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Flaming Pear LunarCell 1.5

Planetary terrain generation plugin for Adobe Photoshop By Dave Nagel
Summary: LunarCell is a plugin for Adobe Photoshop that allows you to create planetary terrains--complete with atmospheric effects and options for producing either fully composited planetary bodies or terrain maps (including bump and transparency masks) for use in 3D applications. The software is simple to use, yet offers a potentially infinite variety of unique terrains.
Developer: Flaming Pear (http://www.flamingpear.com)
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: $20 for the full version; $40 in Flaming Pear's "Space Bundle," which also includes SolarCell (sun generation) and Glitterato (star generation).
Users: Graphic designers, 3D artists who need to generate terrain maps
Recommendation: Buy

LunarCell is a plugin for Adobe Photoshop that allows you to create planetary terrains--complete with atmospheric effects and options for producing either fully composited planetary bodies or terrain maps (including bump and transparency masks) for use in 3D applications. The software is simple to use, yet offers a potentially infinite variety of unique terrains.

I've been a fan of Flaming Pear plugins for years. Priced well below the average for Photoshop plugins, Flaming Pear's software is nevertheless innovative and capable of producing results that will satisfy any graphic design professional. And LunarCell 1.5 is no exception.

Before we get into the specific, here are some small examples of imagery produced in LunarCell so you can see that, despite its name, LunarCell is capable of generating planetary imagery well beyond simple moonscapes.



Features
LunarCell is designed to generate planetary terrains from scratch. Using the numerous parameter controls in this plugin, you can create limitless varieties of textures and render them either as planetary bodies or as terrain/atmosphere maps, including color maps, bump maps and transparency maps in several different configurations--lit map, map color, land color, land bump, ocean mask, air color, cloud mask, cloud bump, "cities" (meaning a map of city lights), mural and hypsometric.



In LunarCell, there are six banks of parameters, as you can see in the screen shot above: Planet, Climate, Air, Clouds, Cities and Synth Clouds.


The Planet parameters generate the land characteristics of your heavenly body. The terrain can be based on the moon's surface or generated through fractal algorithms, with control over surface complexity, texture, craters and size (really magnification). You can also set the base color of the terrain and the lighting angle (which can also be backlit for coronal effects).

For the Climate, you can set the amount of ice, desert and water on the surface and set individual colors for each of those parameters. You can also adjust the axis of the planet (tilt and rotation). In the Air category, you can also set the depth of the atmosphere, the base color, the brightness and any sunset effects you want to apply to the terminator (the dividing line between day and night).

But the bulk of the parameters are designed to let you control the appearance of clouds on the planet. You can synthesize clouds and adjust the strength of the Coriolis effect, cloud viscosity, storm features, cloud color, height, shadow, texture, edge strength and, of course, color.



But, if you don't want to use synthetic clouds, you can also enable "real" clouds. By clicking the "Real Clouds" option, you can import data from weather satellites, and that data will be overlaid on your planet.



Beyond the actual parameters for the planetary terrain effects, these effects can be rendered in a number of different ways. "Normal" creates a spherical planet, which you can zoom in and out of, over a black backdrop. "Composite" creates your planet over a transparent background. The rest of the options (discussed above) create various types of flat terrain maps that you can then use as texture, bump and transparency maps in 3D applications.

To make matters even better, you can also, with the single click of your mouse, generate a multi-layer Photoshop file containing all of the different types of maps and spherical representations, each on is own layer.



Beyond all of these options, LunarCell also comes with several preset terrains and a randomize feature for generating completely random planetary bodies.

Ease of use
LunarCell 1.5 really couldn't be easier to use. You can begin with a preset planet, then modify its colors, atmospheric effects, sea level and the like with just a few simple slider adjustments. Or you can create completely random terrains with just a click of your mouse.

The only negative in terms of ease of use is that there are no tool tips to help get you acclimated to the interface more rapidly. But it shouldn't take you long to figure this stuff out.

Performance, reliability, quality
For performance, I don't really have anything to complain about. Regardless of the resolution of your image, previews within the LunarCell interface are zippy. On smaller images (say, up to standard-def video resolutions), the effect renders onto the canvas pretty much instantaneously. It slows down, of course, on larger images. On a 2,000 x 1,000 image (at 72 PPI), LunarCell took about 15 seconds to render on a dual 2 GHz G5. In a letter-sized document at 300 PPI, the effect took 28 seconds to render. Not too bad.

In terms of reliability, I did experience one crash while using this plugin, when creating a high-resolution color map, but the crash didn't repeat itself the next time I tried the same thing. Could have been a freak accident.

As for quality, LunarCell for the most part does produce excellent results. If you're using it for creating spherical objects directly in Photoshop, rather than generating maps, the quality will be better the farther you're zoomed away from the planet. Close up, some of the features will have a definitively fractal quality to them--something you wouldn't want when trying to create life-like worlds.

The bottom line
I have no reservations recommending LunarCell for those who need to create terrain maps for work in 3D or those who just want to produce planetary imagery. LunarCell is easy to use; it's pretty fast; and it can produce a huge variety of terrain and atmosphere effects on a planetary scale. And, best of all, it's inexpensive. I give LunarCell a Buy recommendation.

LunarCell is available now for Mac OS X and Windows for $20 for the stand-alone version, $40 in a bundle with two other Flaming Pear plugins (Glitterato and SolarCell). For more information, or to download the fully functional demo version, visit http://www.flamingpear.com.



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Related Keywords:terrain maps, photoshop, planets, moon, flaming pear, lunarcell, filter, effect, planetary terrain, projection maps, terrain editor, terrain generator

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