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WinLab Reviews
Fractal Design Detailer 1.0
Detailer Bedeviled by Performance Demons

-- by Lori L. Bloomer

There's always been a line drawn between 2D and 3D graphics programs. You had to create 2D graphics in one application and 3D in another, then combine the two images later.

No longer. Fractal Design's Detailer 1.0 brings the two camps together by melding 2D natural-media painting and 3D modeling into a single app.

Detailer is a complicated, professional-level package, aimed at designers who want to create intricate 3D objects that display sophisticated textures and effects. Its 3D features spring from Fractal's recent acquisition of Ray Dream Studio. The 2D natural-media paint tools come from Fractal Design Painter 4, a recommended WinList product. Detailer is compatible with leading applications, including 3D Studio, Photoshop and Fractal Design Painter, so it will fit into most professional designers' tool chests.

Those familiar with Painter will be most comfortable with Detailer. The programs use similar controls, although some of them have been reworked in Detailer to better fit a 3D environment. Detailer also accepts any plug-ins that work with Painter, so Painter mavens will be able to re-create their drawing environment.

We started by creating a wireframe of our 3D object. You can import a 3D model from Ray Dream Designer, 3D Studio R3 and R4, or 3D Metafile Format. Or you can build one from scratch, based on the program's inherent primitives: sphere, cube, cup and cone. It was easy to create a wireframe and manipulate it by rotating it on any of three axes. The rotation was fairly smooth in real time and looked like natural movement.

Once the wireframe was complete, we began to create 2D surfaces for the frame. One of the interesting twists of Detailer is the ability to paint 2D raster images directly onto the surface of a 3D object (either building the images from nothing using the features of Detailer, or importing TIFF, RIFF, PICT, BMP, JPEG, PCX or Photoshop files), treating each surface like a canvas. We then had the chance to direct the lighting of the surface and create other special effects.

Text, textures and Fractal Design's famous paintbrush effects can all be combined freely within Detailer. A powerful integrated renderer generates anti-aliasing and 8-bit mask information, so compositing is smooth and easy. If you're a 2D artist, Detailer helps create depth shading and oblique views of subjects. These may be at any resolution and can come from a range of sources, including imported paintings and photographs; Detailer's own patterns, textures or images; or from-scratch paintings within Detailer. Detailer supplies a thorough set of natural-media brushes and effects that will allow you to create all but the most exotic images. We liked the editing flexibility, which can be achieved by modifying the images in a 2D window or by painting right on the model in 3D.

Thanks to Detailer's combination of 2D and 3D tools, you no longer have to bounce your surface maps back and forth between image-editing and 3D-rendering apps. Detailer keeps all surface maps and settings. You have control over everything, from reflectivity of the object to focus to glass-distortion effects.

The program has a few problems. For example, there is no way to overlay the 2D versions of all your maps so that you can quickly align them. Performance is slow at best, largely due to one of the program's major features-an interactive 3D viewing window, which updates as you work to show the current state of your object. You just about have to squint to see this tiny window, making it basically useless considering the performance hit it costs.

In addition, Detailer has a critical bug involving floating-point calculations. Although rare, you should still protect yourself by downloading the updated Detailer 1.0.2 from http://www.fractal.com/downloads/detailer_win_102.html.

Detailer is definitely not a program for the dabbler. It has a huge learning curve that will defeat all but the most skilled users. Although the included tutorials go part of the way to speeding up the learning process, they are by no means comprehensive enough to teach a beginner.

We liked Detailer's capabilities, but its sluggish performance keeps it off our WinList. Hopefully Fractal Design will be able to improve Detailer's performance in subsequent upgrades. We'd also like to see smoother integration between the 2D and 3D packages; now the two pieces appear more like a shotgun marriage than a working partnership-understandable given their history as two separate products from two different companies. Detailer could eventually become a top-notch tool; it's certainly a program to watch.

Fractal Design Detailer 1.0
Price: $449
Platforms: 95, NT
Pros: Combines 2D and 3D image tools for professional graphic artists
Cons: Slow; not for dabblers; experience with other Fractal Design products and lots of PC power are helpful
Strongest rival: None at this time
Fractal Design Corp.
800-846-0111, 408-430-4100
Circle #697 or visit Winfo Online

Windows Magazine, June 1997, page 146.

[ Go to June 1997 Table of Contents ]