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From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 17 No 12 - DECEMBER/JANUARY 2004
Alias’ StudioTools Design Suite and MotionBuilder 6 keep the 3D design and animation software company ahead in the auto and entertainment industries
I’m going to break a cardinal rule, here! I am going to tell you to jump to
the middle of the magazine – and to read the article on Cosmic Blobs, before you
read this one! It’s all about the creation of shapes and characters in 3D,
rendering and animating them, and it is aimed purely at kids. Read the bit at
the end about endowing the characters that have been created with motion,
getting them to walk, wriggle and trot like live creatures – all of it achieved
with some clever, hidden technology from the software developers.
Then turn back here, for this is where the real stuff is! This is where you will find the professional designers tools - the software that is used both within industry at the forefront of industrial design, and to produce the highest levels of character development and animation for the entertainment industry.
The outfit that encompasses both areas of 3D design with such dominance is Alias. The company has developed a suite of software – StudioTools - that is widely used by design engineers for concept design work, evaluation and design reviews, reverse engineering and production modelling. Alias also produces the award winning professional 3D animation and effects package, Maya, besides a wide range of specialist tools that cater for specific effects in films, games and on the web.
Alias is particularly active at the moment, releasing, amongst other software, an upgrade to StudioTools – Version 12 – and a new version of MotionBuilder for animators – the grown-ups version of Cosmic Blobs animation capabilities!
The trouble with Alias releases is that they provide so much material with each one, and add so many new features, that it is difficult selecting those that are most important. Consequently, I am reduced to outlining the capabilities of MotionBuilder, so that I can concentrate a bit more effort on StudioTools. I am probably not just imposing my own preferences when I say that StudioTools is the sort of software that we need to use, and MotionBuilder is the one we would like to use!
MotionBuilder came under the Alias banner when it acquired its developer, Kaydara. It provides real-time character animation technology for the games and film industries. It uses enhanced keyframing and intelligent character technology together with precision animation tools to provide a fast, yet simple, method of developing highly realistic character animation – supported by advanced Story TimeLine to generate the action environment, and FBX, a platform independent 3D authoring and interchange format to acquire and exchange 3D assets and media from a wide variety of sources. All in all, a complete character animation package that, in the words of Nocolas Rioux, VP of technology at Ubisoft (If you are a games fan you will recognise the company) ‘provides our artists with an unprecedented level of control and precision when developing highly realistic character animation…and allows us to focus on character animation and performance, and not worry about interoperability between software applications’.
Version 6 of MotionBuilder has introduced a more intuitive environment with a high-level animation editor, a redesigned properties viewer, and the ability to emulate the hotkeys of other 3D packages. It has simplified its camera controls, making repetitive camera navigation tasks easier, and enhanced its viewer with new navigation hot buttons to make editing animations faster and easier. IT also has a redesigned transform manipulator and a new tool – Handles – for complete artistic control over the selection and manipulation of objects.
StudioTools Design Suite
StudioTools is, actually, only part of the StudioTools Design Suite, which incorporates, besides the industrial design software, ImageStudio for transforming 3D models created in StudioTools into high quality visuals, and PortfolioWall, a powerful presentation tool for organising, presenting and collaborating on 2D and 3D visual data.
StudioTools itself incorporates DesignStudio, Studio, AutoStudio and SurfaceStudio, the latter two exemplifying, perhaps, the predominance that the software has in the auto industry. The suite covers all aspects of design from sketching, modelling, evaluation, animation, rendering and data transfer –enabling design engineers to take product development through from concept sketches to engineering. The latest release of StudioTools Design Suite introduces StudioTools 12, ImageStudio2 and portfolioWall2, focussing on concept design, real-time visualisation, reverse engineering, design review and production modelling.
Reflecting, again, its use by practically all automotive companies, StudioTools 12 includes a number of new and enhanced features geared towards that industry. Perhaps the most interesting of these is its new concept design workflows, where design sketches can be converted into 3D models quickly and more accurately by arranging the different views –top, side, rear and front - into their relative positions in 3D, without creating the actual geometry, providing a quick model reference to visualise possible designs. These can then be used as reference points to reproduce the actual 3D model.
Surfacing is an important part of automotive design, and, Alias has introduced a number of features to enhance the production of high class curves, from automatic surface creation using the redesigned Curve Network tool to fast and intuitive curve creation using a natural sketching technique with a mouse or digital tablet. Class A surfacing takes that a whole lot further, with improved snapping, a new flange tool for creating single surface flanges across multiple surfaces and Peak Radius Fillet controls that create transition surfaces specifying specific radius requirements.
The auto industry still relies heavily on physical prototyping, and to facilitate the inclusion of scanned data in the digital design process, Alias has added new reverse engineering tools, which use meshes as modelling references, and to assist in the visualisation of scanned data.
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