10 great new tools for 3D artists this June

June is a big month for digital creatives. Apple hosted its World Wide Developers conference (WWDC) and the games industry has E3 in the middle of the month. Around these two massive tentpole shows are a raft of new announcements. Here are the 10 we’re most excited about.

01. iMac Pro

The iMac Pro certainly looks the part in its space grey enclosure

After the disappointment that many digital creatives felt when the new MacBook Pro launched, Apple promised that it still wanted to provide the machines for digital creatives. The iMac Pro is the first step to win back hearts and minds. With up to 18 cores, 128GB of RAM and next-generation AMD Vega GPUs, there is enough power to keep many creatives happy.

The starting price of $4,999 and lack of upgradeable components, however, could dampen that happiness. We will find out in December when the iMac Pro ships.

02. VR for Mac

With the upcoming macOS High Sierra, it will be possible to develop VR on a Mac

With the new High Sierra macOS, Apple is adding first party support for Thunderbolt 3 external GPU boxes. Combined with the arrival of Steam VR for macOS, these announcements means that VR and many GPU-accelerated render engines can be used and developed on the Mac at last, using either AMD or NVIDIA cards.

Apple is backing this up with an external graphics development kit, which boasts a Sonnet eGPU enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card, and compatibility with HTC Vive VR headsets.

03. iPad Pro

The new 10.5-inch iPad Pro replaces the 9.7 model

Apple has released two new models of the iPad Pro, both with vastly improved screens and faster graphics. The screens now have a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, with a P3 wide colour display. The new iPads are likely to be the most colour accurate screens in any studio. 

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has been replaced by a 10.5-inch model (priced from $649/£619) with thinner side bevels, alongside the revamped 12.9-inch behemoth (from $799/£769).

04. iOS 11

iOS 11 supports many new iPad-specific features, including drag-and-drop with the new files app

One of the biggest issues with the iPad Pro is the fact that doing proper work has always felt like a chore due to the limitations of iOS. With the upcoming iOS 11, Apple has provided a major focus on the iPad, with drag-and-drop now available on split-screen, and a new Mac-like dock. The Apple Pencil is also made more useful, thanks to inline notation, scan and sign for documents, and a new handwriting recognition system.

With a new ARKit API available to developers that allows full support for tracking objects into a camera view, iOS 11 looks like it could be a major boost for iPad productivity and digital content developers.

05. Affinity Photo for iPad

Affinity Photo for iPad is a desktop-class image manipulation application

Affinity Photo has developed a reputation as a true Photoshop competitor at a fraction of the price. With the release of the iPad version of Affinity Photo, Serif has created a professional image manipulation tool for the iPad and iPad Pro. 

In our initial test run, we were able to import an EXR image and create a mask for it using another bitmap-based image. Effects and filters are applied blisteringly quickly, and Affinity Photo works superbly with the Apple Pencil. Affinity Photo is available with an introductory 30 per cent discount at $19.99/£19.99 on the App Store.

06. New MacBooks, MacBook Pros and iMacs

Rounding out our Apple-fest is the announcement of key hardware updates for most Macs. Laptops across the board will see upgrades to Kaby Lake processors (Intel Core i5 and m3), plus there’s better discrete graphics for 15-inch MacBook Pros. The new MacBooks and MacBook Pros cost from $1,299/£1,249.

iMacs will also receive new processors, as well as Thunderbolt 3 ports, brighter screens, a new extended keyboard and the ability to install up to 64GB of RAM in the 27-inch model. The new iMacs cost from $1,099/£1,049.

07. Microsoft Surface Pro

The Microsoft Surface Pro gets welcome specification and stylus improvements

It hasn’t just been Apple revealing new hardware this month. Microsoft has announced the new Surface Pro, which is a favourite tool of many digital artists due to its ability to run a full version of Windows. The new Surface Pro comes with Kaby Lake processors and improved cooling. This means for the first time the i5 version of the Surface Pro joins the i3 in running silently without fans.

There is a new stylus, now with tilt support and 4,096 pressure points. Starting from $799/£799, the Surface Pro is available now.

08. Avatar SDK

Avatar SDK enables you to create 3D avatars from photographs

Creating avatars from photographs is becoming more common in various media, including games such as EA’s Game Face. Itseez3D is making that process easy for developers on many platforms, including Unity and iOS with Avatar SDK.

If the demo mobile app is anything to go by, avatars are easy to capture and the quality is excellent. With a per-use pricing model (which starts with 50 avatars per month for free), Avatar SDK should allow many developers to add this cutting-edge feature.

09. Character Creator Sketchfab integration

With the latest release of Reallusion’s iClone comes a major upgrade to the Character Creator plugin. Version 2 offers a range of new improvements, but it’s the Sketchfab integration that is a real high point. 

This makes iClone and Character Creator a great (and cost-effective) starting point for many artists wanting to create shareable character assets for game and VR use on the Sketchfab platform. The Lite version is free, while a full version costs $199 (iClone 6 or 7 licensees can upgrade for free).

10. HitFilm Express

HitFilm Express offers many of the VFX and editing features of its HitFilm Pro for free

HitFilm Pro has a become a major competitor to Adobe Premiere and After Effects over the past few years. FXHOME's new HitFilm Express offers many of the same features as its big brother – including 4K editing – for free. 

Extra features can be purchased as add-ons at reasonable prices, in order to make HitFilm Express into a bespoke editing and VFX package. 

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