Lexicor Phase IV/graphics/commercialFrom: Doug Wokoun (aa384@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 04/18/92-07:24:41 PM Z
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From: aa384@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Doug Wokoun) Subject: Lexicor Phase IV/graphics/commercial Date: Sat Apr 18 19:24:41 1992 Taken from: ST Report Online Magazine (#8.12) - March 20, 1992: > LEXICOR PHASE IV STR Review Chronos 3D Key Frame Animator =========================== Lexicor Phase IV Chronos 3D Key Frame Animator and Prism Paint by Clifton Willard Well it arrived and I opened it with mixed hopes and fears. To some extent, the Phase IV series from Lexicor will make or break the ST/TT graphics performance in the near future anyway. There has been a lot of speculation over the last year about the future of the ST and about the graphics programs promised by Lexicor. There have been no new graphics programs for the ST or in the Atari platform for some time and the old stuff was getting very old very fast. Other platforms were emerging with new and powerful graphics programs that were becoming more and more attractive to Atari owners who wanted to upgrade, myself included. The Cyber series just doesn't cut it any more. The competition was crawling all over Atari until now that is. I received Prism Paint and Chronos 3D together and with great excitement. I loaded first one and then the other and browsed around. Since Chronos 3D is the more significant program, I will review it first. FIRST CLASS MANUAL It is not my intention to rewrite the manual but to review the program. The manual is first class and provides all the information one needs to adequately operate the program after a short period of time. The beginner has not been left out of the picture as is often true in less considerate manuals. The first four chapters are devoted to the beginner and include everything from pointing and clicking the mouse to how to use dialogue boxes to loading objects and running animations. I have never seen such a thorough job of explanation before in any manual. This is definitely a big plus for the person who wants to get into 3D animation but doesn't think s/he can. In Chronos 3D you can, I promise. The length of time it actually takes you to create your first 3D space saga will depend on your experience. Once the beginner is brought up to par with the more experienced users, the manual enables everyone to comfortably and easily learn the basics of key frame animation. The manual is very well organized and is easy to get around. The binder is one of those D type that I personally find difficult. I changed to a regular binder and put the index in the front of the manual. It is easier to get to if it is in the front of the book and I need to get to it a often. The explanations are clear. There are a few mistakes in the tutorials but they are in the objects provided, not in the manual. I understand that they will soon or have already been fixed. In one tutorial when you load the plane into the program, it is not in the position the manual says it is. In another, the walking man does not have his arms attached to his body. You can use your head though and make the minor adjustments. I mention them only so that if you get the program and come across them you will know what the problem is. These are very minor and I found no other problems in the tutorials. KEY FRAME? The program is "Key Frame" animation. Key frame animation is the animation production style of the professionals like those at Disney. The master animator creates the first and last frame of a motion and the assistant animators create the "inbetween" frames. This is where the term tweening comes from. In the case of Chronos 3D, you are the master animator and the program acts as your perfect assistant and does all of your tweening. You create the key frames that contain the beginning and ending of your object's changing movement. You then decide how many frames you want to be inbetween and Chronos 3D provides them by generating the splines between the two positions. This is key frame animation. One of the main advantages of this type of animation is that the animator does not need to know any programming at all. In the past on the Atari, you had to know a basic like programming language to program Cyber Control and create 3D animations from within CAD 3D Studio. Chronos 3D replaces both programs and enables you to do more because you do not need to know programing to accomplish the movement. NO PROGRAMMING NEEDED Chronos is an intuitive program and in a way is the opposite end of the spectrum from Cyber Control or ST Control. In both those programs you used numbers, mathematical expressions, and numerical positions in space to create your object movement. In Chronos 3D, you use a mouse and point and click. It is important to realize that this is a different style of thinking. I found that I had to learn to think differently about animation in Chronos. You can't easily use numbers to create the perfect circular or perfect spiraling movement. At first I found this very frustrating. With practice I became more comfortable with this free hand style and now I find it liberating. For alignment purposes, Chronos 3D provides a grid that is adjustable. You can set this grid and position your objects using the grid as a guide. An artist that is gifted in visualizing spacial relationships correctly will have no trouble with this concept. Though I am good at it now, I miss the access to the numbers. One problem with the lack of numbers is that you do not know where your object has been moved. Every time you call up the "explicit" dialogue box, used to enter exact numbers, it shows zero (0). If you have rotated an object several times or even once, there is no way to know how far you have rotated that object up to that point. If you make a mistake in one of your key frames, you must click on each one and visually determine which one has the error and then judge the correction needed. This is frustrating and at times difficult to deal with. I do find this a drawback to the program. I understand however that there is some interest in doing something about providing a history for either each key frame or object. This might be in the form of an Desk Accessory. There is one feature however that is great help in the number problem and that is a feature called trace. If you click on an object and then click on trace, the program will generate a thread like line showing the movement of that object from the beginning of your motion to the end. This is wonderful and with a little practice you find that you can do quite will without the numbers. OPEN TYPE PROGRAM It is appropriate at this point to explain that this program and series for that matter may be considered a shell type program. Independent programers can and are encouraged to develop modules or utilities that provide additional power to the programs. This is a real plus for the series. Interested programers should contact Lee Seiler at Lexicor. The desktop of the program provides easy access to all of the features, dialogues and sub menus of the program. There are also key board equivalents to most of the features, menus and dialogues. I can't stress enough how powerful this program is and the variety of things it can do. Though I can't cover all of the assets of this program I will try to cover most of the main features that give it it's power. First let me state that there are no limits to the number of objects of the number of points in each object as in the Cyber series. The only restriction is your computer memory. There is also no restriction as the length of your animation. This is also dictated by your hardware and memory. Also chronos 3D will load any 3D object form the Cyber series including Cyber Texture objects. TIMELINES AND RAILROAD TRACKS Chronos 3D uses what are called timelines to record the motion of an object. You can think of a time line as a railroad track and the object as a single railroad engine with no cars following. The idea is that you draw the tracks any way you want and the train engine will follow them just like a real train. If you can lay out model train tracks on your living room floor then you can animate with Chronos 3D. You lay the tracks in chronos 3D by moving the object with the mouse. You decide how long the track will be by adding sections to the track. In Chronos 3D, these sectioned are called frames. If you want your object or engine to take a long time to go from point A to point B, you add a lot of sections to the track or in Chronos 3D, you add frames. This metaphor will hopefully help you understand the concept of time lines. One of the unique features of Chronos 3D is that you can copy these time lines and apply them to other objects. You can make a copy of the tracks and put another engine on them. You can also copy any part of the track and put any engine on it you want. The limits are your imagination. To take this metaphor a little further, Chronos 3D will let you do different things to your engine as it travels along it's track. The engine or object can get bigger, smaller, wider, narrower, taller, shorter, longer, turn in any direction or combination of directions with just a click or two with the mouse. Also Chronos 3D has no limit on the number of tracks or engines, time lines or objects. In addition to moving engines, you can move the camera and any or all of spot lights or point source lights. The tracks, time lines hold everything together. You can cut and paste tracks/time lines the same way you cut and paste clip buffers in drawing programs. It is no more difficult then that. NO NEED FOR HIERARCHY, JUST CYCLE Another feature that really sets Chronos apart from other 3D animation programs is a feature called cycling. Cycling is sort of like changing engines several times as it travels down the track. The tutorial in the manual is as good example as any I could think of for demonstrating this concept. There are 15 different variations of the same object that you load in as one object. In this case the object is a walking man. Each variation is a different position in the total walking motion. You load each into the cycling feature in a specific order. The cycling feature then plays them in the order in which you entered them. The feature cycles through the objects and the result is motion or in this case a man walking. It is very impressive and very simple. As a comparison, in CAD 3D and Cyber Control you had to develop a hierarchy of objects and then move this hierarchy and it's parts individually. It was complicated and difficult for those of us who are not experienced programmers. In Chronos 3D, this same effect is accomplished easily and simply with no programming. All you really do is to load the objects in the sequence you want them to be played. This is really nice. You create the different variation of the objects in Cyber Sculpt or Dynacadd if you are really serious and load them into Chronos 3D. This is a powerful feature and enables anyone to easily create movement that before has been restricted to the pros. There is an undocumented variation of this feature call object instancing. Essentially you create several different variations of a single object cycle. Chronos 3D does not use the actual loaded object as the object manipulated in the program. chronos 3D makes copies of the loaded objects and uses them for the movement. Using different first objects in the cycling feature, you can have as many copies of the cycle as you want. I created an army of walking men using this technique. I used a through away object, (box1, box2, box3, ...) as my through away objects. I then varied the starting object. In the first man I used box1 and man01, man02,... In the next I used box2, man04, man05,... You must complete the cycle so that in the second man, the last man loaded into the cycling feature was man03. You hide the through away object box1, box2,... and record your animation. It is very powerful. Do the tutorial in the manual and then try this instancing. TURN A MAN INTO A BIRD AND FLY AWAY Another feature that is part of the cycling feature is morphing. Morphing comes from metamorphing meaning changing completely from one form to another. This powerful technique is also very simple. You create an object in CyberSculpt and save it. You then change that same object into another from using the editor and the listed tools. You then save that object and quit. In Chronos 3D, you load each object, and in the cycle feature you load the first object into the morph box and then click the number of frames you want the change to take place over and load in the second object. Go to preview and check it out! Using this feature, you could turn a man into a bird and have him fly away right in front of your eyes and dazzle every one even yourself. These two features, cycling and morphing are worth the price of the program alone. THE CAMERA TRACKS AUTOMATICALLY The camera in Chronos 3D is no less powerful then the other features. Keep in mind that many of the greatest films in history were shot with one camera and many still are. You can move the camera in any position you want and save that position for future use. These saved positions are called tripods and you can save up to 8 of them in any one film. There is one exciting feature in Chronos 3D that really makes complicated things easy and the amateur look professional and that is tracking. You can easily with just a few clicks of the mouse have the camera track a moving object. This is very nice. This tracking feature can be used with anything. You can have objects track each other and start the tracking at any point in the track/timeline you want. You could have a ball come into the camera view and then have the camera follow/track the ball until it hits the window pane and breaks it into a thousand pieces. You can also track an object with the spot light. It is a nice feature. Not only can you move and manipulate objects in Chronos 3D but you can also determine how the object looks and the degree of its visibility. In the appearance menu you can choose from three styles of shading; Flat, Gouraud and Phong. In Flat shading, each triangle is shaded individually. Gouraud on the other hand calculates how light affects each point or corner of a triangle and then dithers and blends the color of these points toward the center of the triangle. Phong shades each pixel in each face. You can also choose the dithering style you want. None means that only solid colors are used in the rendering. Fixed means that the dither patterns are the same from frame to frame. Random means that the dither patterns vary randomly from one frame to the next. This latter mode creates a nice glittering effect and adds to the sense of movement in space of an object. You can even decide if you want the faces to be blended together giving a smoother object. This can really make a round object look really round without those face edges that are so telltale of low rez and 16 colors. Each object in your animation can be treated independently of other objects in these appearance modes. One object might be flat shaded but another may be Phong shaded in the same animation. This feature can among other things help distinguish objects from one another and create effects not otherwise possible. FADE IN, FADE OUT Another powerful feature is called visibility. This feature has to do with the how visible an object is in any given frames. 100 percent visibility means that the object is fully rendered. 50 percent means that 50 percent of the object is transparent and 0 visibility means that the object is invisible in the animation. This visibility can be tweened over any number of frames creating a fading in or out effect. Using around 50 percent visibility can give an object a transparent look like glass or fog or water. Objects can come and go within an animation or the whole animation can fade in or out. Again as in so many of the features of Chronos 3D, the only limits are your imagination and your hardware. CHRONOS 3D IS FIRST CLASS It must be apparent by now that I think Chronos 3D is a first class, simple to use, 3D object animator. It must be kept in mind however, no matter how good a 3D animation program is, there is no substitute for pre-planning your animations. Should you purchase Chronos 3D and I strongly recommend that you do, read the manual and methodically do the tutorials. Then decide to create a simple animation of your own and do it in chronos 3D. It is the best way to learn the program. This is a powerful program and one needs to approach it purpose and forethought (pre-planning). Chronos 3D does not create objects nor does it tell you where to move them. If you really want to create good animations and learn to be comfortable with chronos 3D, you must pre-plan. Get a piece of paper and make some sketched ideas of what you want to happen to those objects of yours. Think it through first. Have some idea of where you are going and then use Chronos 3D to get you there and always reserve the right to change your mind. That is your part. There is help though. Unlike any other company that I have known about in the Atari platform, Lexicor is providing classes on Compuserve to teach you how to use their series to create your prize winning animation <no grin>. These classes if you will include everything you ever wanted to know about and be able to do in 3D animation. Lee Seiler is an accomplished artist and is in a position to really help anyone from the novice to the expert with these classes. Though I have been doing 3D animation for a few years now, I plan on attending every class and do every homework assignment. That's right homework assignment. These classes provide an opportunity to learn how to do this stuff. I know of no better way. It seems to me the ultimate educational opportunity for "Chronies" <grin> both new and old. The syllabus is now on Compuserve and I suggest that you look it over. If you do not have a modem or are not a member of Compuserve then get it from someone who is. Nothing is perfect and Phase-4 is no exception. Keep in mind that chronos 3D is only one of several parts to a complete graphics animation package for the Atari ST and TT. As I said in the beginning of this review I received both Chronos 3D and Prism Paint, the first two parts of the Phase-4 series. Chronos 3D no doubt is a first rate program but Prism Paint falls short of the power that you would expect from the developers of Chronos 3D. PRISM PAINT DISAPPOINTING I believe that part of my disappointment in Prism Paint was my expectation that it would be an update/upgrade to CyberPaint. It is not and does not even come close. With a few differences, Prism Paint is on a par with Degas Elite. Prism Paint is a first rate basic drawing program that was created as a tool to touch up Chronos 3D animations. In addition to standard brushes, boxes, circles, rectangles, lines, rays, k-lines spray, draw, you can have unlimited frames and splined curves and it runs in all ST and TT resolutions. It will also run is the 24 bit color board rez of 512 X 512 with some 262 thousand colors on the screen at once out of a pallet of 16 million. For single pictures this is a great program. Slides and other graphic stills can be created easily and comfortably. But that's all. There is no tweening, no pixel effects, no font importation, no ADO, no bluing, and so forth. Because of this there is no way to create a traveling background or any background for that matter for your Chronos 3D animations in full TT resolutions. You can load Chronos 3D DTL files into CyberPaint but that limits you to CyberPaints resolutions. I may be the exception but I used Cyber Control/CAD 3D2 in conjunction with CyberPaint to create complete animations. My expectation was that PrismPaint would enable me to continue this combination of 2D backgrounds, mats and tweened touch-ups and 3D object animations. Not so at this time anyway. I would not however let this prevent me from using Chronos 3D. I have a feeling that this situation will not last too long. The need and demand are there, either Lexicor or some other developer will fill the gap. There are several programs that could be updated to surpass CyberPaint including Prism Paint. I think that the idea is that users expect that new programs will be upgrades of existing programs. This is not the case with Prism Paint. OPINION As should be apparent from the review I could not recommend Chronos 3D more. It is a first rate program with few flaws. I would like to see a history system for object movement to help hone the movements. I understand that there is an anti-alias feature and a spot shadow feature in the currant release update but I have not received the update yet so I cannot comment. Chronos 3D comes with a key that you must plug into the printer or serial port of the computer for the program to work. There are many who might complain about this security device but I am not one of them. would rather have a security device and the program then no program. Giving a program to your buddy or pirating programs can kill the company that brought you that program. These developers are not multi-billion or even multi-million dollar concerns. They are people like you and me and they work hard and invest a great deal so that we can have programs of Chronos 3D's quality. It would be foolish not to protect the investment. Enough said about the security device. I also recommend prism paint. Though it is a basic program, it is the only one that will take full advantage of the resolutions of the TT and the new resolutions of the new 24 bit color boards. You do need it for touching up Chronos 3d animations even if you have to do the touch up one frame at a time. Both programs are well worth the expense and Lexicor seems to be putting the Atari ahead of the other guys. The support that Lee Seilor is giving on Comp-u-serve is unprecedented and should be taken advantage of by anyone the least bit interested in computer graphics. The ability to easily put graphics on video with the new 24 bit color boards lets desktop video "chronies" almost compete with the big boys with an ST. Keep in mind that the phase-4 series works on the ST as well as the TT. The cost of the series is small in comparison to the increase in quality. I look forward to seeing the other programs in the series and also in getting my 24 bit color board. -- Doug Wokoun (aa384@cleveland.Freenet.Edu) - - - Atari SIG
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