Strata Studio Pro 2.5.3
Estimated Price: $949.00
The thing about writing an article like this is the desire to convey to the user (or potential user) the good, bad, cool, and uncool about a piece of software that they may or may not want to consider purchasing; and it all rests on my shoulders—a guy who’s an artist/animator/model builder/previsualization dude.
I could just give you the dry run facts:
Strata Studio Pro 2.5.3 (released Nov 10, 1998)
Package consists of:
1 CD (program disk and Power Module 1, plus a lot of sample goodies)
Power Module 1 Manual
Total Install on My Computer (Power Mac 6500/300 – 64MB RAM – 6GB HD): 277.3MB
Cost: $949.00 (possibly less if you’re a student)
…and then go into a tirade of dry graphics and commentary on why or why not you should have this program or want to allocate hard drive space for this, but that’s not my style. I’m an artist and my close friends say I have the gift of an evangelist, so we’re gonna see what happens together.
The short of it is, if you want to get the best bang for your buck, go buy this product. No, seriously, go call 1-800-STRATA3D right now and order yourself one of the best low-cost 3D modeller/animation packages that I have come across. Well? Go ahead. What are you waiting for? What? Details? The Whys? Ohhh… so you want information, reasons to part with your hard-earned dollars. You’re sure you want it, because I heard Tim’s articles and reviews were really good this month…. Oh, OK.
Look, this is one of those Mac-original software packages, you know, where it comes with the icon-based menu bars that can actually help aid you in figuring out what it’s supposed to do [as well as a small “definitions” bar that tells you what it is if you can’t figure it out (Hey, Strata, make the definitions come up ALL the time not just when the option is available!!!)]. So why is that important? Well I know certain programs are coming over from that OTHER platform that are 3D and they still look like something off the mainframe with goofy interfaces. Listen, I’m busy and time is money, and when you get into 3D, it’s really like you’re getting married to the software you choose (ask my wife) because you spend a lot of time learning the intricacies and nuances of the software. So I ask you, do you want something where you can get a good idea of what’s going on by pictures, observation and logic, or would you rather spend your time trying to figure out what’s going on by telepathy and the >ahem< “logic” of the PC programmer? (You know, those guys that always want to argue with you about how great their platform is and that DOS is really the best system and everything else is crap.) Personally, I would prefer to spend my time making money than losing it trying to figure out what one of these guys meant, but hey, three button mice are nice and having spent time working on Alias/Wavefront, you can get the hang of it, just not as fast.
QuickDraw3D or Open GL the eternal question…
I can already hear some of you saying,” OK, so I get the idea, the tool bars have pretty pictures on them, is there any really good reason I should part with my hard-earned dollars?” Oh, true believers, I have not even scratched the surface! Let’s start with the work windows.
First, you get a choice of QuickDraw3D or Open GL. This is very cool, especially if you have a hardware acceleration card that supports Open GL, because that means speed (shorter redraw time)! You can choose to view your model as a pointcloud (just like it sounds, a cloud of points), outline (the model is viewed only as control points and the lines running between them), wireframe (shows all the polygon meshes in the object-think vector graphic like you see in the “Making of Jurassic Park” specials where they show the computer dudes working on the dinosaur models), flat (shaded with little squares), hidden line (wireframe, but only seeing the side toward you), or shaded (smooth, “plastic” surface).
The models (that is the 3D primitive shapes that are provided to you) can be converted into a Skin, Bezier Surface, Polygon Mesh, or Polygon Group. This may not seem like much, but utilizing the Skin and Bezier Surface models, I have been able to create 5.5 Million (yes, MILLION) polygon models and use only 475k of disk space storing it (a friend of mine who is a 3D Studio Max Guru said that his dual-processor Pentium would roll over and die trying to run a model that big on 3D Studio Max).
I should mention here that a really nice feature is the ability to import Illustrator files and convert them for extrusion (say, logos) or as guides (like a blue print when you’re building say, a ship).
Another great feature is texture preview, that is, if you have placed a texture map on a model, it appears on the model as a grey image and you can then adjust the position of the texture to the way you want it (this did take a little getting used to). While we’re on the subject of texture mapping, you get MIP! What’s that? Oh, sorry, that means Multiple Image Placement, which is the ability to place more than one texture on an object and have it show up on the object. MIP goes very well with another recent feature called “Stencil.” Simply put, Stencil is a cookie cutter for texture maps that allows you to see what’s underneath. For a more detailed understanding, I would recommend the article “Clearly Opaque” in Stratauser #1 <http://www.stratauser.com> – I would highly recommend getting all issues, past and present, because the info is absolutely 100% useful).
You get resources! Useful, cool, modifiable resources! Like Fountains! Fountains is that plug in that allows you to make water fountains, lava spewing out of a volcano, or machine gun shell casings ejecting out of a machine gun and bounce off boxes or whatever… What? Shell casings? Well, yeah, you see in THIS program, they thought you might have more ideas than just making pretty fountains of water so they gave you the ability to specify the shape that you are using so whatever shape you specify will be the objects that spew out of the fountain and with collision detection it will bounce off the objects around it rather than passing through them.
You get Lens Flare! I don’t think I need to go into a long treatise on this one, but needless to say, they give you incredible control on how you want it to look from the flash and glare color to how much chaos and opacity you want. You also get Aura which allows you to add a fuzzy soft “glow” to objects (say around a planet or a lightbulb).
Fog/Mist is another tool feature which again is a very cool atmospheric effect that can add a lot of mood to your renderings or animation.
And speaking of rendering and animation, Strata has one of the nicest sets of renderers to choose from. You have a choice of Open GL (renders pictures in one of the above-mentioned formats), Radiosity (really cool photorealistic renderings, especially when using several glass objects of different color, thickness, and texture), Raytracing (for accurate shadows and photorealistic renderings of objects), Scanline (fast, and a good way to see the model rendered without shadows and the glass effects), and custom (build your own from one of the above by varying the settings provided). These renderers have been very fast in my experience and are quite powerful. The only drawback that I found was in rendering animations, I would like to see them develop an every “nth” frame renderer so that I can sample animations by rendering every few frames rather than having to render the entire animation to look for bugs.
A quick list of some of the standard features that many packages have (including, of course, Strata Studio Pro) are:
Metaballs; Path Extrude; Boolean Union, Subtraction Intersect, and Cut; Skin/Unskin; Lathe; Extrude; Scale; Pen; and a selection of 2D and 3D primitives as well as Lights and Cameras.
Now the drawbacks, I would be amiss if I did not say that Strata Studio Pro is lacking in some way, and that way would be the limitations on import/export formats. Though they do have several formats available, the lowest common ones are 3Dmf and dxf which take a long time to output and can take up a huge chunk of drive space. BUT help is on the way, so tune in next month to see what I’ve found to temporarily help solve the problem for not only Strata Studio Pro, but other 3D software packages as well (no, it wasn’t human sacrifice!).
But wait! There’s more! (Heh, always wanted to say that.) Strata Studio Pro also ships with Power Module 1! “OK, what’s that?” I’m glad you asked, O inquisitive one. Power Module 1 is the first (they didn’t send me any others, so I’m not gonna tell you about those) in a series of plug-ins that Strata has developed to make our jobs easier and more profitable.
Power Module 1 consists of:
•Deformation Lattice – This gives you the ability to “squash and stretch” models so that you can make them animate more easily ( say, for example, a rubber ball bouncing; or as their book shows, a teapot hopping) without having to move points.
•Inverse Kinematics – This is that plug-in that allows you to build skeletons to make your models (people, birds, whatever) move realistically.
•Hair – We’re talking MAJOR time saver here! Whether it’s putting hair on a person you’ve made, or grass in the ground, this was a welcome sight to be able to develop a texture map to make thing hairy. This does, however increase rendering time.
•Fire and Smoke – OH YEAH! Let’s go burn down the city! No more animating semi-transparent metaballs to do smoke and no more modifying “glowing” primitives! Just point, click, and modify! (Well, maybe a little more complex than that, but you get the idea.)
•HotSpot – For that glowing eye “Wrath of God” look that you always want to use on late-paying clients.
•Pixie Dust – Tinkerbell has come ‘a callin’ and needs you to create some magic pixie dust for her deep space probe’s engines (she tells you Wendy wants to take a long vacation from Peter) and now you can help her do it before Wendy can find the door!
•Mirror – OH YEAH! Save Time? OH YEAH!! Make Life easier? OH YEAH!!!! build twice the model in half the time! Say a car, build half of it and then mirror the other half! It has definitely kept me from going insane!
“Y’know, that does sound like a good deal, but two things: 1) If I do get it, is there a really fast way to get up and running on it, and 2) I can’t afford it right now and was wondering if there was some other package that Strata produces that I could get to get my toes wet with?”
Those are excellent questions, and I’m glad you asked—
1) Stratauser has produced an excellent video called “Jump Start” for $29.95 + $4 S&H to help you speed up your learning curve. Also, Strata has a news group where you can post questions and receive answers from some of the best in the field.
2) Strata sent me a copy of StrataVision 3D 5.0, which is basically their previous version of Studio Pro with some features taken out. The price for this little baby is only $279.00 plus S&H, or you can get version 4.0 for free (well, you will have to pay S&H)!
Now, I’m sure that there is a good possibility that I may have missed a few things, so go to <http://www.strata3D.com> and download the demo version to mess around with. See you in a month (barring death, fire, or Tim killing me for making this review so long).
•Bill Perry • <firstname.lastname@example.org>