3D Animation Software Comparison:  Eovia Carrara 2 Basics vs. Ulead COOL 3D Studio

Ulead COOL 3D Studio

$119

Ulead Systems 20000

Mariner Ave., Suite 200

Torrance, CA 90503

(310) 896-6388

www.ulead.com

Eovia Carrara 3D Basics

$99

Eovia Corporation

5330 Carroll Canyon Rd., Suite 201

San Diego, CA 92121

(800) 544-4847

www.eovia.com

There is a bewildering array of 3D animation applications on the market and many claim to be easy and intuitive. Let us just warn you now: there is nothing easy or intuitive about 3D modeling and rendering on a two-dimensional computer monitor using a mouse, to say nothing of then animating your creation. As videographers, however, a little 3D text can add depth to your productions. There are a few applications that any computer-savvy video editor should have no problems using. Here we’ll take a look at two of them, Ulead COOL 3D Studio and Eovia Carrara 3D Basics. Besides being relatively easy to use, both are reasonably priced at around $100.

Ulead COOL 3D Studio

COOL 3D has always been one of the easiest ways for layfolk to create 3D text and titles. If you can type text and select a template, you can master 3D text and animation with this program. As the program progressed through three generations and as more (and more) advanced features were added, however, the user interface gradually became more (and more) unwieldy. Version 4, re-christened COOL 3D Studio, is a total redesign. COOL 3D is accessible 3D for videographers who are interested in flashy 3D titles, but who don’t want to wade too deeply into the arcane ocean of vectors, splines, modeling and raytracing.

Interface: COOL 3D

By far the most important new feature of COOL 3D Studio (C3DS) is the animation timeline. If this were the only new feature of this product, it would still be worth the upgrade. Following increasingly standardized design concepts from Macromedia, Ulead has created a timeline that is both functional and attractive. If you have done any animation with Flash, Final Cut Pro or After Effects, you will immediately understand C3DS’s timeline. And vice versa: if C3DS is your first animation package, the concepts you learn will carry over to these other applications.

There are many other vastly improved user interface (UI) elements, notably the Attribute Panel, where you set and modify the various properties of your project. The UI is highly customizable, with numerous freely floating panels and windows. There are quite a few keyboard shortcuts, but we’d still like to see a couple more, especially navigation/playback shortcuts (e.g. Spacebar for play). Still, this is only a small quibble, and we found the extensive array of controls to be well organized, accessible and useful, with fine pop-up labels and a solid Help system.

Performance: COOL 3D

The primary user of C3DS is going to be the non-expert 3D animator. During your first hour of use, you should easily be able to get a very attractive title animations, even if you have no experience at all. We started by selecting one of the animated templates for our first project. We changed the template text ("COOL 3D Studio") and typed in our own title ("Videomaker"). We then clicked Play and the first render began at roughly four frames per second (fps) through the first pass (even on our 900MHz test machine). Once this was completed, the project previewed at the full 30fps rate. You can adjust the speed-to-quality ratio of the previews to suit your needs (and even your hardware), but when compared with other 3D applications, C3DS generates previews very quickly. For those of you unaccustomed to working in 3D, this is a refreshing change from the usual 3D app workflow (such as Carrara), which involves modeling and adjusting a wireframe representation of the project blindly and then waiting many minutes or even hours to see the results of your work. Then you make a few minor adjustments and repeat.

Quality: COOL 3D

One reason why C3DS renders such fast previews is that it is limited in scope: Text and fonts are relatively easy to render. Another compromise is that while the final rendered output is good, the quality of the output from Carrara 3D Basics in the hands of an experienced user is potentially better than C3DS. For example, one compromise of C3DS is that it is difficult to precisely position lights in the workspace, primarily because there is no iconic representation of lights in the scene. The advantage to this is that you can see your changes immediately as you make them in the preview window (you’ll need to wait in Carrara). The disadvantage is that it is difficult to imagine where the invisible lights are in your scene.

Templates and Animation: COOL 3D

C3DS is likely the easiest 3D animation title tool around, largely because of the numerous and amazing templates. Every animated effect has a list of preset templates represented with animated thumbnails. We especially like (and tend to overuse) the explosion effects, but we also really liked the new particle effects in this version. While the bubbles and snow that interact with your titles won’t fool anyone into thinking they are real, they very likely will fool people into thinking that you are an expert 3D animator and that you spent a lot more time on your project than you really did.

3D Video: COOL 3D

Perhaps the most important new feature for our readers is the ability to place video into the background of your project. This allows you compose your 3D titles as WYSIWYG compositions, instead of rendering out an animated sequence (e.g. *.TGA) with an alpha for compositing. COOL 3D also has a host of new technical features that we haven’t covered in this review, for example: 3DS object import, AI vector import, simple vector drawing and tracing, simple modeling, lathing and Flash export. For videographers, there really isn’t an easier or flashier way to get animated 3D eye-candy into your video productions than C3DS.

Eovia Carrara 3D Basics

Carrara 3D Basics is not as basic as you might think. In fact, it is a full-blown 3D modeling, rendering and animation package with advanced features often found only in applications costing thousands of dollars. Of course 3D programs like this tend to be a little complex, but if you are looking for a capable 3D tool, Carrara is one of the most affordable options available and is also a joy to use.

Interface: Carrara 3D Basics

Non-standard user interfaces (UI) tend to make us (OK, me) cranky. Once you’ve learned Windows or OS X, you really shouldn’t have to learn a new interface with every product you install. Kai Krause (of Kai Power Tools and Goo) is famous (notorious?) for creating slick and attractive, but very non-standard, interfaces. Sometimes we have found these interfaces to be fun, but sometimes they are just annoying and cryptic. Of all the Kai-inspired interfaces we’ve used, Carrara 3D Basics is our favorite. The primary reason for this is that it is highly customizable. A secondary reason is, no doubt, that we’ve grown accustomed to other Kai-inspired products like Bryce and Poser over the years. If you have cut your 3D teeth using a product like Bryce, the clear next step for you is Carrara. Despite the non-standard interface, the UI on this product is wonderful, fun and, most importantly, functional and responsive. Perhaps it should become the new standard for 3D modeling and animation.

Performance and Quality: Carrara 3D Basics

Carrara also stands out from other 3D modeling applications in speed and performance. For example, full-scene renders are three or four times faster than similar scenes constructed in Bryce. When compared to COOL 3D, however, renders take much longer, but this is because Carrara is generally producing higher quality renders. Like most other 3D applications (but not necessarily COOL 3D), scene composition occurs on a wireframe stage. There are a number of different ways that the stage can be configured to increase performance and workflow, but you still only get a roughly colored and shaded preview of the final output. When you want to see how your scene really looks, you’ll need to render it. Complex 3D objects, multiple lights and atmospheric effects can really slow the app down. On the other hand, complex 3D objects, multiple lights and atmospheric effects are really cool and worth the wait.

When you do finally see your scene, however, it will take your breath away. Carrara produces some absolutely beautiful scenes that can certainly rival applications costing 50x as much. We could precisely place a variety of styles of fantastic lights and atmospheric effects like volumetric clouds, fog and haze add a realistic ambience that truly enhanced the sense of depth in the scene.

Templates and Animation: Carrara 3D Basics

Like COOL 3D, Carrara comes with a boatload of preset objects that you can use in your projects. There are some very attractive and useful objects, although you cannot browse for them visually. These objects really serve only as the foundation of your scenes. The objects can be animated, just as anything else can, but there are no preset animation templates like those that you’ll find in COOL 3D. This really gets to the heart of the difference between these two applications: COOL 3D has tons of templates and is easy to use, while Carrara has some great objects for starting your projects, but everything beyond that is manual. Don’t get us wrong: Carrara has an excellent animation storyboard tool. It requires a bit of learning to get used to it, but it is very powerful and gives you minute control over every frame and every property.

3D Video: Carrara 3D Basics

Carrara allows you to import a video file as a backdrop for your projects, although this was not as easy as it is in COOL 3D. We were unable to import a DV video file and received an unhelpful "nil pointer" error, although MPEG-1 video worked correctly. The video was initially loaded into the project upside-down, but this was not too hard to fix. None of the tools in the Properties panel had any sort of pop-up labels.

The Undo behavior of the program runs into some limitations. For example, if you make a couple of changes in the main Assemble window and then move to the Render window to see your results, when you CTRL+Z to undo, you’ll only undo back to the Assemble window. This is unfortunate, since there is no way to see the results of your changes without switching to the Render window, and there is no way to undo your changes once you have rendered.

Carrara is a bit more complex for video editors to use than COOL 3D. Its animation storyboard is great and is less complex than many other 3D animation applications. Overall, we really liked the user interface. Considering the $99 price tag and the astonishing visual appeal of the output, we found Carrara 3D to be perhaps the easiest introduction to professional 3D modeling and animation.

TECH SPECS Ulead COOL 3D Studio

System Requirements

Minimum CPU PII (or equivalent)

Recommended CPU PIII 800MHz (or equivalent)

Operating System Microsoft Windows 98SE, 2000,Me and XP

Minimum RAM 64MB

Recommended RAM 256MB

Minimum Hard Disk 128MB

Additional Requirements DirectX 8.1

Display card with 4MB

display memory

Version Reviewed 1.0

Trial Version 30-day time limited

STRENGTHS

  • Video backgrounds
  • Copious quantities of quality templates
  • Fast previews

    WEAKNESSES

  • Lights difficult to position precisely

    TECH SPECS Carrara 3D Basics

    Macintosh:
    Minimum CPU Power Mac G3 266MHz

    Operating System OS X 10.1

    Minimum RAM 128MB

    Minimum Hard Disk 100MB
    Windows:

    Minimum CPU PIII 300MHz (or equivalent)

    Operating System Windows 98, 2000, Me, NT4

    Minimum RAM 64MB

    Recommended RAM 128MB

    Minimum Hard Disk 100MB

    Version Reviewed 1.0 (Windows)

    Trial Version 30-day time limited

    STRENGTHS

  • Breathtakingly beautiful
  • Easy tools, professional features
  • Great lighting tools
  • Mac or Windows compatible

    WEAKNESSES

  • Sometimes Undo behavior is not useful
  • Video import not robust

    [Sidebar: Videomaker Recommends]
    We’re not trying to be political here, but Carrara 3D Basics and COOL 3D Studio are actually quite different applications and we can confidently recommend both to different users for different reasons:

  • Easy 3D Titles – COOL 3D has dozens of amazing animation templates and instant WYSIWYG previews that make it our winner for instant text and titles. It is also easier to use for video editors who aren’t 3D experts.
  • Quality – Carrara’s beautiful surfaces, raytracing, lighting tools and atmospheric effects make it our choice for creating surrealistic 3D scenes.
  • Video Compositing – COOL 3D Studio is definitely a video tool and integrates wonderfully with MediaStudio Pro 7. The hierarchical animation timeline is similar to other compositing timelines, such as After Effects.
  • Professional 3D Features – Carrara is definitely a 3D tool. From modeling splines to determining how the light spills and bounces, the concepts you learn in Carrara will give you a solid grounding in 3D.

    SUMMARY

  • COOL 3D Studio is one of the easiest ways to get animated 3D text and titles into your video projects.
  • Carrara 3D Basics is a true 3D modeling, rendering and animation package that is fast and relatively easy to learn.
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