Modules of perfection

The introduction of StudioTools 12 has brought the dream of Alias software for all a step closer. Charles Clarke reports.

Alias has been the de facto standard design software for industrial designers for many years. Once, all aspiring young designers dreamed of when they would work at a company rich enough to afford Alias. The introduction of StudioTools 12 has brought this dream much closer.

StudioTools is split into several different modules, each having similar core technology. users are split between industrial and automotive designers who choose the modules they require for their work and their budget. As you move up the range the functionality, complexity and price increases.

The entry level product, DesignStudio at £5,880, is aimed at concept and industrial designers seeking quality surfaces and surfacing tools. Further up the range is Studio, AutoStudio and finally SurfaceStudio for high-end automotive Class ‘A’ surfaces.

Alias is intended for geometry creation and presentation, so in many ways it’s a cross between traditional CAD and, say, Adobe Photoshop. It has ‘shelves’ instead of toolbars, which hold artistic tools like brushes, as well as the normal modelling implements.

The basic interface is a little daunting, and Alias is a complex product without the ‘teach yourself’ character of many of the Windows-based modellers. But once basic training has been completed, the system is relatively easy to use, with much of the user interaction being conducted within the modelling window, rather than cascading through menus.

At version 12 the interface has been re-worked to place commands into logical groups that follow and support the typical workflow. In the shelves all the commands are grouped under four headings: painting, modelling, visualisation and default.

Similarly the pull-down menus have been rationalised to arrange commands and variables into logical groups. The interface is much more logically arranged so it has a fresher look.

Other 3D systems support sketching in the form of lines, circles, arcs and splines. StudioTools allows the creation of much more artistic forms, using an array of digital sketching tools like pencils, brushes and airbrushes.

In previous releases artistic curves had to be created with either the painting tools or precise geometry using the modelling tools. Now this can be done using a natural freehand sketching technique.

There have also been key developments to the 3D surface modelling tools to make the creation of accurate curve networks and surfaces much quicker. Some semi-automatic tools have been added to create a surface from a set of curves and surface edges. There is a new multi-surface draft operation which allows single-surface flanges to be created across multiple surface edges instead of individually.

At version 12 the main functions of reverse engineering — previously in a standalone tool called Spider — have been incorporated into the core StudioTools product, and all modules allow the importation and manipulation of data from the wide range of 3D scanning devices.

But visualisation is the big winner. The new visualisation panel provides a way of accessing all the tools required to visualise models and makes the rendering set-up process much more effective. Users no longer have to be animation experts or directors to get good results quickly. The enhanced ToggleShade function provides improved realism with soft shadows and added backgrounds reflected in the model’s surfaces.

Presentation and design reviews have been enhanced with new bookmark functions, and the ability to remove toolbars and run full-screen make the process more professional looking.

So now, rather than struggling with the mechanics of getting good renderings, designers can take advantage of all the improvements offered by StudioTools 12 and concentrate on developing models.

On the web