Cadalyst Labs Review: Alias StudioTools 131 Feb, 2006 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
The perennial preference of industrial designers gets even better.
Progress. Everyone Wants it. Politicians campaign on it. Successful products foster it. People say you can't stop it. So we might as well enjoy it! Alias has just released its latest version of Studio Tools, v13. With a mature product, the challenge for software designers is to make it easier to use without decreasing the power and functionality. There are always new features to add, but in the end it comes down to interface. The road toward progress is littered with software that was new and different, even better than anything else available, but that never succeeded because of a clunky interface. Alias, being a smart company, has watched such programs fall by the wayside and has learned from their mistakes. It has continually tried to improve its program, and StudioTools 13 is its best effort yet. For current users, this is a great release that will help you do what you've been doing with much greater ease and flash. New users just might find that their lucky number is 13.
Alias is aiming its products at what it calls the visually intelligent business—an organization that values being visually connected. Alias says successful companies are those that use design to develop product uniqueness, which it maintains brings market leadership and ultimately profit. Whether you agree or not, one thing is undeniable: Alias is a successful company. Almost every production automobile in the world is at least touched by one of its products at some point in its development. You can't argue with numbers. There has been much discussion of Autodesk's purchase of Alias. Though there's a certain amount of overlap between the two companies' products, as of this writing no major changes to the software have been made. On closing the deal in January, Autodesk said it plans to continue the development and support of Alias products. Its top priority is to link the existing products of both companies to increase interoperability and improve data management. Whatever happens, we hope that Alias will continue to provide tools to facilitate the design process for its customers.
Figure 1. RKS Guitars uses Alias StudioTools to design its classic guitars. Read the full story online at www.cadalyst.com/rks/.
For those who are just looking for the first time at Alias, it offers a suite of products designed to handle various tasks. DesignStudio (for fast concept creation), Studio (concept creation and production modeling), SurfaceStudio and AutoStudio (optimized for the automotive industry) are Alias' comprehensive industrial design products. Other modules are available, but these four do the lion's share of what most people are looking for. Visit the company Web site for full details.
Alias StudioTools 13
Separate workflow interfaces let users view and access only the commands that are active and make sense for what is being done. Workflow shelves organize design tools (figure 2). The Paint shelf includes tools for 2D image construction. It's basically a paint program. The Modeling shelf lets users construct 3D wire frame and surface models. The Visualization shelf is for viewing and rendering models in spectacular detail. Users can easily make their own customized shelf—a great way to create a workflow for individual users. Shelves can be organized with dividers, grouping tools together however it makes sense. It's also easy to create cascading menus that put a huge number of commands at users' fingertips.
Figure 2. Customizable workflow shelves give Alias StudioTools users access to just about any tool needed.
Dynamic shape modeling is Alias' name for global shape modeling, which allows users to manipulate the entire model at once, or at least big chunks of it, by pushing and pulling to stretch and shape the model (figure 3). This allows very rapid design iterations.
Figure 3. Dynamic shape modeling lets users make wholesale changes to a model while maintaining surface continuity and model integrity, so edits go much faster.
There are two ways Alias StudioTools 13 lets users dynamically alter a model: with the lattice rig and the transformer rig. With the lattice rig, users can deform large portions of the model, or the whole thing, by creating a box around what needs to be changed. The designer edits the box, and the model goes along for the ride. It's similar to moving the poles on a spline. The transformer rig is more accurate. It works with existing and proxy surfaces to drive and constrain deformations, so users can chose exactly what to change and what to leave alone.
Figure 4. Don t model each mark on this watch—symmetrical sketching speeds model creation by letting users model like members only once.
High-quality renderings are one thing. To render interactively—that is to say, close enough to real time to not slow the designer down—is a whole new world. Obviously the computer's horsepower plays a role. Screen grabs can now be used because the quality of what is on screen has improved so much. Models will go from real to hyper real (figure 5).
Figure 5. As in prior versions, StudioTools 13 provides some of the industry s best rendering capability.
As a side note, I'm happy to see that Alias StudioTools 13 makes good use of 3Dconnexion SpaceBall support (www.3Dconnexion.com). This input device can really save time for a designer.
Some of the Other Modules
Alias Image Studio, Alias' high-end rendering package, uses premade materials and environments to make it easier for beginners to look like experts, and experts to work faster. Output can also be made into QuickTime VR and movies.
Have you ever played that game in a newspaper or magazine where you have to spot the dozen of so differences between two pictures that, side by side, are almost identical? Or have you ever had two images that look the same, but you know one is more recent than the other? PortfolioWall, Alias' design presentation program, now has a neatlittle feature that compares images, making it easy to see what may have changed.
Best to Date
Alias StudioTools v13 is the best version to date. It's easier to use than ever, looks better and delivers more power. Having basically real-time rendering is a massive plus! If you're in the market for a high-quality concept modeler that will fit right into your workflow, you need to look at Alias StudioTools 13.