Version 3.9 of FormZ RadioZity is likely to be the last released before the all-important Mac OS X-native version 4.0 release – unless AutoDesSys comes out with a further incremental release, as it did with version 2.9.5. Version 3.9 is not a devastating update, but it is a solid incremental refurbishment of the program, adding some nice new features and fixing existing bugs.
Form•Z has evolved from being a 3D modelling program into a modern 3D environment suitable for DCC (Digital Content Creation), CAD (Computer-aided Design) and now Web-design disciplines. For the latter, Form•Z 3.9 embraces export to two of the emerging Web 3D standard formats – Shockwave 3D and Viewpoint VET (Viewpoint Experience Technology). Viewpoint VET is designed for Web delivery of 3D content viewed in a browser (only Internet Explorer and Netscape at present) using the free Viewpoint Media Player. Any Form•Z model can be exported to VET format, though it is best to design a model from the outset with Web delivery in mind– if that’s its intended destination.
Despite restrictions on the amount of data that can be transmitted online, Viewpoint VET files can deliver satisfyingly complex 3D objects at a reasonable speed. For example, a Form•Z file containing 4,800 polygons and with a file size of 436K is converted to three Viewpoint VET files (.html, .mts, and.mtx) totalling 47K. Mesh reduction is used to reduce file size, but the 3D object looks just as good in a browser. Options for export include rendering type, shadows, antialiasing and mesh quality.
The Viewpoint VET output from Form•Z is very good, and, combined with its already powerful suite of polygon editing tools, it makes a good choice for creating and optimizing models for 3D Web delivery. Of course, at this price there are other options, such as Cinema 4D and Lightwave, though for Viewpoint export you need an additional plug-in, whereas Form•Z has it built in. With the Mac (and Windows) browser plug-in you can create and view Viewpoint VET 3D content with Form•Z alone.
The other new 3D format is Shockwave 3D. This is not strictly a Web-only format, but via Macromedia Director can be used to integrate 3D interactive content into any multimedia presentation. The downside is that Director 8 is required to actually deploy the 3D data in its destination medium.
Form•Z’s modelling tools are impressive, particularly for CAD and engineering, where accuracy and to-scale modelling is crucial. It has developed impressively with regards to the creationof organic surfaces, thanks mainly to its Smoothing, Patch and NURBS surface tools.
Version 3.9 sees a number of enhancements to the NURBS modelling- and surface-creation tools – notably Boundary, in the NURBS tool options. A simple boundary surface uses four curves to create a square NURBS patch. In 3.9, though, you can create curves of any shape, and the boundary option will create a surface between the curves you draw. What’s most impressive about the Boundary option is you don’t need to rigorously snap the endpoints of each curve, as is the case when using Skinning. In fact, curves don’t even need to touch, and, importantly, the shape of each edge curve is preserved throughout the surface, so that it doesn’t end-up flat in the middle with wavy edges, but maintains the cross-sectional structure intended. Boundary NURBS can be generated from four, three or two curves, giving access to many different surface options. This is a very nice feature indeed.
Another key feature is that NURBS surfaces retain their controls, meaning you can continue to edit control verticesof a trimmed NURBS surface because it still is a NURBS surface, as opposed to being converted to a plain object. This behaviour is more in keeping with industry standards, and is a welcome addition.
Further curves functionality comes from the new Extract tool, that allows for curves to be extracted from controlled or parametric objects. With NURBS surfaces, unlike other controlled objects, the tool can only extract curves in either direction: you can’t define a single arbitrary isoparm (flow line on a surface that connects to the edge curves) and extract it, which is a limitation.
Form•Z 3.9 is a great all-round package for modelling and rendering, particularly for engineering and architectural disciplines. However, it‘s rather buggy, the interface suffers from palette-overkill, and it requires far too much mousework. Nevertheless, it will suit the more-determined 3D pro.