Informatix Piranesi 3

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An excitingly different application that brings the benefits of bitmap painting to 3D modeling..

Named after Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the famous 18th century architectural draughtsman, Informatix Piranesi is unlike any other paint package. What makes the program different is that it is designed to work hand-in-hand with 3D modelers to turn the simplest of scenes into rich works of art.

Central to this mission is Piranesi's own Extended Pixel (EPix) file format, in which every pixel in the bitmap image stores not just RGB colour values but also information on material and depth. Before you can do anything in Piranesi you therefore need to convert your model to EPix format. You can do this directly in supporting applications such as SketchUp, via the plug-ins Informatix provides for 3D Studio and LightWave 3D, or via the bundled Vedute utility which can convert models in the popular 3DS and DXF formats.

Once your file is loaded, you're ready to get to grips with the Piranesi interface. At first sight this looks surprisingly underpowered with just three main painting tools - Brush, Fill and the dab-based Painter. First impressions are misleading however as double-clicking on the tools opens the tabbed Settings panel in which you can set a whole host of parameters such as brush type, size, angle and so on. Piranesi's real power becomes evident when you turn to the Render options set with the panel running down the left of the screen. In Piranesi's default  Standard render mode, you set a unique blend of colour, texture and grain and select from 18 different paint modes such as tint, overlay, soft light and so on.

In fact, rather than underpowered, there's the danger that you could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of settings on offer - in particular it would be virtually impossible to recreate a brush that you've used already. That's why Piranesi offers the ability to save your current tool settings as a named style to its Style Browser panel for later re-use. And to help you hone in on exactly the effect that you are looking for, Piranesi also lets you apply your brush stroke or fill, fine-tune your settings and then hit the Reapply command to update the effect. It takes some time to get into the Piranesi way of working but, once you do, it proves extremely powerful.

Advanced texture and cutout handling help produce photo-realistic scenes.

Piranesi's whole approach to painting is innovative, but what makes it stand out is the extra control and creativity that its use of material and depth information provides. The first signs of this are the four icons below the toolbox which let you lock your painting based on colour, plane, orientation and/or material. It might not sound that revolutionary but it makes re-colouring your models simplicity itself.

The fact that Piranesi knows about depth and angle within the image really shows its worth when you paint with a texture rather than a solid colour. Choose Wrapped in the Settings panel and the texture is correctly sized and aligned to the object and so perspective is handled automatically! By loading a couple of different facade textures - Piranesi provides hundreds from the Style Browser and you can add your own - you can quickly turn a collection of simple 3D cubes into a city skyline of realistic skyscrapers. Even more impressive is the ability to capture textures from the image itself which means that you can add reflections to produce photo-realistic water and glass effects.

Piranesi's knowledge of the 3D information in your image also comes into play with the Montage tool. This lets you load any bitmap-based object and place copies anywhere on your image. Piranesi automatically sizes your cutouts, orientates them to the underlying pixel that you click on and hides any areas that should be obscured by closer elements in the image. Best of all, you can set your cutouts to produce realistic shadows. With just a few clicks you can bring your technical drawings to life with realistic vegetation and people.

Piranesi's rendering can turn a sterile computer model into a work of art. 

So far we've been talking about Standard rendering mode, but Piranesi also offers four other modes which open up powerful creative possibilities. With Edges rendering you can pull out changes in depth or material as outlines and control the balance between silhouette and internal edges. In Construct mode you can add 3D planes based on the existing image so that you can extend walls or add elements such as hedges or railings. And with Filter rendering you can apply blur, emboss, jitter and halftone effects along with basic colour adjustments.

Most useful of all is Piranesi's Restore mode. At any time you can store the current version of your image to the Restore channel and then use this as the basis of rendering. Working in this way you can, for example, clear your canvas, pull back the outline, apply a jitter effect to make the lines look more hand-drawn and then paint on a loose colour-wash clone of your original image. The end result is a work of art that Piranesi himself would be proud of. Even better, by saving your brush and fill settings as styles you can quickly apply the same artistic effect to a whole sequence of EPix files drawn from the same 3D model!

No-one could claim that Piranesi is an intuitive or easy-to-master application, but then it is breaking new ground and providing new power. If you're interested in producing realistic or artistic 3D scenes then Piranesi should feature high on your list.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

System Requirements: Pentium 300MHz, 128MB of RAM, 400MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, NT 4, or XP, 1024x768 display.

Tom Arah

June 2003

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