AliasStudio 2008 (Cadalyst Labs Review)1 Jan, 2008 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
Software combines 2D digital sketching and solid-like 3D surface creation.
If you've ever done any industrial design or dealt with industrial designers, you undoubtedly have at least heard of Alias. For years it has been the de facto standard for Class A surfacing. But with various high-powered competitors trying to secure a piece of the pie, can Alias maintain its market share? With a good mix of capability and ease of use, it can — and that's what I see in AliasStudio 2008. When Alias was sold to Autodesk in January 2006, I read some doom and gloom concerns that things would change. But Autodesk has made surprisingly few changes. Instead, the company is investing in digital prototyping in a big way and trying to get all the software to work together. Not an easy task, but certainly a lofty goal. Imagine — the market leader in surface-design technology matched with the market-leading CAD technology.
For those of you out there (and there are always one or two) who haven't ever seen Alias software, here's a short rundown of some of its most important features: 2D digital sketching (not as in Pro/E but like art class), amazingly solid-like 3D surface creation, and, most intriguingly, a combination of the two. Let's take them one at a time.
Let's face it, if you have even a smidgeon of artistic talent, it's always going to be easier to pick up a pencil and draw something than it will be to model it. But sometimes, all you want to do is explore possibilities before you commit to a direction. AliasStudio 2008 has a whole suite of 2D paint capabilities that will have you happily creating in no time. As I said before, it resembles hand sketching or painting more than it does parametric modeling.
Years ago, I went to the Alias office in Toronto to see the product. I told the staff at the time that they needed to split off their 2D bitmap creation tools into a standalone product. (Okay, I wasn't the only one who said it.) They did it, and it became their SketchBook Pro product. It had layers that you could turn on and off. Why would you need that in a bitmap? Imagine doing the line work of a product and then having a different layer for text variations and others for color choices. Imagine also that you had all kinds of different drawing tools (ballpoint pen, markers, airbrush, etc.). AliasStudio 2008 has a Hotspot menu (accessed either by right-clicking or hitting the spacebar) that is very similar to SketchBook Pro's (figure 1).
Figure 1. AliasStudio 2008 has a new interface. The Hotspot menu lets you pick and change tools from wherever you are in the graphic window.
AliasStudio 2008 has many other 2D capabilities. Predictive Strokes (figure 2) draws straight lines and arcs by interpolating user input. Layer Blending allows users to apply different effects on different layers such as lightening, darkening, and color. It even provides direct support for Wacom Cintiq tablets. Users can draw and paint right on their screens, and Express keys on both sides allow them to zoom, pan, and access user-designed functions.
Figure 2. Predictive Strokes will watch what you draw and interpolate it into perfect lines and arcs.
One thing I used to take Alias to task about was its lack of solid design capability. I leave that alone now. True, it still doesn't do solids, but it has much of the same construction methodology, so it's not as big an issue. Of course, I think the biggest advantage to doing things the way Alias does is that users can model just about anything they can imagine. And there are some things you can do that are really interesting.
Figure 3. The Bend command lets you model things in a control-lable flat orientation and bend them the way they ll be produced.
AliasStudio 2008 has a Dynamic Shape Modeling tool group that allows users to add shape to their models after they're built. People can be as precise as they care to be about the modeling as well as the resulting shape. The Bend command lets users bend models into curvier shapes (figure 3). The Conform command lets them build really complex elements and then wrap them onto a surface. It works great for those ubiquitous corporate logos (figure 4). The Twist command lets designers twist their model around a given axis. Duplicate Place is similar to the Conform command. It applies geometry to a curve and copies however many you want along it. It's history-based, so changes to the original geometry propagate. A Dynamic Section is a new addition — one that many solid packages have had for years, but it's good to see it here.
Figure 4. The Conform command lets you model flat and then wrap your geometry onto a surface. The resulting geometry takes its shape from the surface.
The Combination, Please . . .
One of the most intriguing and useful capabilities of Alias is its ability to mix 2D and 3D geometry into one image. It can be done in two ways: One way is to build a model and then paint over it with Overlay Planes, and the other way is to build a model and apply a bitmap to its surface. Both methods are effective, but the second way is more flexible.
When users paint over a model, they basically use the 3D geometry as a quick way to visualize things such as shading and form, but it often requires more work to get things just right. Users can paint highlights, reflections, and the like onto their models, but the problem is that it creates a static image. The things only apply from one particular angle. If the model rotates, the painting goes away. Viewers have to return to that angle to see it again.
When a designer builds a model and applies a bitmap to it, he or she can take a relatively simple model and make it look far more complex than it is. Say, for example, you want to design a remote control for a television. You can model the overall shape of the device and then add controls, contours, and all sorts of things that enrich the model, but you don't have to spend the time modeling them. For rapid concept work, I don't think you can beat Alias-Studio 2008.
Visualization and Communication
I like that AliasStudio 2008 can do real-time hardware shading complete with bump maps, shadows, glow, incandescence, and antialiasing. What's all that mean? Users can make their models look like they have protrusions and depressions without modeling them — and shadows will fall over them as if they were a genuine part of the model. Designers can make those fancy glowing buttons we all expect to see on cell phones and such (figure 5). And they can make a light-up screen really light up. It acts as a light source in your scene. For accurate visualization of your models, these capabilities will give you a decided edge.
Figure 5. AliasStudio 2008 has some really impressive — and useful — lighting capabilities. Take a look at how the buttons on this model seem to glow.
AliasStudio 2008 also incorporates high dynamic range imagery (HDRI) technology. HDRIs are very special panoramic images that possess certain characteristics to influence a model. Designers can use HDRI to create lighting conditions in a scene. The bitmap will set the light levels and be reflected in the shiny surfaces of your model (figure 6). HDRI is a great way to make a computer model appear real. When users are satisfied with what they see, they can save images in many different formats, including QuickTime VR.
Figure 6. HDRIs are 360° panoramic bitmap images that contain lighting information. You can use the image and its relative light levels.
After only a short time using AliasStudio 2008, designers will discover why it's the industry-standard conceptual design package. Alias doesn't come cheap, though, ranging from $4,995 to $25,000. For more information about AliasStudio 2008 or other Autodesk products, visit www.autodesk.com. Highly Recommended.
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