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By David R. Lorentz

I attended an interesting talk today called “Dimension Wars: Bridging the Gap between 2D and 3D in Flash,” from a couple of guys from Firstborn in NYC, Eric Decker, Jens Fischer, and Dan Lacivita. The focus of this session was the different ways Firstborn has produced experiences that seem 3D—whether that means true 3D or fancy 2D depends on the project. The one point that these guys were extremely careful to make is that they never decide at the outset of a project whether they will be working in 3D or using any specific technology. Instead, they first work out the idea, then they figure out what technology best supports this idea. Makes sense.

The talk starts out with several demos of “fake” 3D:

  • For starters, a swf in which a light source follows the mouse and casts shadows from spheres. It looks 3D, but the swf is literally just rotating and scaling simple movie clips that represent the shadows, based on a simple calculation of the relative mouse position.
  • Next, a simple game in which you toss fish to a polar bear. The fish and the polar bear are indeed 3D objects, rendered as static sprites, and placed into a non-3D environment. The illusion of depth is created by simply making the Polar bear (in the background) small relative to the fish (starting in the foreground). When the fish is tossed, its y-position follows a sine curve, and its size scales down, giving the illusion of 3D motion.

Pretty damn simple, and a hell of a lot less work than Papervision. Keep this in mind as you think about your own 3D projects.

The Firstborn guys then talked about a couple of different real 3D frameworks available to Flash developers. They emphasized that Papervision is not always the best tool for the job, contrary to the beliefs of a wide swath of intimidated Flash developers; it really depends on what you want to do. An alternative is FIVe3D,  which stands for Flash Interactive Vector 3D.

This vector-based 3D framework is totally open-source and pretty easy to use. The entire system is vector-based, with 3D objects made up of vertices, linear vector connectors, and Bezier curves. These vector-based constructions will seem very familiar to Flash developers, only in 3D instead of 2D. In fact, much of the syntax mirrors regular AS3 syntax—for instance, there’s Sprite3D instead of Sprite, there’s a graphics3D property instead of graphics, and so forth. From my perspective, it looks like FIVe3D is a great option for generating lots of 3D visuals programatically; Papervision may be a better choice for certain kinds of project that rely on lots of 3D modeling.

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