"Art challenges the technology and technology challenges the art"
-John Lasseter, Pixar
LightWave 3D development is moving at warp speed these days. Standard development cycles in 3D applications run in approximately 18 month intervals and sometimes longer. NewTek, the makers of LightWave 3D, have practically cut that release cycle in half. Both LightWave 3D 10 and its major update, 10. 1, came within seven months of each other. Then seven months later in February of 2012 NewTek released arguably the most important and powerful version of the software in its history: LightWave 3D 11. Somebody's working some quality overtime at NewTek.
Of course, all of this speedy development is being driven by NewTek's pressing need to re-establish LightWave 3D's reputation after the company stumbled with LightWave 3D development a few years ago. In an effort to re-commit themselves to re-building the LightWave 3D brand, NewTek adopted a "3 year plan," as Rob Powers puts it, to bring the technology from their ill-fated CORE application (an attempt to re-write LightWave 3D from the ground up) into the existing LightWave 3D program in order to make it more relevant and attractive to contemporary 3D artists.
I reviewed LightWave 3D 10 and 10.1 back in October of 2011. These releases were the first to start adding the promised CORE technology to LightWave 3D. Highlights included Colourspace Management, VPR and Virtual Studio, which immediately gave the program a much needed boost. The 10.1 release also laid the foundation for the much more significant release that is LightWave 3D 11.
After a week or so of re-acquainting myself with the program, it's clear to me that LightWave 3D 11 is a powerful end-to-end 3D application that is most likely the definitive release of the program. My industry friend who has been using LightWave 3D for over a decade told me recently that "there isn't anything you can't do in LightWave."
"I've worked for over 20 years in animation, design, and visual effects myself in Hollywood
and I've personally used a lot of different tools. But I kept coming back to LightWave for every
job because it was the best tool for getting things done quickly and at the highest quality level
that the directors and producers expected."
-Rob Powers, President, NewTek LightWave Division
Here are some of the most important new features of LightWave 3D 11 taken directly from NewTek's press release. A full list of improvements can be found at the NewTek website here.
Virtual Studio and Interchange Tools
LightWave 3D 11 also adds a Shadow Catcher Node, enhancements to FiberFX, full Python scripting (an important addition to the program), an overhaul of how LightWave 3D handles shading, lighting and anti-aliasing (called Unified Sampling) and many workflow enhancements, including a Print Render Utility, improvements to the Node Editor and new Align and Distribute tools in Layout.
Rendering gets some attention in this release of LightWave 3D as well with the inclusion of Render Buffer enhancements. You can now save and view the various render buffers that make up an image as it renders. You can also save presets for commonly used buffers to aid in setting up output.
"With the enhancements in LightWave 3D 11, visualizing our inventions just got a lot easier. The instancing, unified sampling, dynamics and productivity tools simply matter, shave off hours every day and lets us imagine rather than worry whether or not we can get the program to do it."
-Tom Bosschaert, LightWave 3D 11 beta tester
I was impressed with the sub-d modeling tools inside of LightWave 3D 11. Having just come from Modo 601, which is probably the best modeler on the planet, LightWave 3D 11 holds its own. The variety of ways to attack a particular modeling task in LightWave 3D 11 is impressive. I also like the fact that after you become familiar with the LightWave 3D workflow, the program gets out of your way so you can focus on putting your model together, rather than simply trying to solve problems with the application.The new updates to LightWave 3D 11 are fabulous, of course. Fracture and Flocking were particularly fun to work with and although there were a few issues (mostly my own), it didn't take me long to get the hang of both workflow types. There are things you can do with these tools that you simply can't do easily in other programs.
I was also delighted to see NewTek emphasize LightWave 3D's ability to work easily with other programs. The inclusion of GoZ for Zbrush and the easy export/import with Unity are very welcome additions. Both programs worked easily with LightWave 3D 11 and I especially enjoyed moving Zbrush models in and out of LightWave 3D 11.
Rendering in LightWave 3D 11 is fantastic. My NVIDIA Quardro 5000 Card really shines with LightWave 3D 11. Plus, I like the fact that rendering settings are less complex than in some other applications. I found it relatively easy to get several models into a scene, apply textures, set up lights and render with quality. The Render Buffer Enhancements give you a lot of control over how to set up renders. I also like that LightWave 3D is becoming friendly to print artists by providing a special workflow. I'm looking to see this develop even more in future versions of LightWave 3D.
And I really enjoyed working with Bullet Dynamics and the improved FiberFX. Utilizing new info in the LightWave 3D manual, I was able to get up and running with both in a few hours. It's great to see that fibers are now textured in the Node Editor.
"The thing I love about our product is that you can think of a concept on Monday, you model it and on Friday you've rendered the final thing on Friday. We have the most beautiful renderer....and LightWave 3D 11 has just raised the bar"
-Rob Powers, President, NewTek LightWave Division
In its almost 20 year history, LightWave 3D came to almost define Television and Feature Film VFX. NewTek's slew of Emmys and Oscars are proof of that. And the user base has grown exponentially until fairly recently. Somewhere along the line, NewTek became complacent and forgot that a company has to grow along with their customers. Service and innovation are integral to the success of any software application. NewTek has learned a hard lesson. And although NewTek has made some missteps in developing LightWave 3D, those mistakes are well behind them now.
With LightWave 3D 11, NewTek has turned the corner. The program is fast, stable and has new functionality that rivals just about any other 3D application on the market. And with Rob Powers pushing the development of VPR in LightWave 3D it is becoming a leader in this area for 3D applications.
This is a most impressive release of LightWave 3D for NewTek that goes a long way to reestablishing their commitment to making the application a strong choice for 3D artists.
However, there are still some areas that NewTek needs to improve. One glaring problem is in documentation. NewTek decided to simply write "addendum" for LightWave 3D 11's new features and provide the old LightWave 3D 10 manuals for Modeler and Layout. For such an important release, they should have re-written the entire manual and included all of the new features of LightWave 3D 11. It's confusing to move back and forth from the older manual to the new addendum to find information on particular topics.
NewTek also needs to provide up-to-date tutorials for LightWave 3D 11. The NewTek TV channel and their YouTube channel have little or no training for LightWave 3D 11. Other companies, like Luxology and Maxon have a significant advantage over NewTek in this area.
The history and accomplishments of LightWave 3D aren't just for veteran users, but can be motivation for a whole new user base. LightWave 3D 11 is a very, very good program and its appeal as a fast, easy to use, end-to-end application with a world class rendering system is just the thing for younger users, or small groups who don't have the time (or money) to learn multiple applications. Better training, outreach via web-casts and perhaps sponsorships of small productions (like the Blender Projects) could be a real plus for NewTek in promoting LightWave.
I also recommend that NewTek consider a side-grade price for LightWave 3D, where users can move from another 3D application to LightWave 3D at a reduced price. It would also be a very good way to promote LightWave 3D to user groups in other applications.
"I think the most impressive way you can release those [CORE] technologies is to do so in a way that people can actually use them. We want an integrated application that is going to be effective for users."
-Rob Powers, President, NewTek LightWave Division
The release of LightWave 3D 11 is a big step forward for NewTek, as it will please long time users and appeal to new ones as well. I also believe it will bring back users who left over the CORE fiasco. As long as NewTek continues to develop innovative new features, the LightWave 3D application will perhaps grow into the industry leader it once was.
If you are a new or past user of LightWave 3D, I urge you to download the LightWave 3D 11 demo and re-acquaint yourself with this excellent program. Renderosity users would benefit from just about every aspect of the program, especially the renderer. I also encourage individual 3D filmmakers to take a hard look at LightWave 3D 11. The depth of features and ability to work end to end with the program is most appealing and the price point for the software is very competitive.
You can download the LightWave 3D 11 demo for the Mac or PC right here.
LightWave 3D 11 costs US $1,495. Upgrade pricing from earlier versions of LightWave 3D is US $695. Educational pricing is also available. More info at NewTek.
The SP1 for LightWave 3D 11 is out as a free update for registered users.
This review was made using a mid-level, custom build PC using Windows 7, 64-bit, 12 Gb of RAM, an Intel processor and a high end NVIDIA Quadro 500 GPU. A complete list of hardware requirements for both Mac and PC can be found at the NewTek website.
My sincere thanks to NewTek for providing a copy of LightWave 3D 11 for review. Thanks also go to Kevin G. Clark for his help in putting this review together.
Editor's Note - Be sure to check out the following related links:
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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