Price: 490 . 165 . 275
Company: Electric Image
Pros: Fast, high-quality rendering, good HDRI support, unlimited network rendering.
Cons: No more EI Modeller, Silo is currently only available for Windows.
EIAS is the new name for the 3D animation and modelling package ElectricImage Universe. Due to licensing issues, EIAS no longer comes with the ACIS-based EI Modeller, which is a shame, but that doesn’t mean a total return to the modeller-less old days. EIAS is bundled with a copy of the excellent Silo Subdivision surfaces modeller. Unfortunately, Silo is currently only compatible with Windows, so for Mac users this new version will be something of a retrograde.
The Electric Image Animation System (EIAS) is an animation and rendering system that has a long heritage in film and broadcast production. Despite being somewhat antiquated in design and implementation, it’s actually a deep and powerful system. EIAS is actually a suite of applications consisting of Animator, Camera, Transporter, Renderama (and Slave), Image viewer, and Radiosity. Animator is the main application where you load in models, animate them, texture them, and light the scene. Camera is a very high-quality rendering program that does raytrace and Phong rendering, and which can be distributed to multiple machines for network rendering without the need for additional licences.
Animator’s interface is old-fashioned, with four separate viewing windows and many other floating panels. Those 3D artists brought up on 3DS Max, Maya, or Cinema 4D – with their modern integrated and user configurable interfaces – will probably find EIAS clunky and unrefined. However there is more to refinement than a slick interface.
Version 5.5 has some useful new features that include improvements to Camera’s rendering speed, especially for raytracing, support for HDRI images, Granger FX format support (for using EIAS to generate transitions in After Effects and Premier), new shaders, and new deformations. HDRI is an essential feature for anyone wanting to do photoreal 3D work, and its inclusion in EIAS is a great boon for users. Not only can you light a scene using HDRI images but you can open and view them, change the viewing gamma, and export them to different mapping formats.
For example, you can change a lightprobe image into a Longitude/ Latitude map, or even a native EI cubic environment map. Lightdome objects can now accept images as Gels, and this includes HDRI files. However, you need to render using the Radiosity application in order to light the scene, and this can be problematic.
Radiosity is calculated externally and stores the illumination in the object’s vertices. EIAS can read this data and apply it in the Ambient material channel of objects. Setting up a scene for the Radiosity application involves adding the objects and lights you wish to contribute and receive illumination, setting the geometry of the lights and the radiosity energy. All the attributes are distributed through the interface making it a bit of a headache. When it’s all set up, you start the solution and wait. Once this is complete, you click the Update button in the Radiosity panel to have the solution applied in the Hardware shaded view.
This is handy, because you can view the radiosity-lit scene in real-time – it’s not calculated dependent on view. This does mean however that, for still images, radiosity is not as efficient. For camera animation though, it avoids any flickering of the solution. You can light and render the scene as normal using Camera, with the included solution applied. Generally, working with EIAS’ Radiosity is very slow, especially when compared to optimized systems like Brazil, Mental Ray, or Cinema 4D. Radiosity is geometry based, which can cause serious problems, such as models becoming corrupted after the solution had been written.
The new deformations include Circular-WaveII with falloff and multiple wave instances. A new Runwave shader displaces geometry using a fractal noise procedure, while wave displacements are generated through several new shaders.
EIAS works well for all kinds of animation. It excels at high-res stills and camera animation making it a great tool for special effects and matte painting. The motion blur is still excellent and very fast, though Mental Ray has caught up in this area. When scenes get complex, things can get a bit hairy. Texture mapping is antiquated and it really needs a proper UV editing interface, though the default system is acceptable. Keyframe control is good and the built-in scripting offers more for the power user.
Though the material and rendering technology is excellent in EIAS, the interface is not. There’s a preview ball for the base surface parameters but no textures, bumps, reflection, or refraction previews. This wasn’t a problem back when Camera was the market leader, but now competitors have caught up, and the speed of EIAS is not so impressive. Nevertheless, the system has plenty to offer. It’s occupying shaky ground – it’s neither a true high-ender nor a budget application – but it can hold its own in certain niches. It renders very dense scenes well, and in this respect EIAS 5.5 is a decent choice.