Axel 1.5 full review

As interactive 3D Web-graphics progresses beyond the pioneering efforts of VRML, and as new Web-design software simplifies the authoring process, Web designers and 3D artists – who want to showcase interactive 3D scenes via a Web browser, for example – need a straightforward way to bridge the gap between their areas of expertise. MindAvenue meets this challenge – the company has released two editions of Axel 1.5, the only OS X–native 3D-authoring tools for the Web (they also run on OS 9). Axelcore 1.5 is geared toward Web designers with little or no 3D experience, and Axeledge 1.5 builds on Axelcore’s foundation with a few advanced features for 3D artists. Axel 1.5 provides basic, well-designed polygon tools intuitive enough for artists unaccustomed to working with 3D. You can draw and edit curves using a standard pen-tool; however, it lets you create only corner points (this is limiting if you’re used to bézier curves or control vertices). With a single menu-selection, you then create 3D-surfaces by revolving or extruding curves. Changes are made to surface-attributes via a palette that describes the objects’ parameters; the program simultaneously updates layout views, giving WYSIWYG control over 3D-models. Axel includes a library of primitive shapes, as well as a text-tool for generating extruded 3D type from TrueType or PostScript fonts. Text options allow for embedding font outlines in Web-files and converting characters to curves, ensuring that your text appears the same on any platform. Artists uncomfortable with the technical aspects of 3D-modelling, or those who need to generate concepts quickly, will be pleased with the vertex push/pull tool, a feature that works as a virtual sculptor. Axel doesn’t support any proprietary 3D file formats, but it does support VRML 97 (and MindAvenue says that a LightWave importer will be available in Axeledge and for download by the time you read this). Putting it in motion
Axel’s motion-tools will be familiar to content-developers who compose keyframe-animations in programs such as Adobe LiveMotion and Macromedia Flash. There is also a Record mode, which automatically generates keyframes when you move objects around in the layout views. It’s easy to use, but creates a jumble of keyframes that needlessly bloats your Web-file size. But Axel provides tools that present interactivity clearly: sensors handle all the ways a user can manipulate an object, such as mouse-clicks, rollovers, and keyboard-entries; each sensor’s reactions trigger a response, such as changing an object’s parameters or playing an animation, sound, or movie. The Interaction Editor window displays a visual schematic of all a scene’s sensor-reaction relationships, and you can edit each relationship easily by dragging connection-handles between objects. All the work that goes into creating 3D Web-content is pointless unless there’s an easy way to publish it, and Axel provides one. When you save your entire 3D scene as an Axel stream file (with a .axs extension), the program automatically exports the correct HTML code to a new or existing HTML page. It can also write the code necessary for rendering windowless 3D content. This is ideal for creating a Web site with a virtual human guide, for example. A 3D-animator can work on the character and then save it to render as a windowless element in an HTML layout. For a site-visitor, watching the final scene in a browser requires downloading the free, 700K Axel Player plug-in. The plug-in supports a wide range of browsers available for both the Mac and Windows PCs, including the latest OS X versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape 6, iCab, and OmniWeb, as well as Opera and AOL for OS 9.2. However, the added step of manually installing a player is inconvenient. A Download Estimate Manager gives the approximate transfer times of your final file, at various connection-speeds. Previewing in browsers is also convenient. Axel generates a customizable menu after scanning your hard-drive for all installed versions of supported browsers. Selecting one from the menu launches the browser automatically and plays the Web file as the site visitor will see it. A choice of features
While both Axel editions are essentially the same product, they’re geared toward different audiences. Axelcore 1.5 is a great introductory 3D tool for Web-designers looking to add pizzazz to their sites, whereas Axeledge 1.5 offers experienced 3D artists additional character-animation and scripting tools like those in NewTek’s LightWave 3D (see Reviews, December 2001). The scripting language is comparable to JavaScript, but with an interface for piecing together scripts of functions and operators. The higher-end Axeledge’s character-animation tools offer both forward and inverse kinematics (FK and IK). However, IK only works for a maximum of two bones, forcing you to animate longer hierarchies (for example, those in a snake or a tree limb) with the more complicated FK method.
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