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Review: Grand Designer Pro

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Grand Designer Pro by Ignishot is one of those tools that takes away the burden of populating space--you know... that big dark empty part that space based game designers have to eventually deal with--by providing a powerful tool with a jam packed interface of options. Since getting a review copy, it has also undergone a massive update that shows the developer is serious about this tool. More importantly, it contains my pre-requisite of being able to get started without cracking a manual or looking at a tutorial until you are ready to really dig into it. As a graphics artist, I find its generated planets to be more than acceptable and in some cases, downright stunning. The ability to generate planets is limited only by the time available to fiddle with all those options the developer provides. Add in some post work in Photoshop and you can create some magnificent looking space.

From the Developer::

"Grand designer is a software allowing you to create procedural planets, moons, asteroids and an associated background like nebulae and stars."

Planets are only one part of this generator as it can whip up nebulae, meteors and stars in the blink of an eye with enough options to please even the most discriminating grand designers. In fact, one has to exercise discipline or you must find yourself spending hours, an afternoon or evening tweaking, poking and prodding your creation. Before we go any further, let's take a look at this little gem that was a Greenlight project over at Steam. That in itself is quite an accomplishment, but instead of babbling on about this cool tool, we'll jump right into the review.

INTERFACE

The make or break it part of any application is the interface and Grand Designer Pro, which puts a lot of information in front of the user so "out of sight... out of mind" doesn't get in the way. No use in having a lot of fancy options when you forget about them because they are buried in obscure menu trees that are easily forgotten. While the interface is certainly busy, it is very usable and keeps the user apprised of what is available. It needs little to no explanation to jump right in.

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The Grand Designer Interface with one of the Sun Presets.

INSTALLATION

Grand Designer Pro is a Steam distributed application that was initially pitched to the Steam community in its Green Light program, which allows a program to be commercialized while still under development.

Just getting the go ahead is a vote of confidence from the Stream community. That being said, you have to download and install Steam on your system. If you keep your workstation separate from your gaming PC then just install Steam on both but only download the app to the workstation and no games. Besides, we don't need games on our workstations do we??? Steam is not that large an application, which downloads and installs effortlessly in most cases.

VISUALLY STUNNING NEBULAE

I've always been a freak for nebulas. I love them. I really like to blend nebulas but after a while, it gets harder to make unique ones and this is where Grand Designer Pro shines. Like everything else in this program, there are lots of choices in the nebula section from colors to coverage and shape.

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PRESETS

Grand Designer Pro comes with a list of preset alien planets, Earth, Gaseous, Moon, Meteor and Sun, which are all visually pleasing, but the sun also has rather dramatic effects. You use the presets as a starting point for completed items. Within each type such as Alien Planets, there are blue, gaseous 1, 2 & 3 and so on. You can customize each planet to your hearts content with the many sliders in the interface. You are provided with the ability to store your own presets to save time and aggravation.

PLANET TAB

The planet tab is where most of the processes happens. There are sliders for globals such as transition, rotation and scale. This is followed by Relief, Details, Craters, Water, Ice Caps, Desert, Sediment, Vegetation, Rings, Clouds, and Shader. Whew! There is also an "Other" tab that covers ambient occlusion, normals, and moisture.

SPACE TAB

The space tab is where you setup your nebulas, stars, lighting and the sun. This section alone is filled with tabs that cover things from Sun Scale to Density and Directional Lighting. This section is loaded up with options just like all the others and has plenty to keep you fiddling around with such as a number of stars, brightness, nebula colors and makeup along with the standard global settings.

EXPORTING

This application is developed to work with the Unity and Unreal engines.

According to the discussion forum over at Steam, the developer is planning on adding other export options like FBX or OBJ. One user pointed out that the models are in FBX form-- located in the Steam Steamapps common Grand Designer Samples--were scaled very small. It was my impression you could use your exported maps to texture the models and I'm guessing here... rescale them.

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GRAND DESIGNER PRO WITH iClone

Since I'm a big iClone user, it was only natural to see what could be done to combine the two. Since you can dump a video or image on just about any surface in iClone, this was not too difficult. I used FRAPS to screen capture Grand Designer Pro generated videos, which I then edited in Sony Vegas 13 for lateral movement, which was dragged and dropped into the background of iClone 6. If you want to move the camera instead of a static shot, you put the video on an image plane so it reacts properly to the camera. While I couldn't see a way to directly import into iClone, I was impressed with the generated footage and how it made the iClone space scene much better.

SUMMARY

Overall, this reviewer finds Grand Designer Pro an easy to use application that creates eye-catching planets, suns and the goodies needed to make it competitive. Eye candy is not just expected in today's gaming environment but rather a standard for most gamers. Substandard space graphics is a turn off... we're too spoiled to the good stuff. This is where Grand Designer Pro can step in and help alleviate some of those sleepless nights when you don't consider space design your strong suit. It can also speed up the process for more experienced designers, which is a plus when time is short.

NOTE: This is a project under development so keep that in mind when using it and from the looks of the discussion forums the developer is listening to suggestions and implementing what is practical.


Special Thanks to Gil Damoiseaux over at Ignishot for making this review possible!

M.D. McCallum (warlord720) is an International Award-Winning Graphics Artist, 3D Animator, 3D Sculptor and Published Author. He is a staff writer and reviewer for the CG Industry news section here at Renderosity.com. You can find more info on M.D. at his website.

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