TrueSpace4 projects a strong light on virtual environments





TrueSpace4 from Caligari Corp. costs far less than Hollywood-style 3-D rendering
software and has amazing powers, whether you plan to simulate a vehicle crash, design
courseware or simply make an eye-popping Web graphic.


Like previous versions, TrueSpace4 is strong at lighting effects.


Precise lighting makes a virtual room look realistic, whereas bad lighting can make
anything look fake.


TrueSpace4’s impressive Hybrid Radiosity engine calculates the amount of light
diffusion, as opposed to merely calculating the travel direction of light rays.


Diffusion is better because some surfaces are not lit directly at all—they diffuse
light from other sources.


The engine also can calculate the color differences between direct and indirect
lighting. Colored surfaces in the real world tend to bleed—for example, a red wall
casts red hues onto a white floor.


In testing TrueSpace4, I designed a room in the approximate paint colors of the GCN Lab
and added white fluorescent lighting. The effect was accurate even in the corners of my
virtual room.


If you want to know how light is going to play through a window, whether it will make
the room look cheery or like a prison, the program can render realistic soft shadows with
a penumbra effect.


In my sparse little virtual lab, I added some windows and rotated a projection light to
simulate the sun. It looked pretty realistic.


Materials can be shaded with more textures than I have seen in any similarly priced
design program. For example, you can texture any object with wood, marble, reflective
metal, mirror, chrome or a whole list of other materials.


Rendering fog is one of the hardest effects because fog particles are transparent in
small quantities, then translucent and finally opaque in large masses. The
mathematical calculations for fog generation are quite complex.


TrueSpace4 not only does a good job of placing fog, it can even distinguish between
ground fog and upper-atmosphere fog. For fun, I added a pink ground fog to my virtual
lab.


If you like animation, the program has a fairly simple interface for turning still
objects into animated scenes. It uses the Python language with a built-in editor.
It’s basically like building a script file, though you don’t need to know how to
program in C++. You can even set up interrelation statements, making the screen change
color when a button is pressed, say, in a training application.


To test animation, I tried a truly hard task: making a person walk. Most human
animation sequences cheat a bit and show people mostly from the waist up.


Making a walking simulation was no picnic in TrueSpace4, but it was easier than I
expected. Images have skeletons as well as deformable skin, so you can remove the skin and
move the skeletal structure along at key points.


Once the animation is ready in wireframe mode, you apply the skin. A professional
designer would do a lot of tweaking at this point, but most users will be satisfied with
TrueSpace4’s human forms on the first or second try.


It took me a week of reading the 550-page user guide and many hours of trial and error
to become marginally competent in TrueSpace4. Once mastered, the design application
becomes an invaluable resource for the designer accustomed to working manually and for the
animator looking for an easy way to bring concepts to life.  


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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