Industrial-design software improved all around

July 12, 2007
AliasStudio 2008 software helps industrial designers of every stripe do their jobs better, from developing initial concepts through visualization and communication.

Of course, the program has the necessary sketching and modeling tools. Now it also includes tools such as twist, bend, and conform that enhance a designer's creativity. Best of all, new features in the software help users cut considerable design time.

For starters, a customizable interface makes the software easier to use, especially for those new to the program. For example, designers can place commands and menuitems in areas that make the most sense to each individual. And workflow-oriented functions including sketching, modeling, and animating immediately provide tools such as shaders, lights, and cameras for specific tasks. In addition, data-management features and documentation tools help users quickly find information and manage large data sets.

Another feature infers what is being drawn and then precisely redraws the shape. Users can easily create straight lines, circles, and ellipses while painting or illustrating to produce clean, crisp drawings. Industrial-design students remember well learning to sketch these shapes by hand. Predictive Strokes in sketch tools eliminates this tedious task so users sketch without the aid of shapes or snap guides. The software even detects the pressure of strokes on the sketching tablet so results look similar to that of Brush Snapping on geometry. Best of all, hot keys allow turning Predictive Strokes on and off as well as navigate around the canvas quickly. The Hot Spot interface is accessed by the space bar and can be easily mapped to tablet buttons.

The new release also includes many new layer and brush effects. The new Dodge and Burn brushes, for instance, let users enhance illustrations by making regions lighter or darker. Selecting a color for a brush allows dodging and burning with that color. Users can also easily change the modeled shape at any stage of the design process. For example, the Lattice Rig, a visual scaffolding that lets users globally deform the shape it encloses, now uses a lightweight version of an image being deformed that provides immediate feed back onwhat the resulting geometry will look like. The actual target geometry is not updated until the user decides that the change is the one wanted. Another feature improves on error reporting by providing clear reasons why a deformation is not succeeding. Deformation involves altering a shape, which might comprise multiple elements or surfaces, in a free-form manner.

For visualization and collaboration, Version 2008 has an exciting new feature in Hardware Shade mode that lets users compute ambient occlusion, the soft shadows that appear across subtle undulations in surfaces or gather in cracks, to add realism to models with reflections. Subtle shadows help users understand the form of a design. With this understanding, designers can begin to place shaders on the model that hint at the materials to be used. New to AliasStudio 2008, the strength and contrasts of the ambient occlusion effect can be adjusted within the shader parameters. For example, glass looks like glass, and steel looks like steel. Users can evaluate forms without investing time in software rendering, which takes much longer periods.

The software comes from Autodesk Inc., 111 McInnis Pkwy., San Rafael, CA 94903, (415) 5075000,
— Jamie Ibbett

Jamie Ibbett is a freelance industrial designer who has worked on diverse projects ranging from flight simulators to diabetic-testing equipment. He can be reached at [email protected].

The shaded image allows understanding the form of the car without becoming distracted by the choice of colors or reflections.

The soft shadows on the surfaces of a fanciful car in AliasStudio 2008 are generated with the Ambient Occlusion feature.

Alias lightened the transparent surfaces such as the headlight covers, to make them look more realistic.

White text in the image is not standing out enough…

…the Burn tool used with a color preserves the image, increases the contrast, and creates a nice effect.

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