Digital Landscape Creation 3: E-On's VUE

Nov 30, 2021 at 05:30 am by -gToon

This is the third article in a series that will cover contemporary 3D landscape creation software. I’ll share my experiences with each one from installation to the final creation of a landscape scene. And, of course, links will be provided in every article. I hope to post every Tuesday of each week, although some applications will take longer than a week to learn and create with. You can read the introduction to the series here
VUE is an “environment animation/creation” application that began in 2012. The company has been quite successful both with the professional world (VUE has been used in several major motion pictures) and with the amateur community. Bently Systems purchased VUE in 2015 and invested in development in order to keep VUE competitive and contemporary. Here’s what the company has to say about VUE: 
VUE is the only environment package on the market that includes everything you need for creating beautiful CG environments. From skies and volumetric clouds to terrains, large-scale EcoSystems, wind-swept vegetation, open water bodies, roads, and rocks: everything is right there for you to use out of the box
VUE has a sister program called Plant Factory which is a procedural 3D plant modeling application that works hand-in-glove with VUE. They are sold together. We will concentrate primarily on VUE in this article, although we’ll try to touch on Plant Factory just to see how it works (practically) with VUE. 
VUE comes in three flavors: the Creator version, the Professional version, and the Enterprise version. We will be working with the Creator version. You can see the difference between all three versions at this link. Both Professional and Creator contain all the core features, but Creator is limited to 4K resolution and doesn’t allow for exporting to other applications. You have to upgrade to Professional to export your scenes. The Enterprise edition includes everything in the Professional edition and adds full access to the PlantCatalog Library (a separate collection of 3D vegetation). 
VUE doesn’t come with a perpetual license. That is, it did until 2018 when it switched to either an annual license (one year) or a monthly license. You can see the pricing for each version of VUE here. The regular price for an annual license of the Creator version is $199. I was able to purchase a sale version for $109. A monthly license costs $19.95 a month. 
The main interface of VUE 2021.1

VUE Workflow

VUE is designed like many major 3D applications. You have four window views (top, side, front, and camera/perspective view. There is a row of creation icons on the left side of the main window and a small render window and layer window on the right-hand side. On the top, you have the typical drop-down menus with a variety of commands. 
There are several ways to work in VUE. From watching others create using VUE, I believe the general workflow is this: add a terrain (or several terrains), select materials, choose an atmosphere (pre-set looks for a scene), add vegetation or rocks, adjust lighting and render. This is a vastly over-simplified workflow as VUE has so many ways to adjust and layer the assets that you could spend hours on just working with the terrain. In the Creator version, you are provided with a lot of presets for terrains. Once loaded you can edit the terrain in a surprising variety of ways including direct sculpting and painting materials. 
VUE provides a Kickstarter tutorial that explains the basic workflow on a simple scene. Although the tutorial is several years old, it is still helpful. Check it out below

VUE Results

Learning VUE was a bit more challenging than I thought it would be. Yes, you can create an interesting scene with just a few clicks, but most people (myself included) want to either create from a research photograph or want to detail the scene to their imagination. The more detail you want to add, the more time you have to spend learning how the program works. For the first hour, I was focused on trying to work out how to place the camera and add terrains, plants, and atmospheres. The layer panel on the right was very helpful in choosing what to edit and it organizing your scene. You can use the camera view to render a scene to see your progress (the small render window was just useless to me). I wanted to create a desert scene and came up with a simple render. This was after spending a few hours with Vladimir Chopine tutorials (he's the best) and working with the procedural terrain editor. 
Of course, with more skill and practice, these scenes could be much more alive and professional-looking. VUE is used in major motion picture studios, so the possibilities are truly endless. If you’d like to see some professional-level work you can find it here
Fast desert scene created in about an hour in VUE

Plant Factory (In Brief)

Plant Factory is an appropriately named application as it is literally a factory for creating plants of every kind even alien or weird plants. The interface is very modern (unlike VUE) and intuitive. You can create plants in three ways: drawing, adding components together or using graphs (nodes, essentially). I really like the drawing aspect of plant creation which is easy to understand and very powerful. Aya, the woman who created the Kickstarter tutorial for VUE, has done a Kickstarter tutorial for Plant Factory. Her explanations are better than anything I could come up with. Note that it is super easy to bring Plant Factory creations into VUE. 

Final Thoughts

I’ve only skimmed the surface of this powerful 3D landscape creation program. VUE has a particle system and the ability to animate objects. You can even create scenes in outer space. Once you start drilling down in any section of the program, you find that the ability to detail your choices gets subtler and more complex. The Creator edition (with the exception of export functions) provides you with everything you need to create detailed and gorgeous landscapes of any kind. I was particularly helped with tutorials by creator Vladimir Chopine, who is truly a master of VUE. The E-On VUE website is helpful as is their community forum. I also found the Renderosity VUE forum useful. The VUE manual is thorough and very detailed. There is a very cool link in that form to a GitHub repository of VUE assets you should definitely check out. 
I like VUE a lot and recommend it as a high-quality application for anyone who wants to create detailed digital landscapes and environments. The recent updates are pretty cool, too, although you really have to have the Professional version to benefit from most of them. The pricing structure for VUE is tough for non-professionals. An annual license for 5 years of VUE creator will cost you $1,000. That’s just too much for someone who creates 3D landscapes as a hobby. You can go with the monthly option, but I don’t find that attractive either.
I also find the program interface to be old and clunky. Compared to the modern interface of World Creator (check our previous article) which uses the GPU to allow for real-time rendering, the VUE interface forces you into constantly rendering to see results after you’ve made adjustments. The rendering is fast though and you get used to the workflow after a bit. I’m also aware that updating something as big as the program interface requires a lot of core code changes which may not be cost-effective for Bently Systems. Plant Factory, however, has a very modern interface and is a great pleasure to work with. It's also a perfect addition to VUE. I hope that the developers of VUE consider integrating the two programs into one at some point in the future.
I enjoyed working with VUE and will update my progress with the program in future articles. I’ve got a year to play!

Next Week: Digital Landscape Creation 4: BRYCE

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