Cadalyst AEC Tech News #121 (June 3, 2004)

2 Jun, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Pilot3D from New Wave Systems in Jamestown, Rhode Island, is a general-purpose surface modeler primarily used for creating complex curves and curved surfaces. New Wave Systems products have been used for ship and boat modeling and other airfoil shapes for more than twenty years, and Pilot3D was developed as a relatively easy-to-use and low-cost option for that purpose.

Pilot 3D is derived from New Wave's ProSurf3, a more specialized product specifically for ship and boat hull design. Pilot3D is now being repositioned and remarketed as a product for the AEC design industry, although it's unchanged from the previous version of Pilot3D. There is nothing in the set of tools or user interface that is specific to architectural elements. It provides general tools for laying out and creating curves and surfaces using a variety of CAD-like primitives. The basic set of geometric entities used by Pilot3D consists of points, lines, polylines, NURBS curves, and NURBS surfaces. You can start with lines and curves to define a shape and then a surface. Surfaces can then be combined and connected in various ways to form more complex shapes and 3D models.

Predefined 3D shapes such as boxes, spheres, cylinders, and pyramids are also available. These are surface models, not solids, and Boolean operations are not available. However, you can use one shaped surface to create a cutout in another surface, so a 3D view can simulate the appearance of a solid model when you combine various 3D shaped surfaces. The 3D model thus created can be cut with a plane to create a sectional view of the 3D model.

The obvious uses for the product in architectural design are roof forms such as domes and barrel vaults and wave-shaped planar roof surfaces. But a NURBS-curved surface can also be linear and flat, so trapezoidal rectilinear forms may be created as well. Planar surfaces can be joined and attached with fixed or knuckle connectors to form any sort of a rectangular form in 3D space. If you yearn to model something like Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, for instance, Pilot3D can do it relatively simply and quickly. In addition to roofs, you can readily create simple or complex curved vertical or battered walls and curtain wall surfaces.

Complex curved surfaces are defined by a column-and-row grid array of points along the surface. You can visually edit surface shapes by simply grabbing any point or series of points and moving them. You can add a point anywhere along a column or row to adjust the surface shape, and add or delete points, columns, and rows to refine the smoothness of the surface. The more points, columns, and rows a surface contains, the more irregular and varied, or smooth, it can be when rendered in a photorealistic rendering application.

Pilot3D is not directly an architectural modeler, and it doesn't directly support any one CAD file format or another. Architects probably won't want to use Pilot3D for normal modeling of a complete building model, especially if you have more specialized architectural tools available. You could use Pilot3D to supplement and complement your usual CAD or architectural modeling software to create specialized curved forms and surfaces, and then import those parts into an architectural CAD model. Pilot3D imports and exports DXF, IGES, and text formats, as well as STL output for NC modeling applications.

In the past, true NURBS curve and surface modelers have been pretty much limited to high-end, expensive, and complex CAD programs, but Pilot3D is priced at a reasonable $645 per seat, with quantity discounts available. The advantage to using Pilot3D is the ease of creating complex curved forms and being able to visually edit and refine the shapes to achieve the desired appearance. A full-functioning demonstration version that limits the number of times you can use it is available from, where you'll also find product and purchase information. A student/teacher version is available at a reduced price. More specialized ship and boat building software and information can be found at