Despite being distinctly different in its approach to interface design, Caligari – the maker of trueSpace – is still going strong, and has released version 6 of its 3D
modelling, rendering, and animation application.
trueSpace has always stood out from the crowd, but not always for the right reasons. The interface is upside down for a start, with all the main tools and the window-menu bar located along the bottom of the screen. Also, the tools and commands are displayed only as buttons. No text is provided except for a tool tip, which pops up after a second or so, or in the help bar as you mouse over the tools. This makes it tricky for newcomers to learn the program.
Version 6 continues the tradition of a fully interactive and shaded interface using Direct X or OpenGL acceleration. New to the program are various modelling improvements, UV-editing, texture-baking, a new LightWorks renderer, and more.
Modelling with NURBS
Modelling in trueSpace can be done with NURBS or polygons. The latter can be converted to Subdivision Surfaces, too. Modelling is fair, but we found it unintuitive and awkward at first – and the interactive handles seemed to get in the way of workflow rather than enhancing it.
Almost all the main 3D programs have implemented a standard display method for translation, rotation, and scale handles. These are represented by a set of axes with handles that can be dragged to constrain the operation to a given axis. trueSpace 6 shuns this convention for a bounding box instead. In fact, it’s just a bounding box outline (in which not every corner pointing towards you is displayed, so it’s less cluttered). As the mouse is moved over its edges, they highlight, and the cursor displays a different icon: the corner edges scale; the middle of the edges translate; and blobs in the centre of each edge rotate. It seems to be implemented for the sake of being different rather than on its advantages.
Version 6 adds excellent new polygon-filleting tools. Enabling this tool lets users select and round edges on a polygon object – and it does so interactively and intelligently. For instance, the edges of an extruded text object can be rounded by selecting each edge one-by-one. As edges are added, they join the rounding scheme seamlessly, creating proper joints and seams.
The handle can be used interactively to expand the rounding radius or the number of divisions, for perfect control. Users can even set the radius larger than the current face would support. In this situation, most 3D programs would fail or produce an error. Not here. The bevel simply continues over faces, and can consume the entire object if desired – almost like a giant Boolean. This is possibly the best filleting tool we’ve seen, so top marks to Caligari.
Also new are the radial, grid, and spline-array tools. These create copies of an object in various arrays, with the settings changeable interactively. The radial array offers different start and end radii and offsets – so users can create helical arrays. There’s no scaling option, though. The array-object remains live, so its parameters can be changed later.
NURBS have been improved. Users can now extrude trim curves, there’s better iso-curve-to-curve conversion, and two new NURBS primitives.
All objects can be deformed with the new deformer tools. These include Bend, Taper, and Skew, and remain live after they’re applied. The deformers display a handle that can be used to set the location and amount of deformation, though the centre axes were way too small to use properly. They work well though, and it’s a shame there isn’t also a Twist deformer to complete the set.
LightWork of rendering
Rendering is supplied by the licensed LightWorks 6.6 render engine. LightWorks is a set of rendering libraries produced by UK company LightWork Design, and can be found used in other 3D software such as Form•Z RadioZity.
Likewise, trueSpace 6 features radiosity rendering, and can take advantage of the new technologies of the latest LightWorks renderer – technologies such as Perceptual Tone Mapping enhancements for better radiosity renders with less fuss.
Rendering quality is excellent when using radiosity, though the basic rendering is nothing special. The material system is also average. There are no advanced material options or shaders such as Fresnel, or gradients, or edge transparency, along the lines of those found in more pro-oriented programs such as NewTek LightWave or Maxon Cinema 4D XL.
What you do get, though, are interactive previews of changes on the object itself through the IIR window. Real 3D painting (not just vertex or polygon paint) also features, using UV texturing. The quality is fair: brush edges are nicely anti-aliased, and paint can be applied quickly.
The new Facial Animator module comes with preset head models and a nifty texturing system that lets users easily apply head-photos; all that’s needed are head-on and side-on photos. The outlines of the head model are edited in the floating panel to align the two. Bizarrely, editing the outlines actually changes the model – rather than modifying the UV coordinates, as one might expect. The upshot of this is that you can create a decent likeness of the person in the photo, and use preset lip and facial poses to make them talk. It’s far from pro-level stuff, but good for avatars, talking Web heads, and the like – and generally good fun.
trueSpace 6 is on the cusp between serious and fun, in terms of its feature set and interface. It has
a number of excellent professional features such
as the filleting and NURBS, IK and function-curve animation, but also sports a comical interface,
and weak materials and workflow.
If you’re after a serious, professional-level 3D application, then you’d do better saving-up for LightWave or Cinema 4D XL.
That isn’t to say that you can’t do professional rendering with trueSpace – just that the alternatives, such as Cinema 4D, LightWave, et al, despite costing a lot more, are a lot better.