Away3d with Rob Bateman

Had a really enjoyable day with Rob Bateman, dicussing how to use Away3d, the 3d implementation for Flash/Flex. I can thoroughly recommend the investment; we covered all the basics and several of the advanced techniques of getting 3d into Flash, without too much heavy theory on either the 3d or the javascript sides.

Away3d has become a major branch from the original Papervision software, but it has moved on quickly and has produced code that is now being ported back to Papervision now. The groups, with Sandy as well, seem to exist on the basis of lets see what you can do next basis. Papervision might be more publicised, but Away3d has a reputation for being more practical. Having had teaching from both Ralph and Rob, I’d say that the Away3d was easier to get into. This might be becuse I did Papervision early in the year and so I have become more used to the ideas by now, but I’ve had 20 years of 3d graphics in television, so it must be sinking in by now. I think what swings me towards Away3d is the demo with normal maps.This should give the appearance of much more complicated models using lighting/rendering tricks. They make a big difference in games and will do the same in Flash and Flex.

The models I tested beforehand were Collada, from 3dsMax. It seems that these are quite complex and not everyone treats the model data in quite the same way. This means that they can be a bit flaky and are definitely slower than the md2 models being shown in the demos. Md2 is a format from Half Life by id Software, and has been commonly used in some of the older games of that era. It doesn’t have bones in the way that Collada has; it stores frames of the mesh in a sequence of their animated positions. Harder to create, but quicker to playback. The tools for collada are now more common, especially since Google supported it with SketchUp and Adobe are supporting it with Photoshop now. However there is an exporter for md2 from 3dsMax from QTip. I haven’t used it, but I’ll probably give it a try. Dave Stewart, who was also there on the day, is a Max Script junkie and he also tidied up a version of a script found with Google. He may put it up on his site, with a few additional facilities. It’s worth looking at both options probably.

From my efforts with my dice model I found that I needed to add a light to see the bumps, and then I discovered that I was using the wrong type of normal map. 3dsMax by default, gives a tangential normal map, whereas Away3d need one from the object space. Visually mine has the mixture of pinks and purples, where as an object space version has much more colour, obviously lined up to the directions from the model.

Flash 10 seems to promise some improvements. The texture mapping should improve on the problems with affine texture maps, although the routines for automatic triangulation of detail are working well. (So well, that Papervision have also included them). There will also be more filter effects and we can look forward to doing things like Depth of Field using the LOD calculations. Scaleable Vector Graphics will be there, as well as the ttf font parsing.

Next for me will be to get my dice working with the Wow physics engine, or by using Tweener or TweenLite perhaps. Then I need to fly an aeroplane around….must get back to work…

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