Thursday, November 30th, 2023 Posted by Jim Thacker

LightWave Digital releases LightWave 2023

Originally posted on 30 November 2023. Scroll down for news of the post-release updates.

LightWave Digital has released LightWave 2023: the first update to the 3D animation software in over three years, having acquired it from previous owner Vizrt earlier this year.

The update adds a Procedural Geometry Nodes system for 3D modeling, an Instance Painting system for populating 3D scenes, and a new 3D text tool in LightWave’s Layout application.

Gaseous fluid simulation add-on TurbulenceFD, workflow plugin collection OD Tools, and animation cache sculpting application ChronoSculpt are now bundled with the software.

The first release from a team put together ‘to save LightWave’
LightWave 2023 is the first update to the veteran 3D animation software since 2020, development having been suspended by previous owner Vizrt, which acquired long-time developer NewTek the previous year.

Its new owner, LightWave Digital, is a start-up whose management team comprises people who were closely involved with the software in its NewTek days, including former NewTek staff, plus key add-on developers and LightWave users.

When the buyout was announced this April, Andrew Bishop, former head of VFX firm Darkside Studios, and now Creative Director for LightWave Digital, commented that he had been asked by “a senior member of the Newtek team … to put together a team to save LightWave”.

New node-based procedural modeling and scattering toolset
Although the new development team has only had full access to the software for a little over six months, there are some significant changes in LightWave 2023.

The largest new toolset is the Procedural Geometry Nodes system.

Like Blender’s similarly named Geometry Nodes, it’s a node-based procedural 3D modelling and scattering system, and currently comprises over 25 nodes.

As well as manipulating polygonal geometry and splines, it can create Constructive Solid Geometry through Boolean operations, and can convert procedural geometry to and from volumetrics in OpenVDB format.

Its output is “fully animatable over time, and integrates with LightWave’s instancing toolset”.

New Instance Brush paints instanced objects into a scene
LightWave 2023 also extends that instancing toolset, with a new Instancer Brush making it possible to paint instances over surfaces in a 3D scene using a brush-based workflow.

Users can control the distribution of the instances generated via a basic set of parameters to control size, spacing and orientation.

The new tool is intended as a more controllable alternative to distributing instances procedurally when populating 3D scenes with assets like rocks or vegetation.

Create 3D text in Layout as well as Modeler
In addition, it is now possible to create 3D text in Layout, LightWave’s layout, lighting and animation application, as well as in the separate Modeler application.

The new Text Generator supports text styling including justification and alignment, beveling of the 3D text, and per-text-character animation.

Quality of life updates, particularly to node-based workflow
The release also has a longish list of quality of life improvements, particularly to the Node Editor.

Improvements to node-based workflow – which can be used to create materials as well as procedural geometry – include new options to duplicate, group and color-code nodes.

Comes with TurbulenceFD, OD Tools, the OctaneRender plugin and ChronoSculpt
In addition, several key LightWave add-ons are now bundled with the core software.

They include Jawset Visual Computing’s gaseous fluid simulation tool TurbulenceFD, which LightWave Digital has now acquired.

Previously sold for $459, it’s a capable GPU-accelerated smoke and fire simulator, and has been used in production by a number of well-known VFX, motion graphics and animation studios.

The software was also available as a Cinema 4D plugin, although judging by posts on the Jawset forum, the Cinema 4D edition has now been discontinued.

In addition, LightWave 2023 ships with OD Tools, the collection of workflow add-ons developed by Oliver Hotz of VFX studio Origami Digital, which has now been renamed LightWave Pro Tools.

The LightWave integration plugin for OctaneRender, Otoy’s GPU production renderer, is also now “included within” LightWave 2023.

Otoy had previously released an ‘end of life’ build for free in 2022, which can be used with the free single-GPU Prime edition of the renderer.

Finally, LightWave 2023 is bundled with ChronoSculpt, NewTek’s tool for sculpting animation and simulation caches.

Originally released in 2013, it was sold for $399, but only got a couple of subsequent updates.

Mac version and update to the Unreal Bridge coming later
However, at least for now, LightWave 2023 is a Windows-only application.

An Apple Silicon-native macOS edition is in development, and LightWave Digital has confirmed on Discord that it will be available free to anyone buying LightWave 2023.

Other features planned for later in the 2023 release cycle include an update of Unreal Bridge, LightWave’s live link to Unreal Engine, to support Unreal Engine 5.x.

Updated 1 March 2024: LightWave Digital has now released both LightWave 2023 for Mac and the Unreal Engine 5.3 Bridge.

Price, system requirements and release date
LightWave 2023 is currently available for Windows 10+. An Apple Silicon-native macOS release will follow during the 2023 release cycle. New licenses cost £795 (around $1,000).

Read an overview of the new features in LightWave 2023 on the product website

Read more about the new features in LightWave 2023 in the online documentation

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