Mac returns to 3D fold

Summary:The advent of Mac OS X may mean a renaissance for professional-strength 3D tools on the platform.

SAN FRANCISCO--Despite its traditional role in graphics departments and multimedia studios, the Macintosh has in recent years suffered a precipitous decline as professional 3D platform.

Apple Computer's tardy adoption of OpenGL rendering technology as well as the lack of high-level software such as 3D Studio Max or SoftImage basically reduced the Mac to an "also-ran" position in the market. In the meantime, by contrast, 3D modeling has exploded, thanks to the twin demands of game design and increasingly complex special effects for video and film.

Adding to the Mac's 3D woes was the demise of some of its more promising applications, such as ElectricImage Animation System, StrataStudio Pro or Infini-D, and even impressive programs such as Cinema 4D, Lightwave, FormZ and Amapi fell outside the professional mainstream. The result: The Macintosh just wasn't competitive as a competitive tool.

Enter Mac OS X
Mac OS X may well change this situation; the Unix heritage of Apple's new operating system is a very strong asset in the professional 3D market, especially at the high end.

Indeed, 3D software is among the first wave of Mac OS X applications at this week's Macworld Expo here.

The most prominent example: Alias/Wavefront's Maya, which received prominent play during Apple (aapl) CEO Steve Jobs' keynote speech. A high-end standard, this 3D modeling and rendering package has been used in many of the most spectacular special effects Hollywood had to show over the past years.

At $7,500, Maya isn't cheap--but it is precisely the sort of industrial-strength program the Mac needs to reinstate its credibility.

Maya isn't the only contender. Lightwave 6.5, another strong player on the Windows platform, also showed off a slick Mac OS X implementation at Macworld.

Maxxon, publisher of Cinema 4D, demoed its recently introduced BodyPaint 3D, which lets artists paint on complete 3D models interactively. Pushing that paradigm even further is ZBrush from Pixologic, which combines traditional paint functions with 3D modeling in a very innovative way, positioning itself as a creative tool that moves between two and three dimensions in very unexpected ways.

Return of Carrara
Finally, Expo also saw the rebirth of Carrara, initially developed by former graphics software powerhouse MetaCreations as a replacement for both Infini-D and RayDream Studio.

MetaCreations sold off most of its applications--including Bryce, Painter and KPT--to Corel in December 1999, but the company initially failed to find a buyer for Carrara. In the end the product went to Eovia, a start-up founded by members of the Carrara development team.

Carrara won't be Eovia's only 3D offering: On Wednesday, the company announced that it has merged with TGS, a strong player in the scientific-visualization market. TGS already offers the Amapi3D package as well as 3Space, technology for displaying 3D scenes on the Web.

While 3D visualization for the Web is a crowded market--expected to become even more competitive when Macromedia introduces ShockWave 3D later this year--3Space has a few unique assets: Creation of 3D scenes is extremely easy, and the technology uses its own ZAP file format, which allows for very compact files while offering such elaborate features as environment mapping and particle systems.

All this activity adds up to a more positive outlook for the Macintosh as a 3D platform--even more so since the Macintosh has a very strong position in digital video editing and special effects. And this trend is likely to gain steam as additional applications are ported to Mac OS X.

Andreas Pfeiffer is an industry analyst and editor in chief of the Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies. SAN FRANCISCO--Despite its traditional role in graphics departments and multimedia studios, the Macintosh has in recent years suffered a precipitous decline as professional 3D platform.

Apple Computer's tardy adoption of OpenGL rendering technology as well as the lack of high-level software such as 3D Studio Max or SoftImage basically reduced the Mac to an "also-ran" position in the market. In the meantime, by contrast, 3D modeling has exploded, thanks to the twin demands of game design and increasingly complex special effects for video and film.

Adding to the Mac's 3D woes was the demise of some of its more promising applications, such as ElectricImage Animation System, StrataStudio Pro or Infini-D, and even impressive programs such as Cinema 4D, Lightwave, FormZ and Amapi fell outside the professional mainstream. The result: The Macintosh just wasn't competitive as a competitive tool.

Enter Mac OS X
Mac OS X may well change this situation; the Unix heritage of Apple's new operating system is a very strong asset in the professional 3D market, especially at the high end.

Indeed, 3D software is among the first wave of Mac OS X applications at this week's Macworld Expo here.

The most prominent example: Alias/Wavefront's Maya, which received prominent play during Apple (aapl) CEO Steve Jobs' keynote speech. A high-end standard, this 3D modeling and rendering package has been used in many of the most spectacular special effects Hollywood had to show over the past years.

At $7,500, Maya isn't cheap--but it is precisely the sort of industrial-strength program the Mac needs to reinstate its credibility.

Maya isn't the only contender. Lightwave 6.5, another strong player on the Windows platform, also showed off a slick Mac OS X implementation at Macworld.

Maxxon, publisher of Cinema 4D, demoed its recently introduced BodyPaint 3D, which lets artists paint on complete 3D models interactively. Pushing that paradigm even further is ZBrush from Pixologic, which combines traditional paint functions with 3D modeling in a very innovative way, positioning itself as a creative tool that moves between two and three dimensions in very unexpected ways.

Return of Carrara
Finally, Expo also saw the rebirth of Carrara, initially developed by former graphics software powerhouse MetaCreations as a replacement for both Infini-D and RayDream Studio.

MetaCreations sold off most of its applications--including Bryce, Painter and KPT--to Corel in December 1999, but the company initially failed to find a buyer for Carrara. In the end the product went to Eovia, a start-up founded by members of the Carrara development team.

Carrara won't be Eovia's only 3D offering: On Wednesday, the company announced that it has merged with TGS, a strong player in the scientific-visualization market. TGS already offers the Amapi3D package as well as 3Space, technology for displaying 3D scenes on the Web.

While 3D visualization for the Web is a crowded market--expected to become even more competitive when Macromedia introduces ShockWave 3D later this year--3Space has a few unique assets: Creation of 3D scenes is extremely easy, and the technology uses its own ZAP file format, which allows for very compact files while offering such elaborate features as environment mapping and particle systems.

All this activity adds up to a more positive outlook for the Macintosh as a 3D platform--even more so since the Macintosh has a very strong position in digital video editing and special effects. And this trend is likely to gain steam as additional applications are ported to Mac OS X.

Andreas Pfeiffer is an industry analyst and editor in chief of the Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware

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