NeoN Grafix 3D v2.07- by Nico Nabholz and Mario Schunda

Already shown in an early preview version at the CeBIT '95 as a big surprise for all OS/2 fans, was NeoN Grafix 3D, a professional rendering application for producing single images and video recordable animations. NeoN comes from the Atari ST, and has now finally been released for OS/2 as version 2.07. So far I have not come across any serious bugs and it seems that Team Computer has written a nice piece of real OS/2 software. NeoN is extremely fast compared to other common Windows and DOS rendering applications and the program itself uses very little RAM.

NeoN consists of two executables, the object editor and the scenery editor, and about 50 MB of bitmaps and example scenes, some of which are quite tricky and a good source for new ideas and methods. Both the scenery and object editor use nearly the same interface and thus are very easy to get acquainted with. They show the objects and scenes in different views from all directions including a 3-dimensional view and a camera view.

The Object Editor

Using the object editor, you can create object files that are later loaded into the scenery editor. A nice feature here is the ability to simply edit an object in the scenery editor by having a function automatically load it into the object editor and after the modification, return and replace the old object.

Basic Bodies and Modifications

Some basic objects are cubes, chess boards, spheres, tori, spins, extrudes and 3D text which can even convert normal OS/2 system fonts into NeoN 3D shape fonts. Bodies can be modified in a variety of ways, among these cutting apart along a line, stretching, mirroring, elastically rotating and stretching or by using deformations like divide quadratically, bevel and an advanced form of bevel, outline. With this function, bodies can be made into a form of grid by marking the outline and optionally deleting the inner polygons. A great tool for creating landscapes or other uneven objects is "random move" which moves points and polygons randomly in a certain direction.

The Material Editor

A very nice part of the object editor is the material editor. It allows the user to freely edit color, ambience, diffusion, spectrum, mirroring, transparency and reflections on the object and change some other more complicated options like black cut which defines a kind of invisible color in the body. With the material editor you can always watch the changes in the handy preview field.

Also three more advanced functions can be used in the material editor: textures which simulate different surfaces like wood, stone or random structures, by changing colors according to bitmaps (BMP and TGA files) and thus give the object a more uneven touch; structures which create the impression of a 3-dimensionally shaped surface, e.g. an old, rotten stone wall or grassy surfaces (structures are like textures, but use shades instead of color-changes for the effects); or you can simply put a pixmap on an object by loading a bitmap and modify its size and position on the object.

However there are two negative points about the material editor: first, is it not possible to assign exact values to any of the material settings except by using the provided sliders. It is therefore nearly impossible to reproduce certain settings assigned to an object. Second, the preview field only updates whenever the user clicks on it. This can become very annoying when trying different combinations of effects and bitmaps.

Meshes

For easier handling of complex objects, meshes can be created. A mesh is a group of polygons or parts of single objects that can be shown, hidden and modified together. NeoN creates a mesh-list which is very helpful for administration of complex object parts and applying changes to groups of objects.

Morphing

Using the morphing function lets you assign different phases to an object and modify its material and shape in each phase. NeoN later calculates gradual changes from one phase to another in the course of an animation. Morphing also includes changes in material. Phases of morphing can be carried over to the material editor and this way, different phases of color and surface can be assigned to objects.

The Scenery Editor

After having created all the necessary objects for your scene, you can put them together by loading them into the scenery editor (GIF 53k). Here the user can modify the way objects are displayed: filled polygons are a lot smaller but more exact than grids. You can apply the normal object modifications such as size, move and rotate and objects can be connected so that they behave like one object during an animation in addition to their own, individual movement.

Each object can be assigned its own animation settings. Splines can be created in the scene along which objects will move during an animation. Open and closed linear and B-splines can be modified any time by adding, moving or deleting points on them. The user can simply rotate the body around the X, Y or Z-axis in relation to the body itself or even the "world origin" or use nose-feet-rotation to enable rotation in relation to or in the direction of other objects--pointing, tangential and fixed.

Time Splines

All types of animation, morphing, rotation and spline movement can be connected with a time spline. In the time spline editor, the relation between animation and running time (frames) can be edited using a graph. Although this graph allows the user to have a good view of the whole movement, again exact values can not be applied to the time spline. This sometimes makes it hard to have a modification executed at a very exact point during the whole animation.

Lights, Camera... Objects!

With NeoN basically all objects can be the camera or a light or both. Every light source can have a different color and range and there are point lights (like a light bulb--shining in all directions), parallel lights (like light coming from a source very far away, e.g. the sun) and spot lights which can have different spot-angles and border-fading settings. Lights can also be connected with time splines for animation of their brightness. Further options are constant light, fog and dimmer.

Rendering a Scene

After your creation is done, you can render a single picture or an animation with as many frames as you wish and the resolution, brightness, contrast and background picture can be chosen freely. For faster or more exact rendering, shadows, mirror-effects, transparency and anti-aliasing can be toggled individually. Also if you plan to record an animation on a single-picture VCR, you can have NeoN render interlaced pictures. The output files can be in either BMP or TGA format and optionally a batch file can be executed after each rendered frame. For better control over complex animations, an animation preview can be rendered on-screen using lines, filled polygons or partially rendered frames.

Bright Lights Burn Quickly

While beginners will quickly find their way around in NeoN, professionals will probably miss advanced functions like creation of complex natural movements or a more exact method of entering values in some places. The printed manual is the same as the on-line version and is, all in all, very helpful. Nevertheless I do not understand why Team Computer did not make the on-line help context sensitive and some people will probably not like seeing NeoN use a dongle (a small piece of hardware that is plugged into the computer's printer port--and is necessary for the program to operate--to prevent illegal copying) and its own device driver.

Selling for 1.200 DM (at the time or writing about US$800), NeoN is in a high price range for the casual user. Nevertheless, Team Computer is a small company with a handful of really clever programmers, and believe me, if you've used it once, you will find it hard not to think about buying NeoN! There is also a "lite" version available which costs only 100 DM and therefore is limited in the resolution of rendered images and some other functions, which may be worth looking into.


 * NeoN Graphix 3D
by Team Computer
MSRP: ~US$800
Nico Nabholz is a student, living in Riederau, Bavaria.

Mario Schunda is a hardware engineer at SPEA, living in Dettenschwang, Bavaria.

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