General Software

First Look Review: Caligari trueSpace7

1 May, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

3D modeling software


After many years of reviewing software applications, I've become familiar with their steady evolution. Sometimes I get to see a familiar product break through boundaries and make a leap in functionality that offers tremendous potential for its future. Such is the case with Caligari's recently introduced trueSpace7.



Perhaps the most significant new feature is trueSpace7's interactive, customizable 3D collaborative authoring environment that supports multiple-level projects. If you have a workgroup whose members are scattered around the globe, you can all work on a given model concurrently, or one group can work on a specific component while another group works on a different part.

This collaboration takes place in real time, so users dynamically see the changes being made to the model, including features such as lighting, textures, transparency and shadows. Users can modify toolbars in the 3D space and customize them to contain objects or scripts. They also can collaborate on a script, with each person contributing to its writing. This capability is quite amazing for workgroups, but the potential goes beyond that.

Let's assume, for example, that you are designing a building for a client. By giving the client a copy of the freely distributable viewer included with trueSpace7, the client can log in, view the 3D workspace and provide commentary while you dynamically make the changes you're discussing. The discussion can take place through a built-in chat capability or by telephone. Workgroups might use a service such as Skype to establish a conference call for either minimal or no charge.

 Caligari trueSpace7
Caligari trueSpace7

It doesn't take a tremendous leap of imagination to imagine an integrated VoIP (voice-over-Internet protocol) interface incorporated into this collaborative 3D space, which would bring the verbal interchange among group members into the immediate 3D workspace. This 3D collaborative workspace is not only rife with possibilities for the future of trueSpace7 but indeed for how everybody works and collaborates on design projects. This new feature rates an A+. Because designers do not live by design alone, it's also possible to take a break and play a 3D collaborative game. The 3D collaborative workspace also can be effective for training.

At this time, the collaborative workspace uses Caligari servers, with security provided by a user name/password combination. Caligari expects to release a server software package so customers can host these workspaces on their servers. Interactions depend in part on the speed of the server and the Internet connection and the ability of the graphics card to push sufficient pixels to avoid lags in the workspace. I found that the workspace was quite snappy with displays that were visually remarkable. I'm both surprised and impressed by the technology here.

Caligari trueSpace7 is ideal for visualization and simulation. Image created by Tom Grimes.
Caligari trueSpace7 is ideal for visualization and simulation. Image created by Tom Grimes.

Caligari's trueSpace has always been a capable design program, but trueSpace7 is even more capable. The authoring client has a full complement of polygonal editing tools and subdivision surfaces with direct surface manipulation. Its NURBS (nonuniform rational B-splines) tools include trim curves and blends, sweeps, rails, lofts, skinning and cross-sectioning as well as chamfers and fillets, particle tools and metaballs. Users can perform real-time edits on objects with a million or more polygons or perform polygon reduction with normal mapping.

Two photorealistic rendering engines ship with trueSpace7: LightWorks 7.4 and VirtuaLight. The popular Vray rendering engine is available as an add-on option for $299. TrueSpace7 supports DX9 (SL2.0) pixel shaders and HLSL (high-level shading language) editing.

It s easy to create activities—in this case an air hockey game—and run them in shared space where people can interact. Image created by Norm Fortier and Tom Grimes.
It s easy to create activities—in this case an air hockey game—and run them in shared space where people can interact. Image created by Norm Fortier and Tom Grimes.

Other features include normal mapping, shader trees, a UV editor that is now modeless, and procedural shaders that are editable in the link editor. HDRI (high dynamic range imaging) is supported, as are caustics and radiosity.

The multiple-pass rendering for the LightWorks rendering engine also outputs to Photoshop layers. Materials can be layered, and trueSpace7 has a built-in texture editor.

For those interested in animation, trueSpace7's key-frame editor is integrated with DX9 Player View for real-time previsualization. Procedural animations are integrated with physics simulation, and the software implements a next-generation physics engine.

Caligari trueSpace displays models in real time with amazing quality and frame rates. Image created by Stefan Giurgiu.
Caligari trueSpace displays models in real time with amazing quality and frame rates. Image created by Stefan Giurgiu.

I've commented in the past about trueSpace's interface, which I felt made it difficult for users to tap the application's power. The improvements throughout trueSpace7 significantly improve the workflow and bring a new richness to the interface.

Caligari's trueSpace7 offers fairly broad file format support, including DXF with full layer support. 3D file formats supported include 3DS, PRJ, LWO, OBJ, LWB and Geo. 2D support includes BMP, TGA, AVI, PSD, JPEG, AI, PS, EPS, PNG and TIFF.

All this, and there's still more. I don't have enough room to even mention some of the expanded capabilities in trueSpace7. Visit the Caligari Web site (www.caligari.com) for a more extensive listing of trueSpace7 features and some online movies that show the product's capabilities.

System requirements for trueSpace7 are a Pentium 3 or equivalent AMD Athlon, with a Pentium 4 or equivalent recommended. Systems also need at least 512MB of RAM (1GB or more recommended), 120MB of free hard disk space and a 3D video card with at least 64MB of video memory (DirectX 9, full Pixel Shader 2.0 support and 128MB or more of video memory highly recommended). This release increases the demands on graphics cards and graphics drivers to achieve optimal performance. trueSpace7 runs on Windows XP.

Caligari's trueSpace7 carries a suggested retail price of $595, and educational pricing is available.

If you haven't seen trueSpace for a while, now's the time to have another look. trueSpace7 is without a doubt the best trueSpace release ever—it provides a wealth of new tools and capabilities and lays the groundwork for much more to come. trueSpace7 easily earns the Cadalyst Highly Recommended rating.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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