Vue d'Esprit 4
3D Scenery Generator
By Jeff Mottle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you have ever needed to create realistic scenery or environments for your architectural scenes, then the new release of Vue d'Esprit is worth a look. With release 4 comes a completely redesigned interface, much improved OpenGL views, powerful terrain modeling tools, volumetrics, and drastically improved rendering speeds to name just a few. Considering the very inexpensive cost of this application, I was amazed at the features as well as the quality and speed that could be attained with just a few mouse clicks.
Interface and Documentation
First off I would like to say that this is probably one of the best written and well laid out user manuals that I have come across in a very long while. Although its unique size sets it apart from most user guides, measuring 8" wide by 6" high, I found the layout very easy to follow and easy on the eyes. The beginning of the guide runs you through a simple 30 minute tutorial that introduces you to the basic concepts and features that are found in the program. From there they move onto describe the interface in detail and then each major feature set. Each section is filled with numerous graphics to help explain concepts and show interface functionality. The last section of the guide was also a real treat. A cookbook style tutorial section steps you through almost every possible scenario that you will run into in Vue d'Esprit. Whether you want to animate clouds or create a forest, there is a short and very concise quick step tutorial to get you up and running.
The online help on the other hand is pretty weak and is really only good for quick reference if you have forgotten something. Personally I have always preferred hardcopy manuals, so I didn't mind too much.
The interface in Vue d'Esprit is also very unique and pleasing to look at and work with. One thing the interface is not, is a standard windows interface, but rather one with a very organic, soft and bubble feel that you would usually equate with the MAC environment. For the most part I found the interface easy to navigate, but did find that its deviation from standard windows menu standards a bit odd for the first little while.
As far as sticking to standard 3D app terminology and functionality, I found Vue d'Esprit quite easy to pick up and navigate without having to search the documentation.
Vue d'Esprit Interface
The first step in creating a Vue Environment is to select an atmosphere. By simply pressing "new" in the file menu, a graphical popup appears and prompts you to choose a predefined environment or load one from disk. There are literally dozens of presets to select for starting points in your scene. Keep in mind that everything in Vue can be edited manually with the atmosphere editor to suit your specific aesthetic requirements, so even if you do choose a preset, it can be modified to suit your needs.
Dialog for choosing a new atmosphere preset
Once you have established an atmosphere for your scene, the next step involves creating objects in your environment. Vue d'Esprit groups its objects into 11 categories: Primitives, Infinite planes, alpha planes, terrain, vegetation, polygon meshes, rocks, planets, lights, groups and finally the camera.
Like most other 3D apps, primitives in Vue are not much different. You simply choose the primitive you want, and it drops into your scene. Manipulation of scale, size and position can be done either numerically or through the use of handles and the manipulation icon that appear next to the object when it is selected.
Primitives can also be combined through the use of built-in in boolean operations that include union, difference and intersection. Where Vue falls short is through any geometry manipulation past what I have mentioned above. There is no vertices manipulation or advanced deformers etc, but really that is not the goal of Vue in the first place. You can however import numerous file types to import you own geometry built in other modeling apps. I'll get into that a little bit later.
Planes in Vue are like primitives but are unbounded in that that extend to infinity. There are three types of infinite planes and one alpha plane. The infinite planes are Water planes, ground planes and cloud planes. Each is assigned a default material which can be edited using the material editor to achieve the look that you are after, including the use of powerful procedural materials. The last plane type, the alpha plane, is used to define a plane that has a diffuse material and an associated alpha channel to define areas of transparency.
The terrain object is one of the most powerful features in Vue d'Esprit and uses complex fractal algorithms to create mountainous structures. The terrain editor is a pop up window that allows you to not only create complex structures with presets, but also allows you to push, pull, grow, and form any shape you can imagine. You simply choose the terrain style, then the brush type to effect that terrain. Terrain styles range from Mountain and Canyon to Dunes and Lunar. The brushes you use allow you to paint on distant forest, simulate fluvial erosion, wind swept hills, craters, and cracks to name just a few. There is no limit on what you can create with the tools that are made available. Should you have precise DEM (Digital Elevation Map) information, this can also be imported. There are numerous sites on the Internet that allow you to download DEM files for pretty much the entire planet. Once your terrain has been defined you can export to 1 of 13 different file types ranging from AutoCAD DXF and 3DS files to image formats.
Rendered terrain from the Camera viewport
Vegetation is also another very powerful and useful feature in Vue d'Esprit. From a library of vegetation you can drop in several types of plant types and assign different materials to affect trunks, leaves etc. The vegetation itself is procedurally based and therefore drops in a different version each time, so you don't have to worry about repeat trees making your scene look fake. The selection of trees is varied, but still fairly small. To extend your collection there are more vegetation samples that can be downloaded from the Vue d'Esprit website for free and for a small fee.
Example render of random tree presets
Importing and Exporting
As I mentioned earlier, past placing and using boolean operations on primitive shapes, Vue is fairly limited in its ability to do any complex geometry editing. For this reason there is a geometry importer that allows you to import the following file types: VOB, PZ3, PZZ, COB, 3DS, LWO, OBJ, DXF, DEM and RAW.
I did quite a bit of experimenting with this aspect of the program and found importing files to work only some of the time. To test its ability to import fully textured files and plain geometry, I used the samples scenes in MAX. While some imported perfectly, others either did not import at all or only partially imported. I also tried simple primitives from MAX which all imported without problem, although I found that a checker procedural texture in the opacity channel did not work, so there are clearly some limitations as to what will and won't import. To use Vue in an architectural rendering though I think I would export rendered images to use as backgrounds or individual elements. This will be necessary for all elements other than terrain as there did not appear to be a way to export trees or any of the other elements aside from terrain.
The last feature in Vue d'Esprit that is worth covering is the ability to animate elements in your scene. Vue has two methods of animating elements in the scene. The first is through the use of their Mover wizard, which is a cleaver little utility that walks you through the process of generating an animation path and setting up the type of animation and motion you are trying to achieve. The second is through manually keyframing.
A unique aspect of animation in Vue is the ability to choose a motion type. By choosing a motion type you can actually effect the physics or dynamics of that animated element. For example you can choose the Automobile type which ensure s that the orientation stays relative to the ground and and follows the ground surface. You can also choose from Smoothed velocity, Look Ahead, Helicopter, Motorbike, and Speedboat amoung others.
Almost every element in Vue can be animated, including materials, clouds, terrains, atmospheres, and objects.
Mover Wizard for automation of keyframed animations
Manual keyframe editor window
Overall I was pretty impressed with how powerful and how feature rich Vue d'Esprit is considering that it sells for only $199.00 US for the complete version 4 product. As I mentioned before I thought that the manual was very well written and very easy to follow. In a matter of a few days you should feel pretty confident in navigating around the interface and creating some moderately complex scenes.
I did find the import and export capabilities to be a bit weak and lacking in the ability to import a variety of scene types and complexities. You are however able to export rendered images with depth and alpha channel so compositing your Vue rendered miages should be relatively easy. For the atmosphere and terrain editing capabilities alone this application is worth purchasing. The simplicity, speed and ease of creating both of these in Vue, will save you countless hours over trying to accomplish the same thing in MAX or VIZ.
If you are in the market for a great terrain and environment modeler then Vue is worth a look and you should definitely download the trial and judge for yourself.
Download the Vue d'Esprit demo HERE
Jeff Mottle is an architectural visualization artist currently working in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the editor and owner of CGarchitect.com and is an active member in the architectural CG community. With just over five years of experience using Autodesk's Lightscape, Jeff has become one of the top Lightscape artists in North America.
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