World Builder Pro 3.5
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 7 (July 2003)

World Builder Pro 3.5

By Douglas King

World Builder is a landscape generation program from Digital Element that enables users to make and place mountains and terrain details such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, then fill the resulting landscapes with a great variety of flora—all as precisely as anyone with a god-complex could desire. This tool is useful for game developers, digital artists, and visual effects artists who make digital mattes. With World Builder, you can invent fantastic new worlds or re-create your own backyard.

I have liked World Builder ever since its first release in 1995. While the latest version has a lot of great features, the new rain, snow, and 3D clouds lead the list. Rain and snow are simple enough to add to a scene. The library offers four pre-sets ranging from light rain to major storm. Once you drag and drop the precipitation into a scene, you can change all the parameters to suit your needs. Making rain into snow is easy: Snow is basically rain with higher air friction, rotation, and slower velocity settings.

World Builder allows users to create landscapes both fanciful and realistic. Image courtesy Allen Whitt.

The snow particles default as diamonds, though you can add included snowflake textures to change each flake into the tiny, intricate stars you used to make in grade school. This level of detail is fine for cartoon animation, but not for realistic simulations. The default diamonds, on the other hand, look great when made sufficiently small and placed far enough away from the camera.

The new 3D clouds look fantastic. If you like, you can fly through them for great-looking animations, but expect long render times. The 3D Clouds feature makes use of voxels. The more voxels, the better the clouds will look, but the trade-off is in increased render time.

To change the look of a cloud, you can adjust the Spheres Numbers slider, which adds secondary spheres around the primary cloud figure. You can also modify the shape of a primary cloud figure by using a Bezier curve in the Cloud Profile Dialog to adjust the upper portion of the cloud. And you can set procedural animation of the cloud by adjusting the Swirling slider.

Version 3.5 also offers a new surf model that uses particles to represent the foamy whitewash of oncoming and overturning waves. This provides a realistic look, though the setup does take some work. Your efforts will be partly reduced, however, if you use a new feature, the Water Wizard, which helps create river, lakes, and oceans. This Wizard is helpful and can get you started creating realistic-looking water until you get the hang of it and wish to venture out on your own.

One last new feature worth mentioning is RPF file export, which lets you save depth buffer information for use with Discreet's 3ds max and combustion software. There is no way to directly render animations, and instead you must render sequential still images—in the format of your choosing—then use the program's AVI Maker to compress the frames into an AVI.

In addition to all these positives, Version 3.5 has a few negatives. One is a complete lack of paper documentation. Everything comes as a PDF file, and what tutorials are offered are limited to basic features. Tutorials for the new features are forthcoming.

One particularly nagging problem is the long screen refresh time required whenever you move, make an adjustment to a menu, or scrub through an animation. Every open viewport is individually calculated, and, depending on the complexity of your scene and the speed of your computer, redraws can take minutes. The more rocks, trees, grass, and miscellaneous flora in a scene, the longer it will take. Add to that 3D clouds and rain or snow and screen refresh times really ramp up.

One tip toward shortening this refresh time when working with rain or snow is to reduce the number of screen particles to as few as 10. When you have made all your adjustments, you can then reset to the high number you wish for your final render.

World Builder is a program that requires extensive experimentation before you can begin creating exactly what you want. There are many detail controls and sliders and of course no documentation to advise you as to how the numeric sliders affect the scene. In World Builder's defense, though, I have found this to be the case with all landscape generation packages.

I love what can be created with World Builder; but not how long it takes to do it. The software has so many great features—if the programmers could figure a way to reduce screen recalculation and rendering time, World Builder would be a much more production-friendly tool.

Douglas King is a contributing editor based in Dallas, Texas. He is currently developing animated projects for his company, Day III Productions.


Digital Element

Price: $999

Minimum System Requirements: Windows 98/NT4/2000/XP; Pentium or compatible processor, 64mb of RAM