Planet3DArt Feature Article
<b class="vrgrafixText">Realsoft 3D Version 4 Review
by Leonard Teo, 09
Realsoft Graphics is a 3D
software development company out of Finland.
Their latest software, Realsoft 3D version
4 is a 3D modeling/animation/rendering package
that rivals other high-end packages at a
very attractive price of US$700. Featuring
many heavyweight tools that are only available
in much more expensive packages, Realsoft
3D exuberates with true "bang for your buck"
The Realsoft 3D interface is similar to
Alias|Wavefront Maya's and discreet's 3ds
max. Large, colorful buttons line the top
of the screen, and a selection window on
the left allows you to control all of your
scene objects and attributes. Realsoft 3D
even has a mini version of the famous Maya
"Hotbox", which they call the "Compass".
This allows you to quickly switch views
or perform operations on objects without
having to go back to the command buttons
The Realsoft 3D user interface. Notice
the "Compass" that allows you
to quickly apply different views or actions
Surprisingly, the default UI configuration
is not a "four" layout (top, front, side,
perspective viewports), but a single, large
perspective viewport. With the Compass,
you can quickly change views, but most experienced
3D modelers prefer to work with a "four"
view. The good news is that the UI is completely
configurable, and there is a preset layout
for the "four" view.
I think that the area where Realsoft 3D
excels most is in modeling. Built into Realsoft
3D is some very powerful subdivision surface
and NURBS modeling features that are only
found in much more expensive packages. Realsoft
3D also throws in metaball modeling, for
creating interesting liquid-type, blobby
I was pleasantly surprised to find that
Realsoft 3D features true Subdivision Surface
modeling. Any time you render the SubD object,
it renders out smoothly subdivided. This
is unlike other packages where you need
to increase the subdivision levels to get
a smooth surface. The set of tools for SubD
modeling is very comprehensive, including
weighted points and edges, and also edge
creasing. There is also a "Tunnel" tool
that will punch a hole in a polygon or join
two faces together. SubD modeling furiously
fast, and once you get the hang of it in
Realsoft 3D, you can create many objects
or characters quickly and without fuss.
Realsoft 3D also comes with an impressive
set of NURBS modeling tools. From the basic
lathes, extrusions and lofts all the way
to surface trimming (punching holes in surfaces),
welding and fillets. For a $700 package,
that's pretty damn amazing.
An interesting tool is the Pen tool which
you can use to very quickly create NURBS
surfaces. It works by first creating a curve,
then using a Pen (options are Rail, Sweep
and Rotate) to interactively create the
resulting NURBS surface. As you lay down
the points on the new curve, you can already
see the surface taking shape and interactively
adjust the look of it.
This vase was created in a few seconds
by using the Pen tool to lathe an
existing curve interactively. Notice that
Realsoft 3D also has in-viewport
rendering for previews.
I found it a bit cumbersome to edit sub-objects
such as vertices and faces. While the user
interface includes large "manipulators"
that allows you to move, rotate and scale
objects constrained to an axis quickly in
3D space, sub-object editing does not have
these. No doubt, you can get around it quite
easily by switching the input plane to another
view or by locking an axis with keys, but
it's a little more tedious. It would have
been easier to grab the manipulators.
The material/shader engine in Realsoft
3D is very powerful. While beginners
can use the preset materials and basic shader
functions, those who want to truly harness
the power of Realsoft 3D's material engine
would use the Visual Shading Language. Underlying
the "VSL" is a shader programming language,
but you actually control it from a high
level drag-n-drop interface. A number of
VSL objects are available (e.g. Texture,
Bump, Specular) which can simply be dragged
and dropped into the material VSL editor.
The VSL editor is really a damned amazing
feature, which allows experienced users
to build shaders that would otherwise only
be available as aftermarket plug-ins. Some
users on the Realsoft 3D mailing list
have already created completely new shaders
such as Fresnel and Cel-shaders, sharing
them with other Realsoft 3D users for free.
With other packages, you'd have to pay for
these shaders as aftermarket options.
A look at the VSL window, which allows
you to create shaders
using a simple drag n drop interface.
There is also a 3D painting toolset that
allows you to paint directly onto 3D objects.
I found that the tools were generally okay
for drawing simple shapes, but it doesn't
compare with dedicated 3D painting applications
such as Right
Hemisphere's Deep Paint 3D and or Maxon's BodyPaint 3D.
On the animation side of things, Realsoft
3D holds more feature-packed surprises.
There's the standard keyframe animation
toolset which also allows you to edit function
curves. You can also perform path animations
for animating objects along predefined paths,
animate materials/textures, even image effects
such as global fog are animatable.
For character animation, Realsoft 3D comes
with the ubiquitous skeleton which features
Inverse Kinematics. You can also anchor
joints so that IK can't move it, and apply
IK targets to joints to produce IK goals.
I found it a little difficult to see the
bones in Realsoft 3D, as they only seem
to come as wireframe objects. Shaded bones
would be nice.
Now here's the interesting part: Realsoft
3D comes with some basic footstep-driven
animation tools! You can create footsteps
on the ground plane and your skeleton will
walk along the footsteps, similar to discreet's
character studio. I got really excited about
this feature...Unfortunately, after playing
around with it, I found that although the
skeleton DID follow the footsteps, the resulting
animation didn't look like a natural walk
cycle at all. Bummer.
Realsoft 3D features IK skeletal animation
It's a little difficult to see here (solid
shaded bones would be nice), but
here is an example of Realsoft 3D's footstep-driven
Realsoft 3D also features some interesting
effects using particles. One of them is
the ability to render scanline hairs for
creating fur or hair on characters/animals.
Look! No plug-ins!
Here is an example of scanline hair being
rendered using particles.
The above screenshot shows the OpenGL preview
and the bottom
a render preview.
I won't bore you with the standard light
sources such as the point, spot, ambient
and distant lights. Basically, the work
like every other package on the market.
You can change the color of the light source,
cast shadows and do volumetric renderings.
What really intrigued me was something
called the "Special Light". This is very
interesting, because Realsoft 3D never really
made a big marketing buzz over this "Special
Light". What so special about it? You can
take any arbitrary 3D object and turn it
into a light source. As soon as I read about
it in the manual, I created a flat rectangular
polygon, converted it into a "Special Light"
and rendered. Voila! Area Light!
Something that I found useful about this
area light ("Special Light"), is that you
can control its quality. By default, the
quality is set at '0' and this makes renders
very speedy albeit a lot of dithering. This
is great for test renders when you want
to see how the lighting affects your scene
but don't want to wait too long. At final
render time, jack it up to a higher value
and be prepared for the wait.
The "Special Light" turned out to be
an Area Light.
Note the soft shadow being cast from the
The Realsoft 3D renderer is quite an interesting
one, featuring 64 bits per color channel
in its internal rendering pipeline. Current
computer display technology only allows
us to view 32 bit color depth - 8 bits per
color channel (Red Green Blue) plus an extra
8 bits for alpha channel, but Realsoft 3D
oversamples this by using 64 bits per channel
in its internal rendering pipeline for increased
color accuracy. Some users and other reviews
of the product claim that this is why the
Realsoft 3D renderer looks so rich
in color, but I'm sceptical about these
claims as the rendered images are dithered
down for viewing on a computer monitor.
The 64-bit per channel internal bandwidth
merely contributes to more accurate renderings.
In terms of rendering speed, by default
the renders are quick because anti-aliasing
levels are set low enough to spot jagged
edges. When you increase these levels, it
makes for slower renders. Other facters
such as the use of Special Lights and the
quality of these area lights also can affect
a rendering. For example, that simple sphere
above took more than 10 minutes to render
on a dual-celeron 433, 256MB RAM at 800x600
when the area light quality was set at a
full blown '100'. At a typical value of
'10', it only took 40 seconds but showed
some dithering around the shadows.
For those of you who have dual processors,
Realsoft 3D's rendering engine does support
Symmetrical Multi-Processing. This is one
of the most intensive renderer's I've come
across, maxing out CPU usage on the test
machine at full 100% on both CPU's for the
duration of the render.
Realsoft 3D also comes with network rendering
support, for those with render farms or
gardens. Somewhat annoying is the way the
Network Rendering Daemon is automatically
placed in your "startup" folder on installation,
which makes it load up everytime you boot.
For PC's that are going to be used purely
for rendering (e.g. a render farm), that
would be useful. For the normal user though,
I'd just take the daemon out of the "startup"
folder and only run the daemon manually
There are also a bunch of post-image effects
that you can apply to renders. These include
Depth of Field (which turned out to be quite
good despite being a post-effect), global
fog, glow, image flares, lens flares and
Realsoft 3D comes with one manual which
covers much of the program. Each feature
has a mini tutorial that teaches how to
implement it. While this is okay for finding
out how to work various parts of the program,
I felt that the manuals were lacking in
true beginner's tutorials. Realsoft should
include a dedicated "tutorial" book which
contains a few interesting projects that
beginners can take on to learn how various
parts of the program fit together.
Realsoft 3D isn't all rosy. My single biggest
rant is that the software can be somewhat
unstable. For example, trying to change
the viewport layout on my system slows down
the software to the point where it's unusable,
or it crashes completely. After bringing
this up to the Realsoft support staff, I
was told that the software had some problems
with certain OpenGL hardware and that they
were working on it in a future service pack.
Even while just trying to use the software
normally, the program crashed on several
occasions. I hope it's just my system.
The good news is that the Realsoft 3D development
team seem to be working very closely with
their users. I suppose that's the advantage
of having a small team and a small'ish number
of users (who are very fanatical). A service
pack with bug fixes and user suggested implementations
is on its way out (or already is by the
time you read this). Realsoft Graphics also
hosts a mailing list for users which is
closely monitored by the development team.
Something I also found interesting is that
Realsoft Graphics is aiming to hit the Unix/Linux
market as well as the PC market. A Linux
version is currently in beta testing. With
more 3D packages becoming available on the
Linux platform, it may soon be a very viable
OS for creating 3D content. An SGI-IRIX
version of the software is also in beta
Overall, when you weigh the pros and cons,
the raves and rants, you'll find that Realsoft
3D beats many other packages purely on "bang
for your buck" factor. Realsoft 3D is a
very comprehensive, feature packed 3D animation
package set at an attractive price. While
a bit rough around the edges, it still is
a fantastic package when you consider what
the price gives you. For beginners, students
or enthusiasts who don't want to shell out
their life savings for more expensive packages,
Realsoft 3D does offer a lot of features
to create that demo reel. While Realsoft
Graphics continue to spit and shine their
product, it's only a matter of time before
Realsoft 3D becomes widely accepted in the
CG community as a venerable tool for creating
3D graphics and animation.
||Realsoft 3D Version
||Realsoft Graphics Oy
PC: Pentium or Alpha
processor. Microsoft Windows 98/NT/2000,
64MB RAM, 100MB HDD, CDROM. Linux/Unix/Irix
versions in beta testing at time
- Bang for your buck
- Outstanding modeling capabilities
- True Sub-Division Surface modeling
- Comprehensive NURBS toolset
- Visual Shader Language is very
open to creating new shaders
- Surprises at just about every
- Buggy (service packs to fix these)
- Lack of good tutorials in the
Cheap and good!
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