Vue d'Esprit 4

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The streamlined interface and improved rendering make the most of Vue d'Esprit's powerful landscape modeling.

Producing realistic scenery and landscapes is a demanding task well beyond the scope of most 3D modeling software. For a long time the only affordable solution was Bryce, but now there's serious competition from the completely revamped Vue d'Esprit 4.

The biggest criticism of Bryce has always been its interface and this is an area where the latest version of Vue d'Esprit scores heavily. The new-look working environment is built around four windows showing top, side and front views of your scene plus the main perspective view. Thanks to new OpenGL support you can set each window independently to show wireframe or shaded previews along with features such as fog. The speed is such that it's even possible to maximize the Main Camera view and work in that alone.

While you interactively position, size and rotate your elements in the windows, you otherwise control your scene via the panel down the right of the screen. At the top is the Object Properties panel where you can view materials and specify precise measurements. Below this is the new track-ball based Camera Control Centre with its indispensible real-time thumbnail preview of the rendered scene. And below this is the World Browser which lists all objects in your scene for easy selection. All objects can be quickly dragged and dropped onto eight in-built layers which can be independently locked and hidden (as can individual objects). It's a brilliantly simple and efficient way of taking complete control of your work.

Vue d'Esprit's new interface makes a difficult task simple.

Compared to Bryce the interface is a sheer joy, but what about the power on offer? You can base your work on one of 250 pre-prepared scenes but normally you'll want to start from scratch. When you hit the New command you are presented with the Atmosphere Browser which shows large previews of over 100 skies divided into categories such as daytime, sunset and bad weather. You can fine-tune the effect using the dedicated Atmosphere Editor which has tabs for controlling Sun, Light, Fog and Haze, multi-layered Clouds and new star, rainbow and ice-ring Effects. The biggest change is that Vue d'Esprit now supports Volumetric atmospheres which simulate the interaction of light and air and produce much richer and more realistic results.

After the sky, you'll want to take care of the ground. Click on the Terrain tool and a realistic mountain built from thousands of polygons is automatically added to your scene. Double-click on it and the Terrain Editor dialog opens in which you can choose between the major kinds of terrain - canyon, mountain, dune and so on. More powerfully, you can customize the terrain in real-time by interactively painting to apply altitude and erosion effects thanks to Vue's Solid3D technology. To change the appearance of your terrain you can load preset materials or create your own. Materials can include procedural textures, bump maps, transparency and now special effects such as glows and can also be tied in to environmental factors - great for producing rocky mountains with snow at higher altititudes.

You're now ready to populate your world with other scenic elements. You can add flat planes to represent ground, water or clouds and there's a new random rock generator. Also new is the support for planets - you can choose any from our solar system and change their phase, brightness and softness. Most impressive of all is Vue d'Esprit's support for vegetation based on its SolidGrowth technology. You can choose from 30 different plants ranging from a simple patch of grass or primrose through to a maple or coconut tree. There's no dedicated editor where you can control the number of branches and so on, but that's made up for by the results which are stunning.

Terrain and vegetation handling are especially impressive.

If you want to add your own 3D objects to the scene you can create basic models using the in-built primitives - sphere, cylinder and so on - and you can combine these into new shapes using Boolean logic. More importantly you can import models in the most common OBJ, 3DS and LWO formats. New in this release is the support for TrueSpace COB models and Poser PZ3 models. The latter is particularly exciting as Vue d'Esprit should make the perfect partner providing the realistic scenes in which to render your Poser figures - sadly though, only Poser 4 is currently supported.

With all your objects in place you're ready to render your scene. With its new support for volumetric effects, lens flares, glowing objects, caustics and motion blur the highest quality output is excellent. Speed has also been increased by up to 40% which makes a huge difference, especially when working on your scene as it means that everything doesn't grind to a halt for minutes each time you want to do a test preview. Still a high-spec system with reliable OpenGL is recommended and ideally with multiple processors.

Vue d'Esprit has one final trick up its sleeve - animation. The easiest way to bring your scene to life is to launch the Mover wizard. This lets you base your animation on presets such as "airplane", which always points in direction of travel and banks slightly, and "automobile", which hugs the surface of the ground. After helping you set the path, duration, acceleration and so on, the Wizard finishes and your keyframed animation is automatically created and becomes available for further refining in the Timeline palette. If you need more power there's e-on's dedicated Mover add-on ($99 or 73) which supports Poser 4's figure animation and enables network-based rendering.

Vue d'Esprit's animation capabilities are typical of the program as a whole - beautifully simple, surprisingly powerful and capable of producing excellent results.

Ease of Use
6
Features
5
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

System requirements: Pentium II or higher, 64MB of RAM, 100MB of hard disk space, Windows 95, 98, NT4, Me, 2000 or XP, SVGA, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

May 2003


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