NewTek began shipping it's latest and greatest version of LightWave 3D Version 9 mid July, 2006. Just in time for industry professionals, hobbyists, and students to get a glimpse of it at Siggraph 2006 in Boston.
As Marketplace Administrator, I'm often asked the question, "What is the best modeling software on the market?" Anyone who has ever ventured into creating and animating custom 3d content knows that this is no easy task regardless of which application you choose. With the 3D market rapidly expanding, I'm noticing more and more software companies trying to minimize this steep learning curve, and make it easier for an average user to achieve custom modeling and animation. NewTek is reaching this goal with their latest release, LightWave 3D version 9.
Upon opening the application for the first time, I noticed how very well organized the Interface is, making it very easy for a new user to get familiar with. I didn't have to do very much reading in the manual to find my way around the interface. However, in the few times that I did have to refer to the manual, the documentation is very well presented step by step.
The thing I like most in comparison to other 3D applications I've used in the past is that the "Modeler" and "Layout" are 2 separate entities, whereas you do all your modeling in the "Modeler", and your scene setup and rendering in the "Layout". Another very interesting aspect is the 2 entities use what is called a "Hub" to communicate, whereas changes you make in Modeler are then communicated to Layout. This comes in handy when you're in Layout and notice something that you need to change before doing a final render.
Have a look here at the Modeling interface. Notice the tabs along the top. Each tab consists of a different set of tools available right there on the left of the interface, making it relatively easy to find just the right tool you're looking for in that step of your modeling creation. Of course there are always the keyboard shortcuts which always work like a charm when you're crunched for time in meeting a deadline. But point being, any average user will easily find the tools they need to get the job done.
You do your initial "building" in the Create tab, where you have a vast selection of Primitives to choose from as a base for your model, or you can select to draw your own points and splines.
In the Modify tab is where you will find the tools to start shaping your primitive into your desired shape. You can select points or polys to move, drag, shear, rotate, bend, twist, stretch, size, taper, and more.
The Multiply tab is where you can find other tools to modify your shape. There is the Bevel, Edge Bevel, Rounder, Extrude, Lathe, Smooth Shift, Multishift, and a multitude of others available. As well as all the duplicate tools and subdivide tools. One of my personal favorite duplicate tools is the "Rail Clone" whereas you have one object in the foreground, a rail in the background, and you duplicate how many objects you want to follow that rail. This is perfect for constructing everything from a sting of pearls all the way to a set of tank tracks, and only having to actually model one pearl, or one piece of the track.
The Construct tab is where you'll find all your Boolean tools. I personally only use Booleans when absolutely necessary.
In the Detail tab is where you merge points and polys, weld and unweld, align, smooth, and an array of other useful tools.
In the Map tab is where you can map your mesh for texturing. You can use weight maps, create UV maps, as well as Morphs.
As you can see, the list of tools at your fingertips is extremely long, giving you the power of creating simple objects as well as highly complex models.
In no time at all, without having very much modeling experience, I was able to model some very simple objects.
After a few of weeks of experimenting and working with the application, I was able to completely model a Mech, create morphs for the tracks movement, texture it, and take it into Layout and get a very simple animation done with it.
Another useful feature that I found to be very handy is that you can load several objects into Modeler at one time, and switch between them using the dropdown menu located at the upper right of the interface next to the layers. It also allows you to copy and paste a layer from one object to an entirely different object, so you can work between objects with ease.
LightWave also allows layered texturing, whereas you can incorporate colors, image based textures, and procedurals to get the look you're aiming for on your models. Version9 adds new shading technology through the addition of a node-based materials system.
The interface in Layout is just like Modeler, whereas you have all the tabs at the top, and the tools for each section on the toolbar on the left.
Layout is where you stage your animation. You add lights and cameras to your scene, and then render out images to frames. For animation you create keyframes, or as I do, let AutoKey do most of the work for you. Before the final render, you are able to "Make Preview" where you can actually preview the animation before rendering to make necessary changes. This is a huge timesaver, as rendering out frames for a complete animation can be a very timely process.
I don't have a previous version to compare this one to, but I'm told by avid users that the render engine in v9 is faster than previous versions. For the simple renders that I did do while reviewing the application, I don't have any complaints on the render times, but I'm sure they can get extensive with more complex scene setups.
Here is the very preliminary texture work for my Mech. I'm going for that old rusted out look, and still have quite a ways to go, but as far as reviewing the application, I think I've touched on a fair amount of the applications capabilities during the creation of this project.
The art of 3d content creation and animation is one that is forever expanding. There is, and will always be something new to learn. One never "really" masters it, but that's what makes it so interesting, and challenging. I for one look forward to a long journey of learning and exploring new things in this ever growing field.
After reviewing LightWave 3D's capabilities, I can easily see how it is the number one choice of many Industry Professionals, and with it's reasonable low price of $795.00, I can see this application being more appealing to newcomers in the field of 3D content creation and Animation.
For more information on LightWave 3D, please visit Newtek's site at www.newtek.com/lightwave/, and once you've delved into this powerful application, be sure to checkout the Lightwave 3D forum right here at Renderosity where you're sure to be inspired by many of our very own "Seasoned Pros".
System Requirements for LightWave v9:
System RAM: 512 MB minimum requirement, 1 GB recommended
Graphics Card: nVidia FX 5200 series (minimum)
ATIFireGL V 5100 (minimum)
Graphics support: Full OpenGL (OpenGL 2.0 support, or ARB_shading_language_100 OpenGL extension in earlier versions, required to use GLSL features)
Driver: Latest from chipset manufacturer
Dedicated Video RAM: 64 MB per display minimum requirement, 128 MB recommended
Minimum Screen Resolution: 1024x768 minimum requirement, 1280x1024 recommended
Hard Drive Space: 230 MB for program installation (not including content)
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With special thanks to Guest Columnist, Renderosity Marketplace Administrator, Deborah Montique [Debbie M.].
October 2, 2006