Price: £299 plus VAT
Eovia’s Carrara Studio 2.0 is an all-terrain, go-anywhere modelling, animation, and rendering tool that aims to pull together everything a 3D artist needs into one package. It boasts one of the most intuitive interfaces around, is bursting with advanced rendering options, and the new version includes simple-to-use character-animation tools. It’s also surprisingly powerful, with a feature-set that not only knocks on the door of the likes of NewTek LightWave and even Alias|Wavefront Maya, but that belies its entry-level £299 price tag. The new feature list is mouth-watering. Rendering has been overhauled, with global illumination, caustics, and coloured caustics added to its raytracer and hybrid raytracer. Put in perspective, Discreet’s 3DS Max 5 has only just added global illumination into the fold. Rendering in Carrara uses Photon Maps to bounce light off objects and uniformly light a scene – leading to ultra-realistic output. Eovia has added character-animation tools with bones and skinning tools that let users construct a skeleton via a simple point-&-click process, attach it to a model, then use inverse and forward kinematics to manipulate the object. Also new are subdivision surfaces for increasing model detail, glowing objects where anything can be used as a light source, a new physics engine, and support for OpenGL rendering for live modelling. Rooms with views It isn’t all new features, though. Eovia has tweaked much of Carrara’s already impressive batch of tools. Particles, terrain, sky-mapping, even object selection, have been improved – speeding up the workflow. Carrara works in a similar way to Maya and Softimage|XSI, in that it deploys a room metaphor where users flip from room-to-room as the scene develops; each room focuses on a different aspect of the scene. An assemble room is included for placing objects, lighting, and effects; a model room for spline, vertex, metaball, and text creation; a storyboard room that uses both a graph and frame-based animation system; a texture room for applying shaders; and a render room features for output – including batch-rendering. And it’s all wrapped up in a delightful, welcoming interface. Carrara was originally developed by MetaCreations, the company that created Poser and Bryce, so the interface retains much of the glassy, organic feel that is ultimately customizable. The assemble room, for example, features large camera-movement tools, slide-out sequencer, properties, and library trays. A row of primitive tools – such as add sphere, forces, lights, and particles – form-up along the top of the scene. The work area can be quickly switched between multi- and single-pane views, and every item on the scene can be repositioned with ease. Modelling methods Interacting with the scene in 3D uses one of the star features of Carrara – the working box. The shows three intersecting grids that represent the x, y, and z axes. Any object – from physics modifiers to simple spotlights – casts an outline-shadow onto these grids, and it’s a short step to simply grab a projected shadow and position the object accurately in 3D space. It makes you wonder why all 3D applications don’t use this. Everything expected from a professional 3D application is present and correct. Carrara has a wealth of object primitives, modelling methods, lights, shaders, and animation options. All are a snip to use. For example, drag a primitive sphere into a scene, drag a pre-made texture onto the object, plonk down some lights, then drag a physics modifier (such as a directional force) into the scene and aim it at the sphere, then press play. The result is that the sphere gets blasted off into the distance, and would collide and bounce off any objects placed in its path – all in a few simple steps. Using bones and skin sounds complicated; yet Carrara makes it easy – adding an extra string to an already heaving bow. First, create an object – organic, complex shapes work best – then drag a bone into the object. Further bones dragged into the scene are automatically linked to each other, and then attached to the skeleton. Bone joints, such as a shoulder, can have attributes applied to them, such as a ball joint, that tells it how to behave. Once a skeleton is created, joints can be pushed and pulled, with the rest of the skeleton moving realistically in unison, and flexing the surrounding object. Global illumination steals the show, however. It replicates how light works in real life, where most light we see is indirect – light rays that bounce off objects. For example, sunlight streaming through a windowpane might only directly light to a portion of the room directly in the light path – without global illumination, the rest of the room would remain black. Carrara calculates how lights bounces around the rest of the room, losing brightness as it progresses. Light up the sky Carrara can take into account the diffuse lighting from any sky or background placed in the scene – meaning that globally illuminated objects in a blue-sky environment would be lit with a faint, but realistic, blue. Carrara also uses caustics, which recreates light patterns that emerge when a light is shone through a transparent object, such as water or a crystal ball. Brilliantly, everything can be animated in Carrara – I was stunned when I managed to animate the sky map with the sun setting in an overcast sky. Carrara handled the reddening of the sky, and automatically adjusted the lighting cast through the entire scene. There’s so much to Carrara that it deserves a book – luckily, it ships with a 594-page printed manual and interactive tutorials, plus a bonus CD loaded with 850 objects, textures, scenes, and a UVmapper. Carrara Studio 2.0 is a gem of an application – it’s incredibly swift, robust, loaded with extras, and has a hidden depth that will surprise 3D artists weaned on higher-end applications. If you want a 3D package that has 80 per cent of the features of the big boys without the hassle of grappling with harsh interfaces, then this is the package that could be your saviour.