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Zaxwerks ProAnimator 8 Review
Zaxwerks have recently released a major update to their flagship 3D animation software – ProAnimator 8. They were kind enough to provide a review copy and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying it out and experimenting with it. Having not used ProAnimator before, I was surprised by what the software had to offer…
Zaxwerks ProAnimator 8 new features
In case you didn’t already know Zaxwerks ProAnimator is a 3D animation tool that can be used as a plug-in inside of After Effects or used as a stand-alone application. Unlike other 3D programs, ProAnimator is aimed at users who need to add 3D to their workflow, but don’t want the complexity of mainstream 3D software and just want great looking 3D animations quickly.
The latest version of ProAnimator is a landmark update due to a number of professional features that have been added to the software. Let’s have a quick look at some of the main ones:-
Fast Real-Time Rendering
With GPU rather than CPU rendering becoming increasingly popular, ProAnimator 8 is different in that it has a hybrid GPU/CPU rendering system. The software effortlessly switch between the two render modes – GPU for fast animation previews and CPU to produce the realistic ray traced reflections you see in high end 3D software. The ray trace renderer has been completely re-written for ProAnimator 8 and the speed is extremely impressive – even on older machines. Check out the video below to see how fast:-
Ambient Occlusion and Image-Based Lighting
The photo-realism of 3D renders in ProAnimator 8 has greatly increased thanks to the addition of ambient occlusion and image-based lighting. The addition of ambient occlusion has meant that 3D models inside of ProAnimator 8 look much more realistic due to the corner and crevice shadowing that ambient occlusion provides. The impressive part of this feature is that it doesn’t seem to slow down the render time at all, which it tends to do with other 3D software.
Image-based lighting does exactly as what it says it does – lights your 3D scene via an image. This means that your lighting, shadows and reflections are lit via any image you add into the interface – giving you a completely different look in seconds. This kind of lighting also tends to produce much more realistic looking scenes. Like the ambient occlusion feature, image-based lighting doesn’t seem to slow down the render time, so you can try out multiple different looks in real time.
3D Object Duplication and Distribution
Instancing in ProAnimator 8 allows you to create thousands of copies of a 3D object and animate those copies in such a way that it still allows for very fast rendering. You also now have the ability to morph between 3D models, creating cool looking animations. Check out the video below to see instancing in action.
Camera Depth of Field, Normal Maps and Procedural Randomization
ProAnimator 8 also now has the ability to create realistic camera focus effects, with the great looking depth of field feature. This real adds a nice cinematic look to your 3D renders and again the rendering is still extremely fast.
The new Normal Maps feature allows for much more realistic bump textures compared to the grayscale bump maps of previous versions.
The Procedural Randomization feature applies more organic randomness to your animations.
Zaxwerks ProAnimator 8 Vs CINEMA 4D Vs Element 3D
In recent years the average After Effects user has been spoiled by the number of 3D options available to them. For many years Zaxwerks were the only company that could get real 3D models into After Effects through their Invigorator and ProAnimator products. In the last two years we’ve seen two major new additions – Video Copilot’s Element 3D and Maxon’s CINEMA 4D via their CINEWARE plug-in. So you may ask if you’ve already got Element 3D and/or CINEMA 4D, why would you need ProAnimator 8? It’s a fair question, which is why I think it’s good idea to look at some of the pros and cons of each product.
ProAnimator 8 Vs Element 3D
Element 3D Advantages
- The ability to create illuminated materials.
- More integrated into After Effects, can use keyframes for most parameters, which is good if you are more used to After Effects key framing system.
- More models and materials available from VCP to get you up and running (at an additional cost).
- Fog and Glow features.
- Can import OBJ sequences from other 3D programs.
- Animation engine, which allows complex morphing of materials.
ProAnimator 8 Advantages
- Ray Tracing – Realistic reflections between 3D objects and more photo-realism in renders.
- Shadows – Element 3D does not output shadows from 3D objects.
- Real-Time Animation Preview – ProAnimator 8 allows you to change animations and parameters in real-time. Element 3D is fast but you still have to wait for the After Effects Ram Preview.
- 100s Animation and Material Presets – ProAnimator 8 ships with 100s of animation, camera and material presets, which greatly speed up your workflow compared to Element 3D.
- Automatic Fragmentation of 3D Models – A popular technique for motion graphics is to break apart a 3D model or logo to animate it. ProAnimator 8 does this automatically, to do the same thing in Element 3D requires a complicated workflow using an external 3D application.
- Lens Flares and Lighting Rigs – ProAnimator 8 has it’s own lens flares and lighting rigs system without the need to purchase additional products.
ProAnimator 8 Vs CINEMA 4D
CINEMA 4D Advantages
- Very Powerful – Advanced modelling, particle, animation, material and rendering systems. Capable of producing very complex and impressive 3D scenes.
- Large Community of Users – Because of CINEMA 4D’s popularity in the motion graphics community there are a number of tutorials and learning resources available to new users.
- Plug-in Support – CINEMA 4D is integrated with other industry leading software such as RealFlow, Houdini and rendering software such as VRay and Octane Render.
ProAnimator 8 Advantages
- Easy to Learn – CINEMA 4D has a huge technical learning curve, whereas with ProAnimator 8 you can be up and running in minutes with its intuitive interface and preset systems.
- Extremely Fast Rendering – ProAnimator 8’s real-time rendering system is much faster than CINEMA 4D’s, which can be painfully slow especially inside of After Effects.
- Inexpensive – ProAnimator 8 is very inexpensive compared with CINEMA 4D, which can cost $1000s for the full featured versions of the software.
Why Buy Zaxwerks ProAnimator 8?
Time is Money
The majority of the available work for motion designers isn’t complex VFX it’s things like broadcast graphics or corporate logo stings. To make money as a motion designer you need to be able to complete these kind of jobs quickly and efficiently. I’d argue that ProAnimator 8 is perfect for these kind of jobs because of it’s real-time rendering engine.
If you’re doing any kind of client motion design, you’ll probably be repeating several parts of your design process such as camera moves or model/typography animation. ProAnimator ships with dozens of useful presets that are fully customisable so that you can focus on dialling in the exact details of your design, without wasting time on the initial set up. Proanimator does all the heavy lifting, leaving you to focus on the more important creative part of the design process. I don’t know of any other 3D tool that would allow you to get the job done as fast as ProAnimator 8.
No Technical Knowledge Required
It’s ideal for graphic designers or video editors who don’t have the time to learn a full 3D program such as CINEMA 4D, but still would like to integrate 3D into their work. The interface is very intuitive and the fast rendering means you get instant feedback as you iterate your design, making it a much more creatively satisfying experience.
No Key Frames
ProAnimator 8 allows you to animate without the need of keyframes using an intuitive sliding column approach instead. The trouble with key frames are that if you have a very complex animation they are a nightmare to manage and adjust. ProAnimator allows you to experiment with different animation ideas freely without worrying about the mess of keyframes you’d normally be creating.
Proanimator 8 is a no-brainer purchase If you are a video editor, graphic designer who wants to use 3D design elements or a working motion artist who does a lot of broadcast and corporate work. The software will save you a huge amount of time and will pay for itself in no time at all.
If you’re a VFX artist or create very complex motion graphics for clients, then CINEMA 4D is probably going to be your best choice. However, I’d also argue that ProAnimator 8 with its real time rendering would still be useful as a previz tool to work out your animation and look/treatment for the client before completing the finished project in CINEMA 4D. The render time savings would be huge and you would have more time to experiment and focus on solving the client’s design problem.
If you’re already using ProAnimator there’s no excuse not to upgrade to version 8. The new features take the software to a whole new level and are well worth the upgrade cost.
Get a 5% discount on Zaxwerks ProAnimator 8 through Toolfarm.
You can find ProAnimator 8 tutorials and more information over at the Zaxwerks site.