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REVIEW: Quadspinner’s Gaea – a new dawn for terrain design?

Paul Hatton takes Quadspinner’s Gaea – a 3D terrain creation tool – for a ‘spin’ to discover its capabilities. Find out more…

All image credit supplied by Quadspinner

Introduction

This past decade has seen a plethora of tools enter the 3D market for generating incredibly realistic and beautiful 3D worlds. We could mention the likes of Vue, World Machine, and Terragen, but there are others. Some are vast in their capabilities and enable artists to create blockbuster quality terrains while others are more primitive in their options. The quality of each offering is obviously reflected in the price and to a certain degree in their usability. If you want to create complex and highly customizable scenes then you’ve got to expect a piece of software that is more than just a handful of easy to understand parameters.

Enter Quadspinner with Gaea

One of the more recent entrants to this market is Quadspinner. The company began way back in 2008 creating procedural 3D elements including clouds, materials, and models. After a little while they then released GeoGlyph; a plugin for World Machine. Not satisfied with just providing a plugin they decided to move on and create a standalone terrain creation tool. Enter Gaea.

Instant results?

Gaea delivers on every front when it comes to enabling artists to create terrain quickly and easily. If you’re a 3D artist or games developer then you’ll be familiar with primitives such as cube and sphere. Gaea offer primitives that scale to whole terrains. Doesn’t sound very primitive does it?! These primitives include but are not limited to mountain, crater, dunes, and volcanoes, and they let artists who don’t particularly care about the exact nature of their terrain to create something with rapid speed and ease. It gets better. Along with the creation of a simple primitive you can then refine it further, fine tuning it to your requirements. And if you like how your terrain looks but want a different shape just use the seed parameter to switch it up with instant results.

You’d think that would be enough to bring quick results to your fingertips but Gaea goes one step further. It ships with a ton of complete terrain scenes which can be edited and adjusted to make them work with your vision. I can’t stress how perfect this is for visualizers and developers who are not fussed about the exact look of their terrain but just want something that is going to make their building or character look amazing.

natural materials stone rocky texture 3d model

Any other creation tools?

Sure! With any terrain tool you’d expect to be able to sculpt your results and Gaea provides extensive and stunning functionality. One of the stand out features with Gaea compared to other offerings in the market is their focus on erosion. This will make sense to artists because it is erosion that makes much of the terrain we see around us look natural and realistic. Give it a try. Sculpt erosion into your terrain and see your world come alive. You’ll notice that it’s quick and that’s what you want. There’s little worse than designing terrains only to find that your computer is grinding to a halt. Gaea processes erosion sculpting with consummate ease. Very impressive.

What’s the workflow like?

It’s good. If you’ve ever used a graph-based or node-based application then it’ll seem familiar. It’s different from just working with a 3D view of your terrain, with parameters to adjust. It’s much more powerful than that! Terrain can be created with just 2 nodes but on the flip side you can connect many nodes to really customize your output.

One of the major pluses of a graph-based setup like Gaea is that you can make changes to any part of the node structure and the rest will update automatically. Results are not ‘baked’ in which gives you the most amount of flexibility right up to the final deadline. This is perfect if you’re working with clients who might be quite particular about what they want and not very prompt in offering that information up!

The workflow is also procedural which is largely how it updates so quickly and looks so good across vast sizes of terrain. As you use it you’ll see that it was created by artists who have been in the terrain creation world for a long while. They understand what users want. If you want more control than what the nodes have given you then you can also step into sculpt mode using their Erosion Studio and shape things to minute detail.

mountain terrain landscape 3d render natural realistic

Who’s the target market?

It seems like it’s everyone. That might seem quite a grand and wide-ranging target audience but it seems to be true. They’ve worked hard to make it work for Game Developers, 3D Visualizers, and VFX artists. They’ve made this possible by focusing on the use of universal formats including OpenEXR, meshes, point clouds, and RAW heightmaps as well as integration with the Open Terrain Format (TORX).

Pricing

At time of writing Gaea offers a range of options including Indie at $99, Professional at $199, and Enterprise at $299. The more advanced features and unlimited resolution are reserved for the more expensive versions but these prices are comparable with similar software.

The pricing structure gives you a perpetual license which means you get all the minor updates included. One thing I love about the license is that you can install the license on two machines which gives you flexibility to work across two devices.

natural material settings 3d render model

Conclusion

So, let’s get to the bottom line, is Gaea worth the money? I assume for most of us it’s all about the money, right? It’s got to pay for itself unless we like having very expensive hobbies!

From a capabilities and usability standpoint there isn’t much that rivals it. I haven’t really got a bad word to say about it to be honest. It’s easy to use, quick to deliver amazing results and it handles what you throw at it with relative ease. You’re therefore unlikely to be disappointed with what it’s capable of.

Whether that is worth between $99 and $299 is going to be dependent on what you’re going to use it for. For some it’ll open up many new possibilities with existing and new clients which will in turn mean it pays for itself. For others it might take your work to that next level and therefore it might be less obvious whether it’s worth it or not.

If you’re using an alternative terrain creation tool then I would highly recommended trying out Gaea. I think you’ll find it a joy and pleasure to use.

Side note

Gaea is made exclusively for Windows 7 / 10. Sorry Mac users.

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