Cadalyst Labs Review: Visualization for Any Budget30 Sep, 2005 By: Ron LaFon Cadalyst
New Tools Help Communicate Design Intent
In August's survey of visualization software (www.cadalyst.com/0805viz/), I noted that several applications were still in development and not quite ready for evaluation. As things often go, two of the products—Artlantis R and Camtasia Studio 3—were released just as I submitted that article, so I'll cover them here.
Visualization software continues to be developed at a fast pace. Plenty of options are available, and more are coming regularly. Whatever your team's specific needs are, you'll likely find one or more applications to suit them. This competition and active development ultimately results in applications with greater feature depth.
Prices for visualization applications range from moderate to expensive. If you don't generate revenue from your visualizations, it's often difficult to justify even moderate expenditures for these sophisticated tools. If that's the case, you may want to investigate two free products that Cadalyst reader Kelly Lasse brought to our attention. Blender 3D is an open source 3D modeling, rendering and animation application available from www.blender3d.org. Yafray is a radiosity-capable rendering package available at www.yafray.org. Yafray also incorporates a gaming engine.
Yafray is a ray tracer that lets you create images and animations of photorealistic quality. Features include full global illumination, skydome and HDRI illumination, caustics, real DOF (depth of field) and glossy/blurry reflections. Using Yafray in conjunction with Blender 3D, users can create a range of visually arresting visualizations for free. Though these two programs may not have every feature needed, the price is certainly right—and both have active user communities that can provide help. These are amazingly sophisticated applications that can produce great visualizations.
Whether you want visualizations to appear as hyper-realistic, hard-edged, computer-generated images or as softer looking renderings that mimic traditional artistic media, you can find the tools to accomplish what you desire. As noted in August's roundup, getting from concept to a clearly and artistically created visualization of that concept is now more feasible than ever before. If not always easy to produce, such renderings can clearly communicate your ideas to others.
You may be familiar with the ABVENT group, most likely from its Artlantis Render product. Created in 1985 in Paris, France, with subsidiary companies now scattered around the world, ABVENT has released the successor to Artlantis Render—Artlantis R.
Targeted at architects, interior designers, space managers and landscape designers, Artlantis R offers the CAD world computing speed, rendering quality and low price with a streamlined, easy-to-use interface. Artlantis R is an ideal tool for performing very high-resolution rendering in real time. The new FastRadiosity engine computes images in radiosity, even in preview. Another innovative feature of Artlantis R is that users drag and drop 3D objects and vegetation directly into the preview window to work on different scenarios quickly and to simulate virtual scenes in a real environment.
Rendering was created with Artlantis R from ABVENT.
The Artlantis R Selective Display Accelerator allows, with the OpenGL display booster, interactive handling of scenes that can reach several million polygons. It selects the most significant faces to display so that users can interactively manage the model. In addition, the Object Manager can handle, in either 2D or 3D, objects with graphic controls that can depend on different scene-specific factors (hierarchy, catchpoint, season, etc.). For example, vegetation can change depending on the season.
Artlantis technology is available in three main versions suited to different needs and practices. Artlantis R is designed for high-quality rendering. ARTLANTIS CLASSIC, which is geared more towards professionals who place a premium on spatial arrangements, is ideal for lower budgets.
Artlantis R Windows interface shows the object inspector.
Artlantis Studio serves as an ideal tool for high-resolution rendering of images as well as animations and virtual-reality panoramas.
Artlantis uses shader libraries and includes a variety of such shaders in its standard library. Others are available for free download from the Artlantis Web site. To complement the standard library, Abvent offers CD-ROMs with theme collections designed specially for Artlantis by industry partners or independent designers. These provide a multitude of materials, textures and objects.
The Artlantis interface is clean and easy to use, with tool options that become available when a category is chosen.
Reasonably priced at $595, Artlantis R is available in six different languages for Windows and Macintosh OS X systems. Minimum system requirements for Windows are a PC with an Intel Pentium 4 CPU running at 1.5GHz, 512MB of RAM, Windows XP, an OpenGL graphics card with at least 64MB of memory, a network card and Apple QuickTime 6.x. The recommended PC configuration is a 3GHz or faster Intel Pentium 4 processor, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP SP2, an OpenGL-compatible graphics card with at least 128MB of RAM, a network card and QuickTime 6.x. Artlantis R v1.01 became available during the course of this evaluation.
Camtasia Studio 3
Price: $299; $149 educational version
Visualization software can take many forms, as shown by TechSmith's new Camtasia Studio 3 software. Camtasia Studio provides professors, teachers and instructional designers with a professional and easy-to-use solution for recording lectures and online coursework without the need for multimedia or programming expertise.
This two-minute Camtasia Studio video shows how to use the new dynamic block authoring environment in AutoCAD 2006
New in this release of Camtasia Studio 3 are PIP (picture-in-picture), quizzing and other interactive features designed to help create robust, on-demand e-learning content.
Camtasia Studio's full-motion recording allows educators to record live in-room lectures when using a PC, Tablet PC, Wacom tablet or interactive whiteboard. All inking and marking is recorded, even when using PowerPoint, along with the educator's audio and camera feed. This content can be posted online as Flash (SWF) or streaming media files for students and colleagues to view at their convenience or for distance-learning courses.
Another new feature in Camtasia Studio 3 is quizzing, which allows organizations to assess learning with multiple-choice quizzes. Answers can be reported back to SCORM-compliant learning management systems. Interactive callouts give users one-click control to make any callout a hotspot for interactive navigation.
Camtasia Studio 3 includes 30 days of free third-party Web hosting for videos, with additional monthly contract options. JPEG compression for Flash (SWF) is also incorporated, so users can significantly reduce SWF file size for graphically intensive recordings such as photographs, CAD drawings and other complex graphics.
Camtasia Studio Screen Capture presents a simple, easy-to-understand interface.
Other features include automated publishing—a new production wizard aids educators in publishing videos optimized for e-mail or DVD sharing. Also incorporated are faster audio editing and the ability to include additional audio and video tracks.
Camtasia Studio 3 offers three basic categories of functions. Record records the screen in full-motion video and also records Web cam video, voice narration and system audio. Camtasia Studio also provides a PowerPoint plug-in to effortlessly record an entire live PowerPoint presentation. Enhance puts full professional editing at your fingertips with an easy-to-use task pane. It can further enhance videos with Flash hotspots and callouts.
Publish includes tools for adding menus, title screens and a table of contents to your videos. With Camtasia's support for popular video file formats, it's easy to publish videos online or on CD-ROM.
Microsoft uses Camtasia Studio to create narrated screen recordings for its Microsoft Office online demos. In addition, Autodesk uses it to create multimedia product demonstrations, training and sales presentations for customers, partners and colleagues.
Camtasia Studio 3 supports Windows 2000/XP with DirectX 9.0 or later. You can import digital video formats such as AVI, MPEG, MPG and WMV into Camtasia Studio videos. Web cameras for capturing live video and microphones for capturing audio are available for purchase separately.
Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.