|By George Maestri
TrueSpace has been around for a number of years. Caligari has remained in the market by offering a nicely featured package that provides basic modeling, texturing, and animation at an affordable price. Version 6.5 adds to the feature set with improved modeling, painting, and animation tools.
The software still features Caligari's unique interface. The title bar of the main window is at the bottom, and the main perspective window is surrounded by a number of graphic glyphs and icons. The icons have multiplied over the years, and it takes a while to get used to where everything is located.
Modeling has been improved to include selective subdivision surfaces, allowing you to subdivide parts of a model to add detail only where it's needed. In addition to polygonal and subdivision surfaces, trueSpace also supports NURBS modeling. The software has a full complement of tools, including sweeps, rails, lofts, skinning, and cross-sections.
TrueSpace now supports nonlinear animation using motion clips for easy authoring of complex animation.
Image courtesy Caligari
Since my last review (Version 5), Caligari has added projections and trim curves. Projections allow you to "glue" a curve to a NURBS surface. This curve can then be extruded to create branching objects, such as an arm or a leg on a character. Trims use a projected curve to "trim" out a NURBS surface and create user-defined holes in the surface. TrueSpace also provides a nice stitching tool that blends two surfaces together. I really liked the NURBS tools, and the product's features approach those of any high-end package.
Texturing these surfaces has been made a lot easier through the new UV editor, which gives you precise control when applying a texture to a polygon or group of polygons. The unwrap tool pro-jects the surface of a mesh onto a plane, providing another way to position and manipulate textures.
Caligari has had a 3D paint module for quite a while, but it has been upgraded in this version. You can now paint on textured surfaces using arbitrary bitmaps as a brush. Version 6.5 has also added object paint to its repertoire, which allows you to paint actual geometry over the surface of another object. Objects can be oriented to the scene or to the normals of the object being painted.
The big new animation feature is a nonlinear editor, which allows you to manage animation as a series of clips. The module integrates well with the Scene Editor, allowing for traditional keyframing and nonlinear animation within one window. Clips can contain animation for a single object or many objects within a hierarchy. The clips can then be stretched in time and mixed with other clips. I'd like to see more features, such as the ability to save and recall clips as well as define sets of animatable parameters outside of a hierarchy.
The facial animator is new since my last review. The module comes with a number of default heads that are pre-rigged for lip sync and facial expression. The interface has several panels that can be used to manipulate the faces. One panel has a row of buttons to apply "gestures," which essentially manipulate the underlying muscles of the face. Another panel does "visemes," better known as phonemes for lip sync. A final panel manipulates expressions such as fear, anger, joy, and so on. Pressing any of the buttons on these panels changes the shape of the face to match the picture on the button. Unfortunately, most shapes are either "on" or "off" with no in-between. Using the gestures panel, you can't, for example, do a half smile, or narrow the eyes by 20 percent. These expressions should all be on variable sliders rather than toggled.
Animating faces with the module is difficult. It seems as though keying any face shape automatically creates 20 frames worth of animation. The interface needs to be simplified to a bank of sliders, each of which can be individually keyframed.
Caligari's renderer is fairly robust, and even supports global illumination for highly realistic lighting. Speed has been improved, and the software now allows objects to become light sources. Another new feature is texture baking, which converts lighting calculations, including full radiosity, into textures.
Overall, I like trueSpace. While it does not quite match up to the high-end packages in terms of features or depth, it's an excellent program for $595, especially for users with basic 3D needs. Those wanting to do sophisticated animation will be better off buying Cinema 4D (see Review, September 2003, pg. 66) for the same price. TrueSpace, however, is particularly well suited to users who model and create stills for illustration, because it produces excellent images.
George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows-based PC with 64mb of RAM