Lightwave 3D

Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2008, 2:45 PM

My application of choice for my 3D work is Newtek's Lightwave, one of the oldest 3D packages available. It's been around since it was called The Video Toaster for the Commodore Amiga, back in the early 90s (which is only 18 years or so ago, but in computer terms that's ancient).

I've used it partly because I find it easy to use and quite comprehensive. But it's also because it just happened to be the one I heard about the most when I was slavering after 3D graphics software, so I actively sought it out when I had the opportunity. I was given a not-exactly-legal copy of it many years ago, and basically had that for a long time as I slowly, and clumsily, found my way around it. At first I had no idea what I was doing, but eventually I managed to figure out some of the features and render out a few simple images using simple techniques.

As time went on, and I got better at figuring things out, and after I bought the full version, I created more advanced models, and sometimes was asked to add images and animation to short films that my friends made. Usually these were Star Wars oriented, but that's developed since then to original ideas, and some effects require elements that aren't even 3D, so I've learned 2D compositing too.

But there's a problem with Lightwave, several problems really, and they stem from the fact that it's not considered the "Industry Standard". Other 3D apps have that place. The most commonly used 3D application in movie effects work is called Maya, and if I wanted a career in this field that is the one that would be most advantageous to learn. There's another called Softimage that is an alternative professional level product. Those are very expensive, however, and apparently can be quite challenging to learn to use. Another common one, used amongst amateurs, is called 3D Studio Max which is most popularly used in designing and modelling video game characters. Whereas Lightwave is usually only used by the movie industry for simple things like Previsualisation, which is pre-production design and animated storyboards, though the Advertising and Television Industries use it a lot for TV-resolution animation and effects.

Lightwave is therefore not treated as seriously as the other applications, and for that reason its development is slow, piecemeal, incomplete, and sometimes just plain badly handled. There are some features that haven't changed in ten years, others that have a completely different GUI than the rest. It comes with plug-ins that ought to be integrated into the software properly, but remain separate, and developed only by the originator in their own time. It crashes rather a lot, and cannot handle some simple things without choking. And some things just don't work properly at all. Cloth dynamics sucks, for example.

The end result is an application that lacks finesse, is far from robust, and cries out for better interactivity and development.

I love Lightwave, and have no desire to change my allegiance, but it is a great shame that it can't compete on the world stage of 3D applications, because there's no faulting the final results. The imagery that it can create is beyond reproach - it's the mechanics behind it that makes it lacking.

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