Clara.io: 65,000 Users, New Features and Premium Subscriptions.

3D model library, user galleries, faster performance, image-based lighting and tab-based UI.

- Ben Houston

What a year it has been for Clara.io, the online 3D modeling and rendering app. It was only a year ago when we first announced Clara.io and showed off the pre-beta version at SIGGRAPH 2013. To say that this was a busy year for us here at Exocortex is the understatement of the year.

In the past year, while running the beta, we’ve continued to launch major feature improvements including a including a revamped and polished UI, a ton of sub-object editing tools, support for subdivision surfaces, a comprehensive integration of ChaosGroups’ V-Ray photorealistic renderer, and our 3D Stream technology that enables you to embed interactive V-Ray scenes into webpages. Our growth has also blown past our expectations. We are pleased to announce that in one year, we have grown from 0 to 65,000 registered Clara.io users.

As we come to the end of Clara.io’s first year, we’d like to end on a high note. So we are today launching all of this:

User Galleries & View Pages

With over a hundred thousand scenes in Clara.io, we figured it was time to get social. So we have given everyone a profile page that lists their public and gallery scenes. You can configure what information you share on it via your profile settings page.

My profile page is located here: clara.io/user/bhouston

We are also introducing the view page, is a page that highlights a specific scene, with a description and optional tags. It gives you quick access to its pre-rendered image, its 3D interactive WebGL representation, and its interactive streaming V-Ray rendering. As well, there is an embed button on each view that lets you configure your embed and copy out the resulting iframe code.

Here is what a view page looks like, click to visit it on Clara.io:

3D Model Library and Downloads

Along with the user profile/gallery pages, all public and gallery scenes are now also available in our searchable model library, available here: clara.io/library. Don’t worry, private and unlisted scenes will not appear in the 3D model library nor on your profile page, only those scenes with public and gallery permissions:

The 3D model library isn't just for looking at beautiful models, it is useful as well. All scenes whose permissions are set to public are available for immediate editing in Clara.io (click the "Edit Online" button) or they can be download from their view pages in your choice of standard 3D format, FBX, Collada, OBJ, STL or Three.JS, just click the "Download" button.

Clara.io is the first 3D Model library that supports exporting to the popular popular WebGL Three.JS format. We even have documentation on how best to load Clara.io ThreeJS exported scenes here. Clara.io is also the first 3D model library that allows you to preview your models in both interactive WebGL as well as streaming V-Ray renders. Giving users more confidence in the suitability of the models available in the library.

Simplified Upload Workflow

Until now, if you wanted to upload a model as a new scene, it was necessary to first create a scene and then drag-and-drop you model into the scene editor. Having to open the editor just to upload a new file is unnecessarily complex in our opinion. Thus to make things simpler, we have created the Upload workflow. Just to go clara.io/upload when logged in. The new workflow is simple and just three steps:

  • Choose your file.
  • Set the scene name, and permissions
  • Click okay.

It will then upload the file, and then import it. Once it has finished uploading you will be taken to the scene’s view page, where you can either edit it, or get its embed codes to share it around.

More details can be found in our documentation on our new 3D Model upload workflow.

Task-Focused Tab UI

Until now, we have had one general interface mode for our editor. While this is functional, a more modern approach would be to have a tab-based UI that offers different UI layouts oriented towards specific tasks. This is what we are happy to release today. Along the top of the Clara.io UI underneath the menu bar, there are now four tabs: General, Model, Layout and Render. Each of these tabs change the UI to be oriented towards those tasks:

  • The Model tab has the sub-object modeling tool handy on the right hand side.
  • The Layout tab features the Model library along the bottom.
  • The Render tab automatically switches one viewport to a V-Ray streaming render and brings up our +1000 Material library in the bottom tab.
  • The General tab is included for those who want to continue working as they did before in a general UI view.

Here is an example of the modeling tab with 3 viewports configured:

More Flexible Viewports

One feature that many professional desktop 3D modeling and rendering packages have that Clara.io has been lacking is considerable flexibility in terms of viewport layouts. Clara.io has been limited to either 1 or 4 simultaneous viewports. Starting today, it is now possible to use 2 and 3 viewport configurations in Clara.io by expanding and collapsing vertical and horizontally viewports. This makes possible a lot of really nice workflows, such as having two viewports side by side, that previously were not possible. We made use of these new viewport configurations in our Tab-Based UI.

The following is an example of our new render tab layout with 2 viewports configured:

High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI)

Another feature that we just introduced (yes, we have been this busy) is support for EXR, TIFF, TGA, HDR and DSS image types. These image formats are not natively supported by either browsers or WebGL. We now automatically convert these images into browser-compatible image formats so you can use them within Clara.io’s WebGL viewports, while using the original images when rendering using V-Ray on the server. We also automatically reduce the image sizes as well so that even if you upload an original 20MB 8000x4000 TIFF image of a beautiful texture, you can still quickly load it in the web browser.

Image-Based Lighting (IBL)

With Clara.io’s new support of high dynamic range image formats like EXR, and HDR images, we can offer image-based lighting (IBL) when rendering through V-Ray. It is a fairly simple setup process, which we outline in this video tutorial:

Navigation Aids in Embeds

To make it easier to navigate WebGL and V-Ray scene embeds (3D Streams), we have introduced navigation mode buttons in the bottom left hand side. These buttons allow you to switch into pan, zoom and orbit modes or go back to the home position. These are especially useful when using a touch interface on a phone or tablet.

Here is an interactive render of Image-Based lighting using V-Ray that demonstrates the new navigation aids in the bottom left corner:

Maya-Style Mouse Navigation

One of the most requested minor improvements we have had has been to add the ability to switch from the Clara.io style of mouse navigation to Maya. We have just added that. To use Maya-style mouse navigation go to “Edit > Preferences...” and then the “User Interface” settings change the “Navigation Style” to “Maya.”

Desktop-like Modeling Performance

Users are not willing to compromise performance when using a web-based tool. Until now, users have been forced with Clara.io to give up some performance compared to desktop tools when manipulating sub-components of objects, such as moving vertices, edges and faces. We are pleased to announce that Clara.io’s sub-object manipulation performance in the web browser, now matches Maya’s. This is a major milestone and continues to prove that web-based tools are not just toys, but rather real alternatives to desktop-based solutions. We will be releasing comparison data on Maya's and Clara.io's real-world performance in the next few weeks.

Premium Subscription Pricing

We are pleased to finally introduce premium subscription plans to Clara.io. Don’t worry, we are keeping our free tier, it isn’t going anywhere, but for those that need more, we are starting with two paid plans. For those interested in modeling, unlimited private scenes, and customized WebGL embeds, we are introducing a $10/month plan. Those with rendering needs, can upgrade to our $25/month plan that offers unlimited personal V-Ray rendering, both in the editor and in our 3D Stream render embeds.

Full details: clara.io/pricing

To stay up to date and track the progress of Clara.io, please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and add us to your G+ circle.

Until the next update!

Ben of Clara.io

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