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Amapi gets serious Behind the idiosyncracies Amapi has a lot to offer, including a more conventional interface for those new to modelling

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When it comes to idiosyncratic applications, Amapi is right up there. Its recent transfer from YoNoWat software to tgs was followed by a new release and a new lease of life for this very capable application. But its idiosyncrasy has put many 'serious' users off the application, and in recognition of this tgs now provides the user with the option of a more conventional interface. While this can make Amapi a little faster at first, it's not nearly as much fun.

With version 4.1, users are able to display either the Standard or the Workshop interface. For users new to modelling, the standard interface is perhaps the best way to start as it provides a standard set of tool icons in a floating palette. The appearance of the application can be altered at any time within the preferences dialogue.

Three basic sets of tools are available: Construction, Modelling and Assembly. These have sets of icons which sweep around the right-hand side of the modelling window and can be rotated by moving the cursor to the far right of the screen. The other major toolbox is the control panel, accessed by moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen. This contains modelling support features such as object grouping, hiding, view controls and zoom options. The Catalogue is the final major on-screen element, which is a drag-and-drop container for 3D models or model elements.

Each set of tools groups together all of the major creation and editing tools, making the creation and manipulation of highly complex elements as straightforward as it ever can be. Orientation in 3D space is often confusing, and Amapi provides a simple solution to this by placing a 'work bench' on a grid in the modelling window. This 'work bench' is an image of a table which, as with the grid, does not appear in any rendered version of your scene.

Other helpful features are the Data Window and Assistant Palette. The Data Window displays information about the current object selected and tool in use. This provides useful feedback and helps when making selections within complex models. The Assistant Palette has been designed for new users to help guide them through their first projects. It contains iconised versions of the main tools used in the creation of basic models as well as providing access to some tool-setting via the tuner icons.

The Scene Manager allows users to organise elements within a scene and is opened via the control palette. When the manager is opened you are shown three tabs along with an organised list showing the names of both groups and objects within the scene. Elements can then be re-ordered and organised to suit the project you are working on. Thumbnails of objects on layers are shown in the Layer tab, which is an excellent way to see quickly what is where. The final tab shows materials used in the projects and any element with no materials assigned.

The range of tools is impressive, with all the standard object-creation options available. nurb modelling is available for the creation of complex objects, while polyhedral modelling can be used for more basic shapes. A small letter in the bottom left-hand side of the modelling window indicates which modelling method is being used, and object types can be combined in a scene. Extrusion and sweeping are available along with some neat tools such as the hull tool and the extract curve and extract surface tools. As with all objects in Amapi, the number of facets used to form an object can be adjusted using the slider that appears after hitting the return key. This slider is extremely useful as it allows every object in a model to be optimised for rendering according to where it appears in a scene.

Animation is not as complex as in many packages, as it uses a very simple key frame system. To create an animation, the Key Framer is opened, which will record the current appearance of your object or scene. By leaving the Key Framer and making an alteration and returning to it, another Key Frame is added to the time line. Other options for animation include assigning objects to a path and moving it along this path over time. Amapi has not gone overboard with animation tools, however; many other modelling packages offer a lot more in this area.

Amapi uses 'shaders' for rendering which can be tailored for most surface effects. Material shaders determine the appearance of surfaces on to which they have been applied. A large number of materials ship with the application, and these can be used as the basis of new material by using the Material Editor. The Material Editor can be displayed in either simple or extended versions. Once materials have been created they can be stored in a catalogue window and applied using drag and drop. A catalogue of model elements is also available, allowing you to store objects you may want to re-use.

If you need high-end rendering or animation, Amapi may not be for you. But for those new to 3D Amapi is an excellent place to start. It offers a wealth of modelling options organised in a clear and logical way, (once you get used to it).

Price: £269. Upgrade £150. Contact: Gomark, tel: 0171 731 7930; web: www.tgs.com

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