Price When Reviewed: £345 plus VAT
In a bid to maximize its product’s market, Gestel has released its powerful NURBS surface modelling and rendering system, SolidThinking 5.0 LT. The company’s range now consists of three varieties of SolidThinking: LT, Design, and Vantage. SolidThinking 5.0 LT is aimed at multimedia and Web designers, and costs considerably less than the top-end version. At just under £350, the application appears to be an excellent value package. It looks just like the high-end Vantage version, with an elegant four-view OpenGL display, and scrolling toolbars. Looking at the tools on offer, there seem to be none missing. LT has the full suite of NURBS surface features, and it’s an impressive suite at that. NURBS-based 3D modelling can be tricky and quite involved; lots of very specific tools are needed if objects are to be constructed quickly. For starters, SolidThinking 5.0 has some of the best curve-creation tools we’ve seen. Users get NURBS CV and meta-curve tools (where the curve passes through the points that are placed), but there are also eight different arc tools – including two for creating fillets; polylines; rounded polylines; bi-tangent segments; tangency-aligned curves; and spirals – not to mention six different circle tools, and two for elipses. SolidThinking 5.0 is equally well-equipped for surface generation. Bi-rail, NURBS Booleans, 3-sided, n-sided patches, Coons surfaces, Gordon surfaces, and curves-networks are all supported. Surface alignment and blending are included, too. If NURBS aren’t enough, SolidThinking LT can offer polygon modelling, with support for Subdivision Surface smoothing. Many of the tools allow users to modify their parameters after they have been used – the tangency of a blended surface, for example. What users don’t get, however, is a construction tree – which in the high-end Design and Vantage versions saves the modelling history, allowing users to make on-the-fly changes to modelling history. For a NURBS modeller, this is quite a disadvantage – but puts SolidThinking on a par in many ways (including price) with Rhino (www.rhino3d.com). SolidThinking LT comes with a demo version of Gestel’s RenderThinking render engine found in the Design and Vantage versions. It can interface with RenderMan or BMRT (Blue Moon Rendering Tools), but the demo is limited to 320-x-480-pixel resolution. Rendering quality is good, but obviously only of limited usefulness. More interestingly, version 5.0 introduces Maya compatiblity – with full NURBS and polygon export direct to Maya’s native .ma file format. This is a great addition. On the Mac, SolidThinking ST ran in Classic mode, but did crash a lot. Things were a bit better in a proper OS 9 installation (we didn’t have the Windows version to test), but those that buy the Mac version will receive an OS X upgrade when it arrives. In the mean time, they can access the beta versions of the OS X version if they wish. SolidThinking 5.0 LT is a mixed bag. At its price, many 2D designers that want to get into 3D are likely to be looking for a more rounded and simpler 3D solution than that which LT currently offers. However, those that know they want NURBS modelling and powerful deforming tools will find SolidThinking LT an interesting proposition.