In time to celebrate its 15th anniversary and after giving a tantalizing teaser of new features during SIGGRAPH 2008, e-on software released the latest evolution of its product line, Vue 7.
If you don’t know already, Vue is an advanced software solution for creating, animating and rendering 3D environments. It provides tools for rendering both indoor and outdoor scenes, supports a large array of import and export options, and has been used by several studios for matte painting, SFX or architectural visualizations.
In particular, Vue has been featured recently on high profile motion pictures such as Pirates of the Caribbean II, The Spiderwick Chronicles and Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. After playing with both Vue 6 and 7, I could swear I spotted Vue in some TV shows, although studios are generally shy when it comes to disclosing which tools they are using. Maybe this is the dawn of a new hobby – Vue spotting.
The new line-up is grouped in two categories.
Solutions for professionals:
- Vue 7 Infinite – Standalone product
- Vue 7 xStream – Integrated solution for Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya and XSI, Maxon Cinema 4D and Newtek LightWave
Solutions for 3D artists and small sutios:
- Vue 7 Pioneer – entry level and successor to Vue Easel.
- Vue 7 Complete, Vue 7 Pro Studio, Vue 7 Esprit – three pre-bundled packages based on Vue 7 Pioneer. Modules can be added independently or using one of the three bundles.
Vue 7 Infinite and Vue 7 xStream were released on November 4th 2008, both in download, DVD cases with electronic documentation or full boxed version with printed manual. The rest of the line-up will be released by the end of the year according to e-on. A 7.5 release is even already on the horizon for 2009 although details have not been revealed yet. This review will focus on Vue 7 Infinite – in particular, the Mac OS X version on a 2008 Mac Pro.
If I had to set a theme for this release, it would have to be maturity.
The influence of the adoption of Vue by major movie studios can easily be seen in how much the product has evolved in just a few years. After introducing a new user interface and a new atmospheric model in Vue 6, e-on is coming back with several improvements such as interface tweaks, improved rendering (in particular radiosity), a new water editor, macros and scene graphs.
Vue gained a lot in stability, performance and visual quality. Now – I am not saying it is without bugs, but an impressive list of fixes just a month after its release and a built-in mechanism to improve the report of issues show e-on’s commitment to improving its products and listening to users.
At first glance, the interface has not changed much since Vue 6. It can still be customized during the installation to match the feel and keyboard shortcuts of other tools such as 3DS max, Maya, Lightwave. These changes can be adjusted afterwards using the ‘File -> Preferences’ and ‘Display -> Interface Colors’ menus.
Looking closer reveals some interesting changes. A red icon at the top of the interface indicate the new ‘Record macro’ command. Next to it is the command to play a saved macro. Macros simply records your actions until you press the record button again. This a welcome step up for those repetitive actions.
To the left of the interface, the Terrain menu has been split in two options – one for Standard Height-fields terrains and one for Procedural and Infinite terrains. The OpenGL preview of Terrains has been greatly improved, revealing a lot more details. This is especially visible for procedural terrains, where the terrain mesh gains in resolution close to the camera – dynamically.
Overall, the openGL preview feels a lot faster and more detailed visually although it doesn’t seem to be handling transparency at this time.
Still, the simplicity of the interface, the detailed openGL view and live render preview on the side are key to the appeal of the tool and are well worth the cost in system resources.
One of the major improvements in this release is immediately visible the minute you press the Render button. The line rendering of Vue 6 has been replaced by a modern bucket rendering. Each bucket has its own thread, taking full advantage of those unused multi-cores you did not know what to do with.
But improvements to the rendering engine only start there. Vue 7 introduces significant improvements to the lighting model, especially for light panels, light emitting objects and radiosity. Resulting images are less blotchy and render at a fraction of the time they used to take in Vue 6. As an additional time saver, it is also possible to preserve calculations of indirect lighting if you need to simply tweak your scene without changing point of view.
As an example, the sample scene ‘Radiosity room’ used to render in 43 minutes in Vue 6 in Final mode. In Vue 7, the same scene and render parameters produces an image in 4 minutes.
This kind of test on sample scenes is not always useful however. I noticed most outdoor scenes take a little bit longer to render in Vue 7 infinite than in Vue 6, however, the results are always more detailed in Vue 7 infinite (better anti-alias, less grain and more details in clouds).
Another massive improvement worth notice is the new hybrid Depth of Field effect. Here again, the result is a faster and smoother effect. As an example, I have been using this ‘pumpkin’ scene to test depth of field since Vue 5. It rendered with a clean finish in Final mode in less than an hour in Vue 7 instead of several hours in Vue 6 (and usually, a grainy finish).
Material rendering has been updated as well, with new Nodes in the SmartGraph editor and improvements in volumetric materials, displacements and translucency effects. As a result, I noticed I had to tone down the Diffuse and Ambient parameters of Translucent materials to keep them from being too bright.
Air, water and land.
Outdoor environments have been Vue’s bread and butter from the beginning. It is very satisfying to find Vue 7 infinite makes several advances in that domain.
Starting with the new Spectral 2.0 atmospheres. The new version of Vue’s most realistic atmospheric model greatly improves both the sharpness and details of volumetric clouds, while keeping render times impressively low.
The new spectral clouds capture indirect lighting and self shadows. They can even be illuminated by any light in your scene – think ‘Batman searchlight’ or illuminated clouds during a thunderstorm.
A brand new water surface editor gives you direct control over waves, foam and how water interacts with other objects (shore lines). I noticed the foam tends to be a little faded by default. A simple increase in Luminosity of the foam layer in the water material quick fixes that. The water editor can even add real displacements to the surface and create really angry looking waves.
Still in the natural environment department, Vue 7 introduces a new type of Terrain – Infinite Terrains. These terrains are not exactly infinite, but they are very large - large enough to occupy the whole field of view. You have to raise the altitude of the camera to sub orbital levels to see the limits to those terrains.
These terrains are perfect for high altitude scenes or fly-by over large expanses. The creation of procedural or infinite terrains is even simplified by the availability of several presets – from desert dunes to grassy mountains. Vue even offers the option to replace an existing infinite terrain or ground plane if an infinite terrain is added to the scene. Terrains also benefit from several improvements in the ways they are rendered. New noise nodes give them more natural shapes while micro-displacements give them high definition as close up range.
Infinite terrains can look barren without objects or plants. Vue 7 infinite introduces Dynamic ecosystems to populate large areas as needed. This new option is resource intensive but it dramatically improves the look and feel of very large landscapes.
At smaller scales, Vue 7 provides greater control over the placement of ecosystems. It is now possible to paint on any surface (sphere, vertical) and in any viewport. Growing baobabs on top of asteroids has never been easier.
But, wait! There is more…
Vue 7 infinite includes many more improvements, especially for animation and network rendering. For example, objects can directly interact with each other through Scene graphs, even Terrains. You could use these graphs to simulate melting an ice cube as a light source gets closer or making a whole mountain collapse into a volcano.
Most of these improvements would require a separate review. I will restrict myself to a small selection of enhancements to Vue’s usability.
- Meta nodes – Sprawling, unruly SmartGraphs are a now a thing of the past. You can group parts of a graph into a Meta node and save it as a macro for later use in other graphs.
- Lights can be turned on and off with a single click
- You can now change the 'documents' folder without having to reinstall
- Vue Vue 7 provides an improved control of world units
- The number of presets objects available out of the box add a lot to Vue’s appeal. You will find many more plants presets, including several conifers (160 plants instead of 52 for Vue 6 infinite) as well as more spectral clouds, atmospheres, and materials'
- Finally, Cornucopia objects are now more clearly marked. Vue 7 gives you the choice between displaying all online objects, only a 'best of' selection or 'none'.
I hope this review gave you a taste of what Vue 7 infinite has to offer. After using it for a few weeks, I can safely say that Vue will remain my favorite tool to compose and render scenes for a very long time. I have yet to find another tool that provides such a balance of simplicity, quality of results and features.
Requirements and availability
Vue 7 xStream is available in English for Windows XP32/64 and Vista 32/64, and on Mac OSX 10.4+ as a 32 bit application (Universal Binary). Vue 7 xStream is compatible with the following renderers: Mental Ray for 3ds Max, Maya and XSI (integrated and MR satellites), Maya Software, Cinema 4D Software and LightWave Software. Other renderers are under consideration.
Vue 7 Infinite is available in English for Windows 2000/XP/Vista for 32 and 64 bits OS, and for Mac OSX 10.4+ platforms (Universal Binary) as a 32 bit application.
For more info, please visit:
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Laurent Alquier (agiel) has been moderator of the Vue Forum at Renderosity from 2004 to 2008. When he is not in the forum or the galleries, he finds himself busy with the balancing act of a day job as a Software Engineer and personal explorations of Information Visualization and Computer Graphics.