Review: Form•Z 6.1

General-purpose 3D solid and surface-modeling tool. (February 16th, 2007)

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Product Manufacturer: auto·des·sys,Inc

Price: $1495.00 US

The Good

  • Excellent Modeling and Rending tools. Improved Animation features. 3D printer support.

The Bad

  • No printed manuals. Animation system still missing important features. Expensive extended technical support.

Form[bullet]Z is a superb general-purpose 3D solid and surface-modeling tool with powerful features, and excellent rendering options for realizing almost any 3D vision. Modeling is its core strength, offering a range of modeling tools, on par with, and often exceeding those in competing products. Version 6.1 enhances many existing tools and adds several new ones, including a revamped animation system. Form[bullet]Z 6.1 is an Universal Binary and runs on PowerPC and Intel Macs, although there are a few features that do not yet work on Intel-based Macs, such as support for the Artlantis file format and Microscribe 3D digitizer.

Be More Animated

Besides under-the-hood performance tweaks, the most sweeping improvement to Form[bullet]Z is the animation system. Form[bullet]Z's previous animation tools were rudimentary at best. Animating in Form[bullet]Z required making changes in a scene, saving a view of that scene, and repeating the process for each keyframe in the animation. Selecting the saved views, choosing the Animation from Keyframes option, selecting the desired keyframe options, and choosing Generate Animation from the Display Menu rendered the animation. This process was barely adequate for generating a walk-through, and less than ideal for complex animations.

Form[bullet]Z sports an object centric animation system, integrating animation at the modeling level. Now, any object can be animated. Setting keyframes, making animation paths, or a combination of the two generates the animations in Form[bullet]Z. Nearly all of an object's parameters can be animated and tracks for several parameters are automatically created when the object is made animated. The user can add additional parameter animation tracks. Keyframes are set explicitly in the Animation Timeline or generated automatically as object parameters are changed. It is easy to build complex animations by combining individually animated objects or groups of them.

While the Form[bullet]Z animation tools are a major step up, they lack other important features needed for rich, complex animations, like bones, inverse kinematics, physics, particles, and collision detection. The animation is still no match for Maya, Lightwave, or 3DS Max.

Expanding the Toolbox

Form[bullet]Z 6.1 boasts several interesting new tools. The Morph Tool morphs between two objects, the Deform tool applies multiple deformations to an object at once, and the Extract from Animation tool extracts new 3D objects from any point in an animation. Using these tools in concert turns the Form[bullet]Z animation system into an unusual modeling tool. You can create objects from any in-between point in an animated morph or deformation, which yields results difficult to achieve with other tools.

Other cool new tools include The S-Loft tool, which combines elements of both skinning and lofting functions and allows the simple creation of branched objects like engine manifolds or tree limbs. The Transform tool combines translation, rotation, and scale functions into a single graphical tool for easy access and manipulation. The Render Textures tool makes Form[bullet]Z RenderZone's procedural textures into texture maps that can be mapped back to surfaces.

Form[bullet]Z 6.1 also supports import and export of the ZPR data format used by Z Corp 3D printers for rapid prototyping of gadgets created by industrial designers. The ZPR format supports color and texture information for higher quality 3D mockups of virtual 3D objects.

Interface

The clean user interface give you a good deal of control over what tools are available. Functional palettes and tear off tool palettes provide significant flexibility, but be sure to exercise some discipline or the screen can quickly become disorganized clutter.

To Serve and Protect

The software is copy protected using a USB key (or dongle) encoded with a serial number. You install the drivers for the WIBU USB key first. If the installer can't sense the USB key it won't install Form[bullet]Z. If you have a volume license, you can use the software on more than one computer at the same time. Initially, you get a four-month membership in Form[bullet]Z's family plan technical support service and thereafter must pay $990 per year. The Family plan includes unlimited technical support and any updates released over the 12-month period. Updates are usually released to family plan support members first. Technical support is handled via e-mail and responses to my questions were returned in a reasonable time, within a day or two.

The Form[bullet]Z web site hosts an active forum and moderators appear to respond quickly to most posts. In addition, there are a small number of PDF-based tutorials in the support section of the web site and a large number of user tutorials in the forums. My support experience overall was good. Form[bullet]Z version 6.1 does not include printed manuals. The electronic documentation is accessible from the Help Menu or by shift-clicking on the tools. You can also download PDF versions of the manuals. If you miss thumbing through heavy dog-eared tomes, you can purchase printed versions.

Three Versions

Overall, Form[bullet]Z rocks as a modeling tool with excellent rendering features and okay animation tools. The Form[bullet]Z 3D tools are offered in three versions: Form[bullet]Z is just the modeling tools and basic rendering features, Form[bullet]Z RenderZone, $1995.00, adds advanced photorealistic rendering options using the LightWorks engine developed by LightWork Design Limited. Form[bullet]Z RadioZity, $2390.00, adds radiosity based photorealistic rendering. Radiosity accurately measures the interaction of light in a 3D scene and provides the most realistic images possible.

System Requirements:
  • Power MacG4, G5, or Intel processor
  • Mac OS X 10.4 or later
  • 128 MB RAM minimum/512 MB recommended
  • CD-ROM Drive
  • Hardware-Accelerated OpenGL graphics card
  • 3-button mouse
  • 200 MB of hard disk space minimum/500 MB Recommended

by James Alguire


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