi aficionados will appreciate the new features, but TGS is unlikely to win many new converts.