The first thing about Carrara 2 is it’s a native OS X application. It’s not Cocoa, unfortunately, but a full and decent Carbonization of the app. The interface performs well. Much to the dismay of a lot of graphics pros, many of our favourite design programs are not running at their full potential yet on OS 10.1.x. Given time – and OS 10.2 – things should be a lot slicker all round. All of the interface elements, such as the view windows, move about the screen and scale smoothly – and with a bit more zip than we’re used to on OS X. Buttons and menus are equally responsive, and the OpenGL display is nippy and free from artifacts. The interface, as before, is divided up into rooms, and has the hallmarks of its once-MetaCreations stablemates. The Assemble room will be familiar to experienced 3D designers. It includes a multi-view OpenGL window, view-manipulation tools, and various pop-out tool buttons. The other rooms, Model, Storyboard, Texture and Render are more focused on specific tasks, and each has a different interface. Carrara 2 has many new and interesting features – the most notable being Global Illumination and Caustics rendering, through the use of new photon-mapping techniques. These two features add realism to renders by taking into account the natural effects of bounced lighting and reflections. New lighting methods aid the creation of realistic images using global illumination – including skydome and environment illumination area lights and geometry lights. The latter lets you use any object as a direct light source regardless of complexity. Not so obvious, but nevertheless important, is improved antialising in version 2. Overall, the rendering is very good, especially when considering how much you’d have to spend to get this quality elsewhere. The modelling in Carrara takes its cues from RayDream and Infini-D, both of which had some unusual ideas in this department. The spline modelling is basically sound, but a little tricky to work with, while mesh modelling is imprecise compared to other apps. But you can do a lot of good stuff with the program, as is evidenced from the gallery at Eovia’s Web site. Carrara 2 takes a big step in the right direction by adding Subdivision Surfaces to its arsenal. Primitive meshes in Carrara are always triangulated, which is part of the reason they can be a little unwieldy. Despite quadrangles traditionally being preferred for Subdivision Surface modelling, Eovia has succeeded in getting polygons with any number of points to work just as well, though you can build models from scratch using quadrangles as well. Unfortunately, the subdivision-surface modelling is hampered by the fact that the modelling tools are not interactive. Subdivision Surfaces are an ideal companion for IK (Inverse Kinematics and skinning options in Carrara 2. These new character-animation features push the envelope of what is possible with such a modestly priced 3D program. Creating bones is really simple. Once you’ve added the bones and moved them into the right position, you can select the bone hierarchy and the mesh that you want it to control, and choose the Skinning command. You can set different types of IK modifiers for the bones – including 2D plane, Joint and Slider – and even mix different IK modifiers on the same chain. It works nicely. Carrara 2 has full time-line and keyframing capabilities, plus it offers a full physics engine for creating realistic dynamics and collisions. Particles are offered as well, and these take the form of standard or volumetric particles. There are bad points, though. The modelling could be more refined, or at least less fiddly, and some may not take to the slick interface or room approach. There’s also no function curves.
Carrara 2 is an all-round 3D system for both the casual and pro digital artist. It will appeal to multimedia and Web designers, illustrators, and small video-production companies alike. With the quality of the rendering and features on offer, who’s to know that your animations weren’t done with a system costing six times the price.