Cheetah 3D 5.6 Mini-Review

Thanks to changes in Google’s pagerank algorithm designed to deal with content farms the pagerank of some of my web pages has risen dramatically. Suddenly, this website is likely to be one of the first places someone looking for information or a review of Cheetah 3D will come, so it occurs to me that I ought to update my reviews.

When I last reviewed Cheetah 3D it had just turned 5.0. The major change had been the addition of a powerful new node-based shader system. Since then we’ve had five more dot-releases (each of which has heralded significant new functionality; there was no 5.4), C3D has appeared in the Mac App Store, Martin’s been teasing us with screenshots of the 5.7 beta (I’m not privy to it, although I was a beta-tester for 5.0), and version 6 has been mentioned in dispatches.


Particle City created using a scripted particle emitter.
Particle City created using a scripted particle emitter.

Here are the highlights:

  • Particles. Cheetah 3d’s particle system is very competent (and fully scriptable) but is not very useful (yet) for typical “particle effects”  owing to C3D’s lack of volumetrics, sprites, and motion-blur. So while you can’t really do clouds of billowing smoke or explosions with it, in a few hours I was able to write a particle script that instantly creates cities from a set of buildings.
  • 64-bit. Cheetah 3D tends to choke when I get to around 10,000,000 triangles so I’m not sure how big a deal 64-bit support is. But it’s there.
  • Character Animation Refinements
    • Pose Tags can be assigned to individual objects (and their sub-hierarchies) allowing you to better manage multiple characters in a scene, but also to attach pose management to hands, weapons, faces, and so forth.
    • Keyframes can be copied-and-pasted, and keyframe hierarchies can be moved around with a single click, making fine-tuning of animations bearable.
    • Rigging is much improved thanks to the incorporation of a brilliant “bone-heat” skinning algorithm published by some MIT researchers. (I came across its implementation in Blender and after getting spectacular results with it with no effort I suggested it to Martin. He implemented it within two weeks.) I noted this feature when it first appeared in 5.1.
  • Multiple selections now — at last — work as expected. (You can select a bunch of objects and translate them together.)
Bone heat implementation allows meshes to be skinned very easily
Bone heat implementation allows meshes to be skinned very easily

Summing Up

Cheetah 3D improves steadily, but it still has significant shortcomings. There’s still no network rendering or AppleScript support (to allow us to fudge it). Character animation is still clunky (if you do want to try your hand at character animation with C3D, you may find my Pose Utilities script helpful). Motion blur is MIA. And there are no volumetrics (shafts of light, clouds). If you don’t need these things, or can work around their lack, it’s a lovely piece of software.