Pro 3D Titles for the Masses
Traditionally, animation software has been the purview of those dedicated souls who choose to live their lives in front of a computer monitor. Half artist and half geek, the animator must master not only the look and feel of the piece, but also the nuts and bolts of keyframes, shadows and virtual camera moves. I don’t know about you, but my animation needs are a bit more pedestrian – usually limited to 3D text and a logo or two flying around on the screen. If this sounds like your needs, keep reading because Zaxwerks has released ProAnimator 3 — animation software for the rest of us. Breaking with tradition, ProAnimator doesn’t require a big bank account, complicated host software or even a pocket protector.
Back In the Day
When I first started editing digital video, I had a nifty animation program called 3D/FX. It was simple, functional and excelled at creating 3D objects from text and clip art. Although far from perfect, it did the job quickly and I’ve often wished for a similar product to use on current projects. Enter Zaxwerks ProAnimator 3, the standalone version of their Invigorator plug-in for After Effects. The standalone feature is important because, with ProAnimator, you can concentrate on learning the animation software without a host application to slow you down.
Up And Running
ProAnimator is available for Windows and Mac and has fairly mild system requirements. We tested the Windows version on a 3GHz P4 with 1GB RAM, but it should load nicely on any machine that can edit video comfortably. Once running, ProAnimator owns your machine and all its resources. We tried to run Photoshop at the same time and waited an eternity for the program to load and respond to commands. Don’t try this at home. However, ProAnimator was very responsive with real-time moves and frame renders.
ProAnimator 3 starts by asking if you’d like to create some 3D text, open an Illustrator file, create a new scene or open an existing one. To demonstrate how simply you can start animating, let’s create some 3D text. When presented with the text edit window, select a font and type some text. You have full control of font size, width and alignment. When you’re happy with the text, click OK and you’ll see a 3D wire frame in the Scene Preview window. This is where the fun starts. On the right side of the screen, there is a library of pre-made object styles. When you find one you like, just click and drag it onto your text — you’ll see the change immediately. By shift-clicking on individual letters — or dragging a box around words — you can choose different object styles for every letter or word. By clicking the Materials tab on the right, you can also choose alternate faces for the text — everything from marble to mirror, swirls to solid colors. The Materials section offers more customization by allowing you to alter color, transparency, reflections and texture of the surface. Again, just click and drag your choice onto the text.
Wire frames are fine for basic setup, but it’s easy to take a peek at the finished look by clicking the Render Frame button. In seconds, you’ll have a full resolution still of your 3D text. Resolution presets offer virtually every standard video size, from 640×480 up to full film resolution — even custom settings — and your animations can be output in NTSC or PAL formats too. Speaking of animation, let’s apply some motion to the text. Under the Scene Preview window, you’ll see the Animation timeline.
Zaxwerks has kindly included several pre-built object and camera animations as a starting point. Start with the Object Animations button and select a style. Your text will immediately start flying on and off the screen. Camera Animations work the same way, but change the perspective and viewing angle of your text. Some of these stock animations are pretty wild, but they’re a great place to start. By clicking the Advanced button on the Animation timeline, you can adjust virtually every aspect of each animation, or just fine-tune what’s on the screen. When you’re finished, click the Render button, and ProAnimator will output a QuickTime file of the finished video, complete with an alpha channel, if you like, for easy compositing in your system. In three simple steps, you’ve created animated 3D text from scratch.
As good as ProAnimator is, there are still a few speed bumps on the road to animation heaven. While none will keep you from getting the project out the door, they may slow you down a bit. First, new ProAnimator projects always open in a default window size that does not fill the screen.
You’ll need every available pixel of screen real estate to get the most from this product, and it would be nice if it remembered how you used it last. Second, there is no dual-monitor support, so resolution challenged users will be switching between windows on a regular basis. Object Styles and Materials libraries don’t support the scroll wheel on your mouse, so plan on a lot of clicking and dragging. For editors who rely on this function to keep that carpel tunnel problem from surfacing, this may be slightly annoying.
Similarly, options in the Text window offer increment/decrement arrows, but do not allow for click-and-hold adjustments. Granted, these are minor objections given the power and speed of this product. We’re sure we’ll get used to it eventually.
Wrap It Up
Quibbles aside, Zaxwerks ProAnimator 3 is probably the fastest, easiest way to get 3D text and logos into your video projects. With multiple output options and resolutions, you can animate for anything from DV to HD or even film.
The inclusion of an alpha channel is priceless and there are plenty of pre-made object and camera animations to get you started. Best of all, there are more options under the hood as you become comfortable with the animation process. What are you waiting for? Go to Zaxwerks.com and download the trial version. If you need a solid, simple way to include animation in your videos, you won’t be disappointed.
Platform: Mac: G3 Power Mac (G4 or G5 recommended)
PC: Pentium II (PIII or P4 recommended)
Operating System: Mac: OS 9.1, 9.2.1 or OSX 10.1.5, 10.2.3
PC: Windows 2000 or XP
RAM: 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
Additional: Quicktime 5 or 6
Trial Version: Yes
- Simple interface
- Loads of presets
- Plays well with other programs
- Hard on system resources
- No dual-monitor support
- Inconsistent interface
Minor quirks aside, an easy to use, relatively inexpensive professional looking title animator.
Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media
producer and technology consultant.
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