[Review] Alias PowerAnimator v6


Feb 19, 2019
i posted a couple of software reviews on nekochan at the time and they were quite popular. since these programs were already way past their EOL, nothing changed since then so i figured i could just post them again. starting with the most popular one:

Alias PowerAnimator v6

but wait why is that special? PowerAnimator info isn't that hard to get. that's true of course but as you'll see v6 is different which brings us right to the intro:

when Alias Research Inc. released the first version of their software it was just called "Alias". the second version was called "Alias/2". so far it was only targeted at industrial design until in the late 80s ILM used it for the fluid creature in the movie "The Abyss". the latter had a serious impact on the popularity of 3d graphics for movies and alias quickly took advantage of it. version 3 was now split into two "packages": Studio and PowerAnimator. however that was just a marketing stunt because the program still was the same. there were no two different programs either. the only difference was a slightly different feature set depending on which license you had.
this went on and with the release of v6 the following base products were available:
  • Animator
  • PowerAnimator
  • Designer
  • Studio
  • AutoStudio
the first two were targeted at the entertainment industry such as film, tv and games. the rest was meant to be used for industrial design just as when the program had been released for the first time in the mid 80s. there was however one exception: AutoStudio. AutoStudio was the top of the line product and had everything. not only all the stuff of the other industrial design versions but also everything the animators had.
bottom line is that no matter which one you had you always had the same program; just with a few features more or less.

after sgi bought alias and merged them with wavefront the alias program got a major ui redesign starting with v7. that is how most people know and remember it and what pretty much every source on the internet shows but until then it was different. that's why this second review might be more interesting than what we had in the thread before because v6 was the last of the original ones and proper screen shots let alone detailed info about all the original versions almost doesn't exist.
so as you know by now although i'm gonna make this review about PowerAnimator it does apply to all of the not so different versions of alias from the time alias still were on their own.


the program was fullscreen without any sign of irix style window borders. unlike the competiton in alias all 3d viewports were independent windows which you could move, resize, arrange, open and close at will. also very handy and not available with other programs was a complete customization of ui colors and hotkeys. you could also save that, other stuff like window positions and the general options to files and therefore load different setups as required at any time without changing your scene.
the original alias versions (before v7) had all menus at the bottom (v6 was the only one with a gray style. earlier versions were green). sorted by categories all of the big menu buttons brought up a pop-up list above with the actual functions just like you might know it from the multilister in later versions which is one of a few places where they kept the old style menus after the merge with wavefront. the last used function of each menu button was displayed at the very bottom below the respective menu button and could be repeated by just hitting the button without actually selecting the function again on the pop-up list. which menus you had depended on the mode. you could always switch modes by using the very right menu button or hotkeys. the current mode was shown in a small field in the middle row of the menu area at the bottom.
there were 6 modes:
  • Alias
  • Model
  • Render
  • Anim
  • Video I/O
  • Film
the first one wasn't like the rest but more like an entry point which could be used to enter one of the other modes or run additional stuff like the help, settings or paint. v6 offered a direct launch for StudioPaint as well as the old paint program that still was included with v6. if started without an existing scene there were no 3d viewports either but simply a big, blank screen with the menu in Alias mode.
some menus in the middle were always the same for Model, Anim and Render mode.
[i attached a menu overview pdf i created from the help but it didn't come out too well. should still give the right impression tho]
and to cover some trivia, the default shaders were different depending on the license. the default PowerAnimator shader tho in particular was sort of famous. it was a neat blue which indeed made for a nice default. the values were:
RGB: 0, 150, 255
Diffuse: 0.8

this has always been the strong part of alias. designed as a spline based program from the start alias was far ahead of the competition at all things nurbs & co. curve tools like there was no tomorrow up to surface evaluation with special shaders and whatnot.
but of course polygons were available as well. in fact v6 introduced a polygon toolbox which was a floating, vertical menu providing quite a nice set of polygon specific tools such as extrusion, vertex edits and a special switch that allowed setting the results of all surface operations to either polygons or nurbs.

no surprises here either. as usual there were the 4 main renderers available as well as a hardware renderer (rrfr) and a couple of output options such as sdl, plot or rib. there also was an optional set of r4000 optimized versions of the 4 main renderers available. just in case, the mentioned 4 main renderers were:
  • Render
  • Raytracer
  • PowerCaster
  • PowerTracer
the last two simply were smp capable versions of the first two. i don't recall if there was a hard limit regarding the number of cpus no matter what license you had but at least 16 worked fine if i remember correctly.
unlike maya the results of the alias renderers were great. they had a somewhat warm and natural look as well as neat specials such as glows and lens flares. the latter actually looked serious, not like lightwave for example.
there also was a high number of different lights:
  • Point
  • Spot
  • Directional
  • Ambient
  • Linear
  • Area
  • Volume
all lights provided a quite complete feature set including things like lens flares, glows, halos, shadows (including adjustable soft shadows), fog, force and particles. the latter was actually part of the shader settings and was available for lights as well as regular shaders.
you could also save all shaders, lights and environments separately and all major values could be mapped and the maps mapped again and so on. you could build actual shading networks wich was quite unique at the time.
also worth mentioning is the seamlessly intergrated ramp map that was very useful in many different ways.
one of the pics shows the famous rocket scene with a quickrender preview overlay.

animation features were not as extensive as in softimage for example but nice nevertheless. there were shape shifters, different kinds of animation curves, an automatic flyby, autokeys and pretty much everything could be keyed in one place or by alt-clicking the parameter name in the respective property windows. not to forget the fully integrated dynamics and particles. there also were a number of performance related settings which let you tweak and tune quite a lot so that working was as smooth as your machine allowed it. a number of different animation previews existed as well as the option to save certain animation data to avoid computing it everytime from scratch. further since v4 there was an IK system (see pics).

a number of additional programs were part of the package as well as the popular 3dcd with a neat set of examples of all kinds. some of the terminal based programs included:
  • AliasToRenderman
  • fpaste
  • pixdiff
  • matteRGB
  • WireConvert
  • grab
some gui programs that came with the package (also see pics):
  • MotionSampler 2
  • paint
  • ascan
  • flipbook
paint and ascan were legacy programs and only available as coff binaries.

one of the things i liked very much was that many important settings were centralized unlike softimage for example where major settings were scattered all over the place. the multilister for example was your one-stop for all material related stuff. or the render stats which let you set things like smooth shading, motion blur, shadows, tesselation and so on for all objects or just a user defined selection in one single place at one.
one other thing that came in very handy was that things did look good by default. with most other programs it took quite some tweaking before you got a decent result; way too sensitive bump values, having a hard time getting half-way realistic smoke with a ramp and so on - i guess some of you can relate.
something alias wasn't is fast. neither the renderers not the program itself won any speed awards especially compared to the wavefront advanced visualizer or prisms.

well that's about it. there's much more to tell but it has to stop somewhere :p
in case you wanna know more or something specific just ask anytime.


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Feb 4, 2019
Very nice review!
I eventually got into the legacy of this all as Maya in the mid-2000s, but by that time it looked pretty different, probably closer to A|W. The flat UI of v6 reminds me of some of the (much more simple) DOS 3D packages I used to use.

It's interesting that the renderer produced nicer results out of the box. By the time I got to Maya it was primarily Mental Ray. Would be neat to see some original v6 renders if you have any sitting around :)


Feb 19, 2019
by that time it looked pretty different
sure maya was the next gen product and that was quite some years later. they did keep the icons though for quite some time. the icons alias introduced with v7.

The flat UI of v6
v6 wasn't flat anymore. in fact it was the first to introduce the beveled buttons everywhere. the previous versions were flat and i have something in that regard to show soon.

By the time I got to Maya it was primarily Mental Ray.
okay that was maya 5 or later. or 4.5 if you had the beta.

Would be neat to see some original v6 renders if you have any sitting around :)
oh that was a long time ago hehe. the differences were not huge and were only obvious if you knew both well enough.
one candidate for example was the light fog. the alias renderers were very fast at this and it looked very smooth. with maya's default renderer on the other hand you really had to crank the settings up to get somewhat close. and that although the settings were pretty much the same. things like that didn't feel like next gen at all :p
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