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Vue is a new program which can be used to create landscapes and which streamlines and pulls together the process of visualisation with a series of intuitive new functions.

Site modelling and entourage, vital to a successful visualisation, is often left to the last minute. Wouldn't it be great if there was a program that could streamline the process, leaving you with more time to get the building model right? Well, now there is.

Vue, from French developer e-on Software, is a mature and sophisticated solution for generating landscapes of all types and is used in some of Hollywood's top visual-effects houses. In addition, it does much of the thinking for you.

Version 6 has had a makeover, abandoning its garish, pearlescent interface for a more sober dark-grey look, but the icons remain too small. Speaking of interface, the program can now adapt itself to the shortcuts and interface colours of your preferred 3D program - be it Maya, XSI, 3D Studio MAX, Cinema 4D or LightWave. Other interface elements have also been improved, most notably the Transform 'widgets' for scaling, moving or rotating objects. These act more like those found in Maya or Modo, with all three functions embedded in the same widget - a great time-saver.

The first indication of Vue's way of doing things is when clicking on the 'New Scene' icon. You are immediately presented with a proprietary dialog with large full-colour thumbnail views of various 'Atmospheres'. This is what Vue calls 'Sky Environments'.

As standard, Vue ships with over 200 of these environments readymade. Adding them to your scene is a matter of a single mouse click. But you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that these are simply backdrops to your scene: they are true, physically accurate, volumetric atmospheres that will illuminate and cast shadows onto your model.

Many of the atmospheres in the browser are tagged with the legends 'AO', 'GI' or 'GR'. These show that the illumination models are Ambient Occlusion, Global Illumination or Global Radiosity, respectively, which are currently the most accurate models for real-world lighting and can reproduce effects such as scattered light and colour bleeding. However, their benefits are more readily seen in interior scenes than exterior - something to bear in mind given the longer render time of these lighting models compared to standard raytracing.

In addition to the Standard and Volumetric atmosphere models, Vue 6 has added a third model - Spectral. This allows for more interaction between various elements in the atmosphere - sunlight diffusing through water vapour, for instance. Vue's ability to set up these complex and accurate environments with a single click can't be overestimated.

Terrains can be set up in a number of ways. The standard method is to 'sculpt' a landscape using the Terrain Editor. This allows you to use the mouse - or better still, a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet and pen - to mould your terrain. You can raise or dig out land, set erosion parameters and choose base terrains as starting points - all great fun. But perhaps of greater interest to architects is Vue's ability to import existing data and use it to generate a site model. If you set your site contours as a greyscale bitmap, where white is highest and black is lowest, you can generate a terrain with just a few clicks.

Vue can also import DEMs (Digital Elevation Models) - the standard used by the US Geological Survey. One thing you won't see yet is the ability to pull terrain data from Google Earth . kmz files - although e-on Software has said that it is looking into the possibility.

The package doesn't feature any modelling tools apart from a few primitives, instead offering a wide variety of import options including the usual DXF, OBJ and VRML. It does have native 3DS import, complete with textures, although it is surprising that there is no FBX import. The real eye-opener in the import function, however, is the Poser import. It can preserve Posergenerated walk cycles, which makes dropping animated figures into your scene a breeze - although you'll probably be eyeing a render farm at this stage.

Planting has traditionally been a bugbear in visualisation.

True 3D plants take up a lot of memory and computing power. 2D plants (cut-outs) save on resources in 3D scenes, but just look wrong. Again, Vue rides to the rescue with its patented Ecosystems and SolidGrowth technologies.

A quick word here about Ecosystems. This is what Vue calls a collection of plants, rocks, water, etc. Vue 6 now enables you to paint your Ecosystem elements directly into a scene - in earlier versions they had to be expressly defined as a material. This is a more intuitive way of doing things, but you'll need a fast machine (2GHz or faster) to get the most out of it.

SolidGrowth generates trees, bushes, shrubs and plants using algorithms that ensure no two plant instances are ever repeated. Again, plant types are accessed via a browser, with a broad selection to get you started. Further plant types can be purchased at e-on's online store:

www. cornucopia3d. com Once a plant is placed, all its parameters can be tweaked via the Plant Editor dialog. As with Atmospheres, you can use any plant type as a basis for designing others and thus grow your library. The one parameter that seems to be missing is plant age - it would be nice to see how a planting scheme varies over time.

PROS One-click setup of complex environments;

direct import of DEM data for site modelling;

advanced, non-repetitive vegetation system;

paint-on Ecosystems;

ability to render huge data sets; and faithful import of geometry in most formats.

CONS No FBX import;

interface lacks polish and can be slow;

camera manipulation tools tricky to use; and some content must be paid for.

ADVICE Vue 6 Infinite is an extremely capable package, although it lacks polish in the interface. While it may seem geared towards visual effects, its ability to use DEM data will make site modelling more straightforward. The cheaper Vue 6 Esprit covers most of the features of its stablemate. Topflight hardware is mandatory to avoid frustration.

For more information about Vue see www. e-onsoftware. com Price: £461 excluding VAT (oating license)

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