Carrara has one of the longest pedigrees of all PC-based 3D software (it was created from the merger of the pioneering Ray Dream and Infini-D) and has built up a loyal and growing following by offering an excellent all-round budget solution. This isn’t the limit of Eovia’s ambitions however and, with major improvements across the board, Carrara 5 and Carrara 5 Pro are being pushed increasingly up-market.
To succeed in this, Eovia first has to tackle Carrara’s idiosyncratic and antiquated interface built around a metaphor of separate “rooms” for assembling, modeling, texturing, animating and rendering. In this latest release the separate rooms remain – helping early progress but hindering advanced use – but otherwise the interface has been thoroughly overhauled. To begin with, the layout has been redesigned with the Browser sensibly moving centre stage at the bottom of the screen to provide access to a much wider range of presets. At the same time the faster OpenGL-based onscreen rendering and the ability to maximize windows, dock toolbars, customize keyboard shortcuts and navigate scenes with a 3-button mouse all add to the general streamlining.
Another boost to efficiency is the Model Room’s new universal 3D manipulator for interactively moving, scaling and rotating. This is just the first of many introductions lifted directly from Eovia’s award-winning modeler Hexagon. Other borrowings include a whole raft of new tools and commands – Paint, Lasso, Loop, Ring, Between, Inverse, Shrink and Grow – that make it much easier to set up polygonal selections, including soft selections, and another raft – Cut, Bevel, Boolean and so on – with which you can transform them. Carrara 5’s subdivision surface handling has also been made much faster and more interactive and now supports separate smoothing levels for modeling and rendering. And for spline-based modeling Carrara 5 now offers a range of new 2D Curve tools again imported from Hexagon.
Carrara doesn’t just offer traditional mesh and spline-based object modeling, it also offers advanced naturalistic modeling including dedicated terrain and plant handling. Powerful new options here include Object Replicator and Surface Replicator tools which can be used for quickly creating forests and cityscapes; support for true volumetric clouds to help bring the preset atmospheres to life; and a massively improved Particle Generator that now supports Metaballs, for producing fluid effects such as fountains, and modeled objects, for producing effects such as shoals of fish and falling leaves.
With advanced organic capabilities Carrara 5 offers all-round 3D power.
To populate the scenes that you create Carrara 5 now offers improved character rig handling with automatic defaults and customizable control for joint orientation and the ability to interactively paint weights onto your model’s skeleton to control how bones deform the model’s surface when repositioned. This is serious power but it’s seriously intimidating and most users will prefer to take the easy route – Carrara 5 now natively supports Poser PZ3 files. Sadly this feature wasn’t working in the late beta under test but the promised support looks impressive even importing bones and morph targets so that you can animate your models directly within Carrara. You don’t even have to have Poser installed on your system.
It’s not just Carrara 5’s modeling capabilities that have been transformed, the Texture Room’s material editor has been redesigned and now offers previews at each level of the shader tree. The functionality on offer has been overhauled too with support for anisotropic lighting to reproduce surfaces such as CDs; subsurface scattering to simulate surfaces such as skin; and the fresnel effect to more faithfully reproduce transparent surfaces viewed at an angle. Even more impressive is Carrara 5’s new support for displacement mapping, which takes texture mapping into modeling territory, and ambient occlusion, which simulates global illumination by controlling the amount of light that surfaces receive depending on surrounding objects. And for fly-through camera animations the ability to re-use lighting solutions cuts render time dramatically and removes flickering.
Both Carrara Standard and Pro add vertex modeling functionality.
This is all serious power but, if you’re looking for more, Eovia offers Carrara Pro 5. This bundles in three formerly separate plug-ins to enable the direct import of various CAD format files, the import of Poser models and animations including dynamic clothes and dynamic hair, and distributed network rendering. In this latest release Carrara Pro 5 also offers new Hexagon-inspired tools for working with edges and surfaces, the ability to save and load irradiance maps to boost rendering speed and the crucial ability to control animations via graphical motion curves. Otherwise the major enhancements involve integration with other applications most notably AfterEffects for compositing, Motion Builder for advanced character animation and MatchMover Pro and Syntheyes for synchronizing rendering to existing video.
The additions certainly make Carrara Pro 5 a better choice than the standard version for use in a production environment – and at more than double the price so they should. However for full-time professional modelers software cost is unlikely to be a major constraint and Carrara Pro just doesn’t compete with high-end solutions such as Maya and Lightwave or Cinema 4D with its add-on modules. Instead where Carrara comes into its own is in its standard version and for occasional users. Here, with major advances on so many fronts, the amount of 3D power that the latest Carrara 5 now offers is extraordinary – and not just for the price.