Strata 3D CX
Still quirky, still powerful.
By Mike Caputo · August 18, 2004 | Honestly, I've never been a huge fan of Strata 3D, but not because the program stinks—quite the contrary is true. Strata has deservedly earned a reputation as an outstanding 3D application, with special kudos going to its quality of output (the raytracing render engine is outstanding).

My beef with Strata is purely a we-don't-click kind of thing. Although many talented artists have produced great images with it, I'm not one of them. My favorite 3D applications include Hash's Animation Master and Maya, maybe because they're more oriented toward character animation, maybe it's an interface thing. Whatever the reason, I just seemed to click faster with those apps than with Strata.

But I've always envied Strata's quality of output, and now version CX has some features that make me wonder if my personal road bumps are worth climbing over.

Strata 3D CX is really Strata version 4. The interface hasn't changed much, and the same old quirks are there, like it doesn't default to a quad view (camera/top/front/side), and even after you split the main viewing window into a quad view, you can't make the camera's view one of them (that requires a separate window). And why is it that when you zoom one of the views, they all shift a bit? And why don't the orthographic views default to an orthographic view?

Again, these are personal gripes, not something to stop you from trying out the program, and CX has quite a bit in its favor. For one, it now offers live linking to native Photoshop files for use as textures. Imagine you're creating an apple, and for the apple you need to apply several bitmap files for attributes like color, bump mapping, specularity, etc. You can now create one layered Photoshop file and a separate layer for each attribute, and apply it to your model in Strata. The cool part is that if you make changes to a layer in the Photoshop file and save your work, Strata automatically updates to reflect the changes.

New modeling tools include a subdivision modeling feature called "Polyspline SDS," as well as a polygonal mesh tool called "Meld."

Strata 3D CX
Windows 2000 SP4/XP, Macintosh OS X 10.2
Strata's strength has always been its render engine. New for CX is HDRI support (High Dynamic Range Images) as well as Lightdome image-based lighting. The combination of these two features allows the creation of ultra-realistic CG images with radiosity and realistic lighting. Not the speediest way to render something, but necessary for architects or others who need photorealistic output.

Strata 3D CX is no doubt a powerful package, with some features to make anyone stop and take a close look. If you are upgrading from an earlier version, the $170 upgrade fee is a bargain. Those buying into it for the first time, though, should evaluate their needs. For photorealistic static images, Strata more than fits the bill. For flying logo animation, again Strata is a powerful package capable of beautiful output. But if you need to create character animation, you should consider a different package.
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