5 best new tools for 3D artists in May

Show season is upon us and the animation festivals, expos and conferences are underway. Now is a great time to start adding that impressive 3D art to your design portfolio. This is also a good time of year for the early adopters out there, with many new tools and updates starting to appear.

May is a little early on for some of the big guns to have made their announcements but there are still a few noteworthy new toys to play with, so check out this month's suggestions.

01. Streetview plugin

Best 3D tools in May 2016

Using just one url you can now set up limitless HDRI lit scenes

Currently developed with Cinema 4D users in min there's no reason this couldn't make it's way to many 3D apps, and it really should as it is fantastic.

The Streetview plugin takes Google Streetview imagery and converts it into a fully setup HDRI rig to light your scene and give reflection data for other shaders.

There are so many uses for this but if you need a quick way to grab exterior lighting from anywhere in the world this is it. Not only does the plugin make it easy to set up HDRI lighting in your scenes but they have an ever increasing showcase page on the developer site, where you can find the latest and greatest to use yourself.

02. 3Doodler 2

Best 3D tools in May 2016

A fantastic, reasonably priced entry into the world of extruded plastic

3D printing is slowly becoming more popular but uptake in the home is still taking its time. However, the clever folk at 3Doodler have made it simple to get into extruded plastic. The original 3Doodler was a huge crowdfunding success but they didn't stop with that. The second iteration is completely redesigned, with a smaller body, better controls and a huge range of colours, for both device and plastic.

The price point makes this obtainable for anybody with an interest in 3D printing, art and craft or gadget fans. It's also a fantastic way to help train your senses in understanding form and silhouette, which is vital for many artists and designers.

03. HTC Vive

Best 3D tools in May 2016

The Vive is easy to use, beautifully crafted and immense fun

Many are saying that 2016 is the year of VR – me included. Over the last few months I've been testing just about every head-mounted display (HMD) there is and there is one clear winner in my book – the Vive, from HTC.

It's a comfortable, very well build headset, with excellent quality all round. It performs incredibly well and make VR apps on steam come alive in ways other HMDs don't quite do.

Set up is a breeze. In fact you just plug it in and it installs all the drivers automatically, so you can pop the motion trackers up and off you go. The Vive in conjunction with even something simple like Tilt Brush gives the best interactive experience to date.

If you are a games designer then teaming the Vive up with Unreal makes for a stunning VR development environment.

04. V-Ray 3.3 for NUKE

Best 3D tools in May 2016

Having such a capable renderer inside the compositor offers a great workflow

V-Ray, from Chaos Group, has long had a reputation as one of the finest renderers around, amongst the traditional 3D market but now they have moved into a slightly different sector and V-Ray 3.3 for NUKE is the latest release for the industry standard compositor.

As well as a host of workflow improvements and additional features, what really sells V-Ray is how it has enabled NUKE users to do a lot of the 3D, from lighting and setting up shaders, to controlling cameras and rendering, all within the comp.

Rather than taking rendered frames and manipulating them you can do the lot inside the comp and not have to worry about re-renders. This alone makes for a powerful setup but add in the new stuff, like Sun and Sky and physical cameras and the pipeline becomes a lot shorter.

05. Substance Designer 5.4

Best 3D tools in May 2016

5.4 Keeps Substance Designer ahead of the pack, with new features, tweaks and fixes

Substance Designer, the leading software for building complex, realistic shaders, covering a multitude of disciplines and software, has now reached version 5.4.

With this new release they are staying apace with other changes in studio environments, most notably the move to higher resolution displays, with support for 4K monitors. This helps the UI fit the screen better making for much more comfortable working.

It's not all about that though. 5.4 ships with a number of other improvements, from better pipeline integration using the new Call-back system, right through to a set of new Bakers, including re-projection.

For those social artists out there, you can also render directly to your artstation account, for instant narcissism.

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Rob Redman

Rob Redman is the editor of 3D World and ImagineFX magazines and has a background in animation, visual effects, and photography. As a 3D artist he created the mothership in the Webby winning Plot Device and was animator on the follow-up; Order up. He has created training for Cinema 4D and Blackmagic Design Fusion artists. He's been a published product and food photographer since the age of 15. As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, Rob is also an avid beard grower.