Vue 8 review
The eighth version of E-on’s 3D landscape creation software brings the ability to create more terrains and more realistic clouds and skies.
It’s easy to create a landscape using the one-click fractal-generated terrains, water planes and soft skies, but fine-tuning can involve tweaking function curves, as well as a deep level of control over materials and object behaviours. The latter elements add a skill layer that’s clearly aimed at the studio workflow. However, there are aids, such as an animation wizard and the powerful EcoSystem vegetation generator, which can quickly paint a scene with plants, rocks and assorted objects.
Vue is available in a wealth of different versions, from the low-cost Frontier to the all-singing, all-dancing Infinite. We’re looking at Vue 8 Infinite and also xStream, a version of the software that can run as a plug-in for any of the major 3D suites, such as Maya or Lightwave3D.
We installed both versions on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) on a MacBook Pro. It’s worth checking the graphics card requirements for Vue 8 on the E-on site, as we have experienced OpenGL problems with past versions of Vue. Installation was straightforward, involving online activation, and in the case of xStream, choosing the host software that it would plug into (we used Maya 2009)
Covering new terrain
The main improvements in both versions of Vue 8 centre on the Terrain Editor. This displays a 3D map of your selected terrain object. A direct modifier brush joins the menu of predefined terrain styles. This allows you to create landscape features such as caves or terrain relief by using brush strokes. Getting the best effects from this tool requires some skill.
Brush behaviours cover sculpting and inflating the polygons, and extruding, inverting and smoothing terrain. You can also apply bitmap images to customise the effect of the sculpting brush – a workflow that’s already familiar from tools such as Mudbox.
Vue 8 allows you to set zones on procedural terrains, so that you can isolate areas of the terrain to sculpt in fine detail without affecting surrounding areas. Zones can also be nested to create iterated areas of higher resolution sculpting. When sculpting, Vue’s 3D brush subdivides the terrain geometry in such a way that you’re hardly aware of it. It adds new polygons dynamically as you paint, automatically matching the level of detail (LOD) you’re working at.
The material editor gains a Displacement channel, now separated from the Bump channel and thus offering finer control. You can adjust the displacement depth and scale directly within the editor, and use any procedural or texture map function as input. You can also now bake the displacement mapping into the polygon geometry.
E-on claims that the new displacement engine and normalised LOD subdivision calculations make it between 50 per cent and 150 per cent faster than Vue 7. This and the new terrain editor features are impressive, but you’ll need tight control. We were warned on more than one occasion that the terrain was composed of over a million polygons, which could slow down the system.
Spectral 3 technology boosts atmosphere creation, improving the Vue algorithms that simulate the interaction of light with the water present in the clouds. The technology has the effect of making clouds look more realistic, while shadows cast by the clouds are more subtle.
The enhanced OpenGL 2.1 (ShaderModel 4) mode taps higher-end graphics cards to produce Shaded Billboards. These are a new way of displaying EcoSystem instances, using shaders to accurately react to light.
Vue can import files from other 3D software including Collada, SketchUp, LightWave. Version 8 also nominally supports Poser 8, including the ability to render Poser characters using the Poser 8 shading tree.
To test this we created a high-res figure in Poser 8 and added some motion-captured animation. At first we were able to load the animated Poser character inside Vue, but further attempts, even with static figures, were not as successful.
Vue has gone from strength to strength, continuing to innovate way past old competitors like Bryce. However both xStream and Infinite showed some slight instability. The memory demands on your graphics system are a critical factor – as indicated by the amount of warnings the application gives you as you ramp up the scene complexity with the new Vue 8 features. Vue is still a great product for its purpose and new users won’t be disappointed with the power on tap, but version 8 might not offer enough to tempt wavering users of Vue 7.5 to upgrade.