Back to the Future: WPF

By Donald Burnett

For a long time my career was just focused on animation and graphics (the rendered kind), with the Advent of WPF I find myself back in the world of data visualization (this time in realtime) due to WPF’s amazing realtime 2d/3d capabilities. So I thought as tonight’s blog entry I’d revisit some of my favorite visualization software from the past and see if I could integrate it into my stable of WPF tools.. A lot of this software will be very familiar to past Amiga users as most of this software was originally pioneered on that platform and migrated to the PC..


VistaPro Renderer : Windows

Price :$50.00


This is a STEAL, it will export to .DXF format which there is a xaml format converter for and the result can be immediately used in Expression Blend..  and it let’s you create geographic mapping and rendering and includes major dem file mapping including the grand canyon and the seven wonders of the world. Everyone should have this in their libraries for visualization.





OpenFX for Windows

Price: FREE

Another GEM of the realm..

OpenFX is an Open-Source 3D modeling, animation and rendering suite created by Dr. Stuart Ferguson. He made the decision to release the source code to the public in the middle of 1999, and the product formerly named SoftF/X was renamed to OpenFX. It has now been released under the terms of the GNU General Public Licence. The author is one of the true innovators of 3D and made the first commercial modeling program for the Amiga. If you used the Amiga program you’ll know this one inside out. It renders out previews using an OPEN GL compatible card. I still fall back on this software from time to time and it supports Nurbs and other nieceties for object creation. The modeler also exports objects in DXF, VRML, and 3DS ( all formats that can be converted to XAML).



Blender for Windows

Price: FREE

The Blender is another 3d Modeling and animation system.  It’s a very capable system for modeling and can create very exciting results. If you are just learning a 3D system or want to do high-end visualization on a budget, the Blender is for you.. It also uses python for it’s scripting engine and there is a very good quality XAML exporter for the product.


A converted model using Daniel Lehenbauer’s 


Caligari TrueSpace 7

TrueSpace 7: $595

TrueSpace 6: $395

TrueSpace 5: $199



This is an amazing product. It does everything you’ll ever need to do in modeling for XAML visualization and more. It’s easy to use and a great tool. The realtime rendering in version 7 goes above and beyond.

Quoting Caligari’s Website: “trueSpace7 introduces a new architecture that revolutionizes the very process of 3D authoring. For the first time, with role based authoring tools, online collaborative production becomes possible. thanks to it’s DX9 rendering engine.  Real-time photorealism is no longer just a dream. Best of all, even with DX9 pixel shaders, soft shadows, projector lights, glows, anti-aliasing and physics simulation running in a high polygon scene, you can still interact with scenes like the one shown here at silky smooth frame rates.Thanks to these powerful new features, for the first time real-time rendering is good enough to provide a photorealistic pre-visualisation of your animations and in some cases for final rendering to video as well.”….. This product totally lives up to it’s claims and has a great community behind it.

I have always liked their products and they are fast and easy to get into..

After a little Googling, I found on their website a page that still offers TrueSpace 3.2 free of charge. If you want to take a test run, this is a very early version (not very up to date) but runnable available at no cost and will give you a feel for it’s features. The good news is that even in this early version it exports to formats that can be converted to XAML. The download is still available from the Caligari company website..


Electric Rain’s Zam3D

Price: Free (at the moment)

Don’t walk, run to download this for free while you can!

Microsoft should buy this product and integrate it with Expression Blend!



This is a great tool designed by ElectricRain who is famous for their Swift3d Flash 3d animation system. It will do most everything you need. I prefer other modeling environments to create objects, but this is a great tool and integrates with everyone and imports various object formats. It’s timeline based animation system is a necessity for integration with Expression Blend. Everything works problem free and is a great tool.

 Lightwave 9 by Newtek

Price: $see website

Free 30 Day Trial

One of the premiere legendary visualization 3d animation systems ever developed. Originally developed on the Amiga, and significantly revised on other platforms. This product has won many awards and there is no doubt you have seen it’s work in film and the movies. There is a XAML online conversion tool for LightWave available at and as a Lightwave plug-in that exports the active layer as XAML.



3D Studio Max (3DS Max) has been a staple of Windows 3d visualization systems for years. It’s AutoDesk’s entry. It is a very high-end choice but it’s up there with LightWave 3D, and Maya in terms of it’s capabilities. Because it is so ubiquitous there are many free 3d objects out there and collections of pre-made objects that you can get to use. Andrej Benedik came out with an incredible 3DS to xaml viewer/conversion tool and libraries to read in 3DS files. He also has a blog on wpf graphics which is very informative that you should check out. Note his application uses real 3d icons and a scalable interface, really showing off what WPF can do.


He also has an incredible sample application player for 3D Animation..

If you are interested in Autodesk’s 3D Studio productline you can find it here.


AutoDesk Maya

Price $: See website

AutoDesk purchased Alias a few years ago and incorporated into their entertainment visualization lines. You have seen Maya at work in Weta Digital’s visualizations for the Lord of the Rings movies and many many other movies. This product is another Academy Award winning system. There is a Maya to XAML converter available. There is a free personal learning edition out there if you want to learn 3d the Maya way. Maya (like blender) also has it’s own python based scripting system.



Expression: Blend

Price: Free right now (get it! use it! create great rich internet applications)

Integrated application development for designers. Created so art and animation work flows can be developed and revised independently of the programmer. All projects in Blend directly integrate with Visual Studio and it’s WPF designer. This is a great tool for integrating 2D and 3D content with event driven models (such as button clicks) and timelines for animation.. Blend is the premiere WPF design tool at the moment.



Anyway, this is almost the gamut right now  of object/scene creation tools if you want to get into 3d , but I am sure I have missed a few good products. Please let me know if there is anything I radically missed that should be mentioned. These all can allow you to incorporate 3dviewports and include 3D content in you XAML. They all are viable solutions for working with Expression Blend as well, to help design a great UI for that new application you are working with..

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4 Comments on “Back to the Future: WPF”

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