By: Jason Nugent
Bah - another drawing program. Just what we need, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. When I offered to review Xara3D 2.1, I wasn't sure what to expect. A 3D program that fits on a floppy can't have much in it, can it? Well, Xara3D is special. Yes, it is tiny. Xara actually refer to their product as "slimware". I think that this is a great concept. Take out the excess, remove the fluff, and create products that do one thing really well, rather than a bunch of things so-so.
What does Xara3D do then, exactly? Xara3D is a program that lets you take a block of text (as simple as a single character, or an entire sentence), apply some 3D effects to it (beveling, extrusion, special lighting), and then export it either as a static image or as an animated GIF or AVI (Video for Windows) file in which your block of text is rotating around an axis.
This is great news, really. Consider how many times you have wandered around on the internet, seeing spinning logos aplenty. Used in excess, they can make your site look gawdy. Used in the right amounts, in the right situations, they can look downright fantastic. Xara3D lets you create these special graphics with almost no work at all. I guarantee it - within five minutes of installing this program, you'll have a spinning graphic somewhere on your web site.
Xara3D has an interface that is very intuitive to use. The navigation bar provides quick access to functions that you will use in every single graphic you create. Choose the text button to change the text string. Click on the Extrusion button to control how much "depth" your text will have. Select the Bevel options button to give your text a nice "carved" finish. Click on the lightbulb to display the light objects in your project so you can move them around and change their colours. Finally, control the animation objects by clicking on the animation button and setting things like the frame rate, whether or not you want the lights to rotate too, and which axis of rotation you want to use.
Above: Xara3D in action.
Once you have everything set, click on the Animate button to see how your work will look.
A few caveats here - don't be worried if the quality during the test animation looks a bit choppy and rough, especially with regards to the edges of your text against the background. Xara3D doesn't anti-alias the edges during the test animation, but it does once you export the final animation or static picture. Xara3D DOES anti-alias edges for the still frames of your image. For example, if you decide to make a change to the bevel option, there will be a pause once you click OK to view your changes. Xara3D will take a second or two to re-anti-alias the edges of your image and then everything will look great again.
You get to control things like color and texture as well. You may take just about any BMP, GIF, JPEG, or PNG file and texture your image with it, without difficulty. You may also choose whether or not you want your text to be either glossy (like metal), or dull (like unpolished wood, for example). Unfortunately, you can't specify an intermediate step, but that's a pretty minor thing. Most people want the flashing lights and metal-like reflection anyway, so this isn't really a bother.
Did I notice anything that bothered me? Well, not really. One thing did cause me some problems, though. I found that Xara3D had a hard time seeing fonts correctly if I had too many installed. On my home PC, I have close to 900 fonts installed and Xara generally replaced about 3/4 of them with some "default" font. I fixed the problem by moving fonts out of my font folder until the ones I wanted became active in the program. How many did I have to remove? My fonts started working again once the number dipped down to about 200 or so. I've had other problems with software not working well with lots of fonts installed, so I can't say that this was the fault of Xara3D. It's probably mine for having too many fonts installed.
Are there any things I would like to see in future versions of this product? Sure. I would like to be able to maybe import simple shapes (maybe black and white line art) and animate that. I feel that the software already does such a great job animating text that a simple black and white object would be no problem. With the advent of the Webdings font face, many of the more common graphics are covered, but there are always the few odd ones that crop up now and again.
Oh yeah. Sometimes, the file sizes of exported animations can get rather large. The simple example I have included in this article is rather top heavy at 69Kb. This isn't really a problem with the software as much as it is a problem with exporting images that have high frame rates and reflections that create gradients in your images. GIFs don't compress well when there are many grades of colours, so you just have to be careful when you work.
Other than that, I don't think there is anything else. You could always suggest more 3D-oriented items, like better surface control (reflection, roughness, etc), but I think that is going beyond the intent of the program. For that sort of thing, get a full featured program like 3D Studio Max, or Lightwave 3D. Or POV-ray, which is free. For its size, Xara3D performs beautifully. To accomplish what Xara3D does in a more expensive 3D rendering program, you would have to spend considerably more energy and time.
My verdict - if you like to have rotating text logos, or even simply nicely done 3D text images, grab a copy of Xara3D. It's not bloatware, installs quickly, does an excellent job, and is very reasonably priced. What more do you want?
|Small, cheap and very functional. Great for simple 3D graphics.|
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