Strata 3D Pro is a 3D illustration and rendering
package used by architects, industrial designers, package
designers, technical illustrators and other artistic illustrators.
A longtime favorite on the Macintosh OS platform, Strata 3D
Pro is a great package for artists who do not want a high
learning curve, as can be typically found in other highend
3D packages. The program combines power and simplicity so
you can deliver photo-realistic quality work on a tight deadline.
It comes at a very good price point and allows a user to create
3D models in just minutes.
Strata 3D Pro is an all-in-one modeling/animation/rendering
application. The program supports numerous import/export functionality
and thus can be used -- and is -- in tandem with common CAD
and 3D modeling packages. It has long been a favorite of architects
on the Mac platform who find its Raydiosity rendering both
quick and of high quality. At one point in the history of
the software the popular Mac CAD program -- MiniCAD (now called
VectorWorks) had a direct Strata format export option, thus
fueling the use of Strata for final architectural rendering.
The package has many good points that make it worth buying
for illustrators who need a tool that can deliver what photography
sometimes cannot. It runs great in Mac OS X and in Windows.
Installation is so easy that the software is up and running
Key Features in Strata 3D Pro
Modeling. Strata 3D Pro offers
all the key tools for creating models that include Splines,
Polygons, Lathing, Skinning, Metaballs, Extruding, Booleans,
Sweeping and more. Inorganic objects are a breeze to model
and many complicated objects can be created in just a few
minutes. (see image 003) Character
design however was much tougher and this is where the software
application did not appear to offer enough power. It is possible
to do characters in this program but for more experienced
character animation users they will find Strata 3D Pro limited.
Texturing. Strata 3D Pro's texturing
environment was easy to use and very intuitive. This is an
area where the program shines in terms of new users and especially
those who are working with rendering and textures for the
first time (see images 001-002).
New textures and effects were easy to create within the Resource
Window. You can drag and drop textures from the Resource Window
for real ease of use. I was impressed with how beautiful the
textures looked when rendered in final scenes.
Lighting. The lights are the same
as most 3D packages, just not as many options when controlling
the light. Moving around in Strata 3D Pro was not as intuitive
as other programs when it came to lighting. It was hard to
move around the grid and really know where you were positioning
the light in 3D space.
Rendering. Strata 3D Pro is known
for its high quality rendering. Beautiful images were easy
to produce and you have a selection of rendering choices that
include Raytracing and Raydiosity. One click and you can immediately
see a render of the object you are working on with a render
Animation. Animation was easy,
but there were still problems getting around the interface.
It is very different from packages like LightWorks and Maya.
Simple animations were easy to set up and to execute. Character
animation was clunky and not intuitive.
Details of Strata 3D Pro
As I mentioned earlier, Strata 3D Pro has a
long history with being a popular rendering app for architecture
and environmental professionals, but rendering in architecture
has grown away from Strata 3D Pro to some degree because the
program lacks the round-trip functionality common in other
applications such as Art-lantis. And some CAD apps -- such
as VectorWorks -- are coming up with their own rendering applications
or functionality built in. Still, the program is solid for
environmental rendering precisely because it is a mature package
in this department and offers such things as support for dual
processors on the Mac, AltiVec unit acceleration, and Raydiosity
rendering -- all things that the rendering components of CAD
applications like ArchiCAD and VectorWorks do not offer. What
it is lacking is a plugin architecture which would allow CAD
users to move their models to Strata 3D Pro, assign textures
and lights, and then update the model in the CAD package,
then reinsert the model into Strata without having to reset
all textures and lights in Strata 3D Pro.
While still very useful for architects, Strata
3D Pro is great for illustrators who are not interested in
learning a highend 3D package. There are limitations to this
package but there are also strengths in its simplicity and
elegance. The manual will tell you how to locate where everything
is and how to use them, but there aren't any tutorials. You
cannot export or import many file types common in higher-end
tools but there is still considerable formats available. There
are export functions for low-bandwidth scalable 3D vector
animations for the Web and export functions for Adobe Illustrator.
The interface resembles Adobe Photoshop's interface in many
aspects. That should suit illustrators well.
If you are using Mac OS X, you will find that
Strata 3D Pro has adopted beautifully to the new operating
system. The interface is very clean and the palettes have
transitioned well. There is a website where you can download
tutorials to help you get off to a good start with particular
goals in 3D, like character animation, particle effects and
real physics simulation animations.
There are a number of plugins available to
extend the power of both the Plus and Pro versions of Strata
3D so potential users with certain goals in 3D in mind should
check for available plugin or shader packages.
Closing Comments - Recommendations
Strata 3D Pro is superb for illustrators looking
for an easy to use but powerful modeler, renderer and animation
package. The software runs very well under Mac OS X and users
will find the interface both clean and intuitive. The software
is weakest in its control of lighting and 3D navigation and
it doesn't provide round-trip fidelity with other modelers
for use in architecture and industrial design. However, that
being said, Strata 3D Pro has outstanding rendering capabilities
for the price of this application and its ability to output
formats to the Web is one more bonus for this package. ----
ASHLEY, Senior Associate Editor