ArtMatic Voyager 1.1
At a Glance
U&I's landscape-generation application, ArtMatic Voyager 1.1.2, nearly caused me to miss my deadline. No, not because the program is difficult to understand or control -- a child could create breathtaking photo-realistic vistas with it. Voyager is just so much fun that hours evaporate as you happily tweak the scenery -- jumping from one location in a preset world to another, raising the altitude here, and making the water a bit more transparent there.
If a program that renders spectacular 3-D landscapes sounds suspiciously like Bryce (Corel's now-discontinued-on-the-Mac application), it should. Bryce's creator, Eric Wenger, is also the brains behind Voyager. In many ways, Voyager is Bryce Lite. It has the same landscape-creation capabilities as Bryce but lacks its tree-creation and geometric modeling tools, advanced painting and lighting controls, and more-complicated interface.
Also, unlike Bryce, all of Voyager's controls are in the program's main window. Using sliders or numeric fields, you can adjust the direction and color of a world's sun (adding a pink hue for sunsets, for example), ambient light, haze, the height of clouds, and the level of the sea and snow. The program conveniently stops rendering previews when you adjust one of the controls.
Voyager ships with four planet surfaces -- each of which offers more physical space than the surface of the earth -- and you can create additional surface textures with U&I's ArtMatic Pro image-creation application (mmmm; June 2002). U&I sells an ArtMatic Pro and ArtMatic Voyager bundle for $299.
Exploring these vast planets is a snap. To move to a new location, click on a small map or on the Dice icon to be transported to a random location. Once there, you can change views by rotating the compass points or using your keyboard's arrow keys to move forward, backward, left, or right.
Voyager makes some beautiful landscapes, but they can be a little stark, looking more synthetic than those produced by Terragen, a free but far more complicated application (www.planetside.co.uk/terragen). Although you can produce superb snowy peaks, brilliant blue oceans, and haunting desert scenes, the green gradients you can apply to images don't quite evoke lush prairies or tree-studded hillsides. A vegetation-generation feature would be welcome.
Pounding the Processor
In addition to creating static images, you can select different locations on your map, save each selection as a keyframe, and create a QuickTime movie that animates the journey through each keyframe -- giving the impression of moving from one place to another. But note that such functions expose Voyager's biggest weakness.
Rendering images takes all the processing power your Mac can spare. Even a relatively fast Mac can take more than 15 minutes to render a complex still image at the program's default resolution of 2,048 by 1,152 pixels, and several hours to produce a 30-second, 15-fps, 320-by-240 QuickTime movie. For example, the image on this page took just over 18 minutes to render on a 15-inch 1.25GHz PowerBook G4 at Best quality (see "Creating a Scene"). With the Shadows option enabled, it took Voyager more than 2 hours to render the same image.
Macworld's Buying Advice
ArtMatic Voyager 1.1.2 may not fabricate images realistic enough to fool you, but what it does produce is impressive. If you're a graphic designer in need of compelling backdrops or just someone who delights in creating unique desktop pictures, Voyager is worth the trip.
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