Swift 3D v4

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, February 2005, send e-mail
Published by: Electric Rain, go to the web site
Requires: Pentium 4/1.2GHz processor or faster, Windows 98/NT/2000/XP, 256MB RAM; Mac OS X 10.2+, 1GHz CPU or faster, 512MB RAM, 1024 x 768 monitor resolution
MSRP: US$189 (upgrade US$99.00)

I was working on a project recently for a client who creates hi-tech furniture. He asked me if there were any tools for taking his designs online and allowing people to interact with them on the Web and in 3D. After some research I came across Swift 3D. It's a very powerful and easy to use 3D production tool aimed at producing 3D for use in Flash. The application itself allows you to create, modify, import and export 3D. Many of the tools available in the application would not be out of place in many high-end 3D software packages.

After installing Swift 3D I got to grips with the available learning materials, and let me tell you there is plenty of support for this, both directly from Electric Rain and from the legion of users out there. Electric Rain provides an enormous amount of support online ranging from tutorials to an extensive knowledge base.

The Swift 3D user interface is a little on the busy side with plenty of windows to keep you occupied. My main recommendation here is that you consider investing in a display with lots of real estate. I'm running 1600 by 1200 and find it comfortable. I tried setting my display resolution to 1024x768 and while Swift 3D remained usable it felt quite cluttered.

Creating objects in Swift 3D is fairly straightforward and any modeling can be done in one of three ways. There is an extrusion editor for creating objects from 2D shapes. There is also a lathe editor for taking a 2D shape and spinning it around an axis (lathe) to create a 3D shape. Using a pen tool you create a basic shape and then using one of the editors create the 3D primitive. The nice thing about the 2D shape is that it can be edited at any time and the changes will also be reflected in the 3D object directly. Using the timeline with this editing feature allows you to effectively animate the shapes directly from the editor.

The Advanced editor is the most useful of the editing/creation modes, allowing you to create and edit a number of primitives. You can manipulate the models through some very simple but effective tools. With the editor you can rotate, extrude, weld, round, flatten, smooth and scale your model. One shortfall was the lack of dimensioning in the editor so that you couldn't really create accurately scaled models. You could however create your model in a 3DS or DXF-compatible application and import the resulting file. You can also import drawings and trace them to create your models—a rather nice feature.

Once you've created your model you can then apply a whole range of very nice surface treatments and textures. The extensive built-in library of textures is very cool and the ability to group surfaces allows you to apply treatments and effects like the recently popular cell-shading style. Surfaces can be smooth, shiny, transparent, glossy and reflective. The ability to use procedural texturing also adds to Swift 3D's capabilities.

The Animation capabilities are nice as well as somewhat familiar if you have worked with Flash. Swift 3D can be used to create the animation either on the fly or through the use of some very nice presets. Objects can also be animated using paths, this is very easily achieved via the definition of spline or line-based paths. How your object moves and behaves along this path is also fully configurable. The animation capabilities are not limited to the objects alone but also apply to the camera and lighting.

Output from Swift 3D is handled through the preview and export editor. In this editor you can preview and refine animations and output files to your heart's content. The file formats supported by the editor are quite extensive, with support for both raster and vector-based formats. The Editor gives you additional control over how vector files are handled, allowing you to emphasize things such as line work and detail for animation. The export engine also handles many of the attributes in your file so that when you export to SWFT format you can again tweak and modify the interactivity directly within Flash. I would like to see the engine extended to handle a couple of video formats too.

All told, Swift 3D performs well and is an extremely good deal for anyone who's adventurous enough to want to play with 3D on the web. When you decide to buy, let me make one recommendation: buy the full package as it comes in a very cool metal box (which looks great) and includes a great manual. If you want to be able to use it immediately do yourself a favor and also purchase the additional download option.

Cons: The tool set could be enhanced with the addition of a cut command. The ability to define units of measurement for accurate modeling would also be nice.

Pros: Excellent direct and third-party support. The customer-only web site is an excellent idea for distributing upgrades and info. Excellent reference and learning materials. Fast and easy to use. Very powerful. Excellent modeling and animation facilities. The timeline tool is a great link between Swift 3D and Flash. Swift 3D has full 3ds and DXF import.

Electric Rain have done a lovely job of producing Swift 3D v4. The product itself is extremely stable and feature packed. As an authoring tool for creating 3D components for web sites it is extremely successful. Its tools are powerful and easy to use and remain a great way to produce 3D animations for the web. I also found working in the program very easy with no significant functional incongruities. I also get the impression from the online demos that, should you be well versed in 3D, you could produce some very impressive work with this relatively inexpensive tool. I highly recommended this product for any one who wants to create 3D for the web or presentations.

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