Vue, e-on software’s environment-generation software, has just released Ver-sion 11.5. This software has been improving its feature list for some time and has become one of the most-used professional applications for the creation of realistic natural environments.
Vue is more of a family of applications. It comes in a myriad of versions with differing levels of features, everything from Vue Esprit for $199, all the way up to Vue xStream for $1,495, which includes all the features. Vue xStream also includes plug-ins for all the ma-jor software packages, which allow scenes to be transferred from Vue to applications such as Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Autodesk’s Maya, 3ds Max, and Softimage, among others. For this review, I looked at the top-end xStream version of the software.
As someone who uses a lot of Maya and 3ds Max, I found Vue fairly easy to work with, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. The interface presents the standard four viewports that most 3D applications present. Navigation in these viewports is a bit different than navigation in applications such as Maya or 3ds Max, but I soon got the hang of it. The interface has a number of icons along the top and sides, with a menu that duplicates a lot of these functions. Along the right side is a control panel that contains a scene browser, material selection, and other controls. Many of the editors for the software appear as floating windows. Documentation is offered mostly as a collection of PDF files, which makes it less interactive than most help systems.
Creating a scene in Vue starts with an atmosphere. Typically, you select a preset atmosphere with clouds, dust, and a time of day, then modify it to your needs. The atmosphere editor allows you to create custom atmospheres from scratch. If you want some weather, Vue offers ways to create individual clouds and rain.
Terrain can be as simple as a flat plane, or relief can be procedurally generated to simulate effects, such as mountains, river valleys, and canyons, among many more. For precise control, you can edit or create terrain using Vue’s terrain editor. This is very much like a 3D sculpting application, but with tools for creating hills, mountains, and even pebbles. Materials can be layered to create effects, such as strata. For features such as roads, Vue has tools to draw splines on a surface. These splines can also be used to carve physical features, such as canyons and river valleys.
Water can also be added into the scene, if desired. Vue offers a wide range of water types, from oceans to ponds. These water bodies can be animated, and they use physical water material that can control how light penetrates the surface of the water, leading to much more realistic renders. Effects, such as caustic refractions, can also be created, which can add some nice underwater effects, including refracted light beams.
Plants are probably one of the more interesting features of Vue, and are what re-ally give it power. The software comes with a large variety of plants from all over the world, as well as a few alien species. These can be used to create environments from most parts of the world. If you want to create your own plants, the plant editor can be used to change one type of plant into another. For those who really want to get serious about creating their own plants, separate software, called Plant Factory, is available.
Placing plants in the scene can be done using two methods. Plants, rocks, and other objects can be created individually as geometry. This can work just fine for simple scenes or for very specific objects. For anything but the simplest scenes, placing individual plants can become cumbersome. Large amounts of foliage, however, are much more efficient when painted into the scene using the EcoSystem Painter. This allows you to quickly populate a scene using rocks, plants, and objects. Brushes can paint single items or a combination of them. This method uses a much more efficient way of creating and rendering the objects, making scenes easier to navigate. Splines can also be used to place plants and other types of objects.
The software supports animation and physical effects, so you can create forces, (gentle breeze or wind), as well as bring bodies of water to life. Particle systems, such as rain and snow, can also be created using EcoParticles. New in v11.5 is the ability for these particle systems to interact with other objects in the scene. Animation of individual objects, such as cameras, can also be done. The keyframing options are fairly simple, so complex animations should probably be done in other packages.
As for other packages, the software does have plug-ins to allow scenes to be loaded and manipulated in most of the major packages. These packages can also render alongside Vue’s renderer. Maya and 3ds Max users can also use Chaos Group’s V-Ray and Mental Images’ Mental Ray to render.
Overall, Vue is an excellent way to create realistic environments. No other package has quite the range of features and ability to create realistic renders. It is definitely the choice for professionals wanting high-quality environments.
George Maestri is a contributing editor for CGW and president/CEO of RubberBug animation studio. He also teaches Maya for Lynda.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.