Electric Image Universe 5 is a highend 3D modeler and render/animation software system used by many major 3D studios and artists doing work in a wide array of visualization fields, from motion-picture special effects, to character animation, to industrial design and architecture. To its credit numerous block-buster hits like Star Wars Episode 1, Terminator 2, and Austin Powers: Goldmember--to name just a few--have been created using its software. Additionally, the rendering part of the system has been a long favorite of architectural rendering professionals who quite often model their work in form-Z and then render those models in Electric Image Universe. Given the nature of this site's audience (approximately half of which are practicing architectural professionals) we have taken a slightly different tack on how we reviewed this software. In particular, we wanted to see how the architectural audience might benefit from the latest version. This review is broken into two parts. Part 1 is more of the traditional review focusing on the product's overall qualities and new features. In Part 2 we go indepth a bit to provide an over-all sense of this product and discuss its capabilities.
Universe 5 - Part 1
Universe 5 consist of a collection (or suite) of individual applications each focusing on a particular part of the overall 3D media creation workflow. To call them a "suite" in the manner of Microsoft Office applications is a tad bit misleading. Unlike those truer suites Universe 5's disparate applications don't share a common set of application palettes or tool-bars nor is there a direct way to move from one application to the next. Additionally Universe Modeler uses a different file format than Universe Animator. When you are done with your modeling you export your work to the FACT file format--the native format of the Electric Image Animator program. None of these items are really that large of an issue--least of all file format exchange, as most 3D pipelines often consist of more than one program anyway.
However, our one key pet peeve was the subtle differences in the basics of the interface windows. Such things such as the way you Zoom, Pan, and Re-orient windows, for example, should really be the same from Modeler to Animator. Exactly the same. Animator happens to have tiny buttons on the bottom of each window--quite useful in fact--while Modeler doesn't. Modeler on the other hand has a useful Information bar or window at the bottom of the screen which provides helpful information, Animator doesn't. These are clear areas in our mind for future improvement.
Despite these minor issues the overall workflow in Universe 5 is solid, buttressed by an exceptional set of user-interface technologies. In fact, the slightly harsh tone above is really a reflection on just how great the interface is--just a few more improvements and it would be near perfection. There is more on the user-interface in Part 2.
Modeling. Modeler 5 is where you start your modeling project. It's a hybrid surfaces and solid modeling program with NURBS curves and UberNURBS support. 3D users like architects are vaguely familiar with NURBS and of course industrial designers rely on them, but many folks don't know what UberNURBS are. UberNURBS is Universe 5's subdivision surfaces modeling technology and allows you to create very organic or imaginative shapes quickly be pulling at points in a "control gage" over the object. Such tools are valuable to facial modeling and other organic shapes. UberNURBS is a resolution-independent format but there are some issues that users have to watch for when going between it and ACIS class format editing.
Modeler 5 has a full set of solids modeling technologies (basic solids like cubes, spheres and cones for example, all of which can be modified by the application's Boolean controls. For architects however the Modeler may frustrate this type of user. Unlike almost all CAD and architectural-specific modeling programs Modeler 5 lacks the dimensional controls at both the creation and--more importantly--placement levels. While it is possible to fully create architectural form in Modeler 5 (as is done by Lance Evans in his EI Master Series application tutorials) some basic items in the way wall forms come together at re-entrant corners make for more work than it is worth. However, not all is forsaken.
We discovered that because Modeler 5 supports IGES import and export it is possible for Macintosh-based architects to bring in architectural models (or virtual-building data) from CAD applications that support this format--such as Nemetschek North America's VectorWorks 10. In our tests we successfully brought in VectorWorks models into Modeler 5. Once inside Modeler 5 you could do a bit of Frank Gehry-esque modeling on top of more Cartesian-oriented architecture and then export that combined model data to Animator 5 for rendering. Other import options include FACT and SAT (text) file formats.
Rendering and Animating. Universe Animator 5 is where you set up your surface texturing, procedural shaders, lighting and animation settings. Like Modeler there are four windows by default each representing a different orientated view of the data. The top right screen is the Camera view. As you move a camera around in the top view, for instance, you see the active camera's view change. Getting the right camera view is easy. Universe 5 has new controls for cameras which allow for very precise viewing of the data, including new Match Move capabilities--useful to people in the motion picture industry. The Camera Information window includes tabs for controlling FOV attributes as well as motion characteristics.
Electric Image Universe 5 has extremely fast rendering. While no timed tests were done for this review the rendering speeds were excellent. It is clear that this is one of Universe 5's strengths. For architects interested in animating scenes--and generally interested in more advanced renderers--Universe 5 has a very complete toolset. Additionally, getting model data into Animator 5 from other programs is fairly easy. So it is not necessary to move your data into Universe Modeler 5, prior to rendering, as mentioned above. Other ACIS compliant programs can easily exchange data with Animator. A popular one is form-Z.
Import formats include: Autocad DXF, LightWave object format, Alias OBJ, 3DStudio Max format, and of course FACT. We would love to see them include "native" support for the other two large architectural CAD programs of the world: ArchiCAD and VectorWorks.
New Features in Universe 5
Electric Image Universe is already lauded for its industry-leading rendering speeds, with Universe 5 the company has added multiple processor support including MP support on Renderama, its network slave technology. This means you can utilize every processor on the network in both single and dual systems. In our quick tests the speed up with network rendering was nearly twice as fast, however we will have to wait for our new dual G5 Power Mac to test its dual-processor capabilities. Universe 5 now includes Radiosity 1.0. This new engine is seamlessly integrated into Animator 5 and allows you to choose between two different calculation solving techniques. Also new in Universe 5 is Macromedia Shockwave 3D export so you can bring your Universe work to the Web. And last but not least a major new addition is Match Move technology enabling Universe to track 3D camera data and object motion from videos and film.
System requirements for the Mac include a 300-Mhz or faster G3 or G4 processor, Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and a 32MB graphics card with OpenGL support and 256MB of RAM.
Next Page: Universe 5 - Part 2
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