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1. April 2011

Once, many years ago there was a company called Symbolics. This company, though now defunct, goes down in history as the very first .com address ever registered. Even more impactful, Symbolics’ actions lead directly to Richard Stallman creating GNU! At the time, Symbolics created a series of LISP based workstations, very powerful workstations by the standards of the day. For these workstations, they created one of the very first graphics suites.

Eventually Symbolics sold their graphics division to a multi-billion dollar Japanese company called Nichimen, who released it at first as n-Worlds, then after a period of time as Mirai. Eventually a group of employees from the original team purchased the IP and incorporated as Winged Edge software, then later as Izware, where in addition to Mirai they released the much cheaper pure modeler Nendo. Their software was used most famously to create art for the game Mario 64 and for the movie Lord of the Rings and now, sadly, they are defunct.

So, if they are now out of business, why the hell did I waste your time with the above history lesson??? Two reasons; first, I love geek history and trivia. Second, Mirai and Nendo live on in the superb ( AND FREE!) Wings 3D.

Why is it called Wings? Remember earlier I mentioned that the Nichimen crew renamed themselves Winged Edge Software? Well that part is key, the underlying technology behind Mirai/Nendo ( and now Wings 3D ) is the Winged-Edge Mesh. In the time worn act of being lazy, I will let Wikipedia explain that one to you.

Introduced by Baumgart 1975, winged-edge meshes explicitly represent the vertices, faces, and edges of a mesh. This representation is widely used in modeling programs to provide the greatest flexibility in dynamically changing the mesh geometry, because split and merge operations can be done quickly. Their primary drawback is large storage requirements and increased complexity due to maintaining many indices. A good discussion of implementation issues of Winged-edge meshes may be found in the book Graphics Gems II.

Winged-edge meshes address the issue of traversing from edge to edge, and providing an ordered set of faces around an edge. For any given edge, the number of outgoing edges may be arbitrary. To simplify this, winged-edge meshes provide only four, the nearest clockwise and counter-clockwise edges at each end. The other edges may be traversed incrementally. The information for each edge therefore resembles a butterfly, hence "winged-edge" meshes. Figure 4 shows the "box-cylinder" as a winged-edge mesh. The total data for an edge consists of 2 vertices (endpoints), 2 faces (on each side), and 4 edges (winged-edge).

Rendering of winged-edge meshes for graphics hardware requires generating a Face index list. This is usually done only when the geometry changes. winged-edge meshes are ideally suited for dynamic geometry, such as subdivision surfaces and interactive modeling, since changes to the mesh can occur locally. Traversal across the mesh, as might be needed for collision detection, can be accomplished efficiently.

In a nutshell, it allows for very sub-division friendly polygonal modeling, exactly what we want. If you have worked in any other major polygon based modeler, Wings is going to feel very similar and very alien at the same time.

Hold with me though, as I will show you Wings is an extremely capable 3D modeler, easily the peer to most commercial packages. Oh, and did I mention, it’s free?

Stay tuned for more actual instructions and much less history of this great program.


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