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October 1996 Reviews TOC

10/96 Reviews SW: Caligari Pioneer

Pioneer Helps Users Stake Claim on Web

By Lynn Ginsburg

The race to homestead your own special Web space is on. Any claim worth staking probably requires that you venture into daunting new territories such as the 3-D world of VRML. That's where Caligari Pioneer comes in handy.

Essentially a "lite" version of Caligari's flagship authoring tool, trueSpace, Pioneer is a 3-D design program that creates 3-D VRML (virtual reality modeling language) Web objects and sites.

Pioneer offers many of the same professional-level tools you'll see in the regular version of trueSpace, including Boolean 3-D operations, lathing, extrusion and tex-ture mapping. It also sports the trueSpace interface, a personal favorite that's one of the best in the industry and the strongest reason to buy this program. Its graphical interface, as opposed to the more usual text-based front end, makes the task of developing a 3-D world much easier.

Most other programs in this burgeoning field let pre-built objects serve as the foundation for VRML worlds. Pioneer creates complex 3-D objects independently, and is able to import a large number of file formats. You can bring in objects ranging from industry-standard illustration programs such as 3D Studio and AutoCAD to more esoteric applications such as WaveFront and LightWave.

That doesn't mean, however, that you don't have to be a skilled graphic designer to use it. Unlike other VRML creation programs that offer easy drag-and-drop functionality, Pioneer's tools require plenty of background in computer graphics-and a bit of practice-to be used properly.

Pioneer tutorials are useful for pro designers, who should recognize the concepts being demonstrated. Others will find that they don't provide enough hand-holding.

The VRML tools themselves are very straightforward. To add URL links to 3-D objects, just select the object and choose the link tool. A dialog box pops up for you to enter the URL and a description of the link. I found linking objects to be the easiest part of the 3-D creation process. Once you've created a world populated with 3-D objects, you can use the included VRML browser to navigate your scenario. Using the browser was very easy, with smooth but basic navigation.

One obvious problem in the implementation of VRML at this point is trying to pass huge 3-D files through the narrow bandwidth typical of 28.8Kbps and slower modem connections. To make these files more quickly accessible to online users, Pioneer exploits VRML's capability to "inline" objects, meaning that complex scenes and objects are broken into smaller pieces.

Other VRML programs, such as Virtus Website Builder, are aimed at the general user who wants to publish 3-D worlds easily. Pioneer is a designer's powerful alternative.

Info File
Caligari Pioneer
$99; pro version, $495
Pros: Powerful 3-D/VRML design tools
Cons: Not for novices
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x (Win32s), NT
Disk Space: 5MB
Caligari Corp.
800-351-7620, 415-390-9600
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

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