DATELINE: January 1999 Issue
Clunky Interface Mars 3-D-Terrain Generator
By Stephen Beale
Natural Scene Designer 2.0 is a 3-D-rendering and -animation program with a specialized mission: creating photo-realistic nature scenes. As such, it draws inevitable comparisons to MetaCreations’ Bryce 3D. But although Natural Scene Designer has a few features you won’t find elsewhere, its clunky interface makes it a tough sell.
Producing a landscape is a straightforward affair. Create or import a terrain; define its surface features as a combination of snow, rock, vegetation, or soil; choose from a variety of light, sky, and water settings; and then add objects, such as trees, bushes, rocks, or imported models. Once you’ve set up the scene, you can render a still image, a QuickTime animation, or a panorama ready for conversion to a QuickTime VR movie.
One of the program’s strongest features is its ability to import 3-D landscapes from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). You can also create terrains by using a built-in fractal landscape generator or by importing gray-scale PICT images.
Once you’ve created a terrain, you can add a variety of objects: spheres, blocks, cones, and cylinders. The program provides limited options for choosing object surfaces, but you can also import textured objects in the QuickDraw 3D 3DMF format.
Besides producing primitive objects, the program designs trees, bushes, rocks, and lakes. When rendered, the trees look reasonably realistic except for a lack of detail in individual leaves. The program also includes a fast ray-tracing engine for rendering still images or animations. Unfortunately, it’s hobbled by an interface more appropriate to shareware.
Natural Scene Designer gives you only two views: a camera view and a view of the terrain from above-and only the camera view lets you see an object from different sides. For this reason, you’ll want to use the camera view to build most of your scene, which means you’ll be continually moving the camera through the landscape rather than leaving it in the spot you want to photograph.
The program also relies on numeric fields for positioning the camera and objects. Sure, you can move and resize objects within the camera view, but if you want any precision, you need to enter numbers in an Object Properties dialog box. To add to the hassle, the program comes with a hardware lock.
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