Upgrades to the best line of 3D landscape creation tools used to come twice-yearly. This ended up are a little like iPhone releases – notable new features in one version, tweaks in the next.
With this new release, developer E-on has shifted to a date-based naming system, hence this being Vue 2014 edition rather than Vue 12. With this in mind, you might reasonably be expecting some major new features. The reality is that there are plenty of interesting and useful new additions, but perhaps not a killer feature you would sell your soul for.
As before, Vue comes in a wide range of versions that gain features (and cost) as you scale up from the free Pioneer to the all-singing, all-dancing Infinite – plus there’s still the xStream version that runs as a plugin for full 3D suites such as Maya and 3ds Max. We looked at the Infinite and xStream versions as they’re shipping now. Expect the cut-down versions to follow next month.
There’s an immediate change when first launching Vue 2014 and that’s being able to configure the interface so that it’s more like your favourite CG app. The presets include 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Lightwave, Maya and Softimage – or long-term Vue users can leave it as the default.
The first new feature is in the redesigned Atmosphere Editor, which has a new model called the Photometric spectral model. This model features a physically accurate sunlight model, which uses a scientifically accurate model of the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere to create more realistic light intensities.
Selecting this model from the usual drop down menu prompts a helpful pop-up that offers to adjust the atmosphere and camera exposure automatically – or you can fine-tune it yourself.
To test this feature out, I rendered a modest 850 x 450 px image with Global Radiosity lighting and the standard spectral model atmosphere. This took 12 minutes 43 seconds. Switching to the new Photometric atmospheric model with the same scene took 26m 29s – 110% longer – and on a high res render you’re going to be waiting considerably longer.
The upside to this is that the results are significantly better. There are more highlights, warmer colours, deeper shadows.
Tied in to the Photometric model, there’s a new option for positioning the Sun according to its actual real world setting in the Atmosphere editor. Clearly it isn’t positioned exactly as it would be in real life, because the Sun is 149.6 million km away – but it’s a neat way of synchronising a CG sun for replicating specific conditions, or matching an actual environment for compositing part of a scene.
All photometric lights can be assigned colour temperatures with presets for various types of fluorescent, tungsten, halogen etc, setting a custom white balance in terms of degrees Kelvin and light intensity in terms of lumens or candelas. There are IES profiles available for the lights, which reproduce how light is emitted from specific sources – like a wall-mounted light for example. You can add these to your scene for more realistic lighting effects.
Previously, when a render had finished, there were some basic film emulation and adjustment parameters that could be applied. Realistically though, these were not much use. Now there are tone mapping filters to apply at the end: including Photographic Exposure, Linear, a false colour filter and two Reinhard filters (named after Erik Reinhard is an expert in colour imaging and HDR). The old Vue exposure filter remains too.
These filters include a bunch of settings that can be tweaked to enhance the image and it may save a trip to Photoshop afterwards. You can also tag on names to renders in the render, mainly to just remind yourself what you were doing with it when comparing to similar renders.
The two other areas of real improvement revolve around plants and import/export functions in the xStream plugin version.
Firstly, given that Plant Factory was a big release for E-on this year, it’s no surprise to see that Vue 2014 now recognises flora from it, even if you don’t own or have ever used Plant Factory.
The key parameters that were used to create plants are now featured in the Vue timeline so that health and seasonality show up. There’s also a Quality setting for Plant Factory plants, so something not directly in front of the camera can be reduced in detail to cut down memory overheads and render times.
There’s a new set of clumping sliders so that when painting, instances will clump together rather than be uniform. If you aren’t using a freeform airbrush method, with population limits turned off, then this will be useful. However, rather than being on the main EcoPainter interface, it’s buried three menus deep.
Related to the interface of Plant Factory interface, the Function Editor now has a more modern design with parameters connected by boxes arranged sideways.
For xStream, interoperability with its host applications are key features. There’s bolstered FBX geometry importing, which supports textured geometry and cameras – though not lights, rigs and morphs. Camera motion can also be imported and exported in Nuke .CHAN format as well as FBX. On the render front, xStream can output OpenEXR and HDRI files.
Of course there are lots of little tweaks that you wonder why had never been included before, like using a mouse wheel to zoom in and out quickly or to scroll up and down areas of the interface. In the EcoPainter and Brush Editor, each section can be folded away to keep it neat, and also to open up more areas underneath for painting.
However, on Apple’s new OS X, Mavericks – which many Mac users will have upgraded to as it’s free – this initial release had a few glitches which you would expect E-on to sort out with the first patch. These ranged from problems with the perspective camera toggle, very slow scene loading to initial start resizing and roll-over tool tips initially showing the wrong tool.
Vue 2014 offers quite a lot of new features and tweaks. Whether they are killer features depends largely on how you use Vue, but the photometric atmosphere model can certainly make a big difference to some scenes.
The tweaks are welcome to the interface, but in places it would have been better to have redesigned it completely, rather than tag on more little icons that did extra functions. Vue 2014 is probably not an essential release then, but certainly one with a lot of merit.