Doing it in style

Fast and easy concept design is the philosophy of a new software package which allows designers to model in a photo-realistic environment Charles Clarke gives his verdict.

Until now the styling market has been dominated by Alias with its high end Auto Studio package and recently the more affordable Studio Tools. But now there is a new player – ICEM, which developed surface modelling package Surf, has entered the market with Style.

Both Alias products hark back to the traditional way of styling and concept design using wireframes and scenes as the basic modelling tools. But Style has a fresher approach, allowing designers to style in a photo-realistic modelling environment, eliminating the need for any add-on visualisation tools or time-consuming static rendering generation.

Its underlying philosophy is fast and easy concept design with geometry sketching, digital taping and automatic surface generation. Also, the interface only presents the tools needed to model and visualise the design to the user; there are no complex tool palettes or tool trays.

As it uses the same data architecture as Surf, Style’s original concept design data remains intact and is fully re-usable downstream once the concept design data is ready to evolve. Surf’s moresophisticated Class A surface construction and analysis tools can be used to repeat the design through to finalproduction tooling design.

This means that engineering criteria can be mapped against design intent at any stage in the design or manufacturing process. This enables critical decisions and design modifications to be made much earlier and faster, providing a far more agile way of working.

Earlier and more effective communication help to reduce confusion brought about by ambiguous and/or isolated decision making. Having integrated data means that the whole development process is ‘joined up’ and a meaningful data audit trail can be identified.

Tidier data makes for much more effective product development. Style is conditioned to the casual user because it is easy to learn and use. It supports curve, surface and facet-based modelling so you can choose your preferred interaction method or it can conform to local design studiopreferences. The unique geometry sketching tools let designers sketch curves in the way they do when drawing on paper.

Traditional concept design sketches can be imported into Style as the basis for digital geometry creation. Multiple sketches can be viewed simultaneously in one window. Engineering data, such as a vehicle packaging or powertrain information, can also be imported and used in conjunction with sketches within its modelling environment.Most surface design and styling packages are developed specifically for the automotive and aerospace industries.

For other consumer products designers this means that if it can handle autospace products the other stuff is covered. It also means that there are specific autospace design tools in the package. Digital tape is one of them. Traditionally, automotive profiles are developed from full size ‘tape drawings’, created by stretching and sticking tape to a white background. Style supports multiple tape sizes, styles and colours and, just as with real tape, you can ‘pinch’ and ‘pull’ the tape to achieve the desired character lines.

With Style’s digital tape facility different design themes can be saved on separate layers for comparison and design review – and the tape can then be used to drive the surfaces. This facility cannot be matched in the real world – you cannot overlay different tape themes on a single clay model.

Style’s sketch curves and lines can be used to quickly create initial surface models. Using the ‘surface fit’ tool a surface model is created with a single menu pick allowing early feasibility and initial engineering analysis.

The program also provides ‘bookmark’ facilities or design waypoints, allowing for experiments with different design approaches without fear of corruption or data loss. Like the rest of the interface Style’s visualisation tools are quick and easy to use. They include real-time photo-realistic, concept and silhouette line shading, ray-traced and radiosity rendering and virtual studios.

Pre-set and user definable ‘in-context’ virtual studio environments allow you to quickly place a vehicle into a customised or standard real-time or static virtual environment. The photo-realistic visualisation tools allow design and modelling operations to be performed with a realism hitherto unavailable in a concept model tool.

Materials, textures and soft shadows are displayed as well as self-shadowing and multiple reflection environments. Cynics might argue that Style is just a repackaging of Surf to provide it with a slick and easy front-end concept package. While this is certainly true, Style is a great standalone concept modelling tool.

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