18 iPhone apps for 3D artists
3rd May 2010 | 10:00
There's more to Apple's phone than lightsaber simulations
iPhone apps for 3D artists: 1-9
We've gathered together a collection of free and paid-for apps that can help you to work smarter and faster.
Even if you have resisted the allure of Apple's iPhone so far, the surprisingly large quantity of 3D apps out there may prove useful enough to make you look twice at the ubiquitous shiny fruit-marked touch-phone.
We've got offerings from the likes of software heavyweights such as Autodesk and Luxology, and a whole host from unknown developers. If there isn't something here to help you with design, workflow or even just that ever sought after inspiration, we'll eat Steve Jobs' hat.
Most of the links provided take you to the relevant product page in the App Store. Please note that you'll need to have iTunes 9.
There are lots of practical apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, that could aid help your productivity, and there's plenty of eye-candy too
1. Autodesk Fluid - Free
Take the technology that drives the Fluid Effects module in Maya and squeeze it into the iPhone: the result is Autodesk Fluid, a showcase for Maya's real-time fluid dynamics wizardry. Most people don't appreciate the perfectly simulated swirls of smoke that this Autodesk Fluid app is capable of displaying – because that's all it does. The graphics are a little rough around the edges, but there's some interaction to be had by adjusting the gravity or changing the colour palette. As a tech demo for those in the know, this app amazes. But judging by the one-star ratings in iTunes, most iPhone users have missed the point.
2. Animation Creator - £0.59 / $0.99
Animation Creator offers you a suite of sketching tools that enable you to draw and generate a short animated clip, frame by frame. The software supports frame positioning and rotation, zooming and panning, not to mention the useful onion-skinning feature (which gives you the ability to see the previous or next frame as a ghost image). At a push, it's an app that might prove useful for prototyping or pre-viz experimentation. Although the ability to add sound would have been a welcome feature.
3. Flipbook - £2.99 / $4.99
Flipbook sells itself primarily as a mobile animation tool and the results (in the right hands) can be impressive. Head to flipbook.tv to find The Flea Cannon Catastrophe, a shining example of just how professional the app's animated content can be. For computer animators, Flipbook has some merit as a pocket pre-viz tool: you can sketch a sequence from scratch or import photos from your iPhone's photo library and trace over them. The toolset also includes an onion-skinning feature, which shows a ghost image of the next or previous frame. There's a free Lite version.
4. For All Seasons - Free
This exercise in offbeat, monochromatic animation wasn't in our original list – but it's been produced to such a professional standard that we'd argue it's still worth a look. Ported from the desktop version, For All Seasons applies various seasonal effects to a single page of black and white text and enables you to pan, zoom or rotate the view. For example, the Spring setting transforms the words on the page into blossoming vector flowers. The letters that form the words act as petals for each electronic flower and can be sent spinning into the air with a deft finger-flick.
5. iFractal - Free
Now you can explore the classic Mandelbrot and Julia sets on your iPhone, zooming in and in and in, admiring the repeating fractal structures and the extraordinary levels of vsual detail. Of course, iFractal isn't just about the mathematical artwork – nor is it about the various features, which include over 100 colour palettes, an animated zoom, screenshot capture (and export), plus a 3D view. It's also an amazing technology demo that shows just what Apple's hardware is capable of. The ability to share and explore the fractals created by the users of the app is a boon.
6. 3DVIA Mobile - £1.19 / $1.99
There's more to 3DVIA Mobile than dropping virtual sofas into a picture of your living room and uploading it to mydeco.com. The 3DVIA website encourages its community to create and upload their 3D models online. At the time of writing, there are over 20,000 models in the 3DVIA database and over 150,000 registered users. Need a render of an aircraft or a dog? You can then drop the models into your photos and share them. As an extension of the 3DVIA website, it's a must-have for community members. For everyone else, it's just a bit of fun.
7. CameraMagic Effects - £0.59 / $0.99
Billed as delivering visual effects for the iPhone, this lightweight, novelty compositing tool comes with 50 free image cutouts that you can insert into your photos. All compositing is done with copies of your pictures, so your original photos remain untouched. CameraMagic Effects serves no serious purpose other than to fulfil the 'fun for five minutes' cliché. Despite having 33 different UFOs, miscellaneous cloud, smoke and fire effects, various aircraft, the space shuttle and several kinds of missile, it's unlikely to be the best 59p you'll ever spend.
8. Pulsar: Interactive - £0.59 / $0.99
Described as a portable visual synthesiser, Pulsar is a particle physics app that responds to the way you touch, swirl or flick the touchscreen. It's obviously pointless: an idle experiment with light, movement and colour that spits 57 varieties of sprite (from symbols to stars to fighter jets) across your mobile display. In terms of interactivity, you can adjust the on-screen effects using a selection of sliders. Gravity, explosiveness, sprite size, particle count and edge behaviour can all be modified, but this app's appeal quickly wanes.
9. Sketchbook Mobile - £1.79 / $2.99
This painting and drawing application can prove highly effective in the right hands. For starters, Sketchbook Mobile provides a fullscreen workspace, a 1,024 x 682 canvas and a 2,500% zoom for fine-detail work. If you're not impressed by its 25 brushes, colour swatches and colour wheel, the ability to work across up to six layers is bound to make you look twice. Touchscreen control will never be as fine as a graphics tablet, but that hardly matters; you can export your artwork as a PSD file and touch it up later. Test-drive the app by downloading the free version, Sketchbook Mobile Express.
iPhone apps for 3D artists: 10-18
10. Storyboard Composer - £11.99 / $19.99
Storyboard Composer is one of the priciest apps here. But this mobile storyboarding and pre-viz tool is aimed squarely at professionals. The app enables you to build a storyboard sequence using photos, directions and pre defined graphics. If you've taken location shots with your iPhone, you can import these images into the app, then drag them into a rough running order. Then you add in traditional storyboarding elements. You can export the storyboard and save it out as a PDF for distribution. It's all very impressive, but Cinemek has missed a trick by not letting users export the rough-cut video.
11. LuxGallery - Free
From the makers of modo comes this beautiful image-viewing app, which showcases renders created with the acclaimed modelling and rendering suite. If you're a modo user, the constantly updated Luxology Image Gallery might be a convenient way for you to explore what other modo designers and artists are producing. You can search through thousands of images; when you find one you like, you can add it to your favourites. You can browse and bookmark some exceptionally nice images, but there's nothing more to this particular app than that.
12. ReelDirector - £4.99 / $7.99
A full-blown video-editing app on a mobile device? Yes – with one catch: it's only available for the iPhone 3GS (and presumably the iPad). ReelDirector enables you to stitch together video clips with a intuitive drag-and-drop timeline, and you can add audio by importing your own music files or by recording a voiceover. So how useful is it? One satisfied customer comments: "I'm a DoP and last week I took some videos and stills on my 3GS whilst on a rekkie for a film location. In the half-hour Tube journey back to the office, I had a mini rough edit of the scene…"
13. SculptMaster 3D - £2.39 / $3.99
As its name suggests, SculptMaster 3D enables you to generate digital sculptures by manipulating virtual clay. Think of it as a sketch book, but with a Z-axis. It's an app that's perfectly suited to Apple's trio of mobile devices – the touchscreen interface makes it easy to zoom, rotate and pan the view as you build your 3D model. While the controls can be a little imprecise, extra tools such as the colour picker and eyedropper ease the creative process. Completed meshes can be exported as .obj files and shared by email. A free version is available.
14. Layers - £2.99 / $4.99
We look at SketchBook Mobile above, but Layers offers similar features, enabling you to incorporate up to five layers in each drawing you create. It features an array of familiar design options, including ten brushes, layer transparency, photo tracing, a smudge tool, an eraser and an eyedropper. You can pan and zoom, and export any finished artwork as a Photoshop file. Layers is overcomplicated for quick doodles, but perfect for more professional work.
15) Photoshop.com Mobile - Free
Rather than being a full-blown application in its own right, Photoshop.com Mobile is a customised iPhone front-end for Adobe's online photo sharing and editing website. The service offers rudimentary photo fiddling (crop, straighten, rotate, flip), plus a beginner's array of filters, effects, borders and colour balancing. The app simply takes the website data and filters it through an interface customised for Apple devices. It boasts more options than the Mill Colour app featured below– and more than makes up for the lack of decent photoediting functionality from Apple.
16) Mill Colour - Free
London's VFX outfit The Mill has produced a photo-editing app. Mill Colour is part calling card, part image-grading mini-tool. In the Mill's own words, it "emulates primary grading techniques used in a high-end digital suite". What this means in practice is that you can select an image from your iPhone's photo library or take a new one, then apply predefined styles to it – for example a warm golden tone, or a washedout 1970s palette look. If none of the supplied filters suits your needs, you can fiddle with Lift, Gamma, Gain or Saturation to spit-and-polish your favourite snaps.
17. iTracer - £1.79 / $2.99
3D modelling and rendering on an iPhone? Yes. Download iTracer and you can build simple 3D models or scenes and render them from any viewpoint. It lacks the extended feature set of a fatter desktop package, but iTracer boasts a material editor, opacity and refraction effects, while multiple light sources can be set up for complex shadowing. It's astounding to have even half of these features on a mobile device. The addition of a 2D curve editor and support for generic triangle meshes with per-vertex normals makes the price point an absolute steal.
18) Artisan - £0.59 / $0.99
Artisan's imagery is based on interacting with fractal webs that dance and swirl according to your touch (similar to EoD's particle-based app, Spawn Illuminati). You can control the number of 'breeders' to make the image more or less complex. However, if you slow the web movement down you can generate curvaceous, solid-looking 3D images, which can then be saved to your iPhone's gallery (as long as you're quick: the images are constantly evolving). More of a novelty than a real tool, but an aesthetically pleasing way to while away a few minutes.
Liked this? Then check out 7 things Apple should change for iPad 2.0
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