Alias StudioTools 1231 Mar, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
Time-tested surface modeler for industrial designers.
Every designer who's serious about design work will have at least heard of Alias. It's the de facto standard in industrial design software. More people use Alias software in the concept stage than anything else I can name—it's the big dog. In fact, it's so big that for the last few years other big-name software companies have adjusted their radar to compete with it. Interestingly, we're talking about those solid modelers with parameters and sketches, features and history trees. Why is Alias such a big target for them?
Alias StudioTools 12
Alias has always been aimed at a more artsy crowd. Let's face it, there's a big difference between the mindset of an engineer and an artist. They are both wonderfully creative, but not in the same ways. I like to think that industrial designers occupy a space somewhere between the two camps. Alias leans toward the artist's side in its capabilities and offers several products that meet a variety of needs.
Figure 1. Realistic lighting, materials and textures make StudioTools 12 models look like the real thing.
To begin with, DesignStudio is a tremendous modeling tool with powerful sketching capabilities. By sketching, I mean really sketching as if working with a pencil and a paintbrush. The program incorporates a paint program with a 3D modeler and renderer. It gives users a flexible way to quickly visualize a product design. Alias Studio takes the capabilities of DesignStudio and adds some of the highest quality surface modeling in the industry (figure 1). AutoStudio picks up where Studio stops with even more advanced modeling, reverse engineering, and evaluation tools. As its name implies, AutoStudio is aimed at the automotive industry (figure 2). Add in ImageStudio for truly amazing rendered images and PortfolioWall to display them, and here's a package that's hard to beat.
Figure 2. StudioTools 12 offers strong visualization and markup tools.
How It WorksOne of the neat things about DesignStudio is its workflow. Users start out by selecting familiar tools to make a sketched rendering of a product. Sketch with a pencil on a virtual canvas, change to an airbrush for shadows and color, save each color on a different layer (to explore different color treatments) and voilà—a slick 2D image of the product. There are no worries about parameters, blending and modeling of any kind.
Next, users can arrange their 2D images in 3D space and visualize the product. They can even use 2D images as templates for modeling a 3D object by either projecting a sketch onto surfaces and tracing the creation geometry over the image or by simply using it as a reference. If an existing product needs to be changed, 2D sketching techniques can describe the change directly on the 3D model.
Alias StudioTools 12 gives good reason to investigate a tablet or a Tablet PC (figure 3,). I can't overemphasize how a tablet allows users to design naturally. Using a stylus on-screen to manipulate images is very intuitive, like using a pencil or brush to draw and paint. It doesn't get much easier than that.
Figure 3. Combining StudioTools 12 with a tablet or Tablet PC makes it even easier to use the software.
Once designers make 3D curves, these are used to generate surfaces. A fast way to create a concept model is to create a network of curves that define the shape of the object and have DesignStudio automatically generate NURBS surfaces. It easily takes care of T-joining intersections and 3-, 4- and 5-sided boundaries. Once surfaces are created, it's easy to change their smoothness or continuity. When users experiment with the shapes, the surfaces stay continuous and smooth. Users can change the surfaces by specifying a grid on it with however many elements they want and then create curves from the grid lines. When the resulting curves are manipulated, the surface updates accordingly.
Once surfaces are generated, users can project the original sketch images directly on the surfaces to see how the product will look via a simple surface model with the images wrapped onto it. Users can rotate the model in real-time and in minutes have a very convincing display. Short of actually modeling it, what could be easier?
For presentations, drop in a background environment that reflects on any shiny surfaces. Snap still images for later use, say in a design review, and attach notes to point out specific details of the design that must be addressed or highlighted. Then save these bookmarks to view in PortfolioWall or StudioViewer.
PortfolioWall is a display and presentation product that lets users combine images and annotations to make presentations and facilitate effective decision-making (figure 4,). With it, users can view most standard 2D images as well as movie files, making design presentations easy. StudioViewer presents 3D images as well, so users can rotate and zoom to highlight any part of the model. Annotation and markup capabilities make this a great tool for design collaboration.
Figure 4. The PortfolioWall provides tools to present, review and markup designs.
TerminologyOne thing that might be confusing is Alias' terminology. It uses what it calls a multisurface draft, a quick, easy and powerful way to create one seamless surface from multiple surface edges. It can make a surface with any level of continuity needed. In other industries, though, draft means an angle put on a surface to aid manufacturing. Though the multisurface draft can certainly create a surface with draft, some users will be puzzled by the feature's name.
Another interesting difference between StudioTools 12 and other, more engineering-oriented modeling packages is how fillets are applied. Most modelers use the intersection edges on the model and specify a radius value. This, in effect, rolls a ball along the edge chain and creates a rounded corner. Alias, however, uses the surfaces to define the fillet. Users pick the surfaces, and Alias applies a specified tangent offset. What's the difference? Depending on the surfaces selected, the radius doesn't necessarily have to be uniform along the run of the chain. And depending on what kind of continuity is specified, the shape and smoothness of the fillet changes.
Surface ModelingOne thing I've left out until now is that StudioTools 12 is a surface modeler. It always has been and probably always will be—and that's not a bad thing. Years ago, it meant that building models was fairly tedious. To build a fillet between two surfaces, designers had to build the surfaces, build the fillet surface, trim each of the surfaces back to the fillet and apply any desired continuity conditions to all the surfaces involved.
In a solid modeler, all users had to do was identify the edges between intersecting faces and tell the system what kind of radii were desired. Each approach has its drawbacks and advantages.
Interestingly, surface modelers nowadays take pages from the solid modeling book in how they do things like putting fillets on edges. The designer picks the edge in question (two edges that occupy the same space) and tells the modeler how to treat the edge. The software does all of the trimming. The same process is occurring, but the designer doesn't have to do it manually anymore.
Alias StudioTools 12 is a great product that can help users achieve excellent product design, whether they make toys or battleships, automobiles or running shoes. With it, the only limitation is a designer's imagination. Highly Recommended.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.