3D Graphics with Imagine: Past, Present, and Future

A look at an all-time classic Amiga software package through the years

By Bill Graham, Graphics Editor, nucmong@primenet.com

Impulse, Inc., the company that produces Imagine, is one of the oldest developers of products for the Amiga. Their first Amiga 3D package, Silver, was introduced in 1986. Silver's successor, Turbo Silver, was intoduced in 1989. I have been using Impulse products since 1988, and I can tell you that things have changed considerably in the 3D world.

In those early days, when a 68000 processor was the norm for 3D rendering, it was not unusual for a simple ten-second flying logo animation to take two weeks to render. The extreme rendering time was the main consideration for pricing commercial work, since the actual set up only took a few hours.

In 1990, Impulse released a totally new 3D package called Imagine. It was a radical departure from Silver in both features and interface design. It has gone through several major revisions since then, but its overall character remains the same.

From the beginning Imagine has taken advantage of the Amiga's advanced operating system and graphics capabilities. For instance, it is possible to run multiple instances of Imagine, allowing you to model with one Imagine and render with another. Its Preferences editor allows the user to change the screen colors and determine the output modes, and has dozens of other parameters for controlling every aspect of the software.

Imagine can output imagery in every Amiga resolution, from Lo-Res 32-color pictures to Hi-resolution HAM8, in addition to full 24-bit color. Various 3rd-party display cards are supported, but my favorite has always been Impulse's own Firecracker24. This board was the first full 24-bit RGB Zorro board for the Amiga, and I still use it because of the full Imagine compatibility. Using Imagine's Preferences editor, I can have the Firecracker display the rendering output realtime in 24-bit color on a second monitor. It is a low-scan-rate board, which means it works with 1084 monitors and all Amiga-compatible external genlocks.

Imagine will write standard IFF animations in addition to its own RGBN format. The RGBN format supports a simple scripting feature that allows the user to set up loops and delays as well as allowing for imported frames from other animations.

The feature list for Imagine is lengthy indeed. Stereo rendering and Depth of Field capability, as well as Soft Shadows lighting allow for great image quality. It comes with dozens of algorithmic, or mathematically-calculated textures, that allow for the creation of any possible surface. It goes far beyond the traditional reflective and plastic surfaces, to the point where it is possible to create realistic ground meat, dirt, cloth, almost anything. It is the only 3D package I've seen that can render a realistic wood.

Its polygonal modeling tools are among the best in the industry. It has facilities for the most demanding detailed editing, and it has object deformation tools that allow for any possible geometry. In addition to the importation of bitmaps to be used as outlines for logos and the like, it has a dedicated Spline editor for importing Adobe Type 1 fonts, for truly beautiful 3D text.

The animation capabilities of Imagine are very advanced. The user has total control from simple keyframing to frame-by-frame pinpoint control of every facet of the animation. Character animation with Bones, States, and Inverse Kinematics make for capabilities that rival systems and packages costing many thousands of dollars. A fantastic Particle system and true 3D morphing give the user all the creative tools needed to make great animations.

Imagine is currently at version 5.0, which introduced ARexx and CyberGraphX support. Imagine's interface running on my Z3 Retina is very snappy, with super quick redraw times. With CyberGraphX, Imagine can run in 256 colors, as well as render to a CyberGraphX-compatible display in full 24-bit color. Since the introduction of 5.0 there have been many ARexx scripts made available by ARexx programmers that enhance Imagine's many features.

Imagine version 5.0 is available for the paltry sum of $100. And if that is too much for you, then you can download version 4.0 for free from http://www.coolfun.com and check out everything except the CyberGraphX and ARexx support. The latest printed manual is for version 3.0, which is available for an extra $25. However, the online support for Imagine is immense. In addition to the Impulse website (address given above) there is a very active Imagine mailing list that can generate upwards of 75 messages a day. The archived digests of the mailing list as well as Imagine objects, tutorials, and other related information can be found at the Imagine FTP site at ftp://uidaho.edu/pub/graphics/imagine/ which is updated every other day or so. There is a great deal of Imagine-related material on Aminet also.

As robust as the current version of Imagine is, there are some significant upgrades planned for the 6.0 version. A partial list follows:

And a lot more. Impulse has initiated a Constant Upgrade Program, or CUP. This allows users to receive the newest versions of Imagine with the latest features in several increments rather than wait until the full version is released. It is also cheaper, since the CUP is only $100 while the complete upgrade will be $200. I have participated in CUP's before and I can tell you it is really worth it.

For more information you can call Impulse at 1-612-425-0557 or e-mail them at sales@coolfun.com.