Terragen 3 Coming Soon – Win 1 of 5 Copies

terragen 3 depth of field

Win a copy of Terragen 3 Professional

Back on the 13th of June Planetside Software announced Terragen 3. Don’t expect it in months. Expect it any day now. No specific date was set but July 2013 is the nominated month. It will be available in three versions, “Professional”, “Creative”, and, in keeping with Planetside’s business model, a free version. To promote the upcoming release there are five copies of the program up for grabs – subscribe to the Terragen 3 blog for your chance to win.

Terragen – the brief

To give a little background on the program, Terragen is a 3D terrain and natural scenery creation and rendering program. Matt Fairclough was responsible for the first versions of the program, and continues its development alongside a small team. The history of Terragen is not easy to precisely trace. The oldest version I could dig up was version 0.4. This limited feature demo version is copyrighted 2008, but the ZIP archive contained files as old as 1996, so there could well have been a public release older than this.

Since these early days Terragen has gone on to develop industry standard features and tools that have seen it put to work generating and rendering environments and terrain for film, television and games. Some examples include the recent Man of Steel and at least as far back as 2003’s Gospel of John, and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.

Terragen has been providing some very good tools for its price for some time now. One aspect that will appeal to many 3D enthusiasts new and old (and just about anyone in the business) is the scalable nature of the program, which can handle everything from the creation of entire planets right down to highly detailed ground level scenes, and even macroscopic style plant renders.

Other key features include: volumetric clouds and realistic atmospheric effects; procedural terrains; large-scale instancing (perfect for quickly generating large vegetated areas); overhanging geometry; global illumination; support for planet scale, and finely detailed but large displacements; anti-aliasing and motion blur; HDR output; node based texture/shader editor.

terragen 3 spherical cameraTerragen 3 features

Reportedly, the price of Terragen 3 is set to increase over previous versions, but as of yet no details have emerged. There is no comprehensive feature list and details about which version of the program will/won’t have access to which features is not yet available. One confirmed feature restriction was that “Creative” won’t have the layered render tools.

The tried and true, though sometimes complex user interface of Terragen has returned much unchanged for all versions of T3. For some this will undoubtedly be disappointing, but a relief for seasoned vets. Terragen is not one of those 3D apps that novices can just dive in and have a tinker and a play, well not for most. Most users would be best directed to hit YouTube or the Planetside forums for some tutorials and pointers.

For Poser/DAZ Studio users, and modellers everywhere the incorporation of FBX support will be a huge plus. What, if any sort of posing tools will be included is not clear, but more advanced export options will always be welcome. Fingers crossed that some form of SSS support will be included.

terragen 3 improved global illumination

Confirmed Features

  • Comprehensive layer and render element output
  • Enhanced 3D preview
  • Updated Global Illumination
  • Improved population control including per-instance editing and color variation
  • Support for FBX and other industry-standard data interchange formats
  • Performance enhancements for localized cloud rendering
  • Object mesh deformation
  • Content library for organizing and accessing scene files, objects, and textures
  • Enhanced DEM format and georeferencing support
  • New spherical camera
  • Depth of Field blur
  • Linux render node

For many, the price of Terragen, when compared to the likes of the feature rich versions of Vue, is well worth the extra time it takes to learn the program, and with these updates it could well be on its way to becoming a serious competitor for many more users. I’ll certainly be carefully watching for more feature and price announcements. Don’t forget to sign up to the blog subscription for your chance to win one of those copies.

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A New Dawn Due This Weekend… For Some

Update: HiveWire3D announces Dawn Release Date 9th August. Store now open.

Dawn to heal the split in the DAZ and Poser community?

A good number of you have likely heard the rumblings about a new female figure that is both Poser and DAZ Studio compatible. If you’re a regular on DAZ and Poser FB pages, or the Renderosity and RuntimeDNA forums, you could well know a good deal about this new figure by now. If you tend to get your news from the DAZ forum, or somewhere way down the deepest darkest reaches of the grapevine, this might all be a new revelation for you.

The new lady’s name is Dawn, and an upstart mob known as HiveWire3D are her creators. With a public announcement made just back on the 20th of June it looks like the release is only around the corner. Dawn will be free for a limited time after release.

There was a moment of excitement when I went to check HiveWire3D’s Facebook page for updates. There was something that looked a lot like a release announcement: “Final version of Dawn to be ready by end of this week! Once she is in hand, we’ll announce her release date and get things moving with all interested content creators.” Of course, without coffee in hand, I took this to mean that she would be released by the end of the week. No dice! Content creators will get their hands on her first, and then we’ll hear about the general release. It makes sense that a new figure should be released with a certain amount of content and vendor interest from day one. Runtimes can be very unkind to a figure without a wardrobe.

 

 So, who is Hivewire3D

This is a question that troubled me some. The initial announcement indicated that the team contained the talents of the creator responsible for Victoria and Michael line of figures. But, who is this mysterious individual? Google turns up very little when you look for the creator of these figures, but after a couple of hours I finally realised I should be looking for who is behind HiveWire3D, not Victoria (durrr). So, Eric Merritt turns up, and then, following soon after, is Christopher Creek, who IS the man responsible for the figures in question.

Eric and Christopher [edit – also e-commerce and marketing guru Steve Kondris], HiveWire3D’s founders, have a long history in the industry spanning back to the top echelons of DAZ 3D, and Zygote Media Group. Among many other more impressive feats, Zygote is responsible for a number of early Poser figures. If you’re a DAZ/Poser trivia buff you will undoubtedly know a split within Zygote resulted in the birth of DAZ Productions. So it’s clear, these guys are not new kids on the block. They know their stuff inside and out.

But what about Dawn?

Enough history and more about our new lady. She isn’t technically compatible with both programs, well not in a singular package, and that’s due to the different weight mapping solutions employed by DAZ Studio and Poser. So, what we really have is two identical figures except one is weighted for Poser and the other for DS. If I’m not mistaken this means that content creators will have a relatively simple time in ensuring their products work for both versions of the figure, at least as far as fitting goes. When it comes to materials, many a vendor would rather walk through burning buildings than go to the lengths of creating two sets for two very different rendering programs. Still, given the differences between the two programs, this is probably the only real way to have a universal figure with all the flexibility it was intended to include at design.

As good as DSON is, it just can’t beat a Poser native weighted figure for performance and flexibility. For many it is close enough, especially for those that happily use both programs.

Weight maps

Being a weight mapped figure, Dawn will conform to the new standards Poser and DS users have come to expect. Although with unweighted Victoria and Michael (and the others) still making up a large proportion of figures in use (not to mention selling!), for some, Dawn might be a first when it comes to serious work/play with weighted figures. Oh, what you users will realise you’ve been missing all this time! As you can see from the images she has plenty of well-defined details, and has nice natural bending in the joints.

Posable

In addition to all the usual movable and posables, Dawn also has a posable jaw (not reliant on morphs), and individually posable toes (Genesis 2/Victoria 6 also has these features). Unlike any figure I have seen, she comes with two sets of eyelashes – one regular and the other “super long” for those fantasy characters. Looking at the image of the ear it seems the figure is designed with subdivision in mind. Dawn seems to be a slightly higher poly figure than the base Genesis 1/2, but a single level of subdivision should be fine on most systems, and then perhaps another at render time for larger images. Over all Dawn appears to have a good level of geometry detail for most uses typical to DS and Poser applications, and looks set to make a valuable addition to runtimes on both sides of the software border.

 

Reality support

Paolo Ciccone has thrown the support of Reality behind Dawn, and has added her material zones to Reality 3 and is working on ACSEL shaders for Reality 2. These additions will be free. Paolo states the goal is to have “excellent renders of Dawn straight out of the box for all Reality users.” Given the creators humorous comments (intentionally so?), likening Victoria 4’s domination of runtimes everywhere to a looming potato famine, and his mute indifference to Genesis, his enthusiasm for Dawn is no surprise.

Destined to succeed, or another figure to the tomb?

New figures are nothing new to the DAZ/Poser community, but few, especially independent ones, tend to go on to live full healthy and broadly supported lives. Antonia is one of the more recent examples of a great figure fighting a valiant fight, but ultimately failing to take off. The figure came in both weight mapped (Poser 9+) and unweighted (Poser + DAZ) varieties, and was Posers best hope for a current weight mapped figure. Her site and dedicated store is all but abandoned, and the other retailers like Runtime DNA and Renderosity only have a handful of compatible products on their shelves.

What is to say that Dawn won’t go down this street? First and foremost, experience. Between them, Eric Merritt and Christopher Creek have a lot of experience, not just putting quality products together, but in managing and growing businesses and communities. Ensuring Dawn is 100% finished before release seems a priority, as is getting solid content creator support. Both of these factors can only lead to a launch that will be as successful as it can be. Enthusiastic and innovative content creators will turn heads.

A big factor in getting people in right from the start will be the limited time free release. This will undoubtedly have a positive feedback for content creators and the community at large. Finally, given the current state of scene with the generation 4/Genesis/Genesis 2 split, now might just be the perfect time for a new cross compatible figure to emerge. It is unlikely that Dawn will be the extinction event for any of these figures, but she could well become a viable alternative. Who knows what the future will bring.

One anomaly is that HiveWire3D’s figures are and will be without genitals. One of the stated reasons for this decision is that they want to pursue business and educational channels in the future. To me, it seems strange to offer a product that isn’t anatomically correct when educational channels are being perused, but then again I can imagine some problems occurring during high school 3D arts classes. For a large portion of the community this won’t pose a problem, but for instances where full or partial nudity is required it will involve a greater degree of creativity, and perhaps expense, to get the figures ready for these uses. To me this rings puritanical, or pandering to these sensibilities, but then I’m not the one attempting to launch a new figure/content business.

All the best to HiveWire3D and their soon to be released Dawn. May it be the first of many.

At the time of writing HiveWire3D’s website was unavailable, apparently still under construction, but according to a message on their FB group we can expect to see it up very soon.

Getting Excited For SIGGRAPH 2013

I’m doing that thing where one try’s to do a million things at once, like some kind of human blender taking the tiniest of chunks out of each task as I pass by. So, work is getting done, but is this the most efficient I can be? Probably not. Anyway, I thought I’d do a quick obligatory getting excited for SIGGRAPH 2013 post.

Getting to SIGGRAPH has been a lifelong dream of mine ever since this time last year when I first heard about it. Yeah, call me green but being utterly obsessed with CGI (and a life-long pure blooded technophile) I have developed enough knowledge to get myself all excited about new software, tools and techniques, even if I don’t always understand the finer details. Well, replace “don’t always” with “a little bit frequently”. Also, I’m a window drooler. Yep, I can’t afford to even consider 99% of the software and hardware in these shows.

SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival

So, suffice to say I won’t even be getting to SIGGRAPH, unless by some awesome luck I get rich quick. In which case I’ll see you in Hong Kong. Ok, that’s enough rambling. The primary reason I started this post was to share the very spiffy SIGGRAPH 2013 Computer Animation Festival preview video, but alas it is presented in a custom player I can’t embed here. Of course, you can follow the link to feast your eyes. I did manage to find last years, which in my humble opinion, doesn’t have the same omphf, but still exciting all the same.

Real-Time Live

Also looking like it will be an absolute nerdy blast is the Real-Time Live presentations.
Real-time technologies are developing and emerging at a spectacular rate and giving us visual feedback that once would have been thought impossible. State of the art graphics, animation, dynamics, radiosity, huge poly counts – all these things are going real-time in a big way. Can you feel an interactive RT revolution coming? Perhaps in the near future these technologies will be the exact sort of thing that will be testing our new super-fast broadband infrastructures we’re building.

LightWave: Join The Rebellion

And finally, SIGGRAPH is one of those dates that all the 3D graphics software nuts get very excited. It is that time when many of the modelling, animation, and rendering players unveil the next salvo of upgrades. Of course, a key focus, for me, will be on finding out what NewTek/LightWave are up to. It’s something! We want to know now, but we’ll have to wait for an announcement made later this month at the Anaheim, California convention. The below promo poster was uploaded to the LightWave FB page on the 29th of June. LightWave 12? 11.6? Something huge and exciting? If I can get some new modelling tools I’ll be happy enough.

Getting Started With LightWave Cheaply

LightWave logoLightWave licence transfers and upgrades – quick, easy, cheap.

Thanks to NewTek’s liberal licence transfer and upgrade policies gettings started with LightWave for less than the standard retail is quite easy. If you’re lucky or patient you can get going with LightWave very cheaply. But first let me start by offering those of you that don’t know much about the program a few reasons why I think it is so great.

On why I think LightWave rocks

LightWave is a great 3D modelling, animation and rendering package, and it has quickly become my tool of choice. This is largely because it has solid modelling tools, a great easy to navigate interface, a fast and competent render engine, a strong community with lots of resources (such as tutorials and free plugins), and the program is relatively inexpensive when compared to the many of the other big name applications. Since releases 10, 11 and the recent LightWave 11.5 it seems clear that NewTek are dedicated to a bigger, better, stronger, faster program that is better able to deliver results and go toe-to-toe with its larger rivals (did I just write a marketing pitch?).

I haven’t even mentioned the rigid and soft body dynamics, particle system, amazing rigging tools such as Genoma, real-time Raytrace preview, instancing, and a powerful node based material editor. Oh, and I forgot to mention it is big with TV. See YouTube vid below for a taste.

But for me in particular I am very happy that NT seem to be indicating there will be some attention to updating their modelling tools in the coming releases. 11.5 brought in some of the time saving goodies that have been kicking around for some time in other apps. The addition of UV seam unwrapping in 11.5 is also a much needed addition to the program’s ancient mapping tools – as much as hardcore LW ninjas swear by their complex black magic. I hope to see more modelling and UV tools and enhancements included in 12.

…but let’s move onto why we’re really here

The final kicker that got me hooked into LightWave was that when it comes to upgrade policies and licence transfers NewTek is very accommodating. Far more so than many other software companies. I doubt this has much to do with the goodness of NewTek’s heart, as holy as it doubtlessly is, but just one small part of their strategy to earn some market share. Whatever the reasons for NT’s liberal policies, it is a definite win for starving artists, and hobbyists. Any version of LightWave, back as far as version 5, can be upgraded for the same price as it would cost to upgrade from 9, or 10. That’s right, you can use a copy of LW that’s almost 2 decades old to get started. Put this up against upgrade policies like what you get from E-on or Autodesk, or just about any software house out there and you can’t fail to appreciate just how great this deal is.

lightwave object fracture and bullet dynamics

All image elements created with LightWave 11.5

Finding a licence or copy for the right price

This is how I got my start with LightWave. I had a chance to pick up version 5 off eBay but given that I wanted to be able to use the program right out of the box without having to upgrade, I wasn’t willing to spend much on such an archaic copy that would have to be upgraded right away. Again, NewTek are very generous with their upgrade price, but it was more than I could afford it at the time. I tried to haggle with the seller, but what I was willing to pay probably just made them laugh. Eventually I stumbled upon a section in the LightWave forum that is actually dedicated to selling unwanted/disused licences. That’s right, not only does NewTek allow users to transfer licences, but they actively encourage it. So, from time-to-time you can pick up older versions of LW for very good prices.

The very same seller that had those LightWave 5 copies up on E-bay is still there trying to unload them. The current price is currently US $335 which, if you’re only looking for an upgrade pathway, is very reasonable. If, like me, you’re after something to use out of the box it would be best to stay clear unless you have a machine running DOS and Windows 95. Of course I can’t say with full confidence that these copies are free from molestation, and still have their dongles intact (yes they are actually called dongles), but the seller has a good customer approval rating. It also says in the product description that the boxes are unopened. Presumably this means unregistered too, which simplifies things. The final good omen is that 3 copies have sold and apparently no one has had cause to call shenanigans.

In best case scenario I’ve seen a version of 8.5 go for about $180 and copies of 9.5 go for just a hundred dollars or so more.

What do you actually need?

So, all you will need to get yourself up and running from an old copy of LightWave is a serial number, hardware lock and a dongle. The dongle is USB device, and LW’s primary anti-piracy protection, which users of some other expensive software packages will already be familiar with. As of 11.03, LightWave can be used either with or without a dongle, though for an older version you will still need one for the transfer/registration process. If a user is trying to sell a pre 11.03 version without a dongle be very suspicious. Contact NewTek if you have any questions about the policy on lost dongles.

If you’re buying a licence second-hand you will need the previous owner to start the transfer process (make sure you get the support ticked number), otherwise you might have trouble convincing NewTek that you obtained the copy without resorting to nefarious means. The process is easy enough. You won’t have to do a thing except set up an account at lightwave3d.com and send them an email to let them know who you are and what’s going on (the support number probably helps here).

If you’re looking to buy a copy just to get started without the worry of the cost of upgrades I wouldn’t suggest any version before 9.6. As someone who put in some good hours lurking silently in the forums and digging through the wiki it seems stability and rendering issues plague versions before this, particularly 7 and 8. Depending on your current system there could also be compatibility issues.

Protect yourself

While scams targeting LightWave hopefuls are quite uncommon, to the extent I’ve never heard of one, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious, especially if you’re going to be handing over hundreds of dollars for a current licence. I tend to fall into the overly cautions category, so I’ll offer up some of the important things I took into account when considering my options.

Deal with the licence holder

The first thing about buying a pre-registered version of LightWave is to make sure you are dealing directly with the licence holder, as only they can put in the transfer application to NewTek. Secondly, make sure you are getting a dongle with an version before 11.03.

Deal with reliable sources

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is finding someone you can put a reasonable amount of trust in. Like with any purchase, you should try to buy only from individuals and businesses of reputation. Do they have a good customer satisfaction rating, in the case of buying off somewhere like eBay or Amazon? In the case of buying in relation to a post in a forum (anywhere), make sure the poster has been a long time member and has a good number of posts under their belt.

Of course, you can have genuine new members, and genuine long-time users who have never posted to the forums, but knowing you are dealing with someone who is invested in the community, or their business is a good tick in the plus section of your pros and cons list.

Tip – don’t gift with PayPal

If you’re paying for anything through PayPal to an individual NEVER send the money as a gift unless you entirely trust the recipient will do as they agreed. It might save you and the recipient a few dollars, but compared to that 1 or 2 or 3 or more hundred dollars you just handed over, it is nothing. A gift is a gift, and it can be very hard to prove that an explicit deal was made, and also against the terms of service for using the gift service. If you are within PayPal’s terms of service then you will be offered a certain amount of buyer security. Of course, I am not an expert in the matters of consumer protection, so I would suggest you read PayPals terms of services if you have any questions.

Paying via other means I can’t recommend as I am not certain of what protection is available. lightwave sword model by jim willey

All elements modelled and textured in LightWave

Dongle drivers and hardware lock issues.

One issue I encountered while trying to get LightWave 9.6 up and running was a hardware lock error (yes the dongle was inserted) when trying to run the program. According to NewTek this is a known problem for Windows XP users. I run Win 7, so the problem has persisted for at least some of the users. If you encounter this it can most likely be remedied by going to Sentinel Drivers download page on Safenet’s website. You will be looking for the latest Sentinel Protection Installer – SuperPro being the specific drivers you need.

Students

If you’re a student why not save yourself all the hassle and probable extra expense and simply opt for a Student license, which is obtainable directly from the LightWave site for $195.

Bringing life to LightWave

Thanks to the PoserFusion plugin for LightWave (free for Poser Pro holders – 2014 plugin coming soon) you can import animated, posed, fully equipped characters from your Poser Runtime to LightWave. Need a crowd to mill about your architectural visualisation or Sci-fi and fantasy environments? Use Poser’s walk design tools to fully animate just this. PoserFusion makes it easy to bring any number of Poser animations to LightWave – quick and easy. Poser 10 and Pro 2014 full and upgrade are still on sale till the end of the month.