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August 2014
Issue: January 1, 2011

Review: FrameForge Previz Studio 3

By: Igor Ridanovic

PRODUCT: FrameForge Previz Studio 3

WEBSITE: www.frameforge3d.com

PRICE: Previz Studio Pro: $599; Previz Studio 3 Pro Premium: $799; Stereo 3D Version: $899; Stereo 3D Version Premium: $1,099



- democratizes previz

- ability to use predefined relationships between objects

Every now and then one may come across a piece of software that is very useful and a lot fun to use. FrameForge Previz Studio 3 caught my eye because it seemed like an application I’d like to spend an evening with. 

Little did I understand that one evening would turn into many late nights as Previz 3 was revealing its tantalizing layers one by one. This review scratches only the surface of this complex but easy-to-use software.

WHAT IS PREVIZ 3?

Previz 3 is more than your father’s old storyboarding program. It enables directors, cinematographers and other creative professionals to flesh out creative ideas in a minimum amount of time and with a minimal learning curve. Although it cannot produce highly-polished animation, Previz 3 democratizes the craft of film previsualization, and can also be deployed as a powerful learning tool.

The program comes in three tiers suited for different users levels. The top Stereographic 3D Version of Previz 3 adds powerful stereoscopic 3D features.

A WORKING OUTLINE

Users familiar with 3D animation concepts may master the software a little quicker than the rest, but the software is loaded with optional information prompts that guide new users along.

Previz 3 can import scripts from major screenwriting programs. It can break down the scenes from a script into empty virtual sets ready for dressing with props and actors.

Room Builder allows for building of precisely-measured flats with functional doors and windows. Users who require even more precision and detail can import Google SketchUp, FBX and VRML objects.

There is a large local library of props and an ever-growing online community library. Hinged props are fully functional. Moving parts can swivel, open and close. Actors have movable inverse kinematics skeletons and user editable texture maps for simulating scars, tattoos and body hair.

Perhaps one of the best features in Previz 3 is the ability to use predefined relationships between objects. Putting a gun into an actor’s hand makes the hand hold the gun. Dragging the actor into a chair forces the actor to sit down. The relationships are user editable and the possibilities are endless.

The prop library also contains common production equipment like dollies, cranes and calibrated lighting instruments. Lights and cameras work interdependently and can produce shadows, accurate light distribution and depth of field.

All production equipment interacts with other set pieces. The program warns about violations like mounting a heavy camera on a light tripod or trying to jam a Technocrane into a low-ceiling room. Objects are easy to position and move using on-screen control orbs or side buttons and sliders. Every object, including the cameras, can be animated.

Final output options are plentiful. Previz 3 can generate storyboards, animatics, Quicktime and AVI clips, and shot lists complete with top down views and full equipment lists.

USE IN EDUCATION

One unintended consequence of a program that offers a high degree of physical and optical accuracy is that it is very suitable for film students and professionals who need to brush up on their skills. Film schools rarely have the resources and the type of equipment that is available inside Previz 3.

Students can easily lay down tracks, place a dolly and look through an actual production model camera with a specific lens. They can see what amount of light is necessary to achieve the desired depth of field in the scene. They can test to see if their choice of lens and camera placement can capture the blocking they directed. All the things that define director’s craft and require years of practice to master can be practiced in the software with a good degree of accuracy.

The stereo 3D tools in Previz 3 are also useful for pros looking to learn the principles of stereo production and post. The manual does not hide the fact that some stereo prerequisites are required. However, anyone who has learned the stereo basics can start visualizing how the stereo theory translates into the illusion of depth. The program comes with a generic side-by-side rig and a beam splitter rig. 

Previz 3 outputs left and right eye in a variety of ways. It can drive a monitor with active shutter glasses and can generate anaglyph video for use with colored glasses.

Aside from alignment asymmetries that sometimes affect physical stereo rigs, Previz 3 creates a perfect virtual equivalent to a real-world stereoscopic scene. Users can adjust not only the camera interaxial distance and optional toe-in angle, but can also see how varying amounts of horizontal image translation would benefit the shot in the post.

The program takes into account the intended screen size and adjusts the calculations in the Rig Solver to warn the user about uncomfortable parallax.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Previz 3 lacks comprehensive animation tools and metadata burn-in windows often used in high-end film previsualizations. On the other hand, it is much easier to learn and use than a typical 3D animation program.

The software is perfect for productions that cannot spend tens of thousands of dollars on animatics and previz. It is great for planning complicated, physically-accurate setups in hard-to-access locations.