Vue d’Esprit 4 OS X

Vue d’Esprit 4 is brilliant. At least it will be when makers E-on Software fix the bugs that dull the program’s quite-obvious sparkle. Vue d’Esprit 4 is a landscape-rendering package – along the lines of Bryce – that runs on Mac OS X and has features and quality of output Bryce users can only dream of. Partly thanks to Metacreations’ shedding of its graphics-software division, Bryce languished in limbo until – recently. In the meantime, Vue d’Esprit has steadily improved. PC-only for the first three versions, at last it has come to the Mac, and it’s a cracker. Potentially. Once installed, the program launches into a single window in OS X, but apart from the Title bar and main menu, there is no Aquafication of the interface. It has its own interface that includes Open and Save dialogs – but they’re not as smooth or functional as OS X’s. The interface consists of four 3D views arranged in the traditional 3D-workstation fashion. Along the edges of the interface are arranged tool buttons, and to the right is the main control bar. Here, you can find the object list (scene browser), camera controls, render micro-preview, and object properties. There’s also a layer editor with eight layers, allowing you some degree of scene and object management. The 3D views are powered by OpenGL. The display is not lightning fast, and it’s a little clunky looking, but you do get shaded previews in all views, plus fog. What makes this program so good are the results you can achieve, and the depth of control offered. Unlike Bryce, the atmospheric rendering in Vue 4 is excellent. There are two modes, standard and Volumetric. The latter takes into account realistic atmospheric-absorption effects that result in impressive renders. The most impressive thing is that enabling Volumetric mode doesn’t slow rendering to a crawl s you might expect. It’s slower than in standard mode, but the vast increase in image quality more than justifies this. The renderer features a number of raytracing enhancements – such as blurred transparency and reflection – and true depth-of-field blurring that eliminates halos and artifacts. There’s also motion blur for realistic animations. Speaking of animation, Vue 4 features a keyframing system for creating animation, though there are no function curves as such. Instead, you control keyframe interpolation using a simple graph to provide ease-in/out, linear or step/hold keyframes for channels en masse – there is no independent control of x,y,z transformation channels, for example. Virtual veg SolidGrown, Vue 4’s proprietary vegetation-system, allows you to populate your landscapes with highly realistic trees, shrubs and grasses. The program comes with a library of 30 vegetation species, and whenever you use a single kind of plant multiple times in a scene, the program makes sure each one is unique. You can also upgrade the program by purchasing extra vegetation species, which is a nice option if you get fed up of the 30 built in, or need a specific type of plant for a job. Materials are also good, being based on a procedural architecture. The level of control is intense, and offers plenty of scope for even the most discerning texturer. Like many other parts of the system, texture properties use filters controlled by graphs. Graphs can be copied and pasted in to new channels, or saved as presets to disk. The lighting system is also excellent. A great feature is the global exposure control, which allows you to adjust the overall exposure of the scene with a single slider. There is also great control over fog and haze, and various ambient and sun light controls. The clouds controls also give excellent results. There are options to allow the sun to be obscured by clouds and cast volumetric shadows, but we never could get ultra-realistic clouds that had real volume. This is likely a limitation of the system used, but to be fair, very few programs can achieve this, and certainly not at this price. For modelling, there are primitives available – but as with Bryce, no actual modelling tools, save for boolean operations. Of course, there are Terrains and a powerful Terrain editor with real-time paintbrush-style editing of the surface. Terrains can be created with truly massive resolutions, plus they can be exported in various 3D formats – including OBJ, 3DS, LWO and DXF for use in other 3D programs, including colour and bump maps. What hasn’t been mentioned yet is the proliferation of help on offer throughout the program. There are Wizards that hand-hold you through trickier aspects of the program, such as creating animations, should you need them, plus graphical browsers that allow you to load presets very simply. There are also online tutorials, start-up tips and a fairly decent manual to get you started. However, the program is not that difficult to use, and 3D artists should fly through the app.

OUR VERDICT

While technically brilliant, this first release was a little buggy. We managed to get a beta of the upgrade, version 4.05, which did improve things considerably, but there were still some annoying interface glitches, slowness and unexpected quits. Nevertheless, the program is impressive, cheap, and by far the best one in its class. It’s time to forget Bryce; Vue d’Esprit is the new king of 3D-landscape renderers.

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