As has been the case for several years, not all computer users need a workstation-class machine, but many do, especially with graphics-oriented and computationally intensive applications, such as MCAD, FEA, and animation. However, high-powered workstations for graphic-intensive applications can come with a price premium. So, you can really pay a relatively high price for higher levels of performance, but is often worth it. There are exceptions, however, and the HP Z2 Mini workstation offers the best of both worlds – a versatile machine with excellent performance at a reasonable price.
I’d classify the HP Z2 Mini as a mid- to high-level machine that provides just about everything most customers would need in a desktop engineering workstation. Then there’s added benefit of the small footprint, which can be huge in a tight work environment.
During SIGGRAPH 2014, we talked to a lot of attendees and exhibitors. One of the CG software developers we spent time with was MAXON, whose flagship product line is CINEMA 4D. Admittedly, this software product is targeted primarily to the media/entertainment market, but also has a place in the MCAD world as well, just as Autodesk’s Maya and 3ds Max have. Certainly not a huge market, but one that has a place for these specialized applications.
CINEMA 4D is a 3D modeling, animation and rendering application developed by MAXON Computer GmbH (Friedrichsdorf, Germany). It is capable of procedural and polygonal/surface modeling, animating, lighting, texturing, rendering, and common features found in 3D modeling applications.
We spoke with Paul Babb, President and CEO of MAXON for the Americas. He said that CINEMA 4D is an animation product used for motion graphics for broadcast television, visual effects, scientific/medical animation, video game graphics, and architectural and engineering visualization.
At their SIGGRAPH 2014 exhibit, MAXON employed a wide range of artists at the booth showing what CINEMA 4D can do, such as game developers, visual effects artists, and motion graphics experts. Also exhibited at the booth were demonstrations showing integration with the Arnold renderer and the Houdini graphics engine.
Although SIGGRAPH is primarily focused on computer graphics (CG) as it relates to media and entertainment (M&E), there were several technologies that could be used constructively in the MCAD arena.
One of the more interesting ones we came across with possible MCAD implications was Clara.io, a web-based 3D computer graphics software developed by Exocortex, a Canadian software company. Clara.io was announced in July 2013 and first presented as part of the SIGGRAPH 2013 program later that month. With that in mind, we checked it out earlier this month at SIGGRAPH 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Clara.io: Basics of Polygon Modeling
Clara.io is offered on what the company calls a freemium basis, a pricing strategy by which a product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for proprietary features and functionality. Clar.io freemium pricing structure is discussed below.
Clara.io is part of an ongoing proliferation of web/cloud-based 3D technologies. WebGL, HMTL5, CSS3D, and Canvas were the start, and were followed by a myriad libraries and other 3D software that runs inside web browsers, and also can run under any OS, tablet, or smartphone.
Clara.io is an impressive example of such burgeoning cloud-based technology. Instead of being a proof of concept or a set of limited features, Clara.io is a comprehensive 3D app. It’s also open source and promises to support the Blender file format in the future (more about Blender later).
Clara.io: Real-time Collaboration
Clara.io has many interesting following features, including:
Hierarchical scene graph
Lights and cameras
Robust support for Polymeshes, including indexed UV, Normal and Color maps
Flexible operators (known as “modifiers” in 3DS Max.
Powerful sub-object editing
Renderer and pass management
Rudimentary bones and skinning
Real-time multi-user collaborative editing
Automatic versioning with history (somewhat analogous to parametric, history-based CAD modeling and a PDM system)
FBX, Collada, OBJ, ThreeJS and STL file format support.
Rendering has entered the mainstream of the product development process with this capability being part of many CAD applications. However, there is still plenty of room for specialized products that optimize rendering and take it to a higher level. One of our favorites is Keyshot from Luxion, who just announced KeyShot 4, the next generation of its rendering and animation package.
Luxion continues to develop its rendering technology to bring speed and improvements to KeyShot, making it an integral part of the product development process, from concept through sales and marketing.
KeyShot 4 adds new approaches to features and improved rendering enhancements that make KeyShot an accurate 3D rendering animation system for the product visual workflow.
The new “Live Linking'”capability lets Creo, SolidWorks, and Rhinoceros users maintain all part and feature updates made to their models without having to redo any of their work inside KeyShot. This capability requires a separate plugin that is available free of charge from the KeyShot website.
Keyshot 4 introduces a new method for applying physical lights, with the ability to turn any object in the scene into a point, area, or light source. Improved import options give you more flexibility when importing 3D geometry and the ability to work with the actual units of CAD software.
Check out the Keyshot 4 overview video presentation:
More material options come courtesy of a new partnership with Mold-tech, introducing accurate representations of Mold-Tech textures.
Improved algorithms provide more realism for subsurface light scattering within translucent materials.
KeyShot Pro users now have the ability to apply render layers to objects and create Model or View Sets to explore different configurations of product appearances, camera views, and environments. Pro users will also experience enhanced HDR editing capability with dynamic environment highlighting and options to tilt and blur HDRI’s. The KeyShot user interface now has the ability to dock project, library, and animation windows. Optionally, models can now be viewed in full stereoscopic 3D on supported 3D monitors.
Increased control over the model and environment is provided with the ability to apply rounded edges to sharp corners, multi-select objects in the real-time window and create ground planes.
Speeding the time it takes to add detail to 3D geometry and reducing the files size of imported models has been addressed with the new Rounded edge feature. With this option, you can apply a small radius to sharp edges creating a more realistic look. This option is a a visual enhancement to the rendered graphics without increasing file size or render times.
KeyShot 4 pricing starts at $995. As with previous versions, animation capabilities can be added to KeyShot 4 for $500 and interactive KeyShotVR capabilities can be added for $1000.
We have watched Keyshot evolve and mature as one of the best rendering packages in the marketplace, regardless of price, and Keyshot 4 continues this positive evolution.