A surface creation tool for organic forms
solidThinking from EVOQE
Despite the name somewhat confusingly implying that it is a solid modeller, solidThinking from Gestel in Italy is in fact solely a surface modeller.
First introduced in 1992 for the NeXT platform running OpenStep, recent versions including the latest 4.1 run under Windows and on the Mac.
Gestel state their goals as “improving not only production but also enhancing design creativity.” Given that solidThinking offers extensive surface modelling and rendering capabilities, the absence of any solid modelling, drafting or animation capabilities positions it most closely with Rhino as a surface creation tool for organic forms that is part of a designers toolbox.
As such it is likely to appeal most to industrial designers and mould tool designers although any models will need to be exported for further detailed component design.
Gestel characterise it as a low cost, easy to use Alias Studio or ICEM.
solidThinking is consistent with many other surface modellers in not adhering to Windows interface standards.
There are menus and toolbars with a unique multi-tab interface of meticulously coloured tool icons.
Multiple viewports can be displayed simultaneously, with a toggle for orthographic views to remain in projection if required.
Each viewport has controls in the title bar for setting shade mode and view pan and zoom.
The non-orthographic view has additional controls for rotation and perspective.
Whilst provision of the increasingly ubiquitous hierarchical browser is unsurprising, the inclusion of a construction history tree in addition to camera, lights and layer branches is unusual for a surface modeller.
This Construction Tree shows the relationship between a surface and all of its construction curves making each element accessible for selection.
Once selected, parameters for each element can be adjusted in the Modelling Tool Panel.
Parameters with numeric values also have slider bars which dynamically adjust both the selected entity such as the radius of a circle and any dependant objects such as surfaces.
Objects can be grouped within the tree so that any transformations can be applied simultaneously to all members.
Objects can also be copied by drag and drop within the tree.
This ability to edit entities at any time is crucial for encouraging design experimentation.
Models are constructed from primitives including cubes, spheres, cylinders, and prisms or by extruding, revolving, lofting, or skinning NURBS or Meta curves.
Subsequent editing options include interactive trimming of surfaces, blending, filleting, and the ability to edit vertices, edges, and faces.
Curves can be derived from existing objects in many ways such as by offsetting a curve, extracting the edge of a surface or by projecting a curve onto a surface.
Similarly blend and offset surfaces can be created, as can n-sided patches and surfaces from networks of Meta curves.
NURBS surfaces can be tessellated into triangulated polygonal surfaces with control over the level of subdivision.
These are displayed in the Construction Tree hierarchy and maintain associativity so that any changes made to the original NURBS surface are propagated to the polygonal surface, which is updated in real time.
Polygon surface vertices can be edited manually and 3D text can be created from TrueType fonts.
More akin to engraving packages, the Height Field command creates a relief surface from a raster bitmap with the elevation proportional to the intensity of each pixel in the image.
Text files of point cloud data can be used to define reference geometry and surfaces or conversely points can be generated from existing geometry.
As always the quality of the point data will determine the usefulness of the resultant objects.
There is built in support for direct data input from the MicroScribe desktop digitiser and Minolta Vivid Scanner.
Gaps between surface patches can be identified using a tolerance check.
The quality of surfaces can be assessed using a range of analysis tools including surface curvature, reflection line and environment mapping displays.
High quality presentation renderings can be produced using the built-in renderThinking renderer or using the support for third party RenderMan-compatible renderers such as Blue Moon Rendering Tools (BMRT) that can be downloaded from the web.
Materials are readily applied by selecting from the palettes in the Modelling Tools toolbar.
Lights are accessible from the World Browser and can be manipulated directly in the graphics area with highlights and shadows updating dynamically.
In addition to the standard ambient, spot and point light types, goniometric sources can be specified so that professional luminaire manufacturers data can be used to define how much light is emitted and in which directions.
Render quality can be excellent with ray tracing and radiosity available including control such as soft shadows and shadows cast by semi-transparent objects, variable fog and depth cueing and control of atmospheric effects and lens flare.
Handling of ceramic and transparent materials is especially strong as a result of the close links between Gestel and the Italian ceramics and stone masonry industries.
A wide range of file output types is available including the unusual Quicktime VR format that enables an appropriately rendered 3D model to be viewed interactively on screen from any location using the Quicktime Viewer.
A plug-in development kit is available to enable customised functionality.
Macro replays are used as part of the tutorial scheme, illustrating the mouse moves required to accomplish specific tasks.
A demo version of solidThinking is available from the Gestel website and there is a free upgrade to version 4.1 for version 4 registered users.
solidThinking represents a very approachable route to modelling high quality complex sculptured surfaces.
It does not aim to be a complete manufacturing solution and is likely to therefore be seen as part of a suite of tools.
There is always the potential for translation problems but the surface analysis and tolerancing features maximise the chances of dealing with them.
Associativity between tools can also become an issue if multiple design iterations are required but the excellent and easy to use visualisation tools should minimise the need for aesthetic driven changes.