Informatix Piranesi 4 review
Extraordinary 3D painting power, and now with the ability to add true 3D cut-outs to your images. Piranesi remains one of a kind.
Review Date: 16 Nov 2004
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: (£529 inc VAT); Upgrade £150 (£176 inc VAT)
It's rare to find a program that's truly one of a kind these days, but Piranesi certainly falls into this category. The secret of the program's success is its proprietary EPix (Extended Pixel) format files. These are bitmap image files which, alongside the usual colour data, store information about depth and material. It might not sound revolutionary, but the practical benefits are extraordinary.
Piranesi 4 comes bundled with Vedute 4, a conversion program that renders 3DS, DXF and now SketchUp SKP and MicroGDS MAN files. To make the most of Piranesi, though, you really need to be using one of the 3D applications that can directly render to EPix natively, such as SketchUp, or via plug-ins, such as 3ds max, LightWave, Cinema 4D or AutoCAD.
When you first open your rendered EPix file, you'll be in for a surprise, as Piranesi's interface is as unusual as the program itself. Informatix has worked hard to make version 4 more orthodox and productive though. Six formerly floating palettes have been rationalised into the new Tools Manager panel, which, combined with the new variable factor zoom, means you can make the most of your screen real-estate. Other enhancements include a new information bar, context menus, icons and tooltips, as well as the addition of customisable keyboard shortcuts.
There's still a steep learning curve, but everything is logically ordered. Before you begin work on your image, for example, you select your tool, the exact mixture of colour, texture and paper grain that you want to paint with, and the blend mode with which it will be applied. But where Piranesi really begins to show the advantages of its 3D handling is with its 'locks'. Using these you can limit your paint not just to existing colours, but to particular planes and materials. Select the Global Fill tool and the Material lock, for example, and you can instantly apply a new texture throughout your 3D scene and, crucially, the texture will follow the contours and perspective of the model.
Compared to rendering in your usual 3D app, the boost in productivity is enormous, as is the temptation to experiment. You're not just limited to fills either - you can also paint onto the surfaces of your 3D objects to produce unique effects. Piranesi 4 offers a number of enhancements here, including a new Bristled option for the main Brush tool, a range of shortcuts for changing brush size and the ability to specify the brush size as a percentage width of the image. The Painter tool, which produces more artistic effects, also supports these sizing enhancements and offers improved control over locking and splattering. You can also now scale the Painter's dabs, depending on the image's depth information, though bizarrely, this is limited to making more distant dabs larger. The Dynamic settings for varying a stroke along its length have also been enhanced for both Brush and Painter tools.
Piranesi 4 breaks more new ground by letting you apply a host of other effects using exactly the same tools. For example, you can restore, or blend in, the original render; apply filters such as blurs and hue changes; and pull out edges in your image based on the underlying 3D model. New options include the ability to bring out edges based on colour changes, a new smudge mode and several new filters for sharpening, smoothing and reducing or grouping colours. You can also choose to fade all effects based on the underlying 3D information, and the control over this has been enhanced with the ability to fade either to transparency or to a set colour (particularly useful for graduated sky effects) and to automatically centre radial fades where you first click. Two new types of illumination fades, cone and strip, have also been added to retrospectively bring realistic lighting to your scene.
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