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MetaCreations has earned a reputation for unusual and exciting software. Programs like Bryce and Poser have amazing capabilities, but it can be difficult to see who needs them – Canoma is a perfect addition to the MetaCreations software stable, being both amazing and incredibly niche. It is hard to explain exactly what Canoma does, because it sounds impossible: it takes a single 2D photograph and makes it into a 3D model, which can then be "explored". You can take a picture of a building or a kitchen or just about anything, and then fly around the resulting model.
This is achieved by getting the user to place wireframe boxes over the elements of the picture – letting the application know which objects are 3D and which are flat. This can be applied to quite complex pictures, building boxes upon boxes, until every element of the picture is wireframed. Obviously, seeing behind objects requires information not available from a single photograph, but there are ways around this. The simplest, but least accurate, is to mirror the front of a box to the back. This works in some situations, such as buildings with uniform windows. Anything beyond this is less convincing. The other way of doing this is to get a picture of the other side of the scene. Although this isn’t always possible, it improves the quality greatly.
You can combine a number of pictures in the model, which allows you to add elements that weren’t in the original picture. When the scene is finished you render the model, which takes minutes, even for a complex scene. You can then use the controls to spin, zoom and negotiate the terrain.
For a pre-set tour of the scene you can add keyframes and even save the resulting animation as a QuickTime movie. Also, common file formats for 3D models are supported, but not QuickTime VR. This is a shame, as it is an ideal application for
QuickTime VR. The supported output files are MetaStream (.mts), WaveFront (.obj), Poser Prop (.pp2) TruSpace (.scn), AutoDesk (.dxf) and VRML2 (.wrl).
This is the first version of Canoma and, while it is stable and well designed, there is plenty of scope for improvement. The "primitives" – basic shapes to fit over objects – are helpful and include shapes such as arch, roof and table. I found that there were other shapes that would have been helpful, like a car for example. But these are just minor improvements; for the most part the software is excellent.
One problem Canoma faces is finding an audience. At £400, it’s not an impulse buy – you really have to need it to pay that kind of money. I don’t think this is an unfair price, it’s just that it puts a fun and powerful application strictly in the professional domain. Bryce found a following, and I’m sure Canoma will too. Architects are the prime target, I would imagine, as well as people who are currently using QuickTimeVR professionally. Using this software lets you create QTVR style animation without hours of messing around with turntables and rostrum cameras. My example took less than
ten minutes to model and render.
If you need this kind of software you have little else to choose from. It does the job well, though I can think of some improvements that the second version should have. Like Bryce, after the obvious applications of Canoma I expect people will keep finding new ways to use the technology