Stand-alone vs. Integrated (I)

Stand-alone and Integrated (plug-ins) Tools from user’s view.

Tools, Stand-alone vs. Integrated

Definitely some kind of stuff can exist only as plug-ins of some powerful 3D software packages like 3ds Max (Textures, Materials, Modifiers etc.) and Maya (Shading Nodes, Deformers etc.) But how about Tools that can exist as Standalone Executables or be Integrated to some bigger industry leading package? RealFlow is a powerful stand-alone application for fluid and dynamics simulation. It is working with 3ds Max, Maya, Lightwave, Cinema 4D, XSI and Houdini via connector plug-ins. There is a link to tutorial for ‘Creating fluid using realflow and 3dsmax‘ by Joao Felix. At the same time Maya has build-in liquid simulation, there is a pretty simple tutorial ‘Maya Fluid Liquid Generation‘ by Ajiesh Thuvanoor. Mudbox is a stand-alone application for digital sculpting. While LipService (LBrush) is integrated to 3ds Max. So what are ‘Pros’ and ‘Contras’ of using Integrated or Stand-alone tool?





A d v a n t a g e s
  • You are working in the environment you are used to. You not discouraged by seeing new menus, toolbars, dialogs in helper stand-alone application.
    New environment always bears a lot of “howto"s. Questions like “where can I find something” are always annoying. Application that is looking in different way than user used makes him wish just quit rather than bothering with it. Excepting the cases if he has a lot of free time or he likes everything new.
  • Your workflow is not broken, you are using the main application in the common way. No need to switch to external applications, export and import data.

    This one is the main thing that can please users: to do everything you need in one window or application.
  • WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)

    Integrated tool definitely lets you see the result in main application immediately.
  • Parent application features can be utilized better.

    For instance LBrush Modifier seamlessly interacts with 3ds Max’s pipeline. There can be some other modifiers below it or above in the stack. When you sculpt just dependent 3ds Max’s stuff is updating. You even can add Hair&Fur modifier and grow hair on your model or LBrushProxy object, sculpt geometry and style hair in one window. Some material can be assigned to node so you can render you model to see its ‘production look’.

  • Application environment can be better designed for particular purposes. More handy dialogs, toolbars, menus to perform specialized actions.

    Maya’s UI is looking coarse a bit. It discouraged me a bit when I launched Maya fist time. Nothing to do, that is the price payed for cross-platforming. I got used in a bit to it and got happy. Stand-alone can have more advanced interface not bounded by MEL or Python but Integrated often can not have it.
  • Potentially you can have more freedom for reaching narrow goal and not be bound by limitations of parent application.

    Definitely parent application specified how you can interact with Integrated tool, and how tool interacts with environment, redraws views etc. It can make some blocks for your freedom you’ll never have within Stand-alone. Parent application even can slow down the things.
  • If your area is very narrow it will be cheaper to buy only specialized Stand-alone application than buy 3ds Max/Maya/XSI + some Integrated tool (plug-in).

    Less time needed to learn specialized Stand-alone is an advantage in this case as well.
  • More independence.

    Standalone exports the result to some common format (.obj for instance) that can be exported to different applications (3ds Max/Maya/XSI).
D i s a d v a n t a g e s
  • Possible incompatibility with some others plug-ins.

    It can happen that some plug-ins will not work well together (for instance two third-party modifiers applied to the same model).
  • You have to upgrade the Integrated tool when upgrading parent application.

    You have v1.0 of plug-in and use it with 3ds Max 2008. Then you get 3ds Max 2009 and see there is no build of v1.0 plug-in for new version of 3ds Max in your installer. But only v2.0 already available for Max 2009. Probably you can try to install old one but no warranties that it will work 100% correctly. So you need to buy v2.0.
  • Import/Export is the worst thing at the same time.

    Create some simple model with 3ds Max -> Export to .obj -> Detalize and sculpt it with some Stand-alone tool -> Export to .obj -> Import to 3ds Max. Such workflow looks terrible. What if you need to improve your model more but some rigging, mapping, animation are already made?
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