Eovia Carrara 5 review
Carrara has one of the longest pedigrees of all PC-based 3D software. Created from the merger of the pioneering Ray Dream and Infini-D, it’s built up a loyal and growing following by offering an excellent all-round budget product. This isn’t the limit of Eovia’s ambitions, however, and, with major improvements across the board, Carrara 5 and Carrara 5 Pro are being pushed increasingly upmarket.
To succeed at this, Eovia first has to tackle Carrara’s idiosyncratic and antiquated interface built around a metaphor of separate ‘rooms’ for assembling, modelling, texturing, animating and rendering. In this latest release, the separate rooms remain – helping early progress but hindering advanced use – but otherwise the interface has been thoroughly overhauled. To begin with, the layout has been redesigned, with the browser sensibly moving centre stage at the bottom of the screen to provide access to a much wider range of presets. At the same time, the faster OpenGL-based onscreen rendering and the ability to maximise windows, dock toolbars, customise keyboard shortcuts and navigate scenes with a three-button mouse all add to the general streamlining.
Another boost to efficiency is the Model Room’s new universal 3D manipulator for interactively moving, scaling and rotating. This is just the first of many introductions lifted directly from Eovia’s award-winning modeller Hexagon. Other borrowings include a raft of new tools and commands – Paint, Lasso, Loop, Ring, Between, Inverse, Shrink and Grow – that make it much easier to set up polygonal selections, including soft selections. Another set – Cut, Bevel, Boolean and so on – allow you to transform them. Carrara 5’s subdivision surface handling has also been made faster and more interactive and now supports separate smoothing levels for modelling and rendering. And for spline-based modelling, Carrara 5 now offers a range of new 2D Curve tools.
Carrara doesn’t just offer traditional mesh and spline-based object modelling; it also offers advanced naturalistic modelling techniques, including dedicated terrain and plant handling. Powerful new options here include Object Replicator and Surface Replicator tools, which can be used for quickly creating forests and cityscapes; support for true volumetric clouds to help bring the preset atmospheres to life; and an improved Particle Generator that now supports Metaballs, for producing fluid effects such as fountains, and modelled objects, to create effects such as shoals of fish and falling leaves.
To populate the scenes you create, Carrara 5 offers improved character rig handling, with automatic defaults and customisable control for joint orientation and the ability to paint weights onto your model’s skeleton to control how bones deform the model’s surface when repositioned. This is serious power, but it’s intimidating and most users will prefer to take the easy route – Carrara 5 now natively supports Poser PZ3 files. Sadly, this feature wasn’t working in the late beta under test, but the promised support looks impressive.
It isn’t just Carrara 5’s modelling capabilities that have been transformed; the Texture Room’s material editor has been redesigned and now offers previews at each level of the shader tree. The features on offer have been overhauled too, with support for anisotropic lighting to reproduce surfaces such as CDs, subsurface scattering to simulate surfaces such as skin, and the fresnel effect to more faithfully reproduce transparent surfaces viewed at an angle. Even more impressive is Carrara 5’s new support for displacement mapping, which takes texture mapping into modelling territory, and ambient occlusion, which simulates global illumination by controlling the amount of light that surfaces receive depending on surrounding objects. And for fly-through camera animations, the ability to reuse lighting cuts render time dramatically and removes flickering.