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MeshPaint allows the 3D artist to paint objects in real 3D. It is the first of its kind, though it promises to set a pace and a concept that others are sure to follow. It is both Windows and PowerMac oriented, and supports ElectricImage and all 3D software that incorporates the QuickDraw 3D standard on the Mac (RayDream, StrataPro Infini-D and others). The process is simple. Load in an acceptable object saved out from one of the supported 3D programs, and use the 3D painting tools to paint on the object as you rotate it in 3D space. Though this seems simple, technologically it has taken decades to realize this potential for the desktop artist.

MeshPaint has a 3D window (used to manipulate the loaded object in 3D space) and a 2D window for each element of the object that has a separate painted or photographic texture, where the actual painting goes on. When painting is activated in the 2D painting widows, the 3D object is updated, though it may have to be re-rendered to see the results. The object at first appears as a wireframe construct in the 3D window, and responds to all manipulations performed on it in the separate 3D controls window. The wireframe may be shown as a single or multiple color. The polygonal structure of the wireframe can be set for varying detail in the Object Preferences dialog. Here you can set the color of the 2D window’s background, the color/multicolor of the wireframe. The detail level is set by a slider, and ranges from 1 to 100. The higher the slider is set, the less detail you’ll see in the wireframe, with a cost of slower movement operations because of redraw time. The top number can be set to higher values for larger objects. The way the slider is set makes a difference when painting on the object as far as the perceived detail of the polys, and can affect the way that you paint.

The 3D Object Preferences dialog also lists a shading menu. The mode may be set to flat (poly edges will be seen) or smooth (no poly edges will be visible when solid rendered). You can even select to see a shaded render all of the time on the 3D window instead of a wireframe. This is at a cost of slower rotational manipulations and successive redraws of the object.

3D Object Manipulation: MeshPaint has a special rotation control window so that you can see the object in the 3D window from any angle. It has three separate control sliders: one for zooming in/out, and the other two to rotate the object in 3D space. Exacting painting can be accomplished by keeping close tabs on a zoomed in view of the objects detail polys.

Painting Tools: All of the elements in an object first must be assigned a texture, and the texture has to be told how it must be applied (planar, spherical, cylindrical etc., and on what relative axis). Then paint is applied to 3D models by choosing a color or texture. Textures can be saved paintings or photographs, so MeshPaint makes it easy to apply facial maps to 3D humanoid models as an example. MeshPaint includes painting, straight line, fill and blur tools on screen, and the revisions that will accompany each edition of this software are sure to include more painting tools and options.

All imported graphics are shown in their own 2D window, and the painting tools can be used to alter them on the spot. Brushes are loaded in specific libraries, and can be created externally in a paint program and saved to MeshPaint. Once a surface of the object is married to a texture, painting can be targeted to that surface, and it will map in the way that was selected. Painting on any of the targeted 2D windows is automatically applied to that 3D element of the model in the 3D window. Painting on the model in the 3D window automatically updates the respective 2D painting. This reciprocal relationship between 2D and 3D is the heart of the MeshPaint process. The selection of default brushes includes star bursts, alternate painting nubs, star wheels, whirls, and other common and uncommon shapes. Paint can be applied by stroking the 2D or 3D canvas, or by simply clicking a shape down. All brushes are resizeable.

By double clicking on any brush in the visual library, an Image Brush dialog pops up. In it, the brush image can be altered by opacity and intensity sliders. Its type can be selected from the following list: Standard, Transition, Fade, TransFade, random Opacity, Continue Fade, and Random Color (current and all). The default brushes are not editable.

Two tools that are vital to 3D painting are the Polymap and Stamper functions. Polymap generates a 2D view of the object polygon by polygon, and can be saved as a file. This map is exquisite for painting a poly-by-poly texture that will map exactly to the object later. The Stamper is another tool that 3D artists will find a myriad of uses for, It allows you to cut out a defined rectangle in a 2D map (64 x 64 pixels maximum) and stamp the texture down on the 3D object. It can be used, for example, to add labels to products and graffiti to walls.

Texture Mapping: There has never been a way to add textures to 3D objects more intuitively than with MeshPaint. You can alter the selected 2D image during the mapping process by changing it as it is displayed on a 2D map, or by painting on it directly in 3D. Any 2D painting accomplished with MeshPaint’s internal brushes on a 2D window instantly becomes a color texture map. Texture maps created in paint and photo manipulation software (Fractal Painter or Photoshop for example) become instant texture map resources for 3D objects.

Rendering: A render button on the MeshPaint menu bar quickly renders the object as represented in the 3D window. Rendering has to occur each time that the object view is rotated or zoomed. The program is intelligent enough to write any changes painted on the texture in the 2D widows directly to the 3D object without re-rendering, unless you want to appreciate how it looks from another angle.

Saving the New Painted Object: Painted and photorealistic textures are saved as part of the object, and can be displayed and animated in the appropriate 3D software. With MeshPaint, textures can be adjusted directly to their 3D surfaces in near real time, with no more expensive and time consuming gaps between texture generation and 3D object renderings.