Vue 6 Infinite review
VERDICT: Major enhancements to atmospheric and lighting models, import support, rendering options and material and EcoSystem handling.
Creating naturalistic real world scenes is one of the most difficult tasks for a 3D modeller which is where Vue Infinite comes in with its dedicated state-of-the-art capabilities.
Vue 6 Infinite is designed to work alongside your object modeller of choice and so when you first launch the program it asks which 3D program you are accustomed to and automatically adjusts its interface accordingly in terms of colours and shortcuts. This feeling of familiarity is further boosted by Vue 6 Infinite’s inclusion of the now almost ubiquitous Gizmo on-object manipulators for handling positioning, scaling and rotation. Other interface enhancements include a new Library tab in the World Browser in which you can view objects used several times (these are now stored only once in memory), view and quick render shortcuts, easier copying, dropping and renaming of objects and numerous other tweaks. To be honest I’d prefer it if the main modelling applications worked more like Vue Infinite rather than the other way around.
The first step in creating your scene is to select an atmosphere for it. Vue 6 Infinite now offers over 180 presets to choose from, based on four main atmospheric models. The main advantage of the new Spectral model is that it is based on the balance of air, dust and water particles that make up the atmosphere enabling greater realism. It also means that you can add true 3-dimensional spectral cloud layers, whether ground fog or soaring cumulonimbus. You can even add and edit individual procedurally-generated metaclouds.
6 Infinite offers new more realistic spectral atmospheric handling
After the sky, you need to take care of the ground. Vue 6 Infinite’s newly resizable Terrain Editor now offers eight preset terrain styles and seven erosion types including glaciation, alluvium and dissolve effects. There’s also a new option to blend procedural terrains with bitmaps and you can customize your brush for interactive editing. For ground cover, Vue’s new SolidGrowth 4 technology offers the same 50+ fully customisable plant species, but these have now been optimised to avoid undesirable flickering in the distance during breeze-based animation. You can also now add new Ventilator objects to locally control the effect of wind on vegetation.
Vue 6 Infinite is designed to integrate with other 3D apps especially Poser
To add external objects to your scene, Vue Infinite 6 offers wide-ranging support for 3D model standards such as 3DS, OBJ, LWO and DXF and can also now import architectural SKP files created with Google SketchUp. You can also now import simple EPS and AI PostScript files into the text editor and apply extrusions and bevels. Most impressive is the support for Poser PZ3 figures and animations. If you have Poser 6 or 7 on your system you can even quickly repose and animate a placed figure to fit it naturally to its surroundings.
Vue 6 Infinite also sees major improvements to material handling. Core changes include new support for 16-bit texture maps, non-refractive alpha transparency, displacement mapping and sub-surface scattering to enable translucency effects. As well as mixing materials based on scene-based factors such as altitude, slope and orientation – essential for example for managing the distribution of snow on a mountain scene – you can also now create layered materials with underlying layers showing through wherever the overlying layer is transparent.
Vue Infinite’s object and material handling are both impressive but the way that the program combines the two is truly extraordinary. This is done by creating – or more usually adapting - an “EcoSystem” material which is built up of plant, rock and imported objects that are then scattered across the surface of the object to which it is applied – perfect for example for instantly creating a forest of hundreds of individual trees with the particular mix of species depending on altitude. Now EcoSystem materials can be layered too and the affinity between layers can be controlled so that you can automatically create advanced effects, for example where grass is repelled from the base of trees but primroses attracted.
This material-based approach to EcoSystems is extremely powerful but also limiting – you can tweak parameters and hit the Repopulate command but essentially you have to take what you are given. Now Vue 6 Infinite’s EcoSystem 2 technology removes this limitation by allowing you to paint object instances directly onto your scene and to interactively control their colour, size and density using a pressure-sensitive tablet. You can also just click to add or remove individual instances and interactively move, rotate and resize selections. You can even convert an EcoSystem instance into a real object for total control.
Vue 6 Infinite now offers interactive painting of EcoSystems
Once you’ve added all the elements to your scene, it’s time to bring them to life. The easiest way to do this is with the Animation Wizard and this now offers greater control over dynamic motion reaction effects but Vue 6 Infinite’s real animation power is found in its Timeline panel. This has been completely redesigned offering a basic global time slider with automatic keyframing which can be expanded to show a Properties section listing all animated objects and their properties which can itself be expanded to show F-curve details and expanded again to show a frame-based animation preview. You can also now quickly change the length of an entire animation, synchronize camera and lights information with the main professional 3D apps and After Effects, import motion tracking information and get a quick idea of what your animation will look like thanks to OpenGL-based preview rendering.
With your scene set up, you’ll want to make it look as realistic as possible. Much of this comes down to lighting and Vue Infinite 6 has optimised its top quality Radiosity model for both indoor and infinite scenes and boosted speed up to 400% in the process. However Radiosity still remains the slowest model to compute by a distance and the new Ambient Occlusion model promises near Global Illumination quality results in a fraction of the time. Vue 6 Infinite also boosts local lighting options with Area Light Panels for softer effects, the ability to turn any object into a light source and greater control over soft shadows.
Of course advanced new features such as displacement mapping, sub-surface scattering and softer shadows are computationally intensive and, when you’re dealing with complex EcoSystems and millions of polygons, render times are inevitably lengthy. However Vue 6 Infinite does what it can with an improvement in general rendering speed of up to 130% and new support for in-built post-processing. Best of all the program now supports standalone rendering both locally and over the network which means that you can continue working while rendering takes place in the background.
Vue 6 Infinite is overkill for some users and, with its Vue 6 Easel (£57 exc VAT), Vue 6 Esprit (£127) and Vue 6 Studio Pro (£237) applications, e-on offers a full roster of alternative cut-down solutions aimed at consumer and semi-professional markets. For heavy users of 3ds max, Maya, LightWave, Cinema 4D and XSI, e-on also offers all the power of Vue 6 Infinite both as a standalone and integrated directly into their favourite modeller as Vue 6 xStream (£517). However, judged on the Cinema 4D plug-in, stability still needs to be addressed before xStream becomes truly viable in a production context.
In the meantime, for professional users looking for maximum creative power, Vue 6 Infinite is the natural choice for natural modelling.
EASE OF USE 5/6
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/6
Tom Arah is the webmaster of designer-info.com. He has been a professional designer working with computer software since 1987. He also offers training and consultancy and since 1997 has been the contributing editor covering design issues for PC Pro, the UK's biggest-selling (and best) computer monthly.