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Which 3D FX/Tools?

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Rex Polanis
Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 18, 2012 at 4:32:31 pm

Hey, I upgraded to AE CS6 recently and I discovered that the ray tracer in AE works best with Nvidia Cuda cards. I currently have a AMD Firepro V7900 and I want to be able to use it. I would like to create short (10sec) 3D animations and/or 3D titles for my projects.

I have heard some people recommend Zaxwerks Invigorator Pro, 3Ds Max, or Boris Continuum Complete 8. I was wondering what other's opinions of these products are and if they would satisfy my needs.

Thank you for your replies.

One man with courage makes a majority.

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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:09:54 pm

It depends on what you want for a learning curve. 3D Plugins for AE have the shortest curve, and you would want to consider Element 3D, a brand new release from VideoCopilot, as well as Zaxwerks Invigorator Pro. I don't know anything about the Boris product, but I assume that it also has some 3D extrusion capabilities within AE.

Now you really hit the learning curve! I've been a 3DS Max user for upwards of 10 years, and I'm lucky if I know 30 percent of the features. That said, it has incredible depth and capabilities. If you want to dip your toes in the waters of full 3D packages, you can get Blender for free, although I find the interface pretty arcane and non-intuitive. But the same could be said for Max I suppose, to the new user. There's also Cinema 4D, used a lot in the broadcast world for flying titles and such - I find it to be not as high quality looking as Max, but it's probably because many of the users are under tight deadlines, and don't use it to its full extent. It gets used a lot in multi-layer composites.

If you really want to scratch your head, look at what gets listed in Wikipedia for 3D packages:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_computer_graphics_software

But I would say that Max, Maya, and Softimage are the big three as far as capabilities go.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Paul Slemmer
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 19, 2012 at 8:33:53 am

The simplest, (cheapest?), and definitely fastest option is Video Copilot's Element 3D plugin. Unlike rest of your options (except maybe Boris,) it's a completely OpenGL based approach. Bottom line, your 10 second logo animations will basically render in real time with the graphics card you've listed. Because it's not a raytracer, there are some inaccuracies (particularly in reflections and refractions,) but for what you're doing, I think it's the perfect fit. I'm definitely not a fan of the images I've seen come out of other 3D plugins, including the ones you mentioned. The results people have been getting in the one week Element speak for themselves.


If you are looking to leave AE, I'd probably head for C4D if it's graphics you're after. Its philosophy is very procedural, it's well known for stylized 3D animation, and, from what I can tell, it plays nicer with After Effects. I haven't taught myself yet, but as a motion designer, I wouldn't look to anything else. Unless...


I'd also consider Modo... I've seen nothing but mindblowingly good things come out of it and it's shaping up to be a killer all-in-one. Might as well learn modern software, right?

Paul Slemmer
Motion Designer, VeracityColab
pslemmer@veracitycolab.com | http://www.VeracityColab.com


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John Cuevas
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:31:19 am

The products from Mettle.com are pretty really cool and add a ton of flexibility & versatility to AE.

Johnny Cuevas, Editor
Thinkck.com

"I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
---THOMAS EDISON on inventing the light bulb.


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Chris Bobotis
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:52:18 am

Thanks for the kind words John and thanks to all of our customers that have made our products such a great success :-) We have some pretty amazing things in store for the future, stay tuned.

Cheers,
Chris
mettle.com


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Stephen Smith
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 19, 2012 at 7:55:50 pm

The small amount that I've seen about VideoCopilot's Element 3D looks amazing. Has anyone used it yet? I use Zaxwerks to do 3D logos for clients. Can you bring in a layered Illustrator file or something to create a 3D logo?

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

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Tom Daigon
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:15:12 am

Yes, lots :D

I use autotrace on jpg and other files to prep them for use in Element.

Check out his Bio-hazard tutorial to see just how versatile and powerful it is.

The only thing it doesnt have is Proanimators sophisticated ability to animate.

Tom Daigon
PrP / After Effects Editor
http://www.hdshotsandcuts.com
HP Z820 Dual 2687
64gigs ram
Caligit HD Pro 2 16TB.


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Stephen Smith
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:43:51 am

I'm not a big fan of using Zaxwerks animations abilities. You are getting me way excited about this plug-in. I'm a big fan of Optical Flares.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Vimeo page


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Tom Daigon
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:53:54 am

I find Proanimator exceptional for text and logo animation, but Invigorator is awful. Proanimtors "Pose" GUI is genius to me.

In my experience Elements text animating capabilities are extremely limited. Beautiful, but limited.

I think another strength is the ability to import 3D models into AE . Its just allows more creative opportunities.

And its GUI is just as thorough and beautiful as Optical Flares.

Tom Daigon
PrP / After Effects Editor
http://www.hdshotsandcuts.com
HP Z820 Dual 2687
64gigs ram
Caligit HD Pro 2 16TB.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 11:05:23 am

[Stephen Smith] "Can you bring in a layered Illustrator file or something to create a 3D logo?"

Element doesn't import vector art, but it can access masks. AE CS6 has a new feature which allows you to convert vector layers to shape layers, and then in turn you can copy paths from shape layers onto masks on solids. A bit of a detour, and the layers will be a hassle, but it could work to get Illustrator art into Element.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Walter Soyka
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 10:57:46 am

Just about all these products offer free time-limited or watermarked-output trials. You can take them all for a spin and see which one works best for you.

Personally, I don't think there's one right answer. Each one of these tools makes different things easy and different things hard relative to the others. Being comfortable with more than one will ultimately let you turn out better, more varied work more quickly.

I own licenses for Invigorator, Mettle, BCC, and now Element. I use all of them (except BCC 3D Objects) pretty regularly.

However, there are some things that are just impractical to do in 3D with After Effects and piles of plugins, and that's where full-blown 3D applications come in. C4D has a long history of easy After Effects integration, and it's a very common pathway for AE artists, but 3ds Max added really nice-looking bi-directional interoperability via state sets with Max and AE. I've been using C4D for six years, and I'm thinking about learning 3ds Max now as well.

CINEMA 4D has several strengths that make it particularly good for advanced 3D motion graphics. It's widely regarded as the easiest to learn of the major 3D packages, though I would still caution you that 3D in general has a pretty steep learning curve. C4D has a nice parametric workflow (premature polygonization is the root of all evil), and it has a great built-in toolset called MoGraph which allows you to easily create and manipulate clones of objects. MoGraph works well with the dynamics system, too, allowing you to create complex animations with minimal keyframing.

Joe's criticism of C4D's plastic-looking renders is clearly valid, but the last couple releases have improved the renderer quite a bit -- particularly global illumination. C4D's materials system is pretty paleolithic, but with some experience and render time, you can get very nice renders out of C4D.

One other option is Blender, an open-source 3D modeling, animation, and rendering application. Personally, I find the interface inscrutable -- it doesn't feel like any other app I've ever used -- but it is free, people are doing great work with it, and even if you choose to learn another package later, the general 3D knowledge you gain working with Blender will transfer (even if the UI behavior will not).

If I have done my job correctly, you should now have more questions than answers. If you want to fly some text around, you can start with Element, ShapeShifter AE, or Invigorator -- but as you use them more seriously, you'll naturally start branching out.

Good luck -- and have fun!

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:27:15 pm

Hi Walter -

I stand corrected about C4D's "plastic" look. I had a feeling it was due more to the rushed nature of broadcast TV, where C4D seems to be most used, than to the actual capabilities of the package.

I've been working on a workflow to get as many options as possible into Element 3D, and I'm finding that I can take a whole bunch of CAD formats into Max (freeCAD - needless to say, free - also works with translating on a bunch of CAD formats), then output them as .obj files, and have them show up in Element 3D ready to be textured. It's a pain in the neck that texture maps don't just flow in to Element 3D, since the .obj format has the ability to save a .mtl file, which goes into a "maps" sub-folder, ready to go. That will be a request for the next major upgrade to Element 3D. There's no reason to have to remap all your textures.

As far as my Max workflow to get .obj files with their material ID's intact, I have to import the CAD file (I prefer .stl or .ipt, but many others work), then go into Polygon mode, select by material ID, then detach the parts I want to show up as separate map channels in Element 3D. It's a royal pain, but not rocket science. There is a "select by material id" in the Max materials tab that makes pretty quick work of it, as well as a few script out there that will detach by material id - pretty handy.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Walter Soyka
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:51:44 pm

[Joseph W. Bourke] "I stand corrected about C4D's "plastic" look. I had a feeling it was due more to the rushed nature of broadcast TV, where C4D seems to be most used, than to the actual capabilities of the package. "

No, you were right on -- I was agreeing with you! An awful lot of C4D renders look like plastic. Not even real plastic; I mean crummy computer plastic. C4D's default lights, materials, and render settings are decidedly non-sexy. It takes a mix of knowledge, experience, and render time to coax real beauty out of C4D.

I just wanted to back up your original assertion that most users "don't use it to its full extent." C4D's Advanced Renderer was overhauled in R11 (three years ago), and last year's R13 included the brand-new Physical Renderer (which simulates a physical camera high-quality DoF and motion blur without post effects). There are some good tools there, but I think you're right to say that they're not often used.

Worth noting -- V-Ray is now available for C4D, too.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 3:00:13 pm

Walter -

In a way, it's the same with Max - there are so many third party renderers to bring photo-real capabilities to Max, but it's really easy to use the default render engine, which is ok. The good news is that Mental Ray, a high-end, photo-real render engine, comes with Max.

I guess it's just like any tool. Without the talent and experience, you can get garbage out of even a 2500 dollar software package. What I really like about Max, and Autodesk, is the wealth of free tutorial materials, and a beautiful website dedicated to teaching and information:

http://area.autodesk.com/

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Andrew Somers
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 6:34:02 pm

Just to chime in here - I can't speak of earlier version of C4D - but we have adopted R13, and use the built in renderer for photo real rendering. I was surprised at how good it looked in the final comp.

I've never seen my client's eyes pop out of their head like they did when they saw the final comp.

BUT - using the DEFAULT materials settings, it DID look like plastic initially - I did spend time tweaking materials and render settings, and then doing a multi-render pass, and then building and adjusting in AE to get the image colorgraded and adjusted to fit the comp.


The tools are definitely there at least for inorganic objects. And VRay is also available, and that was a key factor for us. And there are IK tools built in, plus third party ones like Cactus Dan's.

The other thing of course is that you have the most integrated round trip integration with After Effects of any 3D program.

And the learning curve for C4D seems to be among the easiest - the interface is elegant and easy to use IMO.

We are 100% Mac, so I have not used 3Ds, but have used Lightwave and Maya. I've never liked Lightwave as it's clumsy to say the least, and I have never seen a "photo real" render - decent renders to be sure, but Lightwave is king of having that "digital" look. YUK!

And Maya? Maya is fifteen programmers racing cars toward an intersection, and they all collided with each other and exploded in a ball of flame and debris - the result of the smoldering wreckage is Maya. Like most Autodesk products, the interface is a kludgey klunky kollection of krap. I'm pretty sure that Autodesk hires programmers that were fired by Microsoft.

/end of rant.


SO: Back to the OP's original comment: For real 3D work, I suggest Cinema 4D. Best integration with AE and shortest learning curve, with professional features.

I have used Invigorator, and for a down and dirty inside AE method, it works okay - but the interface, even the new one, is still a bit clumsy. It does not ray trace, though you can still fake the look of caustics with a couple techniques. When integrated into an AE scene using an animated 3D camera though, the interface becomes cumbersome.

I have not used Element yet - but it looks pretty cool. Even so, it has quite a few limitations.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 20, 2012 at 6:40:51 pm

[Andrew Somers] "BUT - using the DEFAULT materials settings, it DID look like plastic initially - I did spend time tweaking materials and render settings, and then doing a multi-render pass, and then building and adjusting in AE to get the image colorgraded and adjusted to fit the comp."

Yes -- compositing is underrated. I probably spend a quarter of my time on a 3D project compositing.


[Andrew Somers] "The other thing of course is that you have the most integrated round trip integration with After Effects of any 3D program."

Check out what 3ds Max is doing now:

http://area.autodesk.com/blogs/ken/subscription_advantage_pack_2012_adobe_a...


[Andrew Somers] "I have not used 3Ds, but have used Lightwave and Maya. I've never liked Lightwave as it's clumsy to say the least, and I have never seen a "photo real" render - decent renders to be sure, but Lightwave is king of having that "digital" look. YUK!"

Lightwave's VPR is actually pretty cool. It seems a disproportionately high number of Lightwave renders are space ships...


[Andrew Somers] "I have used Invigorator, and for a down and dirty inside AE method, it works okay - but the interface, even the new one, is still a bit clumsy. It does not ray trace, though you can still fake the look of caustics with a couple techniques. "

Invigorator 6 (just released) [link] does have a ray tracer.


[Andrew Somers] "I have not used Element yet - but it looks pretty cool. Even so, it has quite a few limitations."

It is cool, but you're right that it has limitations. It's very important to understand not only what Element is, but also what it is not -- otherwise, you will surely become frustrated in no time.


[Andrew Somers] "SO: Back to the OP's original comment: For real 3D work, I suggest Cinema 4D. Best integration with AE and shortest learning curve, with professional features."

+1

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Tudor "Ted" Jelescu
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 22, 2012 at 10:29:32 pm

I use Zaxwerks Invigorator, Mettle ShapeShifter AE and Element and I find all to be of great help. To me it depends mostly on the kind of job I will be doing- time, money, client feedback and art direction. Based on these I select my tool. I did not find the need to go to a external full 3d app for title work and even for a lot of 3d work I do. All of the above plugins keep me inside AE. I would not be able to pick one over another- they all have strengths and limitations.

Tudor "Ted" Jelescu
Senior VFX Artist


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Chris Bobotis
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 23, 2012 at 12:16:44 am

Thanks Tudor. I am very biased but not sure if we could meet the deadlines etc. on a project we are working on right now if we did not have the speed of our products and all of the goodness of CS6. We are working to a format of 5,000 pixels x 1080. 2D + 3D mograph, tons of assets to re-size and re-frame etc. etc. CS6 Rocks! We are doing everything in CS6. See: http://www.mettle.com/mettle-and-the-montreal-canadiens/

Cheers,
Chris
mettle.com


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Rex Polanis
Re: Which 3D FX/Tools?
on Jul 27, 2012 at 3:28:06 am

Hey everybody!

I just want to thank all of you for your advice. I decided to start with VC's Element 3D and it's pretty impressive. I must say, there is a bit of a learning curve involved but Kramer has some good tutorials. I may eventually graduate to specialized software but for now I am very happy. Again, thank you all for your help and advice; I am glad CreativeCow exists. With out this community I would be lost.

One man with courage makes a majority.

Canon 7D
Sony Vegas Pro 11
Adobe CS6 Master Suite


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