Informatix Piranesi 4

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Extraordinary 3D painting power and now with the ability to add true 3D cutouts to your images.

These days it’s rare to come across a program that’s truly one of a kind, but Piranesi certainly falls into this category with its unique approach to bridging the worlds of 3D modeling and bitmap painting.

The secret of the program’s success is its proprietary EPix (Extended Pixel) format files. These are bitmap image files which, alongside the usual colour data, store information about depth and material. It might not sound that revolutionary but the practical benefits are extraordinary. So how do you produce the EPix file that makes this possible? Piranesi 4 comes bundled with Vedute 4 a conversion program that can open and render 3DS, DXF and now SketchUp SKP and MicroGDS MAN files. To make the most of Piranesi though you really need to be using one of the 3D applications that can directly render to EPix either natively, such as SketchUp, or via plug-ins, such as 3ds max, LightWave, Cinema 4D and Autocad .

When you first open your rendered EPix file you are in for a surprise as Piranesi’s interface is as unusual as the program itself. Having said this, Informatix has worked hard to make version 4 more orthodox and productive. Six former floating palettes have been rationalized into the new Tools Manager panel down the right of the screen. Combined with the new variable factor zoom, this means that you can really make the most of your screen real estate. Other enhancements include a new information bar, new context menus, icons and tooltips and the addition of customizable keyboard shortcuts.

There’s still a steep learning curve to get to grips with but, when you get used to it, everything is very logical. Before you begin work on your image, for example, you select your tool, the exact mixture of colour, texture and paper grain that you want to paint with and the blend mode with which it will be applied. It’s not the usual way of working but it’s not that radical. Where Piranesi moves into new territory, and begins to show the advantages of its 3D handling, is with its “locks”. Using these you can limit your paint not just to existing colours but to particular planes and materials. Select the Global Fill tool and the Material lock, for example, and you can instantly apply a new texture throughout your 3D scene and, crucially, the texture automatically follows the contours and perspective of the model!

Piranesi takes 3D renderings into new photorealistic and artistic territory.

The boost in productivity compared to rendering in your 3D app is enormous and so is the increase in creativity as it’s so simple to experiment. An even bigger boost comes from the fact that you aren’t limited to fills but can simply paint onto the surfaces of your 3D objects to produce unique effects. Piranesi 4 offers a number of enhancements here including a new Bristled option for the main Brush tool, a range of shortcuts for changing brush size and the ability to specify brush size as a percentage width of the image. The Painter tool, which produces more artistic effects, also supports these sizing enhancements and offers better control over locking and splattering. You can also now scale the Painter’s dabs depending on the image’s depth information though, bizarrely, this is limited to making more distant dabs larger. The Dynamic settings for varying a stroke along its length have also been enhanced for both Brush and Painter tools.

So far we’ve been talking about applying paint, but Piranesi breaks more new ground by letting you apply a host of other effects using exactly the same tools. For example you can restore, or blend in, the original render; apply filters such as blurs and hue changes; and pull out edges in your image based on the underlying 3D model. New options include the ability to bring out edges based on colour changes, a new smudge mode and a number of new filters for sharpening, smoothing and reducing and grouping colours. You can also choose to fade all effects based on the underlying 3D information and the control over this has been enhanced with the ability to fade either to transparency or to a set colour (particularly useful for graduated sky effects) and to automatically centre radial fades where you first click. Two new types of illumination fades, cone and strip, have also been added to retrospectively add realistic lighting to your scene.

The power such advanced effects open up is undoubtedly impressive, but setting them up is complex and you have to work hard to get the right results. However Piranesi offers one amazing feature that is child’s play to use and whose benefits are immediate. Using the Montage tool you can load any bitmap image complete with transparency and simply click anywhere on your image to add a photo-realistic cut-out that is automatically sized correctly according to its position in the scene and automatically masked so that it is hidden by any elements that appear in front of it! With support for realistic shadows, adding people or vegetation to your scene couldn’t be easier, especially as floating cutouts are now automatically stored within the EPix file rather than separately.

Version 4 adds support for 3D cutouts.

The one downside of course is that bitmap cutouts are by their nature flat. One way around this is to use dedicated RPC content which contains multiple angled shots within the same file. With Piranesi 4 though the problem is largely solved with the ability to load and place true 3D images in 3DS, DXF, SKP or MAN format. Select the placed object and you can quickly reposition, resize and now rotate it within your scene – ideal for scattering realistic furniture and people around a simple architectural model to instantly bring it to life. You can even shear and clip the object and handle multiple objects simultaneously. The system certainly isn’t perfect – some 3DS files are rejected, it’s sensible to keep the polygon count reasonable, texture maps aren’t supported and you can only paint cut-outs once they have been permanently burnt into the scene – but the potential it opens up is still enormous.

Yes Piranesi is unique, but what makes it really special is that it is uniquely productive and creative.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

System Requirements: Pentium II 300MHz, 256MB of RAM , 750MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, Me, NT (SP6a), 2000 or XP, 1024x768 display, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

December 2004

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