E-on Software's Vue 11 xStream
In their own words:
"Vue 11 xStream offers CG professionals the premiere solution for creating exceptionally rich and realistic Digital Nature environments, fully immersed within 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, Lightwave and Cinema 4D."
So, basically, terrain, skies, seas, trees, plants, rocks - in short, Vue 11 xStream gives you tools to make 'The Great Outdoors.' Or, at least, a digital approximation of it. If you need wide-shots of a detailed, never-ending landscape, seascape, forest, etc. - Vue 11 xStream is a viable option. It presents itself inside of your favorite 3D hub-application and transparently works closely with the native render engine. With Vue 11 xStream you also get the stand-alone application.
You can build and render Vue scenes in Maya along with your other assets and render using mentalray as usual. Under the hood it's a little more complex:
The Vue 11 xStream render engine, renders the Vue elements and tries to mimic the native render engine's settings for things like anti-aliasing, etc. It does a pretty good job of it, too. The end-user experience was pretty transparent. Just set Vue on automatic and set your mentalray render options. Vue takes care of itself:
Now for some clarifications: I was new to the whole Vue experience and this was news to me: Vue is basically an E-on brand. There are many different E-on products that bear the name Vue. They all revolve around creating the natural world in some capacity. There is a Vue product for every skill level and price price point out there, from kindergartners playing with the free Vue Pioneer, to feature film artists wielding the mighty Vue 11 xStream. E-on software has the market on the outdoors (they're also slowly moving indoors too).
The installation process was fairly simple. You basically register with the E-on website, then you get emailed an activation key as a text file. You download the file to anywhere you like and then browse to its location during the installer wizard to unlock the software. Cake.
This is probably the biggest news for Vue users. The new particle systems work similar to traditional EcoSystems. They're basically an extension to materials. You can have materials that emit and absorb particles using the same rules as EcoSystems. You can then create effectors to affect your particles (i.e. blow them around, jitter them, attract them, etc.). So, for instance, if you needed smoke from the camp fire or jungle fog or hot lava with animated smoke, etc - it can be done:
Particles are usually created as part of an EcoSystem material, but you can also create stand-alone particle emitters. This basically creates a primitive that emits particles from a default EcoSystem material that has been created for you. You get the usual EcoSystem controls over density, distribution and so on:
There are also a few point-and-click effects that make use of the new particle system. For example, rain and snow are now found in a new tab of the Atmosphere Editor. You simply select rain from the drop down menu and - BAM! Instant rain (or, at least, a rain column around the camera out to a certain radius. A clever, and indeed, common solution). The same goes for snow.
After playing with both the Vue 11 xStream integrated version and the accompanying stand-alone product, I liked the integrated version better. You get all the power and familiarity of working in your native 3D hub application, Autodesk Maya 2013 for me, and the power of Vue 11 xStream all in one place - sort of (more on that later). If nothing else, the native camera navigation controls are worth it. It's also nice if you have a rigged and animated object that is highly dependent on your native hub application.
For example, say I have a fighter jet spewing out tons of maya n-particles, active rigid bodies, fluids and other complex dynamics. Explosion everywhere! I want that jet to fly down a tight canyon. With Vue 11 xStream, being an integrated solution, I can easily accomplish this. I can see the terrain and the animated 3d assets all in the same viewport.
I just heard someone scream:
"Wait! You mentioned native camera controls! You can load presets for your favorite external program inside of Vue Stand-alone!"
Unfortunately, not quite. It's found under File -> Options -> General Preferences -> Load Interface Presets, but it doesn't actually mimic third part applications. At least not for Maya. For example, alt+lmb in Maya is a camera dolly, while in Vue 11 xStream stand-alone, it's a zoom, i.e. focal length change. This makes it useless for viewport navigation.
I am pleased, however, to say that when working with Vue 11 xStream while inside Maya, everything works just as it should - except any of the editors, like the terrain editor, for example. They still use native Vue camera controls, regardless. This brings up an interesting point that new users must know:
Vue nodes are somewhat isolated from Maya's dependency graph. By that I mean they're basically place-holders until the Vue pre-render and post-render scripts kick in. As such, most properties (other than basic transform attributes) must be edited with the Vue-specific editors and dialogs, not the native Attribute Editor and Graph Editor. Most of Maya's native tools, even things like Edit -> duplicate on a Vue placeholder - it won't render. No Maya deformers either! Remember, these are proxies (you can bake to polygons and then use them as ordinary, albeit dense, meshes).
Included Dystopia assets visible in the background by our own talented Moebius87.
(click image to view full-size)
In that regard, the integration is more akin to a mash-up between Maya and Vue than it is a true, integrated solution. I can see they're moving in that direction, but there's a long way to go. I'm not surprised you have to use the Vue editors, but potential new users should know this ahead of time. There are some pretty strict limits to how your Vue and Maya objects can interact. This brings up another interesting point.
Almost everything you can do in Vue 11 xStream you can do with Maya's native tools (recent versions of Mentalray can handle billions of polygons or more). This raises the critical question: Why use `Vue 11 xStream` at all? The answer is time!
With Vue 11 xStream you can have a good looking atmosphere, great clouds, decent lighting and a tropical island to retire on in 10 minutes flat (Skilled hands. Not counting render time). With Maya's native tools this same task could be accomplished, but would take several days, perhaps weeks, and require a lot of technical skill. The end result would be far more flexible, but also far more costly. The render times would also likely be longer. If you have outdoor shots that need finished right now, Vue 11 xStream is a great option.
For film work that has to stand up to extreme scrutiny at very high resolutions I would hesitate to use some of the stock plants. At least not without some tweaks. For en mass background populations however, they're hard to beat. They're flexible, they give a lot of variety and are quick to render. The terrain itself looks pretty slick too. The skies are also very convincing. In short, Vue 11 xStream can save you a lot of time.
Unfortunately, no software is perfect. To be entirely fair, here's a few things I didn't like about my Vue 11 xStream experience. Remember, these are coming from a new user perspective after only a few weekends spent tinkering.
In Vue 11 xStream there are libraries of plants, materials and assets that require a separate purchase (the Cornucopia assets). By default, these are displayed in the UI. I didn't like this as it made my software feel like an ad platform. However, other uses liked the convenience of immediately knowing what was available, even if it required a third party purchase (this behavior can be disabled by clicking on the ghost icon).
32-bit textures are also not yet supported. This rules out using 32-bit digital elevation maps from USGS. I found loading a large (16,000 x 16,000px) 32-bit tiff in the terrain editor caused a run-away memory leak. This is a huge texture I'll admit, but loading the 16-bit version of the same image was fine. Memory usage in the task manager went from just under 200mb (with the 16-bit texture) to over 11 gigs and climbing with the 32-bit texture. It's true, the 32-bit texture was larger (66 megs vs.40 megs) but it wasn't that much larger. Once I ran out of RAM I had to kill the Vue process.
The 32-bit texture problem was brought up to the Vue programmers and I have since been informed this behavior will be fixed in an upcoming patch. This brings up an important point:
Update your Vue! My initial review contained a lengthy list of bugs. After discussing my concerns with E-on representatives, we found that most problems were resolved by updating to the latest build.
Whether Vue 11 xStream is right for you depends on many factors:
If you already have Maya or (other high-end 3D hub), $1500 may sound steep for trees, terrain and a sky box generator. One might be tempted to get Mudbox and combine it with 32-bit DEMs from the USGS, along with Maya paintFX for vegetation turned to mental ray proxies (Google "Alex Alvarez Forest" or Alessandro Prodan). You could also snag a copy of World Machine. That's one possibility, however, don't be hasty...
While the Maya, Mudbox, Mentalray approach is the most flexible solution, it is also the most demanding. It requires a lot of time and technical skill. You may even have to write some MEL, Python and even a command-line shell script. You'll also have to wire up your own non-trivial shading networks. You'll get film-quality results, but at what cost? Are you already a mentalray guru? A VFX programmer? Do you have the time and technical skill to fill in any tool chain gaps?
Vue 11 xStream is another option. All the tools are already there. If you need decent looking outdoor shots on a budget (in terms of overall time) Vue 11 xStream is a good choice. There's no programming required to make fantastic renders. It's an artist-friendly approach that still retains a lot of power and flexibility for advanced users (there's even Python scripting support). You won't have the same level of flexibility as the other approach, but you'll finish the project much faster. For a one-man production this is often the best choice.
You can read more about Vue 11 xStream at:
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Kurt Foster (Modulok) falls somewhere between programmer and visual effects artist. When not sifting through technical manuals, he takes on freelance roles in both programming and visual effects, attempting to create a marriage of technical knowledge with artistic talent. He can be seen helping out on the Renderosity Maya forum, when time permits.
April 1, 2013
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