My dog has acquired a taste for wood. I wasn’t particularly bothered when she restricted her timber-gnawing activities to fallen twigs and branches. When she began to eat my settee, however, I confess to a momentary loss of composure - due, in part, to the fact that I happened to be sitting on it at the time.
My previous dog, Bran, died very suddenly last September, a loss that I still feel bitterly to this day. Suffice to say Bran was a big, soft and beautiful Pyrenean Mountain Dog (aka ‘Great Pyrenees’) who never showed any interest whatsoever in eating the furniture. He did eat my month’s pay cheque once which was a bit embarrassing. But even Bran’s expensive tastes didn’t rival those of my new dog - an even bigger, softer and equally beautiful Pyrenean named Bethan. No sooner had she arrived in the house than she decided to set about testing her teeth on the legs of an elm-framed settee. There was no contest. The teeth won hands down.
Anyway, as a result, I have now moved out of my usual office in the upper storey of my house and down into the kitchen where I can type away on my laptop while keeping a very close eye on the proximity of the dog’s jaws to the few remaining bits of furniture which have not already succumbed to their masticatory activities.
Life down here in the kitchen is full of distractions. In addition to the constant sound of gnawing wood, there is the kettle which calls to me like a Siren tempting me to make tea or coffee rather than to sit down and work; there is the TV set with its eternal promise of minor celebrities sitting on sofas and burbling about how good they look in spite of hardly any plastic surgery worth mentioning; and there is the scenery beyond the window.
For those of you new to Rants and Raves, I should explain that I live in a secluded valley in the far wilds of North Devon in the South West of England. At the bottom of the garden there is a river; beyond the river there are trees and, just over the brow of the hill beyond the trees, there is the sea.
It’s a beautiful part of the world but it does have some disadvantages. One of these is mud, of which we have a prodigious quantity. Another is broadband, of which we have none - though the latest rumour is that we may be getting it in July. That’s ‘Broadband Britain’ for you - I’ve heard the slogan but I haven’t seen the broadband.
This is an example of an imaginary landscape in Vue 5 Esprit
As I glance through the window today all I can see are grey skies, skeletal trees and the miserable dripping fall of a cold, persistent, sleety drizzle. Which probably explains why I’ve decided to cheer myself up by exploring some ‘virtual’ scenery in preference to the real thing….
A ROOM WITH A VUE
I first used e-on Software’s Vue d’Esprit 2 back in 1998 (www.e-onsoftware.com). At the time, the most popular landscape generator was MetaCreations’ Bryce. At first sight, the thing that struck me most about Vue were the features it didn’t have. Unlike Bryce, it had no camera fly-through tool to create animations; it had fewer materials and surfaces; nor did have Bryce’s extraordinary user interface.
Actually, the lack of a Bryce-like interface was the thing that attracted me to Vue. When it comes to a user interface the less ‘extraordinary’ it is the better I like it. Bryce’s interface looked beautiful in screenshots but it was a bugger to work with. Vue’s interface, on the other hand, was a model of clarity with its menus, easy-to-use object hierarchy and multiple-view workspace.
Anyway, time passed and so did MetaCreations. In theory, MetaCreations morphed into Viewpoint (www.viewpoint.com). In practice, most of their products came close to morphing out of existence. As with so many homeless products before it, Bryce was temporarily acquired by Corel. It languished there for a while before finding a new home with Daz Productions (bryce.daz3d.com). But while Bryce was struggling for survival, e-on Software was steadily beavering away on new and improved versions of Vue. If the 1998 version of Vue lacked features, the 2005 version certainly does not.
In fact, there are currently two different versions of Vue available - Vue 4 Professional (it’s professional credentials being established by dispensing with all that Esprit malarkey) and Vue 5 Esprit (which, being a more frivolous beast, retains the Esprit but dispenses with the d’).
Before going any further, let me explain how Vue works. The first thing you do is set up a scene with a pre-designed atmosphere. The available atmospheres include daytime, evening and night-time skies with differing levels of haze, cloud cover and lighting effects. Each atmosphere has a descriptive name such as Wispy Winter, Death Valley or Masai Mara. You can either use an atmosphere as it is or you can make fine adjustments using a dedicated Atmosphere Editor which allows you to alter the size and colour of the sun, the amount of fog and cloud cover, lens flares, star density and so on.
Once you have your atmosphere, you can drop in a terrain which, once again, comes with a dedicated editor. The Terrain Editor lets you add canyons and dunes or dig and erode specific areas. Then you can start adding other objects to your scene including a decent variety of vegetation - everything from realistic palms, rubber plants and Baobab trees to bizarre ‘alien’ plants that defy description. Vue randomises elements of each plant you add so that no two plants of the same ‘species’ are identical.
You can easily create 3D logos in Vue 5 Esprit
One of the handy new features of Vue 5 Esprit is the addition of a 3D Text editor. This makes it easy to add create static or animated logos without having to go through the rather clunky text import mechanism used in Bryce and in earlier versions of Vue.
By now the more astute reader will no doubt be wondering how Vue 5 Esprit compares with e-on Software’s other product, Vue 4 Professional. Unfortunately, that is a question which e-on Software has specifically asked me not to answer. Indeed, they have gone to enormous length to discourage me from making any comparisons. One of the first things it says on the Vue 5 Reviewer’s Guide is: “Please don’t forget that Vue 5 Esprit should NOT be compared with Vue 4 Professional. Vue 5 Esprit is the follow up to Vue d’Esprit 4. The Esprit and Pro versions are two different products.”
Just in case I have a short memory, the Reviewer’s Guide concludes with this reminder (in bold): “As a final word, please don’t forget to compare Vue 5 Esprit with Vue d’Esprit 4, and NOT Vue 4 Professional.”
I used to have a teacher who told me NOT to do things in capital letters. “Collingbourne,” she would scrawl at the bottom of an essay, “You must NOT split the infinitive,” or “You must NOT stick chewing gum in Geraldine’s hair,” or “You must NOT use the term ‘boring old fart’ in reference to the poet Wordsworth.”
To this day, the word “NOT” to me is like a red rag to a bull or an elm-framed settee to a Pyrenean Mountain Pup. Telling me that I must NOT compare Vue 5 Esprit with Vue 4 Professional, is nothing more nor less than provocation. So here goes then…
GROW YOUR OWN
Well, the first thing that has to be said is that, at first sight, Vue 4 Professional looks almost identical to Vue 5 Esprit. Who knows, maybe that’s why they don’t want me to compare them? Scraping beneath the surface, however, it soon becomes apparent that Vue 4 Professional has a good many extra goodies too. For example, it provides a scripting capability using the Python language. A number of ready to run scripts are provided to perform tasks such as creating and animating waves or filling a landscape with a forest. The excellent 460 page Vue manual devotes about 90 pages to the classes and functions that can be accessed in Python code. This supplements the Python programming documentation available online (www.python.org). Unfortunately, Vue does not provide any integrated editing or debugging tools so developing new scripts is not quite as easy as it should be.
Vue 4 Professional includes this useful plant editor
Another great feature of the Professional edition is its plant editor This lets you create new plants or alter existing ones by setting parameters to adjust the size, shape and appearance of the stems, branches and leaves. You can also export plants in various formats for use in other 3D packages such as Cinema 4D, trueSpace and 3D Studio Max.
Many other Pro features are less obvious, such as its full scene export and synchronization of camera and light with other 3D applications including Lightwave and SoftImage, some additional compositing and rendering options and support for network rendering. On the other hand, there are a few features that Vue 5 Esprit has that are lacking from Vue 4 Professional. Most obvious of these is the ability to create and edit 3D text. This is just one of the features that will appear in the recently announced ‘above-Pro’ edition which, just to confuse matters, is going to be called Vue 5 Infinite ($599). Version 5 of the Pro edition costs $399, while Vue 5 Esprit costs $249.
Incidentally, Bryce and Vue aren’t the only landscape generators around. If you are interested in this kind of thing, be sure to try out Terragen (www.planetside.co.uk). Available for both Mac or Windows, Terragen is capable of producing superb results and, best of all, it’s free. The main downside is that it doesn’t specialise in user friendliness. You can load up Vue and start designing landscapes right away. But you probably won’t get far with Terragen until you’ve devoted some serious study to its manual and online tutorials.
Mojoworld is another remarkable program (www.pandromeda.com). Not content with generating mere scenery, Mojoworld creates entire worlds. Whereas most landscape programs create maybe a few ‘acres’ of landscape which is laid out by the user, Mojoworld creates planets of enormous complexity. Instead of landscaping your few acres, the Mojoworld user goes travelling around a planet in search of ‘good locations’. It’s not an entirely random process of design, however. You can set a large number of parameters to define a world and you can also import objects to dress up a location once you’ve found it. All the same, Mojoworld is a very different beast from Bryce, Vue and Terragen. Both innovative and addictive, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s certainly worth a look. For a taste of it, you can download a free Mojoworld Viewer which lets you explore existing Mojoworld planets. If you want to create your own planets, the complete Mojoworld package costs from $199. You can read more about Mojoworld in a previous Rant.
If you happen to program with Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET you may have wondered why it insists on installing the J# language whether you want it (which is unlikely) or not. Being one of life’s great conspiracy theorists, I had assumed that this was all part of some fiendish Microsoft plot to undermine Sun’s Java strategy by forcing people to use the Microsoft version of the Java language. After all, relations between Microsoft and Sun have not been entirely cordial over the past few years after the two companies spectacularly fell out over Microsoft’s previous Java implementation, Visual J++.
However, my conspiracy theorising appears to be off target this time. According to Aaron Stebner’s Weblog it was all a horrible mistake. It turns out that J# should have been an option rather than a requirement but the team writing the Visual Studio setup program (Stebner was one of them) didn’t have enough time to do this so J# was bunged in as a default.
And on a lighter note…. Get a load of these lyrics: “When I say his white teeth gnashing is just a sign he knows what passion is….”; or how about these, “[Gorgonzola is] very labour saving when a dinner party comes. You leave it on the table and it eats up all the crumbs.” Ah, they don’t write songs like that any more. To save you the frustration of guessing, I can tell you that these are not Bruce Springsteen songs. No, not U2, Pink Floyd, Meatloaf or ABBA either. These lyrics are, in fact, taken from popular songs of the 1920s and ‘30s as recorded by the extremely wonderful Jack Hylton orchestra.
Before rock'n'roll there was Jack Hylton. Absolutely oojah cum spiff!
I’ve written previously, in my old Rants and Raves column in PC Plus magazine, about the superb Jack Hylton web site which lets you listen online to a vast library of historic recordings. However, now that Rants has itself gone online, let me give you a direct link: www.jackhylton.com. This is wonderful stuff. Enjoy!