Carrara ($150, buy-only) is a powerful and--dare I say--fun application for creating detailed three-dimensional content and animations. It breaks the various stages of the modeling and creation process into “rooms,” each allowing you to focus on a different task with its own custom tools.
The Assemble room lets you see all objects of your scene in combination, and shift them about in 3D space. Carrara’s object selector is very intuitive, and lets you easily rotate objects, scale them, or move them in any axis. You can also stretch and morph objects, changing their shape.
The Model room lets you dig into any object in your scene and add detail or change its basic shape. Yes--you impact object shapes both in the Model and Assemble rooms, which can be slightly confusing when you’re just getting the hang of Carrara.
Not that beginning to use Carrara is difficult: Bundled with Carrara is a 775-page PDF manual, with lots of details and illustrations. The manual is written clearly and laid out for easy reference, and is one of the best parts of using Carrara. Out of the thirty-odd hours I spent evaluating Carrara, I would say at least ten were spent with the manual or watching videos showing how to use different parts of Carrara. For the videos, I only had to check CarraraCafé or to search YouTube for things like “Carrara modeling.” There is lots of online content, some of which is quite helpful.
An important part of the Carrara experience is the 3D Content Store. While not as tightly integrated into the application itself as the SketchUp 3D Warehouse, the Content Store offers a wealth of pre-made items. It features both official DAZ content, as well as content from various creators. A pair of leather pants or cut-off jeans for your characters would run you $8, while a complete business suit costs $20. You can also buy complete characters (people and creatures) and scenes.
Some characters, such as the DAZ-created Michael and Victoria, support complex sets of morphs. If you’ve ever used Poser, you may be familiar with this concept. Morphs let you control a character’s facial expressions and body properties with ease and remarkable detail. Move a slider, and the character winks. Drag another slider, and it raises an eyebrow. I tested morphs using the Victoria character, and they were very realistic and simple to use. The only issue is that some characters (such as Victoria) have numerous morphs, each controlled by an individual slider, making for a busy interface.
One thing that makes Carrara less fun to use is that it sometimes becomes unresponsive. For example, if you try to abort a preview render by pressing Escape, Carrara does abort the render, but only after thirty seconds or so (during which the application is frozen). The same goes for saving a new scene: By default, an option called Save Scene Preview is checked, which renders the scene as you save it. Should you not realize you need to disable this option, saving a scene to disk could take minutes.
This review barely scratches the surface of what Carrara can do. It also handles character and object animation, character bones, detailed landscaping tools, creating trees and plants, and a ton of other things. Carrara does have a learning curve, but even learning to use it can be very satisfying. Once you become familiar with it, you could produce pro-level results, using professional assets to get there faster.