Software Review: Informatix Piranesi | WebReference

Software Review: Informatix Piranesi

Software Review: Informatix Piranesi

By Nathan Segal. June 5, 2003.

Piranesi is named after draws Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a famous architect in the 1700s who developed a rich vocabulary to depict space in two dimensions. Piranesi is what I’d call a hybrid application, one that spans the gap between different programs such as Lightwave, AutoCad and Photoshop. Essentially, Piranesi converts 3D models into its proprietary format (EPix) and allows you to add textures, effects, people, water, etc. (In this review, I was running Piranesi on a G4 PowerMac).

To begin, you need to use a 3D program to model the scene which can be as simple or complex as desired, though it’s best to render the model as a flat-shaded image. From there, you need to save the file as an EPix file. If your rendering application doesn’t allow you to save files in that format, you can use the Vedute application (included with Piranesi) to convert the file. You can download the plug-ins for your 3D application here. Another option is to save your file as a DXF or 3DS (on the PC).

Piranesi stores depth and material information in each pixel which lets you paint accurately in 3D space. As an example, you can use Locks to determine what plane of the scene you want to paint and adjust them as necessary so only that plane is painted. It’s not perfect and you have to be careful so as not to cover other objects with paint, but it reduces the margin for error considerably. Once you have the base image, you can add textures, tints, skies, fog, mist, water, etc. You can even add a variety of objects such as lamps, people, etc. and they will all possess the proper shadow orientation to match the other elements in your scene.

A sample of a scene in Piranesi. Note the shafts of light showing on the floor.

But there’s a lot more to Piranesi than just these effects. You can turn your illustration into a line drawing, introduce a watercolor effect, create a photorealistic or non realistic image with a hand rendered feel reminiscent of traditional illustration techniques. But unlike those techniques, you can create a number of different styles, without having to start from scratch.

In addition, Piranesi contains a large library of textures, backgrounds and cutouts that you can use with your layouts. A grand total of A sampling of what’s included are: wood, facades, stone, bricks, etc. You also have the option of creating your own style libraries for use with a give project.

One bug I encountered is when I clicked on the Styles window when nothing was in it, sending the computer went into a thinking mode. The only way to stop it was to force the program to quit and launch it again.

If you’re looking for an alternative to creating artistic scenes from your 3D files, Piranesi is definitely a program to consider. Since Piranesi offers more features than I can illustrate here, I recommend that you visit their downloads page and watch the video presentation. There is also a 30 day trial version available.


Overall, Piranesi is an innovative program and is a lot of fun to use. On the down side, it doesn’t offer support for all 3D applications, such as Maya. As for the file formats supported, 3DS is designed for the PC and using DXF can be problematic.

System Requirements

Windows 98/NT 4.0 or later, 300 MHz Pentium processor, with 128 MB of RAM and a monitor with a resolution of 1000x750 and displaying an minimum of 65,000 colors.

Mac OS X 10.2.6 or later, 400 MHz PowerPCTM G4, 256 MB RAM, 1000 x 750 resolution color monitor displaying at least 65,000 colors. Note: A high resolution true color display is strongly recommended. For QuickTime Panorama generation a faster processor and more memory are recommended.

Pricing and Availability

The RRP is US $750. Piranesi is sold through distributors as listed here. At this time of writing, Piranesi 4 is due to be released, sometime in September of 2004.

You can contact Piranesi through one of several methods: Informatix Software International Ltd Daedalus House, Station Road, Cambridge CB1 2RE UK Tel: +44 (0)1223 363014 Fax: +44 (0)1223 363015. Email:

Created: June 5, 2003
Revised: August 05, 2004