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Creative visualisation

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Fast accurate visualisation tools are in great demand among architects, as they enable virtual models of projects to be created early in the design process. Artifice's Design Workshop, a recent addition to this market, provides a compact set of tools and rendering options via a simple interface. In common with the recently upgraded ModelShop, it allows even novice users to create three-dimensional studies of their proposals quickly, avoiding the steep learning curves associated with most 3D applications.

DesignWorkshop comes in three versions: Lite, which provides basic functionality (available free from the Artifice web site); Classic; and Professional. In terms of modelling functionality the Classic and Professional versions are the same - the difference comes in the rendering capabilities and the import/export options.

Modelling is straightforward, involving arranging geometric blocks within a 3D grid then editing them to form more complex shapes. The drawing tools include a basic set of 2D tools with 3D block and poly-wall tools, and 3D rectangular and polyline opening tools which provide a means of placing polygonal openings in solid blocks. To cut circles or curved profiles through an object you have to draw a circle on the elevation using the 2D circle tool then use this as a guide. The polyline opening tool can then draw a faceted curve to approximate the curve. It is simple to alter the working plane with the crosshair orientation tools. You can now draw in different planes without having to change views and although this takes a little getting used to, it soon makes sense.

The viewing controls have been improved and incorporated into the lights and textures windows with this release, version 1.8. By holding down the shift key while dragging a rectangle, the zoom tool will draw in proportion to the active window. The alt key allows rectangles to be formed from the centre rather than the corner, and the command key allows the rectangle to be moved around the window to select just the view you want.

Once the model is complete, views can be quickly set up using the eye tool. This dynamically moves the viewer's perspective, giving real-time rendered feedback using QuickDraw 3D. Any installed hardware acceleration is automatically detected and used, with an option to specify use of a particular card, if you have more than one. Walk-throughs are easy to choreograph, with key views, or frames, set up by the user appearing in the walk-through window. These can then act as a 'slide-show' type of walk-through for animation. The 'insert' button generates in-between frames to give the transitions a smooth appearance. A new interactive walk-through interface has been added, providing QuickTime vr-style exploration of your model in real time.

The inclusion of QuickDraw 3D plug-in rendering engines from LightWork Design in the Professional edition is a great bonus, adding shadow casting, transparency without hardware and anti-aliasing to standard rendering. A hidden-line renderer is also provided for wire-frame views. Other third- party plug-ins can be used with Design Workshop, such as the cartoon-style engines from ThinkFish. Design Workshop has been designed to fully exploit the quick trimesh geometry introduced in QuickDraw 3D 1.5.1, converting all objects in a scene to trimesh when you view lights and textures. 3D mf files from any source can be converted to trimesh forms increasing rendering speeds by up to four times. QuickDraw 3D is now available on Windows and provides an alternative to Opengl, the 3D system developed by Silicon Graphic and adopted by Microsoft.

DesignWorkshop has seen consistent development over the last few years, with the release of Version 2.0 planned for later this year. Now fully cross-platform, Artifice has produced a useful visualisation tool for everything from virtual set design to product development.

Version 1.8 costs £399. Both Macintosh and Windows versions ship on a single cd-rom. Detailsfrom prd Creative Software Consultants, tel 01902 755293.

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