Strata Design 3D CX
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Full user review
"Excellent all around 3D package: model, render, animate"
Excellent rendering engine. Includes HDRI and Raydiosity. Strong polygon modeling tools with significant upgrades in this area on this version. Has features found in much more expensive 3D packages standard like IK, complete animation tools, etc.
Animation controls are a bit dated and could use some improvements. Interface is also a tad dated but they seem to try and update it each revision. A tad pricey if you are thinking of it as entry level 3D application, but it has a low learning curve.
A solid if not spectacular 3D package with a strong community behind it. Has been around on the Mac platform for two decades, so they are very strong in the Mac community. Has been a Windows application for the past decade, so it's a true cross-platform solution for shops needing that kind of flexibility.
Version 6 saw the inclusion of polygon modeling with a recent 6.2 update that added to this new set of tools making it a fairly strong modeler. Still not in the category of much more expensive 3D applications, but a very capable mid-level 3D application.
Rendering has always been a strong suite for Strata3D. It's had a radiosity rendered for over a decade and has added extensive HDRI tools in the latest major revision. Can even save rendering files for later rendering, offering the ability to have multiple computers render different parts of an animation frameset at the same time. You are not able to use multiple computers to help render a single frame though, something that has been requested by the community.
Animation tools are fairly robust, but can be confusing. There's a lot of power under the hood here, but much of it is hidden or hard to find. Could definitely use an interface overhaul here, but it's not so complex that you can't use it now, it's just that it could be better. With it's strong rendering engine, it can render some amazing animation clips, but be prepared for long render times. Although Strata has made major jumps in render speed, high end renders can still take a long time just like any other 3D software. Having more than one computer to render sections of an animation can save valuable amounts of time here. Strata used to offer a distributed render option but it's no longer available, although the community has requested it be added back in.
The latest version also includes tools to integrate into Adobe's Photoshop program allowing a lot of control over textures, placing 3D objects in Photoshop files and swapping images from Photoshop into Strata as a 3D object. Currently no other software package offers this ability.
Strata's community is fairly strong and very dedicated. Strata themselves participate in the community site run by someone independent of Strata, so they hold no influence over the website themselves, something refreshing in the industry. Strata seems genuinely concerned with making their users happy. They also seem very dedicated to producing fairly bug-free software. While no software version can be completely bug-free, Strata does seem to take extreme care to not release software before it's ready, another welcome trait.
While Strata3D CX isn't perfect, it's a strong package with an amazing rendering engine that can produce top flight work. With ties to Adobe Photoshop, it has a strong tie-in with commercial 2D work. Strata has made a package that many 2D graphic artists can gravitate to without the large learning curve many 3D software packages seen to have. It also has a strong following in the architectual arena as well. Something to consider when looking at other solutions.
Lastly, Strata has some additional software packages that augment Strata3D CX that also bear some investigation. It gives Strata some flexibility in other areas besides just a model / renderer.
If you are looking for one software package to do everything and not have to learn multiple software packages, Strata will fit in just fine.