Sculpt in Digital Clay
by Stephen Jones (February 27, 2001)
Finally, there's an application that gives you something constructive to do with your 3D hardware accelerated, megapixel per second, juiced-up desktop PC even after your teenager has fragged his last Quake opponent for the day.
Amorphium from Electric Image is a delightfully intuitive, highly responsive tool for creating and rendering your own 3D creations. Not only do its clay-like modeling tools make immediate sense, they let you create (and animate) organic shapes and 3D characters that would tax geometrically rigid CAD/CAM software.
When launched, Amorphium takes over your desktop completely and fills its borderless window with a daunting (at first) array of 3D tool palettes. Fortunately, you can take comfort knowing that the central workspace and both the left and right palettes don't change much between different modeling tasks.
Every project begins with a primordial shape (say, a sphere) as your virtual lump of clay. You then use Brush Tools to carve out or (conversely) build up the surface with solid material and/or color.
The process of modelling an object in this Brush Tools mode is instantly as familiar as preschool Art class, except that some of the 3D tools borrow names from paint programs. Smudge, for instance, lets you push clay (not paint) around, while Smooth irons out wrinkles and peaks.
The so-called brushes are really a collection of dual purpose tools with various tips. They range from round or square to exotic tiered shapes. Whether these act as carving tools or nozzles for "spraying" clay depends on a single numeric slide control. Minus 100% carves the deepest, while plus 100% builds up the highest peak in the material. Other sliders control the radius of the active brush tool and its influence on nearby clay.
All this sculpting would be pretty one sided (literally) unless you could get at other parts of your model. For that, Amorphium supplies an ever-present bank of Move Tools to the left of the workspace that let you twiddle the orientation, placement, and lighting of your creation.
Also helpful is the little "rear-view mirror" display near the upper-right-hand corner of the workspace that shows you the project from another angle.
Besides the real-time sculpting tools, Amorphium offers other modeling tools. The most fun of these is the BioSphere modeler, which offers you an experience somewhat akin to sculpting with globs of Jell-O in space.
By positioning various BioSpheres (called metaballs or blobs in other modelers) next to each other, adjusting their size and Energy (i.e. attractive force) it's easy to build up organic, curved surfaces. Then by applying "anti-blobs" (i.e blobs with negative Energy), you can carve out dimples and grooves to further define a shape.
While working with BioSpheres you get instant feedback from low-resolution rendition of your model. At any time or once you have the model you want, you can render a higher resolution model.
Amorphium offers plenty of other useful tools and features. Among those are good 3D file format import/export capabilities, a Height Shop for creating 3D surfaces from bitmaps, and the ability to paint color and texture directly on an object in 3D.
Finally, after building a neat menagerie of objects, you'll want to show it off. Composer lets you bring all your models together, arrange them, light them and place them on a stage for final rendering.
In addition, Composer lets you specify key frames (for only a single object, unfortunately) to animate and output as AVI, animated GIF or a series of bitmaps. (Click the above movie for an example.)
Amorphium is a groundbreaking and affordable tool that makes 3D construction accessible to non-engineers. Amazingly, this well though out tool lets you turn out beautiful 3D models in real-time on even an old 133 MHz Pentium.
Web designers and graphic artists that want to infuse original 3D elements into their work should flock to Amorphium in droves along with anyone else who was waiting for 3D to become useful beyond games.
© 2006 Stephen Jones All rights reserved.