Shade 7
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 2 (Feb 2005)

Shade 7

When I heard that the folks who made Poser 3D character creation software had a new product, I was interested immediately. Curious Labs, now a division of E Frontier Inc., was founded in Santa Cruz, California, in April 2000 and boasts 200,000 users worldwide. In fact, Shade is used by more than 70 percent of Japan’s 3D hobbyist and professional design markets.

Shade is offered in three flavors: Designer LE, Standard, and Professional editions, developed for everything from architectural design to 3D animation. Thanks to Shade’s intuitive tools and real-time operation, designs quickly come to life. The new version is easy to master, affordable, and rich in professional features. A comprehensive design, modeling, and rendering tool set, Shade 7 includes basic to advanced modeling, lighting, and rendering tools.

Shade 7 Professional offers a rich tool set. After an image is built and lit with the radiosity tools, you can output it using your choice of rendering engines.

Popular with power users, 3D animators, and artists, Shade 7 requires a fast CPU with lots of RAM. I tested the Standard and Professional versions on both a basic Windows PC and a Mac G4 PowerBook laptop. I found no difference between the Mac and Windows editions. Shade 7 proved easy to use and was equipped with enough tools and advanced features that most users might not outgrow it any time soon. Best of all, it is priced less than many similar software packages and provides a varied and flexible tool set. Shade also works well with other software programs through its support of an array of popular formats, including .OBJ. Moreover, it works almost seemlessly with Poser.

I successfully used the radiosity lighting and image/texture mapping features to create realistic-looking objects quickly. I was able to create a layout of a home addition in a snap. Easy to use and intuitive, Shade 7 also was fun to work with-something I can’t say of many applications today. And, at press time, Curious Labs unveiled a free update to Shade 7.2. A new feature in 7.2, Image Based Lighting enables users to render without the presence of any light source.

The Standard and Professional versions go further than LE, supporting High Dynamic Range Lighting import and export. With 7.2, Flash export is now available so you can save animations to the industry-standard .SWF format. In addition, all three versions of Shade 7 now have .OBJ import as well as .OBJ export, so users can populate their Shade scenes with even more content. According to the company, which periodically polls its user base for new tool ideas, .OBJ support was a popular request from end users. The Shade user base is also very active with a number of user Web sites and online forums to help ease any perceived learning curve.

After working with Shade 7 for just a short time, be it the Standard or the Professional version, I quickly became aware that it is a sophisticated suite of 3D tools for art, architecture, and design professionals; yet, even a beginner could come away with some good-looking results in a short time. While the learning curve can be a little daunting at first, a tutorial CD is included to get you started. Once you master Shade, there’s almost nothing that can’t be rendered.

The program’s advanced modeling tools enable you to visualize virtually any 3D design, whereas sophisticated lighting tools help you to render stunning imagery. And the resolution, whether intended for print applications or for animation, rivals that of photography, or even 35mm film.

Shade 7 provides professional utilities you can put to use right away. Well-thought-out 3D tools help you visualize whatever your mind’s eye sees. Advanced users requiring professional results can’t go wrong with Shade 7 Professional, whereas power users will enjoy the Standard version and those just getting started should investigate the LE package. Whether for video or print applications, Shade 7’s powerful tools will make accessible the magic of the 3D world, get you rendering highly realistic imagery, or help you lay out a multimillion-dollar estate in no time at all.

Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist, entertainer, and video creator living in Hawaii.

Curious Labs
Price: Shade 7 Designer LE $99, Standard $199, Professional $1009
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 2000 or XP on a Pentium II 300mhz system or Mac OS X 10.2/10.3 on a PowerPC G3, 256MB of RAM, 250MB free hard-disk space, a 24-bit color display with 800x600 resolution, and a CD-ROM drive.