Rendered easy

Derived from movie special-effects technology, ImageStudio, Alias’s latest rendering tool, is so simple to operate that even non-experts can produce good-quality promotional material.

Alias Wavefront has given itself a facelift. As well as simplifying its name to Alias, the 20-year veteran of the computer visualisation market has announced its first new product for two years.

It has also introduced updates to its digital communication and collaboration system, Portfoliowall, and its range of affordable industrial design and technical surfacing products, StudioTools.

The company’s first introduction under the new name is ImageStudio, a high-quality ‘free-standing’ rendering tool derived from Studio Tools and Alias’s animation and rendering system, Maya. But unlike these, which require highly trained users, ImageStudio can be used by engineers and designers competent with CAD systems but without in-depth rendering expertise. That’s not to say that the output by a general-purpose user would be of the same quality as that from the high-end renderers in expert hands but it could get pretty close. ImageStudio can produce high-quality, ‘in context’, photo-realistic renderings and animations with minimum effort.

The ImageStudio virtual environments are equivalent to a virtual photo studio based on typical product photography set-ups. They include optimal lighting, shadows, reflectivity and backgrounds, all with parameters that can easily be adjusted.Input is primarily from StudioTools and Maya wire models, but ImageStudio has IGES input so it can take models from any 3D system. There are some direct connect CAD interfaces in the StudioTools products so third-party CAD models can be brought into ImageStudio via this route.

ImageStudio allows you to design and prepare scenes quickly. You bring in the model, assign shaders (textures and colours) and an environment map, and the system does the rest. Shaders are assigned from a catalogue or asset library that comes with the software. These can be updated as more become available from the web. Assigning shaders is a simple drag-and-drop operation.

Another inset window shows you the environment with the basic default lighting set-up. This has a series of sliders and handles that allow you to manipulate the lighting and get instant visual feedback. If the model comes from StudioTools with basic shaders assigned you can generate a high-quality rendering instantly with shadows and reflections without having to make changes.

ImageStudio supports multiple one-way re-import of StudioTools files for when surfaces are being modified or designs revised. When the model and scene have been set up for rendering you don’t have to start from scratch if surface details change – just re-import the model and the surfaces will update.

You can also use image-based lighting environments that support High Dynamic Range Images. In this case the environment image carries the lighting information. This gives very realistic results with the reflections on the model reflecting the image environment.

The final images are output as standard image formats, or the scene can be output as an interactive QuickTime(r) VR file. As would be expected with Alias, the interface is very graphically oriented. Image quality and edge quality can be adjusted with simple sliders – you don’t have to go two or three menus deep to make these basic adjustments.

You can also put decals on to the images and scale and rotate them at will. You can even stack the decals in order from front to back (like Powerpoint) so they can overlay one other – a boon if you need virtual previews of sponsorship logos.

Alias has chosen to incorporate the mental ray rendering engine from mental images in ImageStudio. This interface allows you to take advantage of the power of mental ray, without needing the technical expertise to render high-quality images.

While LightWorks is still the most common renderer for 3D CAD systems, a small number of developers have switched to the mental ray software (including Dassault with CATIA and, more recently, SolidWorks with the second release of PhotoWorks).ImageStudio is available from this month, priced £2,889. Though expensive, its advantage is that it requires zero training and the image quality of the output is stunning.

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