Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 6 (June 2001)

TrueSpace 5

By George Maestri

Caligari's TrueSpace has been around for a number of years and has always offered a solid set of tools for a reasonable price. Version 5 builds on this legacy with a number of new tools and some interface improvements.

TrueSpace presents itself with a single perspective view, but you also can configure it to show orthographic views. The interface is entirely icon-based, which means all operations are represented as pictures, with a text description that shows up on the taskbar. This looks great, but initially I found some icons a bit hard to decipher, making me want basic pull-down menus. After a day or so, though, I had most of the icons memorized, which made the interface fairly quick.
TrueSpace 5's radiosity feature enables users to obtain realistic lighting conditions both in the viewport and for rendering.

One of the most significant improvements to Version 5 is the completion of the NURBS modeler that initially shipped with Version 4. The software enables you to draw NURBS curves and manipulate them using the new draw panel, which gives each curve its own miniature editing window within the 3D environment. Oddly, NURBS curves in TrueSpace use Bezier-type control handles rather than the more standard NURBS weights. This seems to work fine, but it might be confusing to seasoned NURBS modelers.

After you draw your curves, you can create patches using a skinning tool, which allows for multiple outlines to create a patch. You also can create surfaces using the loft and birail tools. TrueSpace enables you to draw trim curves directly on a NURBS surface to cut a hole in a patch. One thing missing is the ability to project existing curves onto a surface, which can make the modeling process more accurate than re-creating these curves from scratch.

TrueSpace also has some nice tools for attaching patches to each other. You can create blend surfaces to join surfaces with circular outlines, such as the end of an arm to a trim curve on a torso.

TrueSpace has always had polygonal modeling tools and has supported subdivision surfaces for the past few releases. Subdivision surfaces make modeling organic surfaces very easy, and TrueSpace's subdivision tools work much like those in most other packages. When a surface is subdivided, the original polygonal surface appears as a "cage," superimposed over the smooth subdivided surface. You can then edit or animate the cage.

Polygonal modeling in TrueSpace starts with primitives, such as spheres and cubes. TrueSpace has a terrific interface for creating these objects called the Magic Ring widget, which lets you draw new primitives interactively. After you create a primitive, you can modify it. The polygonal modeler is basic but is easy to use and gets the job done. It enables you to manipulate points, edges, or faces for sculpting the shape of an object. For adding detail, you can perform such operations as beveling and extruding polygons. Unlike with more advanced modelers, you cannot use these operations on edges or vertices.

Animation also is available for moving objects within a 3D space. For character animation, TrueSpace offers an IK system with skeletal deformation. The IK works a bit differently from other implementations in that it uses a software "pin" to specify the IK chain at any given moment. As such, if you move a character's hand, for example, and the pin is at the shoulder, you will reposition only the arm. If the pin is at the hip, you also will reposition the shoulders and spine. This is a different way of working, but it has advantages in its flexibility.

TrueSpace's material editor has been completely redesigned. One unique feature that I really liked is the new IIR (incremental image rendering) technology, which enables you to move a resizable material editing window over any part of the scene and edit materials directly on scene objects. This enables you to see how a material will look in the context of your scene for final rendering, which speeds production significantly.

Rendering is based on the Lightworks Pro rendering engine from Lightwork Design. TrueSpace offers a variety of lights, including physically accurate lighting, based on actual, manufactured light models for tasks such as architectural design. The renderer's quality is excellent, and it offers radiosity, which models the scattering of light within a scene.

Overall, TrueSpace is a great application for the price. It offers a fairly complete set of features that enable the software to do many different tasks very well. It has user-friendly implementations of all the major features that an artist would need, plus it produces good-looking renders. TrueSpace fills that niche in the market for those who need a quality 3D package but can't justify spending many thousands of dollars.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Price: $795
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95/98/2000/NT; Pentium II; 64MB of RAM; 50MB of free hard-disk space
Caligari Corp.