• Price When Reviewed: 299

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

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Many 3D packages are like religions – you sign up for one, then follow it, crusade-like, in a campaign that sees you preaching to ensure your 3D tool of choice is seen as the best one available.

This means less-entrenched tools, such as Carrara Studio, have to work much harder to woo serious 3D designers to look past an alien interface and start to explore the power on offer. It’s even harder when the package is priced as low as Carrara, as 3D veterans shy away from what should surely be a low-end solution.

Well, it’s time to get a whole new religion, as Carrara Studio 3 shows it is possible to deliver professional-level tools in a competitively priced application. The upgrade focuses on adding powerful rendering and lighting features typically found in the likes of LightWave or Cinema 4D, plus enhancing shading features, adding tools such as a UV editor, better subdivision controls, and tweaking the interface. In all, Eovia reckons it has added over 400 new features and enhancements, although you’ll need
to dig deep to find some of them.

There is much going for the latest version, and not just in terms of new features. Praise must go to the huge, detailed manual that ships with the application, plus bonus content CD that is stuffed to the gills with high-res textures – including some valuable planetary skins – and High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI). For pure value, Carrara is hard to beat.

Newcomers might warm to a more refined interface than in previous versions. In the past, the interface was criticized for being cramped with overlarge glassy icons that cut down on the work area. Carrara 3’s interface is better, with smaller, more condensed icons, and the much-used object property panel down the right-hand side has been retooled to give quicker, contextual info on the object you’re working with. Old hands will feel right at home, but some converts will still find the shininess off-putting.

The new scene wizard, though, which Eovia touts as providing a quick way to create a scene for newcomers, really proves to be a fancy front end to opening a range of saved 3D scenes – the ability to mix them together would make it worthwhile. Otherwise, you might as well choose File>Open and browse through them on CD.

The rendering tools deserve praise. While the package still has decent modelling and physics tools – including 3D particle systems, simple bones and skinning feature set, and solid animation tools – rendering has leapt ahead. New
to the release is the addition of HDRI support, for applying highly realistic reflections to objects, and a non-photorealistic rendering engine.

This is both great, and initially frustrating. It lets you apply user-defined brush styles – chalks, watercolours, and inks – to shadows, highlights, and the models when you render the scene. With a bit of practice, you can create natural-media output, such as an oil painting, and then animate it, but settings are a kind of suck-it-and-see affair, and it would have been good to be able to apply a brush style across all settings in one go. It’s worth pursuing though, as it’s a fairly unique technology.

Of the new tweaks, that include raytraced soft shadows that add a blur to shadow edges, and true volumetric light cones so the cone shows up on reflected surfaces, the better depth-of-field tool is well done. Users can set foreground, background, and subject focus with better accuracy and instantly preview.

Modelling has been enhanced, but less so. Bevels can be applied to any object, not just text, and a tree maker
has been added, similar to the one added to Corel’s Bryce 3D tool.

Again, frustration and delight will greet the tree tool. Top marks for the staggering array of controls over branches, leaves, and generational controls, but we found some tree types were so complex that the application fell over. It’s a little slow as well. A dynamic extrusion tool has been bolted on, and edge creasing has been added to the subdivision tool to retain sharp edges.

Shading tools, too, are better. A UV editor lets you unwrap models and texture them in 2D, while the environment shader will prove useful for shading terrains based on slope and height values. The preview is a little weak here, but it’s passable.

Add in all the cool features it already has – a physics-based animation system, Web 3D export to Shockwave and VET, excellent modelling and assemble tools – with its frankly stunning output, and this is a genuine contender and the best entry-level 3D tool available.