Flash Cartoon Animation Software - Swift 3D
June 30 2005
There are several alternatives to making Flash cartoon animation. The last time, Toon Doctor ® looked at ToonBoom Studio, one of the main contender to the Flash throne. As character animation has become an important component of 3D animation, designers and animators normally have long for the opportunity to incorporate 3D into their animation. This time, we'll look at Electric Rain's (Erain) Swift 3D.
Swift 3D is one of the rare 3D animation and modelling tools to have tackled Flash integration from the ground up. Instead of porting their contents to Flash and trying to make the format existing exports, they have built a 3D animation program around Flash to reduce the learning curve and the workflow transition as much as possible. Not an easy task to have undertaken, Erain has succeeded.
However, with anything Flash, there is another dimension to look out for. Are the 3D contents created through Swift 3D really as complex as required by animators creating animation as some regular 3D animation programs like 3D Max, Maya, Lightwave, Cinema 4D or Carrara? Is the Flash integration flexibility limiting the type of output users will want to create through Swift 3D? Swift3D pulls through.
The first thing to understand when working with 3D and Flash is that file size and compressions are the priority concerns. 3D Flash contents published for the Web cannot be big as most surfers are still have limited download capabilities. The real talent of a Flash 3D animator at this time, is not only judged by the beauty and skill they show. Their capability to optimize 3D Flash contents for the Web is as important.
When it comes to Flash optimization Swift 3D offers a tremendous array of tools to help designers. Swift 3D offers two main types of rendering. The first is bitmap rendering and it compresses output severely to minimize file size. The second is where Erain, Swift 3D's maker shine. They offer smart rendering that breaks down the 3D scene being rendered by layers, which one can import within Macromedia Flash.
Not only is file size smaller when objects are broken down, they are also easier to edit within Flash. As great as Swift 3D is, animators will always need to fine tune their projects within Flash. Flash, in this scenario is like a broadcast editing system like FinalCuts. Instead of going back to Adobe Photoshop and AfterEffects to handle basic image editing and effects, one sticks with the editor. Flash is used the same with Swift 3D and Toon Doctor likes it this way.
The developers at Erain understand how animators work and do not try to force their methods by making animators produce perfect output perfect from Swift 3D. The vector renderer in Erain also exports into common file formats such as Illustrator AI files, Freehand, SVG, besides Flash SWF. An importer module is available for Macromedia Flash to handle file imports of complex 3D scenes.
Animation & Modelling
The animation timeline in Swift 3D is similar to Flash. One difference bringing closer to products like LiveMotion and AfterEffects is that there are specific timeline layers for each type of transformations, such as scaling, rotations, translations and layers for textures' and materials' controls. By enabling the "animate" button every change within a frame is recorded. This is similar to Discreet's 3D Max.
There are several modelling modes each in their own environments such as the Lathe Tools to create curves, the Extrusion Editor to create extrusions and the Advanced Modeler to create and manipulate 3D meshes. The Lathe Tools use on Bezier curves. It's too bad that there are don't have the same types of freeform curves used in Flash to create objects and shapes in Swift 3D.
As advanced modelling options such as surface subdivisions are not available in Swift3D, one should be able to model complicated objects in a dedicated modeler and import them later. Although Swift3D can import vector files, it is limited to DXF files for 3D models. It's possible to animated shapes created with the Lathe Tools. The process is similar to the shape tweening in Flash.
The one tool that I was looking for was a path editor allowing one to draw lines on the stage and force an object to follow the line. Thankfully, Swift3D had such a tool available. Using it wasn't difficult. Designers either familiar with Flash or 3D animation programs can use it in minutes. Something lacking is a way to adjust the speed of an object following a path. Accelerations and decelerations are not possible directly.
Concerning the interface, Swift3D uses too much space for the camera and the light objects. Just like in other 3D animation software, these controls should be available with mouse clicks and simple icons. I really missed having keyboard and mouse gesture shorthands to manoeuver through the stage. It would also be fun to have more than two windows so that we can see more views. The traditional four view layouts are usually effective.
Considering its price, Swift3D is a great addition to Flash design. It beats other 3D programs that don't interface with Flash and simply provide outputs as non-optimized SWF files that then have to be compressed and edited within Flash. While creating character animation within Swift3D is possible, the process will not be as smooth and quick as using a dedicated 3D animation program. However, the ability to interact with Flash directly is a definite bonus.
Find out more about Swift 3D
Coolstreak Cartoons Inc.