Price When Reviewed: 419 . 279
E-on Software, makers of landscape and environment rendering package Vue d’Esprit, has launched a new version aimed more at the professional 3D market. The prosaically named Vue 4 Professional seems to be an attempt by E-on to make Vue 4 Professional the 3D program everyone wanted Corel’s Bryce to become. Taken at face value that’s exactly what it seems to be. It’s a good, comprehensive tool, but it falls short of being a genuine solution for a professional studio.
Vue 4 Professional has echoes of the Poser/Poser Pro Pack. Under the hood it’s basically the same landscape and volumetric environment-modelling package as Vue d’Esprit 4, but the new features are far from superficial. Scene and object export options have been souped up – most important for a 3D program. In Vue 4 Professional you can get your creations into other existing 3D packages. All objects can be exported into popular 3D file formats like DXF, 3DS, OBJ and some native 3D formats too, including LightWave LWO, Cinema 4D C4D files, trueSpace COB and Shade SHD.
Terrains and their textures can be exported, along with vegetation, and results of Boolean operations. Vegetation is one of Vue 4’s strengths, so this a compelling feature. However, exporting even a single tree at medium resolution took an inordinately long time on a dual 867MHz G4 Mac. It’s a good idea, but
time could become an issue for professionals with a deadline.
The ability to export objects for use with another 3D program is helpful, but when you do this you lose Vue 4’s tools, such as its volumetric rendering capabilities. Vue 4 Professional is designed to make environments so it’s often easier to do this in Vue 4 itself and render the complete scene there. But the program allows you to sync up lights and cameras with another 3D program. By doing this you can render in both 3D programs, composite the two animations, and get
a perfect match, just as if you were matchmoving live footage. The system works using plug-ins and supports Cinema 4D 7, Max 4.2, LightWave 7, Maya 4.0, Softimage|XSI 3.0, and more recent versions of those tools.
In order to make this process even easier Vue 4 Professional supports the RLA and RPF rich pixel file format. Compositing in After Effects or Combustion is easier because attributes such as depth (fog for instance), and object occlusion, can be taken into account.
Features are one thing but implementation is everything, and this unfortunately is where Vue 4 Professional falls down. If a program has the word Professional attached to it then it has to be evaluated as such, and Vue 4 Professional too often fails to reach
high enough standards. The interface is buggy, and there are so many glitches and odd behaviours that a day spent working with Vue 4 would be long and frustrating. Little things like the occasional inability
to select items in a menu make for an annoying and slow 3D experience.
The Cinema 4D exchange plug-in is an example of poor design. It’s a modal dialog, but has no close box. How do you close it? Press the escape key. Easy when you know how, but when frustration levels are already high, one more glitch like this could send you over the edge. On top of this, the plug-in failed to work properly anyway, since only one frame of the animation would ever be recognized.
Glitches and annoyances aside, there are more goodies in Vue 4 Professional, including Plant Edition editing and animation. You can edit the properties
of plants – such as branch droop, length, and thickness – and make them respond to wind when animated. You get OpenGL previews in the editor panel and you can do a full quality render if you need to. Wind simulation is set up in the Atmosphere panel, and there is a
good, animated OpenGL preview.
Other new features include depth map shadows for all light types with customizable map sizes, support for global environment maps, and general rendering speed improvements. Importantly, rendering is multi-processor aware, and it did seem fast on our dual G4 Mac.
The best rendering feature is the inclusion of a network renderer, called RenderCow. You can install as many cows as you like on your network, enabling you to create an unlimited render farm with your single licence of Vue 4 Professional. Scenes are flagged for distributed rendering from within Vue 4 Professional and sent across the network. However, the main application becomes unusable during this process. On OS X, Vue 4 Pro uses Apple’s Rendezvous technology to automatically locate RenderCows. To add them to a current render queue simply turn on the Mac and launch a Cow – it’ll be seen and added automatically. Bucket rendering means a herd of Cows can render a single frame – which is helpful when using huge still images.
Generally, the renderer isn’t bad – it has all the features you’re likely to need. Advanced rendering includes true raytraced DOF and motion blur, and faster hybrid 2.5D versions, plus blurred transparency and reflection. Vue 4 Pro supports non-square pixel formats and field rendering for video. The render quality is good, but not on the same level as some of the plug-ins you can
buy for pro 3D applications. There’s no advanced illumination such as HDRI or radiosity support yet, and the actual look of the atmospheres can be very CG and quite dated.
The improvements to Vue 4 Professional are all worthwhile. Compatibility with other programs is useful, and the programs ability to animate and export vegetation will come in handy. However, the Professional tag is stretching the truth a little. The program is not without its bugs, and has the potential to frustrate.