TriSpectives Should Be a Hit

By Terry Wohlers

Published in Vol. 18, No. 11, November 1995 issue of CGW
Copyright 1995 by Terry T. Wohlers

TriSpectives Professional is an ACIS-based, parametric design program that combines 3D modeling, illustration, and animation features. For its $500 price tag, TriSpectives offers an almost unbelievable set of capabilities. Plus, it's one of the few 3D modeling programs that I genuinely enjoyed learning and using.

In its current iteration, TriSpectives shines the most as a modeler, and that's where I focused the majority of this review. Unlike many design products, TriSpectives encourages experimentation, which I believe promotes creativity. It doesn't burden the user with lots of command names and keyboard entry. After only a few hours with it, I could create interesting, realistic, and precise models. That's due, in part, to a superb user interface. You complete most functions by pointing and clicking, so I rarely found myself using the keyboard. The user interface complies with Windows 95 and Microsoft Office and takes full advantage of the right mouse button to display pop-up menus.

TriSpectives offers an unusually easy method of selecting and inserting pre-existing and custom shapes, models, colors, and surfaces, too. Click on tabs along the right side of the screen, and you'll see groups of items--called catalogs--from which to choose. Catalogs are provided for all the TriSpective features, including tiles, photos, decals, models, and animations. You can produce new catalogs by grouping custom shapes and finished models.

Working with the catalogs is an important part of the model-building process in TriSpectives. Simply put, you add shapes and textures until you get the form you want. Using a shape from one of the catalogs is as simple as dragging and dropping. After that, you can use TriSpectives' editing features to refine the model. You also can extrude, loft, revolve, and sweep lines, arcs, circles, and bezier curves to create complex shapes from scratch.

TriSpectives calls its models IntelliShapes, and for a good reason: These are, literally, intelligent shapes that know how to interact with each other. For example, if you position two boxes so they abut, TriSpectives will connect the two; if you keep moving the box into the other box, TriSpectives will form an intersection. The program comes with numerous IntelliShape 3D models as well as scaleable textures, colors, and surface finishes.

I especially liked how easy it is to change the size and shape of the IntelliShapes. When you want to edit an IntelliShape--such as a hole, slot, or fillet--you just click on it. This highlights the shape with solid lines for visible edges and hidden lines for hidden edges; it also adds handles to each of the shape's dimensions, permitting you to grab and drag handles to change sizes dynamically. You also can change the size of a shape by pointing to one of the handles and then clicking the right mouse button: This displays a box with the corresponding dimensions, which you can change by typing a new number. Press Enter, and you're done. I don't know how they could have made this easier.

To precisely snap IntelliShapes together, TriSpectives uses a feature called SmartSnap. This feature resembles the intelligent snap-and-alignment feature that Ashlar implemented years ago in its Vellum CAD product. When you press the shift key, SmartSnap becomes available, permitting you to snap to points of tangency, midpoints, and edges.

Other impressive features include its powerful shell function. Select a part via the right mouse button, pick the Shell tab in the pop-up menu, and specify a wall thickness. TriSpectives then hollows the part. Additionally, TriSpectives offers full support for assembly modeling, which lets you establish relationships between the individual parts in an assembly. I found its tree-structured approach to working with assemblies straightforward.

As with most solid modelers, I experienced some difficulty with certain tasks associated with the creation of complex fillets and blends. Some complex blending took 5 minutes or longer, and then the program gave up. I also tried to fillet the intersection of a cylinder and a box at one of the box's corners, and it failed--although it didn't crash. In fact, whenever a fillet or blend failed, TriSpectives displayed an error message rather than crashing. In this sense, I found the product to be unusually stable for a beta release. And according to 3D/Eye, it's aware of these aforementioned bugs and claims to have fixed them before shipping.

One feature that worked beautifully, however, is SmartRender, TriSpectives' intelligent rendering capability. As you move, rotate, or edit a model, SmartRender automatically adjusts the rendering mode to maintain speed. For example, as you dynamically move (drag) a complex model, smooth rendering drops to facet mode, and then, if necessary, to wireframe mode--temporarily--until you complete the operation. Once the model is in place, it quickly smooth-renders the object again. With SmartRender, TriSpectives always uses the most efficient method of rendering possible.

You can choose to work in shaded, facet, or wireframe mode; you also can choose whether or not to show textures. For final output, TriSpectives offers raytracing, with or without antialiasing and shadows, for photorealistic renderings. Its renderer is quite speedy, too.

If the product has a single weakness, it's production drafting. The company included some drafting and dimensioning features, but these don't compare to those available in AutoCAD or Pro/Engineer. TriSpectives plans to offer templates that permit you to automatically create orthographic views by dropping 3D models onto a template, but they weren't available in my version of the software. Companies that routinely create fully dimensioned drawings, sectional views, and details most likely will need to export the 3D model data to another product, such as AutoCAD.

In that vein, TriSpectives supports a variety of file formats, including 3DS, AVI, BMP, DWG, DXF, EPS, HPGL, IGES, JPEG, OBJ, PCD, PCX, SAT, STEP (Class 6), STL, TGA, TIFF, VRML, and WMF. I wasn't able to test each of the file formats, but I did try the STL translator. Unfortunately, my test didn't work. When I tried to produce a binary STL file of a relatively simple model, TriSpectives displayed a warning indicating the surface did not define a solid--although I was certain it did. It allowed me to produce the STL file, although I later discovered that the file contained an error. 3D/Eye has tweaked the program further since I've reviewed it, so perhaps it has addressed some of these bugs.

There are other features in TriSpectives that I reviewed only briefly. These include 3D Illustration: You can drop 3D shapes and models onto a page to create technical illustrations, brochures, posters, and the like. The shapes and models rest as 2D flat images on the page, but they remember that they are 3D. You can even add light sources to cast shadows on the page.

You also can use TriSpectives to animate your models. It contains "prepackaged" animations in the SmartMotion catalog; click on a SmartMotion icon, and you can drag and drop an animation onto a model, thus creating a simple animation. There is also a hierarchical timeline editor for more complex animations, but I didn't try this.

About now, you're probably wondering how I would compare TriSpectives to AutoCAD Designer and Pro/Engineer. Several features found in TriSpectives aren't available in Designer, including the Shell feature and support for assembly modeling. And almost certainly, there are designs that you can create using Pro/Engineer that you can't create using TriSpectives. Keep in mind, however, that TriSpectives is in its first release, while Pro/E is in its 15th. Additionally, both Designer and Pro/E are better for drafting.

Now let's take a look at what you get for the price. Budget $8000 or $20,000 for Pro/JR and Pro/Engineer, respectively. AutoCAD Designer costs $1500, but you need the $3750 AutoCAD program to run it, so budget $5250. TriSpectives Professional costs $500. For both Pro/E and AutoCAD Designer, also budget plenty of dollars and time for training--an expense that should be minimal for TriSpectives' customers.

Frankly, if I had to choose among the three for design work, it would be no contest--even if you ignore the prices of these products. TriSpectives is like a magnet: You're drawn to it and want to work with it. At times, I found it hard to stop. For a first release, TriSpectives shows incredible promise. If I were Parametric Technology or Autodesk, I'd be a little nervous--correction, very nervous. CGW

Contributing editor and industry consultant Terry Wohlers focuses on CAD/CAM/CAE, rapid prototyping, and reverse engineering technologies, applications, and management issues.

TriSpectives Professional

3D/Eye Inc., Ithaca, NY, 800-946-9533

Price: $500. Minimum system requirements: Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.51+, 33MHz 80486-based computer, 16MB of RAM, 25MB of hard-disk space, CD-ROM drive.

Copyright 1995 by Terry T. Wohlers