Whether or not Cycore ABs suite of products leads the way, three-dimensional objects with embedded behaviors and interactive environments will characterize the Web in the not-so-distant future. Doubters who dismiss the value of 3-D models with embedded behaviors should consider, for example, the benefit to medical education or aircraft maintenance.
Despite usability concerns, eWeek Labs considers Cult 3D Designer an excellent tool for bringing interactive 3-D objects to a variety of media. Its simplified interface and new ability to add interactive objects to active scenes will help spread 3-D features to applications far beyond online catalogs.
Cult 3D Designer, released in February, imparts Java-coded actions to 3-D models created in Strata, 3D MAX or Maya and exports highly compressed files to reside on a server. The user, whose machine does the rendering, then manipulates the object via plug-ins for browser, PDF (Portable Document Format) and other formats on Windows, Macintosh, Red Hat Linux and Solaris platforms.
For example, using an eyeglass-mounted heads-up display, a model can be viewed against the real world and manipulated without disturbing sensitive parts.
The reflected environment is nicely handled by Cult 3D Designer, which maps the users custom images to a virtual hemisphere within which the model is assumed to reside. That image, suitably reduced in saturation, contrast and scale, is then reflected in appropriate surfaces as the object moves.
Cycore provides a tiered license structure for online use, starting with free usage for artists, very low cost for mom-and-pop sites and capping at $15,000 per month for heavily trafficked ones. The licensing model and the need for a plug-in may hinder the growth of this compelling product.
Whole New Worlds
Version 5.2s new "worlds" allow additional Cult 3D files to be added to an active scene, enabling interaction among objects. In this way, one can create evolving, interactive scenes such as urban or office areas as newly added buildings or desks alter space and traffic circulation.
The interface represents various events, objects, actions and motions as graphic elements that we dragged and dropped to create links and sequences. Right or double clicking on a graphic reveals deeper options.
Simple in concept, this Event Map can, nevertheless, become complex once an objects behaviors are fully described. Although the clean graphical interface is accessible enough, the procedure could be mystifying to those not familiar with the syntax of scripting.
Learning in Depth
According to Cycores documentation, Cult 3D Designer is a program for nonprogrammers (who might, for example, be 3-D modelers or designers from the art department). If thats the case, a "prompt" window, as is often found in CAD programs, would be welcome, as would improved tutorial materials.
We downloaded the latest manual PDF and followed several tutorials, but we wished for more graphics that would help keep the lay user on track in this completely graphical environment. There were also occasional nomenclature mistakes that would delay but not derail the novice user.
Cycore suggests that one nonprogrammer can do it all, but that strikes us as optimistic. This is more a criticism of the products marketing than of the product itself: The tendency to overstate usability is not limited to Cycore. Software designed for complex tasks demands more expert users, making marketing departments fidget.
To appreciate this product, toy with a compelling Cult 3-D model on the Web. The modeled watch keeps time, sweeps out the seconds and shows the right date. Bear in mind this file is only 210KB.