MetaCreations Carrara

The world of 3D design is a closed book to many 2D designers. The prospect of making the shift to 3D can be daunting. Enter Carrara, the new 3D modelling/rendering/animation program with high-end features, but simple enough for a novice. The team that produced the fabulous Carrara-d, has combined with the Ray Dream Studio team, to develop Carrara. Both these applications can be seen in Carrara, though the interface will be more familiar to users of KPT Goo and other Kai-inspired apps. Even though the interface is funky, it isn’t so weird that you can’t figure how to use it. It’s both intuitive and complex, and there’s a huge tutorial and reference guide as back-up. The creation process is divided into five sections, or rooms as MetaCreations calls them. First is the Assemble room, where you bring the elements of your scene together. Next is the Model room, where objects are created within the scene. The third room is called Storyboard, offering a quick-and-easy way to sketch out your animation. The forth is the Textures room, for adding colour and patterns to objects. Finally, there is the Render room, for setting the parameters for final output. There are a number of features that you simply don’t expect to see in a graphics program like this. Realistic physics, for example, has historically been a high-end and expensive feature, but it is available in Carrara. It’s extremely simple to use, though it’s easy to get carried away making complex models that bring the physics engine to a halt. Two or three elements in a scene with gravity is fine, but more than that and you’ll wait longer than the laws of physics allow. Eventually, the application gives up – but not without a polite warning of impending doom – and a chance to save. You can assign three physical properties to any object: Density, Bounce and Friction. These determine how the object will react when it is in contact with any other object. There are a few pre-set material properties available – including rubber, wood, clay and ice. Each one can be tweaked to get the desired effect. The physics modeller is good, but flawed. Occasionally, I had a problem with objects falling through the floor. Also, it’s easy to make objects that can cause problems. I created a basic animation with a bowling ball and skittles, but wasn’t accurate enough when making the skittles, and they had slightly rounded bottoms. The result was an animation where the skittles fell over before the ball hit them. The Assemble room is clear and easy to navigate. In each of the rooms there is access to tool palettes from drawers at the side of the screen. These can contain anything from pre-designed objects to textures and other shaders. On the right-hand side, the drawer contains information and properties for each object, and the bottom drawer is devoted to animation settings. There are dozens of shaders available, and adding to them is simple. If you use your own bump-maps or custom textures, you’re given the opportunity to save them with each document. The Modelling room is more difficult to use. Creating new objects can be a little confusing for the beginner – go through the tutorial for this room to make sure the concept is well understood. The final stage of rendering is faster than any I’ve seen. This is down to the Hybrid Renderer, which uses the latest advances to determine which parts of the image require ray-tracing and which need the simpler and faster Phong shading. In the past, if you had a single reflective surface in a scene you would have to ray-trace the whole thing – even though not all surfaces require ray-tracing.

OUR VERDICT

Carrara isn’t designed to be the next Cinema 4D or Maya – it’s much simpler than either. If you are a 2D designer, it would normally require a big investment of time to learn a 3D program. But with Carrara, you can get the majority of the features figured out in a weekend. With a little swotting, you can be an expert within a week. MetaCreations has targeted this package at Web designers and traditional 2D designers. It’s capable of outputting MetaStream files for Web use, so it fits into MetaCreations new “Internet visualizations solutions” strategy. Hopefully, this will ensure it remains a product past version 1.0, unlike some other MetaCreations software. Carrara is fun, and represents a great opportunity for artists to go 3D.

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