Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 1 (January 2000)

Reviews: SolidThinking 3.5

SolidThinking 3.5 is a powerful concept-modeling tool aimed at industrial designers and artists. Originally developed by Gestel for the NeXT computer running OpenStep-and the winner of several industry awards on that platform-Solid Thinking now runs on Windows as well. Though its name implies that it's a solid modeler, SolidThinking constructs models as both polygonal and NURBS-based curves and surfaces. It supports both OpenGL and DirectX graphics APIs.
SolidThinking's interface contains a large assortment of tools on a scrollable toolbar. You can display your model in four separate views, each with individual controls, and render images using several different renderers and quality settings.

According to Gestel, SolidThinking's main competitor in terms of capability is Alias|Wavefront's Alias Studio. However, SolidThinking is much less expensive and somewhat easier to use. ElectricImage, formZ, and Rhinoceros also compete with the product on some level. However, Rhino does not feature rendering, and neither formZ nor ElectricImage features NURBS modeling. SolidThinking can be purchased in three configurations-a modeler, a renderer, or a combination of the two.

You begin modeling objects in Solid Thinking by creating primitives-such as cubes, spheres, cylinders, and prisms-or by drawing curves that you use to create surfaces by extruding, revolving, lofting, or skinning. SolidThinking provides an assortment of modeling tools, including a birail tool that sweeps a profile along two path curves or rails. After you create a surface, you can trim surfaces to other surfaces or curves. The program's flexible modeling lets you go back at any time to modify the individual surfaces and curves, with the resulting changes immediately updated in the model. SolidThinking also enables interactive trimming of surfaces, blending, filleting, and the ability to edit vertices, edges, and faces.

SolidThinking provides a host of visualization tools as well. You can view models in wireframe, hidden-line, flat, Gouraud, and Phong shading and by using scan-line and ray-trace renders. In addition, you can use radiosity to simulate real lighting effects and apply an unlimited number of lights as well as control shadow mapping and ray casting to create soft shadows and shadows cast by semi-transparent objects. Post processing also enables variable fog and depth cuing and control of atmospheric effects and lens flare. The program imports and exports numerous file formats such as IGES, DXF, 3DS, LightWave, Maya, RIB, STL, and VRML. It supports other rendering systems, including RenderMan as well as BMRT, and can output directly to Quick Time VR.

Although SolidThinking is a strong polygonal/ NURBS- based modeling system, its power comes at the cost of a somewhat steep learning curve. Func tions aren't always intuitive, and the program's interface, which consists of seven menu or panel areas and four default views (which include a top, front, side, and a perspective camera view), takes some getting used to.

SolidThinking comes with user documentation that includes a tutorial. In several instances, particularly in the tutorial, the text is actually misleading-repeating unnecessary steps while failing to give enough explanation in others, and instructing the user to display interface components that are already visible. Overall, my experience with SolidThinking was mixed-there's a lot of power there, but I was often frustrated when trying to exploit it.

At present, the program is sold and supported from Gestel's base in Venice. That situation is changing, however, as the company recently signed several VARs in the US and Canada and plans to open a Boston-based office next year.

Those willing to take the time to master SolidThinking will undoubtedly be rewarded. The program has been used to design autos, watches, and a host of consumer products, and it's been adopted by the entertainment industry for use in feature films. More intuitive functions and a friendlier interface will help attract a broader audience to this sophisticated polygonal/NURBS-based package.

David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, Washington. He can be contacted at

Price: Modeler, $1495; Photo, $995; Design (includes Modeler and Photo), $2490; upgrade from previous version $245.
Minimum system requirements:
Intel Pentium processor; Windows 95/NT 4.0; 64MB of RAM; 102MB of disk space (full installation); 800x600 resolution
Venice, Italy