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3D Space: Caligari trueSpace
Posted Feb 19, 2004 - October 2005 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 2 next »

Caligari's trueSpace, a well-rounded, icon-driven 3D animation tool used by Rolls-Royce, NASA, and others, provides a useful prism for exploring the spectral range of 3D capabilities. In particular, a careful inspection of trueSpace's strengths lends insight into "stereo lithography," a facet of 3D design that's found in many of the products we'll explore in 3D Space.

The trueSpace user interface doesn't look like many of the wordy Windows programs with which we're all familiar. "It's designed to be intuitive," says Jeff Parrish, Caligari director of product management. "Since ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,' you access most tasks and tools through icons, supplemented by context menus and flyout menus."

This interface, Parrish says, is designed to "help you think like a designer. It's especially helpful in developing an idea," he argues. "The nested icons let you create faster than you can with drop-down menus."

If your first glance at all those icons looks daunting, trueSpace includes "Cool Tools" to learn quickly within the design environment. The first Cool Tool is the Icon Helper, which shows every icon and lists all their names. Configure the list alphabetically or by categories to see every feature of the program.

The second tool is the Icon Finder. Highlight the image of any icon in the Icon Helper (or type its name in the Search field), and an animated arrow guides you through the nested menus to the tool you selected. Create hot keys for any tool, or re-organize the icon flow to fit the way you work.

"You can design a concept in trueSpace, and render your drawing," says Parrish. "You can then use that drawing in a presentation—send the rendering to PowerPoint or place it on Web. Or render your concept as an animation, use it in a Web brochure. You can also export in Viewpoint"—VET format, included in the optional Conversion Pack—"which allows visitors to a Web site to interact with your project in 3D. Visitors can zoom in, move around, and see your complete design before going to production."

Using either VET or stereo lithography (STL), Parrish continues, "you can also send your rendered file to a ‘3D printer,' offered by many service bureaus, who take this file format and return a 3D model. Then use that model to make a mold for a project. Finally, export the same trueSpace file to a CAD program [with the optional Conversion Pack] to go right to manufacturing."

And your dad wanted you to study drafting.

trueSpace opens in a perspective view, but you can add up to three alternative views or use dual monitors. Each view can be moved, rotated, and scaled. An on-screen joystick lets you move, rotate, or zoom around your scene, making it easy to create a "walk-through" of your design.

The "camera view" displays what the current camera sees. Use the same command on a spotlight to pinpoint that light's center of focus, or use it on a character's eyes to see exactly where he is looking.

If you prefer, work in the TriPanel view. Its base panel is similar to the standard DrawPanel, while the two rear panels contain 2D projections of your object's profile curve (showing its vertices and splines). Edit the projections directly on the "workplanes" and see changes to your model's projections on all surfaces.

Direct3D (3D3), the default display, allows real-time preview of objects. Open GL is also available. You can draw as wire frame, solid figure, or outline. Select "global draw mode," or set alternative modes for each object to, say, manipulate a wireframe mesh over a painted backdrop.

Use layers in trueSpace to organize complex scenes. While layers in 2D applications act like stacked transparent slides, trueSpace layers group elements together without actually gluing them together. For example, you can logically group objects within a scene so that they can be hidden or revealed with a single click, as in a cut-away rendering of an automobile. Unlike layers in 2D applications, the layer number does not affect object placement or visibility.

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