In 1995, a couple of guys in Dallas (John Davis and Keith Alcorn) decided
to spend their free time creating a 3D animated short film, titled Runaway
Rocket Boy, which was about a genius named Johnny Quasar. Seven years
later, Johnny Quasar has become Jimmy Neutron and his rocket ship is flying
through a feature length film. While the inspirational success story of
Davis and Alcorn, now DNA Productions, is unlikely to repeat itself very
often, it truly is possible for anyone with talent and determination to
create high quality 2D and 3D animation. Whether the goal is to enter competitions,
produce corporate training animations, design computer games or just have
fun, the tools available today make all of it possible.
There are many 2D animation programs available, including Flash, Toon
Boom, Xara X, LiveMotion and Director. Macromedia’s Flash MX animation
program is my software of choice for 2D work. Over 400 million people have
a Flash Player on their computers and more than one million designers and
animators use the software.
Flash is enormously popular and for good reason. Being timeline and
keyframe based helps get an animation rolling quickly with as much control
over the results as the creator wants. Some of the recent changes to Flash
are the improvement of the organization of windows, palettes and dialog
boxes, better drawing tools, and more flexible timeline and layer organization.
There is also increased video support, sound synchronization, and the continued
evolution of ActionScript which gives the programming designer more capabilities
and control. This program just keeps getting better.
Although the drawing tools have been given some attention, I hope they’ll
become easier to work with in future versions. When trying to create complex
objects, most people give up on the Flash drawing tools and go to a vector
program such as Macromedia Freehand, Adobe Illustrator or any of the other
vector programs that can export to Flash. Spending time using the Flash
drawing tools will improve the results, but time is often in short supply.
Additionally, I’d like to see shape tweening (the morphing of one shape
into another) improved; its uses are few at the moment due to unpredictable
and often unattractive results.
Originally a Web and interactive multimedia tool, Flash is also being
used for the creation of Web movies, games and television cartoons and
commercials. This powerful, stable software sells for around $400 and is
well worth the price.
For 3D animation, high-end software includes LightWave 3D, Maya, Softimage,
3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D. Their prices range from a few hundred to many
thousands of dollars. All of these programs have a fairly high learning
curve and they differ greatly in user interface design and methods of creation.
Hardware requirements become critical because 3D animation rendering (producing
frames of the animation for review of final output) can bring a computer
to its knees when hampered by a slow processor, inadequate RAM, etc.
Often, the software first learned is the software one prefers. Sometimes
circumstances such as needing an unavailable tool or working at a job where
different software is required forces people to try new programs and this
can either lead to a switch or confirm one’s prior preference.
My 3D education began with San Antonio based Newtek’s LightWave 3D (and
its cousin, Inspire 3D, a version intended for lower resolution Web work).
Since then, I’ve only briefly investigated a couple of the other high-end
programs because LightWave has everything I could need to complete my animations.
Animators new to LightWave are sometimes caught off-guard by the unique
aviation-style movement controls in the Layout side of the program and
the overwhelming array of modeling tools, effects plug-ins and environment
tweaking panels. These are actually two of the benefits of using LightWave.
Once accustomed to the way Layout’s object movement controls adjust the
heading, pitch and banking of items in your scene, it quickly becomes a
more natural way to work. Though priced far below other cutting-edge animation
programs, LightWave already contains many plug-ins that you would have
to purchase separately if using most of the other programs. Another important
advantage is the outstanding decision by Newtek to use text buttons instead
of tiny, confusing icons. Rather than spend time learning which icon represents
which tool, you’ll already be creating with the tool in a fraction of the
Taking a class and/or spending time working through tutorials from one
of the many great books available on this program will help the new user
get started. After that, it’s relatively easy to create complex models,
complicated scene layout, dramatic or realistic lighting, character animation,
texturing, morph targets, lip-sync and more. This sophisticated and powerful
program gives animators control of every aspect of their work and ultimately
produces an exquisitely beautiful finished animation thanks to the fantastic
LightWave was used in the films Black Hawk Down, Panic Room,
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, The Time Machine,
A.I., Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, Monsters Inc., Gladiator,
and many others. It accounts for over 40% of all 3D animation done in film
and television and is also used for game creation, industrial design and
architectural design, medical imaging, web and print purposes.
The release of an enhanced version of Inspire 3D would be nice, but
it seems unlikely. The first and only version is priced at $495.00 and
isn’t always easy to find. Newtek does offer significant upgrade discounts
to assist owners of previous versions of LightWave or Inspire in upgrading
to LightWave 7.5. Comparing prices and features of high-end 3D animation
programs quickly reveals that LightWave is one of the best in quality and
priced at $1595.00.
With dedicated effort and creative vision, Flash and LightWave can make
the creation of exciting new worlds possible, environments where anything
can happen, where even a boy genius and his friends can see Ultra Lord,