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True, fluid organic forms are the holy grail of 3D modelling. They’re also the hardest to achieve. A variety of methods – such as MetaNURBs, spline patching and NURBs cages – produce the results, but at the cost of some frustration and mental gymnastics.
Amorphium, from the same stable as the high-end Electric Image Animation Studio, aims to change all that. The program is basically a live 3D sculpting studio, with a continuously rendered view of the object updating in real time. On opening the application, you’re presented with a MetaCreations-like workspace window, which takes over the entire screen – there doesn’t appear to be any way to run it in a separate window.
Around the edges are arrayed the tools, and in the centre sits the Workspace window. This measures 512-x-512 pixels, and can’t be resized, which is a pain. By default you’re presented with a blue sphere, and you can get sculpting. Amorphium is based on the idea of painting surface features onto an object, rather like displacement mapping in other 3D programs, but in real time. As you drag a brush across an object, it either dents inward or bulges outward, depending on whether brush pressure is negative or positive. Finer detail can be added by reducing the brush radius - but only up to a point: at 0% radius the ‘dent’ produced was still around 30 pixels wide. This is because a standard mesh resolution is used for all default objects. To increase the mesh density you need to use the MeshMan option, which will subdivide your object, but at the expense of response time.
A myriad of different brush shapes is provided, and these can be applied in one of five modes. Brush mode paints straight through the object. Smudge allows you to pull out an object like toffee. And the Spheric and Normal brushes allow your strokes to stay confined to the object’s surface. There’s a very handy Symmetry function, which repeats the strokes on one side of an object onto the other side, saving time and increasing fidelity. Also present is a slew of procedural deformers such as Smooth, Waves, Tsunami, Twirl and Spikes. Finally, you can use greyscale maps to distort the surface in Amorphium’s HeightShop module.
Standard shapes – such as cylinders cubes and tetrahedra – are also provided, which can be used as the starting point for your creations. However, Amorphium lets you work on – and see – only one object at a time. Another method for generating basic shapes is BioSpheres. These are basically Amorphium’s implementation of Metaballs. Each can be given a radius, ‘Energy’ (ie strength) and oblateness (flatness) which, combine to make mesh objects. Since the energy can be positive or negative, you can use one BioSphere to scoop out regions from another. You can’t sculpt BioSpheres directly until you press the generate button that turns them into objects that can be acted upon by Amorphium’s other tools.
Surfacing is handled by the Paint and Optics module, which allows you to paint directly onto the surface of your creation. This is great fun, and eliminates the hassle of positioning textures on objects’ surfaces. Of course any of the sculpting brushes can equally well be used as painting brushes.
A neat trick is that, using the MeshMan function, you can paint directly onto the surface to alter the mesh density: white to increase, black to decrease. Masking allows you protect areas not only from any applied paint effects (and procedural shaders), but also from the sculpting brush.
Composer is where animation and rendering is carried out. In contrast to the rest of the program, it’s a wireframe environment, which is a little odd. Animation is done by setting keyframes, although you have only eight in total. Rendering and shading quality can be superb, given the right setup,
and is blisteringly fast – would you expect anything less from the makers of ElectricImage? – although there’s no transparency, no refraction and only one light. Amorphium’s morphs can also be animated, although it won’t morph
between the textures of the two targets.
Amorphium is an interesting product. There are a few interface quirks (it won’t respond to a shutdown command, for example) and the inability to resize the Workspace window is crazy. While it’s sculpting tools can’t produce top-class work, it is inexpensive and allows 3D rookies to produce work quickly and effectively.
Could we see a supercharged version built into ElectricImage as a competitor to Alias/Wavefront’s Maya Artisan?