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Developer(s)Mike Clifton
Stable release
2.0 / October 20, 1995
Operating systemMac OS 9
Type3D computer graphics

Mechanisto is a 3D computer graphics program developed in the mid-90s for the PowerPC-based Macintosh platform by Mike Clifton. It was originally released as shareware in 1994, costing $20.


The technology used in Mechanisto was a cumulation of that used in previous releases by Mike Clifton, such as the no-longer-available Puppet and Mirage. Mirage, in particular, could be seen as a precursor to the lathed object types that became available in Mechanisto.

The release of version 2.0 in 1996 saw the introduction of new primitive types, multiple shadow support, time-curve editing for animation and a new user interface, in addition to many refinements in the rendering system. Subsequently, Mechanisto attracted attention due to a combination of modest system requirements, 32-bit color rendering, an integrated animation engine and powerful modeling features not generally found in its price range. At around this time, the program also became 'abandonware'. This was significant as the closest commercial packages (notably Infini-D and StrataVision) to offer the same functionality cost many hundreds of dollars.

But as the Macintosh platform matured, and the 3D-graphics market diversified, the gulf between the free-Mechanisto and the increasingly affordable commercial offerings widened. The program was criticized for its idiosyncratic modeling paradigm, the lack of a high-quality renderer and serious bugs that were never addressed. Mechanisto 2.0 could not run natively under Mac OS X when it was released in 2001 (though it could run in the Classic Environment). Changes made to the 'Classic' environment in the 2005 release of OS 10.4 (Tiger) made the program almost unusable at a time when a new breed of inexpensive and open-source 3D graphics applications were becoming popular, such as Blender and Wings 3d. However, it remains as one of the only 'free' 3D applications available for Mac OS 9.


The program featured a 32-bit Phong rendering engine, a key-frame animation system, 'layered' procedural shaders and a wide variety of 'transformations', or modifications, that may be used on a model. Mechanisto featured QuickTime integration for outputting animation, a grouped, hierarchical scene graph and subdivision surfaces.

Beside a basic list of geometric primitives— sphere, cube, cylinder, cones and the like— Mechanisto also supported extruded and inflated images. This allowed any readable image file to be used as a primitive by first interpreting it as a 256-level greyscale image and then translating it to a solid surface. The resulting shape could then be modified and manipulated similarly to any other geometric primitive in the program.

An additional feature of Mechanisto 2.0 was its support for Skeletal animation. Although unimplemented in the editing portion of the User interface, an example file was included with the software that allowed this feature to be deciphered with some effort. Plans were made for the next major release to allow Mechanisto to fully edit and support Skeletal animation, but this was never addressed as the program became abandonware.

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