Eovia Carrara 4 Standard/Pro review
3D modelling is a complex and expensive field, and often seems completely impenetrable for anyone who isn’t already in the know. And that’s exactly where Carrara comes in, offering a product aimed at those starting off in 3D design – as well as the majority of us who have to work within limited budgets.
Not that this means Carrara is a cut-down application. Carrara has a pedigree stretching right back to the beginning of PC-based 3D, as the program was created from the merger of pioneers Ray Dream Studio and Infini-D. The downside is an idiosyncratic interface built on separate rooms for assembling, modelling, animating, texturing and rendering. The plus side is an amazing amount of power that includes a wide range of primitives, hands-on vertex, spline and metaball-based modelling, tree-based shader handling, IK (inverse kinematics) based character animation, built-in dynamics and photorealistic raytraced rendering complete with global illumination and caustics support. Carrara even tackles the task that most other 3D modellers shy away from – the natural modelling of realistic scenes with dedicated handling of terrains, trees, clouds, environments and so on.
The modelling power is undeniable but there’s still plenty that could be done to make the process more user-friendly. Carrara 4 takes two small but welcome steps with its new onscreen manipulators that help position, scale and rotate objects either freely or along a single axis, and the new ability to use nudge keys. Just as essential, and opening up whole new areas, is the new support for alpha handling in the Texture room enabling the creation of masked shaders and varying transparency. You can also now apply shaders to groups and quickly transform cylindrical, spherical and flat-mapping shaders.
These shader transforms are particularly handy for animation – a major focus in this latest release. Improvements have been made both to the Timeline’s keyframe editing and to motion path handling (these can now be moved as a whole). The biggest changes are to character animation, where the new support for multiple morph targets per mesh lets you make characters talk and emote, while an overhaul of the bones system, with new IK Chain Tool, IK Target Helper and Ball Socket constraint, help you bring your figures to realistic life. Poser users can also take advantage of the new TransPoser plug-in (£89) to import their models and animations.
Many of the biggest advances in Carrara 4 come from the great improvements to the already impressive terrain and environment handling. Terrains are handled as special objects based on an underlying bitmap, which can now be up to 8,192 x 8,192 pixels in size. These can be imported, based on presets, created with generators and filters or painted directly complete with new real-time 3D feedback. What really makes the difference though is the new multilayer Terrain shader that lets you control advanced texturing, such as the distribution of snow, based on factors of altitude and slope. You can also create more realistic skies in which to set your landscapes, thanks to greatly improved physical simulations of clouds, haze, fog and the sky itself, which is now coloured according to the sun – based on time or position.
The results are impressive and verge on the photorealistic quality of scenes produced by dedicated natural modellers, such as Vue. But not quite. While the scenes are impressive, they look more obviously computer generated, especially when it comes to vegetation. And that’s generally the case with Carrara: you do eventually hit a ceiling on what you can achieve. For the price, that’s not surprising, but it’s important to recognise that while the program is great for producing an introduction to a corporate video, you’re not going to produce a Hollywood movie with it.