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Focus On 3D Models
Author: Evan Pipho
Publisher: Premier Press
ISBN: 1-59200-033-9
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com] - RRP US$20.99
Reviewed: 9th February 2004

Front Cover Shot:


3D models are one of those things in the 3D-graphics world that you just can't get very far without. Given enough time, and a big enough project you will almost always find some need for a 3D modeling format. The reasons are many - simpler code, data-driven architectures, re-usability...

Once you realize that you'd be better off with using externally loaded 3D models, you need to pick a type of file - sure you can always design your own, but that's not usually a realistic option. Instead, why not use one of the many common file formats supported by any number of 3D modeling tools. In doing this you'll need supporting material to learn the file format that you chose - and even with the power of Google this isn't as easy as it sounds. Hence this book will come in handy...

Surprisingly mathematical

For a book that, from the outset, would appear to be simply about understanding and using data created by another application, it is a surprisingly mathematical text. The first 2 chapters are dedicated to covering the basic principles of vector/transform mathematics - this makes up a good 20% of the available paper. 

When you read through this book it is clear that this mathematics 'refresher' is actually a required component as many of the model formats covered have quite a bit of mathematics involved in either the loading or the final rendering stages. More importantly, the overview of animating 3D models that crops up throughout this book is an even more involved (mathematically speaking) process.

This is distinctly in the books favor - it would have been perfectly possible to write this book as little more than a reference manual to the binary (or otherwise) formatting of a collection of popular file formats. 

Solid base

This book does a good job of covering all of the major file formats currently in use:

1. Quake 2 'MD2' files
2. OBJ files
3. Milkshape 3D files
4. 3DS Max '3DS' files
5. Half-Life's 'MDL' files
6. Quake 3 'MD3' files

Apart from 3DS and maybe Milkshape, the file types covered are pretty specialised towards game development. Should you be wanting to read through this book with a more general 3D model discussion then this may not be the book for you. But for the vast majority of people reading this review, the mention of 'MDL' and 'MD3' formats should be enough to excite!

This book has enough reference material, and a good enough explanation of each file type, that you can read this book and along with the accompanying CD implement all of the formats discussed between the two covers. This is a great bonus - because if you can create, understand and use a well designed 'MDL' loader/renderer (for example), you're 3D engine potentially has access to a huge range of 'stock' MDL files from the internet. This makes writing simple games for hobbyist programmers much easier, and for the more serious amongst you, it can remove a significant burden from your shoulders.

The only area that is noticeably weak  is the discussion of skeletal animation; whereas the remainder of the book takes everything through to completion the skeletal animation chapter is obviously only an overview/introduction. However, in defense of the author, skeletal animation is a huge topic that is worthy of a dedicated book twice the size of this text. For anyone wishing to do any heavy animation after loading/rendering the models a bit of additional reading/research will be required.

In Conclusion

Reading through this book you will get a good overview and introduction to the best of the currently in-use modeling formats; looking through the CD you will have access to a large amount of straight-from-the-box usable code.

The actual book is easy to follow, and reasonably friendly to read. However there is a distinct lack of any detailed discussion of how character animation works - but as mentioned before, it's probably beyond the scope of a book this size.

Good Things Bad Things
Contains a lot of genuinely useful information that is hard to find elsewhere Limited by size - a decent coverage of actual animation isn't included
Well written and easy to follow Gets very mathematical in places
Covers all the major modeling formats  
Good CD with examples and demos  


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