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Planet3DArt Feature Article

Realsoft 3D Version 4 Review
by Leonard Teo, 09 January 2001


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" factor.

User Interface

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 or menus.

The Realsoft 3D user interface. Notice the "Compass" that allows you
to quickly apply different views or actions to objects.

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 objects.

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 using bones.
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 animation.


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 sphere.


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 when needed.

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 streaks.


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 testing.


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.

Vital Statistics
Product: Realsoft 3D Version 4
Manufacturer: Realsoft Graphics Oy
Price: US$700
Sys Req:

PC: Pentium or Alpha processor. Microsoft Windows 98/NT/2000, 64MB RAM, 100MB HDD, CDROM. Linux/Unix/Irix versions in beta testing at time of writing.

- 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 corner

- Buggy (service packs to fix these)
- Lack of good tutorials in the manuals

Bottom Line
Cheap and good!

Misc. Images

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