Introducing trueSpace

30 Jun, 2003 By: John E. Wilson

Despite its power, the system requirements of trueSpace, a 3D modeling program from Caligari (, are modest. At minimum, it runs on most Pentium or Pentium-equivalent computers using Windows 95. (The facial animation tools, though, require Windows 98 or higher.) Its pricing is also modest. The most recent version, trueSpace 6.5, is priced at $595 (you can even download a trial version of trueSpace 6.5 from the company Web site).

trueSpace is a Windows program, but, as shown in Figure 1, it has an interface unlike those in other Windows programs. I will concentrate on the program's interface this issue and go on to its tools for creating 3D objects in the upcoming issues.

Figure 1. trueSpace is a Windows program, but it had a screen appearance and interface unlike a typical Windows program's. One of the more obvious differences is the menu bar that is located, by default, on the bottom edge of the trueSpace window and contains only two headings. Unlike a typical Windows program, trueSpace relies extensively on tool buttons rather than menus to initiate most operations.

The Menu Bar
Unlike typical Windows programs, trueSpace doesn't have a menu bar with numerous headings fixed to the top of its window. Its menu bar is, by default, on the bottom edge of the window, and it has just two headings--Files and Help, as shown in Figure 1. As you would expect, items relating to file management and setting program preferences are under Files. Items under Help open an onscreen version of the trueSpace printed manual and turn tool tips on and off. These are short messages that describe a tool when you hold the cursor over its button; they also describe an action when you hold it over a selection point. Because of trueSpace's extensive use of screen-activated tools, you will want tool tips activated.

Tools, Buttons, and Icons
trueSpace relies almost exclusively on buttons and tools (or icons, as trueSpace sometimes calls them) to initiate actions. Consequently, trueSpace has more than 350 buttons. For a beginner, finding a particular button can take time. As you gain experience, though, you will find the working environment to be very efficient.

Clicking the Icon Finder tool button (shown on the right in Figure 1) brings up a display of the buttons for all trueSpace tools. And the Icon Helper tool (also shown in Figure 1) opens a panel that helps you locate a particular tool and enables you to establish Hot Keys for initiating a tool. You can also activate the Icon Helper by pressing CTRL+F1 as you hold the cursor over any button.

Buttons for related activities are grouped into toolbars. These toolbars do not have labels, but they do have a handle (See Figure 1) that enables you to open, close, and pull a toolbar to any position on your computer screen. Most toolbar buttons expand to reveal additional buttons, and when you click the toolbar handle, the toolbar is maximized to display all of its buttons. Some toolbars automatically appear when you initiate certain operations, such as when you select an object for editing. You can customize toolbars, and even create new ones.

By default trueSpace uses a single drawing window that contains a perspective view. You can, though, open as many as three auxiliary windows. You can drag these auxiliary windows to any position you like and you can drag their borders to change their size. Depending upon the tool you use to create an auxiliary window, it will contain one of the six orthogonal views (such as the left view shown in Figure 1), or a perspective view. Once a window has been created, including the original main one, you can change its view to any of the six orthogonal views or to a perspective view.

trueSpace also has a four-view layout that divides the screen into four equal parts showing top, front, left, and perspective views. You can change the size of these views by dragging their borders, but you cannot move them or close individual views.

View Control
As shown in the lower-right corner of Figure 1, every trueSpace view window contains a View Control icon that has x, y, and z axes that have colored webs between them. In perspective views you can dynamically rotate the viewing direction about an axis by clicking the axis and then moving your mouse as you hold down its left button. To pan within views, click a web of the icon and hold down the left button of your mouse as you move it. While there is a trueSpace tool for zooming, you can, perhaps more conveniently, also dynamically zoom in or out by rotating the wheel of your mouse. Furthermore, you can hold your mouse wheel down as you move your mouse to dynamically rotate the viewing direction. In orthogonal views you can only pan and zoom; you cannot change the viewing direction.

The Object Tool
You use the Object tool (shown in Figure 1) to select existing objects for editing and manipulation. You can select multiple objects by holding down the CTRL key, after you have made an initial selection, as you select them. When you right-click the Object tool, the Object Info panel (also shown in Figure 1) containing information about the selected object is displayed. You can change any information in this panel that is not grayed out. Thus, you can reverse the direction of the tricycle model in Figure 1 by changing the z-rotation value from 0 to 180.

The Object Selector Box surrounds the currently selected objects. This box has a light blue frame, with dual facing cones in the middle of each edge, as shown in Figure 1. To temporarily hide the Selector Box, hold the CTRL key down. By holding down your mouse buttons as the cursor touches certain portions of the box (the portions of the box turn yellow when you position the cursor over them), and then moving the mouse, you can move, rotate, and scale the object.

The center portions of the box's edges move the object, with the direction of the move dependent on the edge you select and the direction you move your mouse.

The cones in the middle of each edge rotate the object about the x, y, or z axis that is parallel to the edge the cone is on.

The exact corners of the box, coupled with the left-mouse button, change the overall size of the object. You can also change its overall size by holding down both mouse buttons as the cursor is over an edge portion that is near a box corner. Depressing the left mouse button as the cursor is over the edge sections of the box that are near a corner, changes the size of the object according to the direction you move your mouse and on the orientation of the selected edge.

As you make changes to the object using the Selector Box and your mouse, data in the Object Info panel is automatically updated.

trueSpace is a flexible and powerful 3D program from Caligari Corp. ( The primary functions of trueSpace include the following:

  • Constructing 3D Models. You can construct virtually any 3D shape with trueSpace. The program, though, is especially adept at creating models having freeform, organic shapes.
  • Creating Animations. These can consist of walkthoughs in 3D models of structures as well as moving objects. You can, for instance, have balls that roll, drop, and bounce, in addition to spur gears that rotate and mesh with gear racks to slide them linearly. trueSpace also has facial animation and speech tools to create talking heads.
  • Making Photorealistic Renderings. trueSpace supports a variety of light types and lighting effects, including radiosity, in addition to a wide variety of surface materials.

About the Author: John E. Wilson

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