Lexicor Phase IV/graphics/commercial

From: Doug Wokoun (aa384@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 04/18/92-07:24:41 PM Z

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
                                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.


     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.


     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.


     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.


     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.


     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.


     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.


     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 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

     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.


     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.


     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.


     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


     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          
           - - -             
         Atari SIG

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