Cadalyst AEC Tech News #126 (August 19, 2004)

18 Aug, 2004 By: Sara Ferris

The 31st edition of the SIGGRAPH conference last week in Los Angeles drew some 25,000 attendees and provided an opportunity to preview upcoming releases of software for design visualization and presentation. To supplement the SIGGRAPH news that follows, Cadalyst's August issue features a roundup of software options for design visualization, including the latest versions of Autodesk VIZ and AccuRender:

And columnist Ed Goldberg checks in with his annual selection of the top tools for multimedia design presentations.

MAXON previewed the next version of its CINEMA 4D modeling and animation tool. Development of Release 9 focused on improving ease of use with such capabilities as HUD (HeadsUpDisplay), which displays freely configurable information directly in the editor. The reengineered modeling core now supports N-Gons, which means you can create complete models based on polygons with any number of points. The Advanced Render module now handles subpolygon displacement, which uses optimized algorithms to generate more details during rendering. The product is slated to ship in early September, and upgrade pricing from Release 8.5 is available. MAXON this spring released a plug-in that enables direct data exchange between CINEMA 4D and Graphisoft ArchiCAD. Once plans are created in ArchiCAD, you can export them to CINEMA 4D and replace ArchiCAD colors with photorealistic materials. An intelligent update function lets you modify the building model in ArchiCAD without losing any of the work done in CINEMA 4D. The ArchiCAD eXchange package works with ArchiCAD 8.1 or higher and CINEMA 4D 8.5 or higher, on either the Windows or Macintosh platform.

Autodesk's discreet division announced 3ds max 7, the latest version of its 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software ($3,495; $795-$1,295 upgrade). The release, due to ship in September, incorporates the company's character motion toolset, Character Studio, previously offered as a separate product. Character Studio features behavioral crowd simulation capabilities and supports extensive motion-capture filtering and editing. Normal Mapping, a workflow accelerator developed for gaming applications, adds extreme detail to low-polygon models with high resolution maps. Edit Poly Modifier is designed to speed up creation and animation of complex polygonal surfaces.

Robert McNeel & Associates announced its new UDT (universal deformation technology), a proprietary NURBS curve, surface, and solid deformation technology for Rhino 4.0. McNeel's chief scientist, Dale Lear, says the technology is "the first to provide designers with the tools to freely deform solids while maintaining the integrity of the solid. Our breakthrough was in discovering how to quickly restitch the NURBS surfaces into a solid after even the most extreme deformations."

Tools based on UDT range from simple commands such as bend, twist, and flow to more complex ones for deforming spines, 2D and 3D control cages, pattern flattening and grading, embossing, and healing. UDT supports B-rep manifold and nonmanifold NURBS solids, curves, trimmed NURBS surfaces, meshes, and point clouds. A beta version should be available by the end of August. Rhino 3.0 is currently available for US$895. McNeel & Associates will also collaborate with SplutterFish to integrate the Brazil Rendering System with Rhino.

@Last Software recently released SketchUp v4.0 ($495), the latest version of its 3D conceptual sketching application. The new version adds new tools such as Follow Me, which pulls or pushes a surface along a path to create stair railings, crown moldings, and the like; Texture Tweaker, which stretches a texture or photo across any continuous surface; and Face me, which makes 2D models of people and landscape objects always face the camera. The new Ruby Scripting Interface lets you automate modeling tasks.

At SIGGRAPH, @Last Software previewed a version of its SketchUp tool for story boarding, animatics, set diagrams and technical documentation. SketchUp 4 Film & Stage includes a library of predrawn filming-specific components and an improved Camera tool that controls aspect ratios and camera position. It exports AVI and QuickTime files that can be imported into other multimedia programs.

And at the ESRI International User Conference in San Diego, @Last demonstrated two new plug-ins that let ArcGIS users with the 3D Analyst extension create 3D models in SketchUp and then transfer them to an ArcGIS geodatabase. The ESRI SketchUp Plug-in, developed by ESRI, import SketchUp files into ArcGIS so you can use SketchUp files as 3D symbols in ArcGIS. The SketchUp ESRI Plug-in, developed by @Last Software, saves ArcGIS data as SketchUp files and also exports SketchUp models to a geodatabase.

FORM.Z 4.5
auto.des.sys previewed form.Z 4.5, due out in September. This new release builds on form.Z 4.0, which restructured the program into modules and plug-ins, by implementing a new API (application program interface) and script language so that third parties can develop plug-ins. New features include the ability to clone objects, a tool that analyzes and heals models, and a Doodle plug-in to emulate pencil drawings. You can now define custom attributes that can then be tabulated into bills of materials. The Text Place tool now supports smooth text and Unicode fonts. and Support for Mac OS 9 will go away, as v4.5 is fully native to Mac OS X. It also supports Microsoft Windows 95SE/98/2000/ME/XP.

Graphics card vendors unveiled new offerings. Nvidia announced three new PCI Express additions to its Quadro family: the FX 3400, FX 1300, and FX 330. The main differences are in frame buffer memory and memory bandwidth: The high-end FX 3400 comes with 256MB and 28.8GB/sec bandwidth, the FX 1300 has 128MB and 17.6GB/sec bandwidth, and the FX 330 has 64MB and 3.2GB/sec bandwidth. 3Dlabs ( demonstrated its upcoming PCI Express Wildcat Realizm 800 as well as its new AGP 8X cards, the Wildcat Realizm 100 and 200.

Also check out Joe Greco's latest MCAD Tech News. Though he views the show from a mechanical designer's perspective, he covers new 3D displays that don't require special glasses as well as a monitor with a superhigh dynamic range, ideal for making those photorealistic renderings look realistic.