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 in seconds.
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 preview tool.
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. ---- AKIKO ASHLEY, Senior Associate Editor