3D Animation on a budget.
By Ed Harriss

Let's face it, 3d Animation is expensive. As a result, animators are constantly looking for ways to save a buck or two without sacrificing quality. Some of the key ingredients to do 3d, and be successful at it, are:

1. A fast computer.
2. A good monitor (s).
3. A fast/stable video card.

Monitors are usually the easiest part to pick out. There are only a few good monitor manufacturers out there and you can "test drive" most of them at your local electronics superstore. Computers are not quite as easy to pick out, but if you stick with the major vendors you'll probably be pretty safe. Most mid-range to high-end computers built by a reputable company will do. Even a "home built" computer constructed from quality parts will probably do the job. By far the most difficult part of your workstation purchase is the video card. There are a lot to choose from and, depending on which one you buy, they can be the single most expensive component in your computer.

SGI workstations, once king of the 3d computer animation industry...

...now, they make great filing cabinets! :)

There was a time when the decision was easy. Buy an SGI. They were expensive and you had limited choices when it came to graphics options, but they worked. Now they just make great filing cabinets. When the PC revolution took over the computer graphics industry, the decision was still easy. Buy a Wildcat. (Initially referred to as "Realism" cards.) Anything else was just a waste of time. The main reasons to buy the Wildcats were stability and speed. Time passed and Elsa came out with what was known as a Quadro card. This card sat right in the middle of the Wildcats and the GeForce cards. They weren't quite as fast or as stable as the Wildcat cards, but they only cost a fraction of the price and they offered a dual head display called Twin View. (I.E. They supported OpenGL on 2 monitors. A big plus for 3D animators.) Elsa some financial trouble and no new dual head Quadro cards came out till the GeForce4. By now the gap between the Professional cards like the Wildcat, the Pro-sumer cards like the Quadro and the Gamer cards like the GeForce4 had grown smaller. While the Quadro cards and the Wildcat cards are faster at pushing polygons than a GeForce4, they cost a lot more. What this means is; scenes with millions of polygons will slow the Geforce4 cards down a bit. While the Quadro will handle them pretty well and the Wildcat won't slow down much at all.


The less users a video card has the less testing the videocard drivers will undergo.
The less testing they undergo, the more artifacts they will produce.
(Along with more crashes.)

But, even though they perform better in some areas, the Wildcat user base has not grown as rapidly as the GeForce user base. Why should this matter to you? Because more users means more bugs are found, reported, and eliminated. This means that your card will run with fewer glitches and problems. As a result your 3d application will crash less. In my experience most 3d application crashes are due to faulty video cards or poorly written video card drivers. As if that wasn't enough, working with a card that periodically displays artifacts can be just as frustrating as random crashes. How would you like it if your model looked like the one above, at random, every 10 or 15 min? Good drivers are a lot more important than most people think.

But there are other things to consider. 3d Animators need to be able to use paint programs and play back videos relatively well. Most "Highend" video cards (like the Wildcat) have very poor 2d support. The people that make these cards don't seem to understand that the typical 3d animator needs to be able to play videos, run a paint program and take advantage of modern OpenGL implementation. Raw power and pushing polygons does not make the perfect video card. It only looks good on a benchmark chart. Another thing that cripples most high-end video cards is poor video game support. Playing games during work is probably not going to please your boss. But a lot of companies out there like to play games after work or during lunch. With a GeForce4 you will not have any videogame compatibility problems at all. On the other hand, lots of 3d Animators work for video game companies. Not being able to test your work on your own machine because your video card does not support DirectX is a real workflow killer.

What about ATI then? They basically have 2 lines. The Radeon and the FireGL series. The FireGL cards tend to have better support for 2d applications and 3d applications but the price range puts it at or above most Quadro cards. Since you're on a budget, these cards are out of the question. The Radeon series cards are reasonably priced, but the drivers do not play well with 3d applications. As a result, you have more crashes and artifacts with a Radeon card than you would with any other modern card listed in this review. They do, however, work very well with games and 2d applications.

Click here for Page 3

Review Contents:
Page 1: Intro
Page 2: The GeForce4 and why it is the ideal choice for 3d animators on a budget.
Page 3: Out of all the cards on the market, why Gainward?
Page 4: Softquadro4 and what it can do for you. And this card can output demo reels!
Page 5: Conclusion