In the past there hasn’t
been a single application dedicated to generic Web 3D content
creation as companies such as Discreet, Alias|Wavefront, Newtek and Softimage
have had to rely on third party plug-ins and extensions to
their 3D software for Flash, Shockwave 3D, Viewpoint or other
Web 3D output capabilities. The problem associated with this
is that most of Web 3D production is simply adding widgets
or elements to spice up websites -- for Web designers who
have little interest in 3D, buying an entire package actually
built for highend 3D animation and visual effects is not only
expensive, but overwhelmingly complex to learn. Discreet identified
this issue and the result is plasma – the world’s
first full-featured 3D animation package built specifically
for Web 3D production.
plasma is based on 3ds max technology in that it is actually
a slimmed-down version of 3ds max (Discreet will have you
believe otherwise). The interface is slightly different to
reflect a more familiar “Photoshop” look with
the floating toolbar on the left and the command tabbed panels
on the right, though this is completely customizable. Feature-wise,
it contains the more widely used tools in 3ds max such as
polygonal modeling, Meshsmooth, bones/IK, Skin and Morpher.
For rendering, plasma comes with an in-built Flash renderer
as well as the Default Scanline Renderer (without advanced
features such as motion blur).
One of the biggest highlights
of plasma is the capability to export high quality Flash animations.
Options in the Render panel include the ability to choose
various shading types such as Cartoon, Flat, Gradient and
Wireframe shading. Lines can be rendered as outlines, intersections
lines, detail lines and submaterial edges. Fills can also
be flat or averaged depending on the look that you are after.
The big thing going for the plasma Flash renderer is the ability
to render shadows from multiple light sources.
A huge workflow enhancement is the Flash MX plug-in that
allows you to link plasma and Flash MX together. When exporting
a Flash animation in plasma, the bridge plug-in will automatically
update the Flash MX libraries so that you don’t need
to repeatedly import SWF animations.
At this time, Discreet’s Shockwave 3D exporter is the
only solution that supports full character skinning, mesh
deformations and weighted vertices. Other exporters only go
as far as using rigid-jointed objects, limiting animations
to “robotic” movements. Discreet has also included
rigid-body Havok dynamics into plasma as Shockwave 3D is able
to use the dynamics engine for real-time forces such as gravity