Over recent years the 3D landscape has changed considerably on the Mac platform. The 2001 release of 3D heavyweight Maya, followed by a radical price reduction of that software a year later finally gave Mac users the opportunity to get their hands on some serious 3D firepower. Maya’s long-awaited debut also had a knock-on effect for other 3D program developers, who, as well as lowering their prices, were forced to bring their own software up to speed.
Things have never been healthier in the 3D world for Mac-based designers. There’s now a wealth of 3D programs available for the Mac, offering an impressive range of high-end features at prices that won’t break the bank – leaving Carrara Studio 3.0 in a strong position.
Now into its third incarnation, Carrara Studio is a powerful 3D program that boasts advanced modelling capabilities, intuitive animation with built-in physics engine and a selection of rendering engines that put many more-expensive packages to shame. Those with long memories will recognize some of Carrara Studio’s features. Its room-based metaphor, for example, is directly ported from Ray Dream Designer, a mainstay of the Macintosh 3D platform throughout the 1990s. The program’s particle systems and overall ease of use bear more than a passing resemblance to Infini-D, Ray Dream’s main rival during that decade. The best features of these two popular old-timers form the backbone of Carrara Studio 3.0. But, inevitably, it’s the program’s interface that provokes the most comment.
Carrara Studio’s interface is the Marmite of the 3D world. If you’re Poser or Bryce 3D user, you’ll feel at home with Carrara. But if you’re new to 3D modelling you may find the program’s unique organic look – inherited from Carrara’s previous developers, the Kai Krause-inspired Metacreations – to be an unnecessary distraction. This is a pity because Carrara Studio is aimed squarely at the 3D novice who wishes to learn the trade without having to clamber up too many steep learning curves.
There are plenty of alternatives to Carrara Studio out there. But what sets this program apart from the rest is its ability to have you up and running in a short time. Even without any prior 3D skills, the user is able to quickly churn out 3D logos, landscapes and packaging designs like a pro. This is made possible by Carrara’s extensive range of screen wizards, which automatically set up fully lit 3D scenes that can be easily customized. Screen wizards are just one of some 400 new features that the program’s developer, Eovia, claims to have introduced to Carrara Studio 3.0.
Rooms for improvement
Upon launch, Carrara Studio is split into five ‘rooms’, each dealing with a separate aspect of the 3D design process. The Model room lets users manipulate primitives, splines, metaballs and vertex objects; the Texture room lets you create multiple layered textures for models; the Storyboard room is for previewing and tweaking individual keyframes to build up complex animations in a manner once again very reminiscent of Infini-D; while the Assemble room lets you arrange, position and light models.
There’s a lot of raw power in Carrara Studio. And if you can get used to the interface, you can achieve results that rival more expensive packages such as Cinema 4D and LightWave.
Carrara’s rendering capabilities are not to be scoffed at, either. In addition to traditional Phong and Gourad draft output modes, the program’s raytracing engine has been upgraded to include true soft shadows, HRDI, alpha-channel rendering and improved support for global illumination. These are high-end features at a low-end price that result in images almost indistinguishable from photographs – something you would have had to pay an arm and a leg for not so long ago.
Eovia has obviously been busy since the last upgrade to Carrara less than a year ago. Among other notable improvements and additions to Carrara are a Tessellation tool, a Crease tool and a Dynamic Extrusion tool in the modelling toolset; a new UV editor for complex texture mapping; a tree editor which, although a little RAM hungry, creates realistic-looking plants; and several new non-realistic rendering modes that can output images as paintings or cartoons.
As is traditional with new upgrades to Carrara, the program comes with a few bugs. In complex models, there’s significant system slowdown, as well as redraw problems in some of the menus in the Model room. But this is just nit-picking really, because Eovia is to be congratulated for producing a piece of 3D software that’s edging ever closer to the big boys. No bones about it (although the program does, of course, include bones), this significant upgrade is well worth the £372 price tag.
Carrara Studio 3.0 is an excellent way to enter the 3D design world. It has hidden depths, ideal for the novice who needs to be led by the hand through techniques that are just plain scary in other 3D packages. Moreover, Carrara Studio is fun to use – a quality often overlooked by rival developers. I like this program a lot. And I’m pleased that Eovia has chosen to keep alive the quirky ethos of Kai Krause – the man who back in the early 1990s gave us the ground-breaking Kai’s Power Tools.