3D Rendering - Virtual Worlds of Your Own Creation
With personal computers reaching 'supercomputer' speeds,
3D modeling on the desktop has become a reality for anyone.
Having been both interested and frustrated by the potential of photo-realistic computer modeling
since watching mathematically generated polygons plot ever so slowly on a Commodore C-64
(at 2MHz and 16 colors / 128 facets, it took hours to render), I am thrilled about the high clock
speeds that modern microprocessors achieve. Finally, with a modest amount of determination
and a vision, creating photo-realistic 'video-art' that rivals or even surpasses the special effects
seen on TV is within the reach of most everyone. The software market is flooded with products
that were unavailable just a couple of years ago, many of them priced less than $100 US.
While the Big Film Studios typically use expensive products such as Alias|Wavefront's Maya,
Discreet's 3D StudioMax, Newtek's Lightwave, or Softimage - ranging in price from $2500 to
$65,000 - many impressive programs are now available to hobbyists in the Free-to-$100 range.
One of the earliest and most widely used is POV-Ray (Persistance of Vision), a ray-tracing
application whose source code is available under the GNU license. It is free for the download.
Although cryptic and very 'number oriented', there are editor 'front-ends' available to ease the
task of modeling. The visual output from this program can be exceptional, although there are
many setup parameters which effect rendering quality and speed. Because it is a ray-tracer
rather than a rasterizer, complex scenes may take many hours to render and animations may
take days. Another interesting application for creating landscapes and vistas is Bryce 3D from
Metacreations (about $80 US). Another older product, Asymmetrix 3D, was frequently bundled
with video and capture cards, and was pretty good at animating text and simple shapes. Also
available is TrueSpace 4 from Caligari ($400 US) and Ray Dream Studio from Metacreations.
This is not a complete list of all programs which are available, and there are probably dozens
of other applications available at this time, but these are the programs I am most familiar with.