Review: Strata 3D Pro

When you think of 3D applications you think of multi-thousand dollar (June 5th, 2003)

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Product Manufacturer: Strata

Price: $499

The Good

  • Good value for the money, short learning curve

The Bad

  • Not as customizable as Lightwave

When you think of 3D applications you think of multi-thousand dollar applications, which have steep learning curves and only the elite artists of our community who have invested years of study can accomplish anything. However, these last few years, cheap applications aimed for the general public have arisen and given the opportunity for the average schmoe to finally create three-dimensional objects to be rendered and in some cases even implemented in games. Strata has been in the 3D application market for more than 10 years and recently with help from online community based web sites has increased its user population dramatically.

So What is It?

With the recent announcement of MacOS X Native version of Strata, I felt it necessary to take it for a spin in its new OS home. Strata 3.8 is a modeling, animation, and rendering application to create what your heart desires. In the Stratacafe Gallery amazing images and movies have been created ranging from cute French cartoon characters, to serious scary zombies, to Holiday Christmas trees turning into spaceships and blasting off. Strata's Strata 3D Pro 3.8 included a few extra toys to play with in addition from the tools included in the previous version: Toon Render, Photon mapping, Caustics Rendering, enhanced Deformation Lattice, enhanced Jiggle Tool, and extra Raydiosity features including Stochastic Sampling and Multiple Ray bounces.

Where Is Its Strong Point?

One of its strong points is its learning curve. The first time you open it up you'll see your tool bar with your main window and a few other windows. It resembles a Photoshop layout with the simplicity but power of Appleworks. If you think that is complicated, don't even open up Maya or even Pixels 3D (other 3D applications). It's so easy you can get up to use right away. You select the cube tool, create your cube, select the camera tool, and finally click on the cube. There you have it, in less than a minute you created your first render!

Strata also has great render algorithms which are capable of amazing images ranging from realistic rooms to Computerized cartoons for your flash movies. Stratacafe.com (in addition to the friendliest forum members around) provides you with tips and tricks to master the Raydiosity, Raytracing, and the other Strata render algorithms. Furthermore, with a simple checkbox, you can tell the renderers if you want an Alpha Channel to be included with your render. In fact, Adobe Photoshop is Strata's best friend; if you want to maximize Strata, be sure to have an image manipulation application such as Adobe Photoshop or Ulead PhotoImpact.

Does it compare with higher-end Applications such as Lightwave?

Strata does have its bugs, but nothing to what it used to have in OS 9. I encountered 2 unexpected crashes but the second time I tried it, it executed the task flawlessly in both cases. Strata 3D's modeling tools aren't at the top of the pack either but there are ways around, which are impractical but get the job done, such as in modeling faces. In addition, Strata 3D 4 is expected to have NURBS implemented, which will spontaneously increase what will and can be done. The good news being Strata usually is kind in giving promotional upgrades from its older software.

Strata doesn't support low polygon models for games but for prerendered image games, strata can do just fine. It also still lacks the customizability from Lightwave but it makes it up in ease of use and the time you spend using it instead of trying to figure out how to use it.

Summing it Up

I think Strata 3D isn't designed to create the top of the line graphics for movies such as Final Fantasy but rather used for book cover illustrations or for a mid range free-lance artist. I personally have used an older version of Strata 3D for a Starcraft TC a few years back and it performed admirably. In conclusion. If you are a mid range graphic professional, Strata 3.8 Pro could be for you with its lower price range and lack of knowledge to make it tick. If you already have used the higher end software, you probably want to stick with Lightwave or maybe even Maya if you have the cash.

by Florian Maurer


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