Toolkit has integrated paint box into 3D environment

Animation and 3D modelling go hand in hand for most industrial designers. Now DesignStudio has added painting and sketching tools to the 3D environment.

John Gibson, director of Studio Tools for Alias/Wavefront, a subsidiary of Silicon Graphics Inc., said designers will first access the curve construction tools, then move to surfacing tools before using the animation aspect to manipulate the model.

There is also a 2D paint box/sketching tool built in which provides a standard set of brushes and erasers. Gibson said it is interesting that this tool has been integrated into the 3D environment.

“You can create an image and sketch it there or augment it to the 3D work for presentation,” he explained.

Gibson noted the software set is normally used by product designers and industrial designers to produce 3D surface models of products.

“It is modelling software that allows the designer to create a virtual 3D modelling shape and visualize that, design changes or alternatives,” Gibson explained.

Once designers have a shape they like, Gibson said they can use the rendering for presentations.

“If you want to show the product being used in a certain environment you can use the animation tools,” he said.

He added that the rendering capabilities are often used to create images for presentations.

“The 3D modelling usually takes the form of curves and surfaces. If you look at a mouse from the top, side and end, you can imagine what the profiles of that object would look like in the program,” he said. “Curves can be swept in space to create surfaces and surfaces can come together to create the shape.”

DesignStudio, part of alias/Wavefront’s Studio Tools, runs on Silicon Graphics Irix-based machines. Gibson said the system will now also run on Windows NT and Windows 2000.

Gibson said he usually recommends people configure machines with a minimum of 256MB of memory. “It’s a serious application. There has to be enough memory to house the application as well as the models,” he said.

Mark Armstrong, director of Australian company Blue Sky Design, agreed, calling DesignStudio a powerful tool.

“It allows designers to visualize forms that couldn’t be done before,” Armstrong said. He noted that Blue Sky Design used to be partnered with Phillips Electronics, who were using Alias’ solution as their main creative software. Blue Sky Design picked up the Alias products at that time.

Armstrong said in the industrial design community it is important to have up-to-date software.

“It’s a matter of competition. You have to maintain a high-level of technology,” he stated.

The design team at Blue Sky Design enjoys using the software, according to Armstrong, and he said they use it for most of their products, including their winning design for the 2000 Olympic torch.

“I’m sure there are a host of suggestions for improvements to the software by the designers, but nothing that I’ve heard,” he said. “It’s an easy-to-use tool.”

Gibson said usability is thanks to the toolset within the program.

“There is room for a lot of interaction once the user gets comfortable with the system. There are hot keys and marking menus, which allow them to use ‘gestural’ interface. It’s a gesture-based interface that can take you directly to the tool you’re looking for,” Gibson explained. “We have something else called the shelf, where designers can bring frequently used tools to one place.”

The program also contains construction history that remembers the sequence of operations that took place.

“If you start drawing the curves, then connect them together in a network, fill in the network with surfaces, then manipulating the surfaces, you can go back to the curves and manipulate them and the model reconstructs itself. We refer to this as change management,” Gibson said.

DesignStudio sells for US$16,000.