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LightWave 3D 8.3 & 64-Bit Beta Review

Tara DiLullo sets out on an adventure to discover the details of director Robert Rodriquezs return to 3D and family fare with The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D.

LightWave 3D [8.3] has advantages worth checking out. All images © NewTek.

LightWave 3D [8.3] has advantages worth checking out. All images © NewTek.

Not too long ago there was a vast gap in the 3D market. Tools were either too basic in what they offered and could achieve or they were prohibitively expensive. Sadly, sometimes both were true. About five years ago things began to change with the maturation of the desktop 3D market. These days 3D artists find themselves overwhelmed with quality options in all corners. There are many different tools to choose from; specialized modelers, renderers, material editors, some aimed at the hobbyist market and some aimed directly at high budget, professional productions. Only LightWave 3D really comes through for all these markets. LightWave 3D [8] should be the tool of choice for folks looking to learn 3D, create home brewed game mods, equip full game development studios and television or film visual effects development studios. Its easy to learn and at the same time deep enough for serious professionals. In addition to the flexibility of the program itself, NewTek has a pricing structure that appeals, no matter what your budget. They offer some excellent value bundles, some very reasonable educational pricing and great upgrade pricing. If youre looking to get a small studio started or do some freelance work from home, youll find there are no other programs that come close, especially when you consider pricing and the complete feature set of LightWave.

NewTek has worked some of the demons out of the software.

NewTek has worked some of the demons out of the software.

Pricing isnt everything, and, fortunately, NewTek doesnt disappoint with the app itself, or with all of the meta stuff that can either make or break a 3D program. The user community is strong, even stronger than last year. Back in September of last year I had the pleasure of reviewing LightWave 3D [8] for VFXWorld. One of my main concerns then was the lack of a decent game development community devoted to LightWave. Since then some interesting things have come to pass. Most notably, earlier this year a Hungarian company called Mithis (according to their website, the largest game developer in Hungary) released a game titled Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. Nexus is a tactical space strategy game, which included some excellent mod tools with the game, free of charge. The 3D tool of choice for Nexus? LightWave 3D. This is great news for gamers looking to make the leap into 3D creation. Combining Nexus with LightWave, users are able approximate the real world model building so many of us loved as kids. No stinky glue, paint or decals now, thankfully. Many other games can also be modded with LightWave, if conversion tools are also used. Milkshape is the most popular free 3D converter and it plays very well with LightWave. Game mods are still a niche market, but I predict that as games continue to take over, entertainment folks will learn to create them by starting out in the mod community. The fact that LightWave support now exists for professional game developers as well as the mod community is heartening.

NewTek released the free upgrade to version 8.3 this past May. Amongst the enhancements are HyperVoxel gradients, improved text handling tools and multi-core support. This is the fourth update NewTek has offered to LightWave users, free of charge. My system doesnt take advantage of the new multi-core function, but this 8.3 update does seem faster overall. Image handling is more flexible now that PSDs and EPS files are fully compatible with the latest versions of Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobes CS series. A very welcome addition is the new Text Layers tool. This allows users to automatically bevel and extrude text to user-defined settings, a handy feature for all those flying logo jobs. As with any worthy upgrade, NewTek has taken the opportunity to fix many bugs in both Modeler and Layout, the two separate apps that collectively make up LightWave 3D. LightWave has never been a particularly buggy program, so these fixes shouldnt be too dramatic.

A shot of Nexus being done in LightWave.

A shot of Nexus being done in LightWave.

64-bit Beta Enhancements

You knew it was coming; the biggest draw for the 64-bit version is that rendering is super-fast! I ran a few test renders with some old scenes and the 64-bit renders generally finished 30% to 50% faster. As soon as I have more time with the software, I hope to narrow down exactly which effects and plug-ins take advantage of the 64-bit processing. Once this is determined, users should be able to squeeze out even more performance. This speed comes at a price, though. Users must have a 64-bit processor and be running Windows XP 64-bit. Perhaps Im out of the loop; I have run 64-bit versions of games under regular Windows XP, and I thought the same would be true for LightWave, but its not. This isnt a big sticking point; it just meant that I had to install the 64-bit OS before I could use LightWave 64-bit. There is a very good 32-bit emulator built into XP 64-bit, but users should check with the manufacturers of other essential software before committing systems to this OS upgrade. Some software does not run well under this emulation, but LightWave sure does. My system is an AMD Athlon 64 3.2GHz, with 2GB of RAM, and an ATI Radeon 9800 PRO 128mb graphics card.

I think its important to mention here that NewTek is stepping up its marketing efforts. In my previous LightWave review, I took issue with NewTeks marketing for not calling out all the stops for the launch of LightWave [3D] 8. Even though this 64-bit version of LightWave is still in beta testing NewTek has begun rolling the wheels of what seems like a mighty marketing machine. NewTek teamed with Microsoft for the launch of Windows XP 64-bit. LightWave was showcased as cutting edge 3D software taking advantage of this new 64-bit OS. Bill Gates himself compared two animation clips created with LightWave, one rendered with the 32-bit version and the other with the 64-bit version. The 64-bit render is clearly the better of the two, including more detail, effects and animation. At first I thought this was a gimmick but then read that both were rendered in one pass and presumably in a similar amount of time. Hence, LightWave users should prepare to welcome a whole new flock of LightWave devotees. The larger the community, the more stable the community; a good thing by any measure.

A side-by-side comparison of the 32-bit render (left) and the 64-bit render.

A side-by-side comparison of the 32-bit render (left) and the 64-bit render.

LightWave 3D continues to impress, with both the 8.3 upgrade and the soon to be released 64-bit version. Upgrades from any previous standalone version of the software will set you back only $250. Students can purchase the latest version, LightWave 3D [8], for under $250 at many popular online educational software resellers. Full versions of the software sell for less than $1,600, far less than other similar apps. NewTek continues to make a great all-around 3D application for both Windows and Mac systems at very reasonable prices.

Fred Galpern is the art manager for Blue Fang Games in Waltham, Massachusetts. Since entering the videogame field more than six years ago, Galpern has held management positions in several game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. He began his art career as a comicbook creator and also has professional graphic design experience. He has created characters and developed stories for numerous childrens television series. Galpern has satisfied his long-standing interest in education by teaching at several New England colleges. He is also an adjunct instructor at Bristol Community College, where he co-created the associates degree gaming curriculum.

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