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REVIEW • September 25, 2001

TrueSpace 5.1

by Jim Boyce

In the realm of 3D modeling you'll find applications at both ends of the price and performance spectrums. On one end of the price spectrum you have applications such as 3D Studio MAX, costing several thousand dollars. While such higher-end applications offer an excellent feature set, their price might put them out of your league. Starting at just $299, Caligari's trueSpace 5.1 doesn't sacrifice capability to gain economy and presents a good alternative to the more expensive modelers.

Lost in trueSpace

You might get a little lost on your first voyage through trueSpace. The program uses a unique interface with floating, iconic toolbars for controlling nearly every function with the exception of opening and saving files and setting preferences, as shown in Figure 1. Although the program offers an indicator in the status bar as to the function of each icon, it doesnt use ToolTips as do other Windows applications, making it a little more difficult for the novice user to learn the interface. With a little experience, however, you'll have little trouble navigating commands and settings. Toolbars are fully customizable, giving you the flexibility to create your own workspace with the tools you use most often.

The default layout for a new scene is a single perspective view with a phantom grid and shadow box to provide a visual orientation for the scene. You can move the point of view in any direction and on any axis. trueSpace also offers front, back, left, right, top, bottom, and camera views. This latter option sets the view from the currently selected camera, light, or object. You can move the view either by moving the camera or through the navigation tools. Views can be interactively resized and repositioned, and trueSpace supports multiple displays, that can enable you to arrange your workspace accordingly.

Figure 1. The trueSpace GUI takes a little getting used to but makes sense in the end.

One part of the interface I particularly like is the tools trueSpace provides for manipulating objects. A box surrounds the selected object, and you can drag control points on the box to move, scale, and rotate the object in real time. In this latest version a Magic Ring widget lets you easily modify properties of objects when you add them to a scene, as shown in Figure 2. Add a sphere, for example, then drag parts of its Magic Ring widget to extend the diameter to turn it into a rounded-end cylinder. Or, insert a torus and fiddle with the Magic Ring to quickly turn it into a tire. This new tool is a welcome addition, although Id like to see it available for editing existing objects. Currently the Magic Ring is available only when you create a new object.

In addition to the nice selection of primitives included in previous versions, trueSpace 5 provides a full set of NURBS (Non-Rational Uniform B-Splines) modeling tools that include lofts, sweeps, rails, skinning, and cross sections. The program gives you quite a bit of flexibility in designing with NURBS, enabling you to trim, blend, stitch, and paint NURBS, and you can now animate control vertices of NURBS objects. All of the modeling features you would expect to find are also included, such as unions, subtractions, and intersections, along with the ability to define complex paths for animation. A PlastiForm tool lets you treat part of an objects surface as a particle mesh. You can then select a cylindrical or spherical hot tool to deform the surface, much like you would push your thumb through or gouge the surface of modeling clay.

Excellent Animation and Simulation Tools

trueSpace provides an impressive simulation of physical behavior, enabling you to set properties for mass, density, center of gravity, buoyancy, friction, elasticity, and other properties. You can apply fixation points to objects to fix them to points in space, for example, hanging a cup on a hook. The program makes it easy to animate objects as well. You can assign an initial motion vector that defines the objects initial linear velocity, set an initial acceleration motion vector that increases the speed over distance, and set the initial rotation vector to cause objects to rotate. Objects follow physical laws, so giving a sphere a horizontal initial motion causes it to roll rather than slide if gravity is turned on, for example. You can turn collision on or off selectively for objects, and collision behavior is automatic. These are just a few of trueSpaces many animation and physical simulation features.

trueSpace's Bones and Inverse Kinematics (IK) features offer a great set of tools for creating and animating jointed objects such as bodies, machines, and others with multiple components that must react in specific ways to one another. You can easily build a skeleton using bones and joints, then add tendons and muscles to control how the bones move in relation to one another. You assign a skin to the skeleton, which is automatically deformed by the skeleton. Then, simply manipulate the joints to pose the model and create animation. The program provides an array of properties such as joint stiffness and muscle contraction type that make it easy for you to fine-tune animation.

You'll also find a comprehensive set of materials and shaders, and you'll be able to determine all properties of an objects materials using either procedural shaders or bitmapped images. The program offers a wide range of predefined shaders and materials; you can even create your own if needed, with 10 new materials including fog, wood, and leather. The Material Editor that you use to assign color, shininess, transparency, reflections, and roughness to objects is improved in the new version. You can resize the window, move it over an object, and see how the object will look rendered with the selected material. When you can't quite get the effect you need with shaders and materials by themselves, you can use the programs 3D Paint tools to paint directly on an objects surface to add detail and realism.

Figure 2. A handy addition is the Magic Ring widget that lets you modify properties of objects when you create them.

When it's time to generate frames, trueSpace continues to shine. There are several kinds of lights, each with a variety of customizable preferences such as intensity, falloff, color, and others. It's easy to click and drag to add and relocate lights in the scene. The program can perform both scanline and raycast rendering. Raycast rendering creates shadows and illumination information, and you can turn on raytracing in the scene to achieve reflection, refraction, and transparency. The program includes a broad range of options for anti-aliasing and other rendering parameters.

You can expand trueSpace's existing import/export capabilities with the addition of the Conversion Pack, which provides data exchange in a variety of formats including IGES, SAT, STL, and others. The Conversion Pack also adds the ability to output to Shockwave 3D and Director 8.5 formats.

Some other additions in 5.1 include integration of third-party plug-ins in standard toolbars, UV mapping optimization, safe-area guard lines for video output, numerical editing of control vertices for NURBS, and numerous other improvements. With 5.1 Caligari also offers a new package called trueSpace 5.1 proTeam, which includes the software, the Conversion Pack, online training courses, access to moderated forums for support, automatic product upgrades, and access to online content libraries to extend trueSpace. The proTeam package is $795 for the first year with annual renewal priced at $495.


trueSpace 5.1 is truly an impressive product. It offers outstanding modeling, animation, and rendering features at an unbeatable price. Caligari also offers other add-ons, including the Character Pack (18 poseable character models), the Shader Pack, two packs of plug-ins to extend the programs capabilities, and trueClips, which offers more than 900 objects and 450 textures. Web designers should consider Caligaris iSpace, which gives you the ability to quickly create 3D objects for inclusion in Web sites.


trueSpace 5.1 is a killer product. If you're in the market for a 3D modeling/animation suite, you should definitely add it to your list of applications to consider. If you're using a previous version of trueSpace, the latest version offers enough enhancements to easily make it worth the price of an upgrade.

Pros: Outstanding modeling, animation, and rendering features; competitive price; good online documentation.

Cons: Proprietary interface with a bit of a learning curve.

Price: $299

Caligari Corp.
1959 Landings Dr.
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 390-9600
Fax: (800) 394-2231

Feature Report Card

Scoring from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest)

Installation/Setup   10
Interface/Ease of Use  8
Features/Functionality  8
Expandability/Customization   9
Interoperability   9
Support   8
Overall Value    10

Jim Boyce is a consultant, the author/co-author of 45 books on a range of computer topics from programming to Windows 2000 system administration, and a frequent contributor to several technical Web sites and publications. He also is a partner in the Internet development firm Minnesota WebWorks (www.mnww.com).

(This article first appeared in Cadence, September 2001.)