Updated: December 17, 2011
You have probably never heard of anim8or. It's a simple, standalone free 3D modeling and animation software for Windows, created by one of Nvidia's geeky software engineers. The program does not require installation, takes only about 2MB of space and will even run on Linux through Wine properly. Sounds good, so why not test it?
Ah, the one big question is, do you want this program? There's a ton of free 3D software just waiting for you, Google SketchUp, Kerkythea, POV-Ray, Blender, all of which have had their share of reviews and tutorials on Dedoimedo. You know them, and you love them. So there's this new kid on the block, anim8or. Not as popular as the rest, less mainstream, some odd choices here and there. Still, it merits a review, and that is exactly what I did.
Download the zip file and extract it. On Windows XP, you're good to go. On Windows 7, you will need to run the program in the compatibility mode. On Linux, it works true using Wine, with one small exception being desktop background pixels leaking into the GUI space cracks in between window refreshes. But it sure didn't harm the testing.
Let's start with something simple, like a few spheres, some basic textures and such like. Indeed, let's ease into the software and then blast with proper renders toward the end.
While working, you can use the so-called browser to inspect your model from all angles, which is a very useful thing.
You can also apply materials to your objects, edit the textures and all the other stuff you expect from typical 3D software. In this regard, anim8or does not lag behind, but the interface would benefit from some simplification.
But then, you grab a proper 3D model and have some real fun. anim8or works with all kinds of file format, but your best bet is 3DS. But if you don't have your models in 3DS, perhaps only free Collada or Google Earth, then you might want to load them in Blender and then export as 3DS.
I chose Kill Mobil, the same model I used for the Blender tour article, so it seems like a decent reference. It's a rather complex model, with lots of sub-components and complex geometry, so if this one works, they all will.
If you don't wanna fiddle too much, just render your model, and that's it. The default settings are ok, but nothing dramatic so far.
But then, you can crank up things a notch or five:
And here's the final render, one with transparent background and one with gray:
Now, this is just a beginning. You can do a lot of powerful stuff in this little program. You may want to check the gallery to see what kind of beautiful, inspiring work other people did, sometimes using only anim8or and sometimes in combination with other software. I took the liberty to post a small-size screenshot of one of the more beautiful models posted there, just to show you what can be done when you set your passion to it.
Here's a truly splendid BMW Series 5, created by The Armenian:
And here's a magnificent Audi TT taken from Wikipedia:
Not all is rosy. All in all, anim8or has a somewhat difficult, non-intuitive interface. Moreover, the last stable - or rather beta - version is the 0.97d preview, three years old, although quite capable of providing what you want or need. It does not seem as if the program will see a new edition, though.
But the biggest issue was that some of the renders did not really work out as expected, especially with raytracing. Notice the fourth, rear wheel on the right side, rendered with some unneeded extra transparency. OpenGL worked fine.
anim8or might be a dead or at least a dormant project. It's not easy to use and will throw up a few nasty errors here and there, whether when you try to run it on Windows or when you go for some complex rendering. Funnily, there were no usability problems on Linux, the one platform not designed to run this software in the first place. But the rendering issues were universal.
All combined, the rather difficult interface, the setup woes and the end result problems make anim8or a tricky choice for the casual user. But if you're an artist who would like to experiment with different programs and you already have a good understanding of the 3D dynamics that exist in other software, you will find anim8or an adequate choice.
Its major advantages are its simplicity - fast, light, portable, no fussing when or where, free and overall, quite powerful. If only the usage model was made easier, it could be a good choice for your 3D work. So I guess anim8or deserves 7/10, perhaps 8/10 on a sunny day. Overall, I'm pleased and I intend to use this software now and then. Which means, we might have yet more nice galleries coming soon.