SHADE 7 PROFESSIONAL
by Lambros Potamianos
Shade 7 Professional was installed on an Athlon 4000+ with 2GB DDR and a Fire GL 7100.
Nowadays there is an abundance of 3d applications covering all imaginable ranges, from the freeware and low budget to mid-budget and high end. In each category there are more than 4-5 choices, and it seems that in this tower of Babel, standard exchange formats will play a large role in the future to keep things running smoothly.
Shade is a Japanese application introduced to the west by Curious Labs, recently acquired by Shade's parent company. It is evident that there is native Poser support (which adds value to a specific group of users), and it must be noted that Shade is no new kid on the block. It is being developed for almost 20 years, which at least should mean robustness and stability. It is a full 3d application offering modeling, texturing, animating and rendering. Shade comes in three different versions, a light one (Shade designer LE at $99) rather suitable for modeling, the basic one (Shade standard at $209), offering more tools, and the professional one (at $999) providing all necessary tools, plus a more sophisticated renderer, Callisto, capable of reproducing all modern effects. The professional version is reviewed here.
Higashinihon House by aRt woRk
Hmmm. That's what I would call a Spartan look. Four empty viewports with a rather incomprehensive floating menu. I must say that I would expect more from an application that opts to be a key player in the 3d field. Pulling down some menus, reading a bit of the tutorials, and in a short while I am ready to go, but it somehow does not feel right. It may be just a personal feeling, but I would like to see a more robust interface. Access to modeling tools is ok, but it would feel better to have the timeline docked. In a two display system you can manage things easily, but in just one screen things can get really crowded if more than 3-4 windows float around. The user interface is Shade's weak point and should really be taken care of.
Things can get really crowded at times!
On the other hand, modeling is where Shade is really good at. It seems to be an in-between of 3dsmax and sketchup, which sounds very promising. And it indeed is. There is a native dxf import support which allows for cad plans to be taken in, and you can easily trace plans and extrude to create walls etc. Subobject editing is allowed too using a simple click and drag method, and to cut a long story short, modeling is quick and efficient. It is restricted to primitive objects and shapes (splines) though, so there is no nurbs support, but that does not seems to bother much.
There is a room planner tool, which comes in rather handy, since it allows for rapid creation of 2d plans, door and window openings and when you finish, extrudes everything in 3d in just a click. Accurate dimensions can be used and it proves to be a quick method of sketching, developing prototype architectural designs and rendering in a snap.
Boolean operations are supported, the alignment options are adequate, but I think that the addition of more modifying tools would be a bonus and would add more value (shade includes basic modifiers: extrude, revolve, twist, lattice, which are enough for most modeling needs ).
There is also a magical sketch tool in which you draw in 2d and the program tries to guess and convert to a 3d shape. It is fun to play with, but I have a small doubt on whether it is really useful for the professional user. Finally, shade offers meta-elements for organic modeling, which blend in to create complex smooth surfaces. A text effector is included too, but there are no exotic options to expect.
Text effector with reflective and refractive materials
The material editor is pretty simple but adequate for standard uses. Alpha channel support, procedural materials, reflection, refraction, fresnel and a UV editor are some of the industry standard features supported by Shade. In practice, materials can be created with a minimum hassle and tweaked easily to get the desired result, but simplicity means that “out of this world material effects” are out of the question! Technical Directors will certainly stick to Maya anyway, so this limitation does not apply to the mainstream illustrator.
Materials: Quite simple, but nice! (path tracing GI)
The animation options are a bit outdated and to be more precise, they are quite limited. Standard keyframe animation is the only option, with automatic interpolation between frames. Joints can also be defined to be used in animations, but in practice, Shade is not an animation package. It can be used though for simple animations, such as industrial design animations, or walkthroughs, but it is a bit awkward and if you plan to do more than these, you will have to look elsewhere. The included sample animation files are basic and reflect shade’s limitations. Poser integration means that Poser scenes can be imported and animated, but if your arsenal does not include poser, it won’t be of any use. On the other hand, if you are a hardcore Poser user, Shade is one of the best options you have. I guess that Poser integration will get tighter over time, so keep your eyes on that.
Shade offers two renderers in its professional version. The default scanline renderer offers radiosity and the more sophisticated Callisto which offers all the bells and whistles along with reduced rendering times. Rendering can get really slow when GI is used, especially with the scanline, but I have to admit that I didn’t expect it to be the other way round.
Global Illumination comes in different forms: GI using photon mapping, path tracing, and radiosity. HDRI maps are supported, and several effects such as depth of field and soft shadows can be rendered. There are not many parameters to tweak, so the GI setup is easy. Rendering quality is on the bright side, nothing spectacular though.
Callisto comes with special materials and offers a speed gain using selective algorithms, as well as rendertime polygon subdivision, improved anti-aliasing, and caustics.
Network rendering is supported in the professional version but only works with ray-tracing or path tracing rendering.
Three Pictures by aRt woRk
I was very content with the provided documentation. Beginners’ tutorials will do the trick, and the reference manuals are extensive and clear (even some rendering theory is included). Shade is practically aimed for the design and illustration market (which effectively includes the architectural visualization industry) and offers many import and export options (IGES, EPSF, OBJ, 3DS, PSD, VRML, BVH) to name but a few. This is a real advantage, as it can be integrated in a basic illustration pipeline without much hassle. Bear in mind though, that import and export options are quite limited in the non-professional versions (check the version comparison table http://www.curiouslabs.com/article/articleview/1117/1/416?sbss=416 ). Its main competitors at the moment seem to be mid-end 3d applications, but its lack of proper animation options seems to restrict its uses. Python scripting is a bonus for the professional users who will need to extend shade’s features, or solve any pipeline integration problems. The application itself is rock stable but the general impression is that it appears to be composed of a base program and a bunch of plug-ins and extensions that have been developed in the last 20 years; why does shade have to reside to a plugin to “scroll to selection” (which means zoom viewport to extents of selection)? I am sure that it could benefit a lot from a more compact user interface and a better integration of its tools.
Shade is really quick and efficient to work with, especially for illustration or design purposes. The learning curve is far from steep, and if the user finds that he can get along with the UI, it will prove to be a good choice. But as the 3d market continues to grow, I wonder if there is still room for new players. Time only will show…
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