Posts Tagged ‘3D modeling’


A new approach to modeling instruction at PolyPlane

The best way to learn 3D modeling?   Forget about the software.

For the moment anyway.  That’s part of the philosophy at PolyPlane, a new instructional site that emphasizes the broader concepts of 3D graphics before delving into the dashboard of a particular CAD application.

PolyPlane“People just starting out in 3D modeling are forced to wrap their brains around a lot of unfamiliar concepts all at the same time,” says Gabriel Mathews, principal of Portland’s Con Cor Design Group and author of the video series.  “At the outset, stepping back and understanding the process of modeling in general actually makes learning an application a lot less frustrating.”

The first series of free videos at – called “pre-flight” – gives the overall lay of the land (or grid, in this case) for students before they even get into the cockpit of a modeling application.  Each three-to-four-minute lesson focuses on a basic concept in the problem of generating 3D geometry.

“We try to build an overall framework of modeling for the newcomer.  We don’t want to just define the term but show why it’s important and how it works in the big picture,” explains Mathews.   “Once you have this sort of schema in mind, it makes it much easier to take command of the software when you do finally approach it, because you know what you need and what to look for.  After a short time on PolyPlane you can really pick up any kind of modeling application.”

This can include engineering packages, like SolidWorks or Pro/E, curvilinear NURBs-based applications like Rhinoceros or Alias or tools for animators or artists like 3DStudio Max, Blender, or Maya.  Having more prior knowledge about the basic tenets of 3D can also help students make smart choices about which software are most in line with their interests, Mathews says.

Sketch To Model video course from

Modeling school bite by bite

Mathews was inspired to launch PolyPlane by a friend’s successful instruction site for 2D graphics called CTRLPaint, which uses short video illustrations and friendly narration to introduce new techniques piecemeal.  He thought a similar approach would work to cut through the complexities of 3D curves, meshes, and surfaces.

Mathews says there are dozens of other sites with modeling tips as well as tutorials put out by software developers, but he finds that too often the offerings expect the viewer to already have a background familiarity that amateurs usually lack.

“You get something that is 45 minutes long and loaded with acronyms and technical jargon,” he says.  “Any outsider is not going to know what a UVW map is.  It’s discouraging when you slog through a long tutorial and only grasp 50% of what’s being said.  And if the instruction is too centered on the software of a particular brand, it also tends to assume the viewer has a working knowledge of modeling already.”

In contrast, each short PolyPlane video explains in simple terms and clear illustrations another piece of the puzzle.  Visitors to the pre-flight series can accumulate a solid background of the principals in a few spare moments during the week, without opening up a modeler app.

“A lot of modeling is problem solving, more of a mental maneuver, like how to break up the object you want to make into more basic geometry, for instance.  Your modeler is not going to do for you, it’s something you learn to visualize,” says Mathews.

“Each video you wind up learning another little bead of wisdom:  how to control a camera view, why NURRBs are important, what does it matter to set up an origin point a particular way.  As you get into modeling in whatever platform, all these rules of thumb eventually become second nature to you and you don’t really even think about it.  But when you are starting out they can become the roadblocks in understanding the software.”Polyplane 3D modeling tutorialWatch and Learn: PolyPlane employs visual aids to show the conceptual underpinnings of modeling actions.

Test Flights

Learning by doing eventually is part of the ride, too.  PolyPlane has longer 2-hour series – called “sketch-to-model” – which put the principals to work in a practical, step-by-step modeling project.   Here it is helpful to follow along in a modeling application, Mathews says, but it doesn’t much matter which application; the user can adapt the general PolyPlane techniques to whatever platform.

Mathews says that many designers tend to switch applications at some point in their education or careers, so it helps to be open-minded at the beginning anyway.  He himself initially took a college course that taught AutoDesk products, then discovered Rhinoceros and taught himself the application with the help of his previous instruction.

“People tend to gravitate to a system eventually that becomes their favorite tool.”  For cost-conscious students, Mathews says a free sample version of Rhino or Google SketchUp works for the more intensive PolyPlane exercises.  Students can get a solid foundation with the pre-flight and the tutorial projects during a month of free trial.  After that, students can purchase the software for relatively low cost.

“I chose the Rhino environment in the video examples because it is what I am most fluent in and it tends to be the most affordable paid software.  It’s true that Google sketch up is free but the complete loaded version of the software is $499.  Rhino is around $1000 but if you are a student it is $199, so it turns out to give the most bang for the buck.”

Regardless of the software choice for students, Polyplane aims to create the most economical instruction method in terms of time.  “Whether you have to learn 3D modeling for school or on your own, we think PolyPlane will get you up to speed the fastest,” says Mathews.

PolyPlane plans new free videos every week throughout 2012, more advanced projects, and other design resources for the beginner.  Check out other video lessons at




Sungrace builds SW automation for RWDI’s sky-high models

by Brett Duesing

If your architectural project scrapes the atmosphere, you will likely need the rarified services of a company like Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin (RWDI). This Toronto-based consulting firm has provided wind engineering, environmental air quality and noise management services for many of the largest architectural projects in the world, from Taipei 101 in Taiwan (currently the world’s tallest building) to Burj Dubai in the Middle East (which will soon take over the title) to Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower at New York’s World Trade Center site.

For these substantial projects, RWDI uses a SolidWorks 3D electronic model to output a series of recommended design wind pressures. The company simulates and analyzes many of the environmental effects on superstructures using a variety of tools, including wind tunnel testing, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) using Fluent and a custom-designed program called VirtualWind. Certain studies, like the wind-tunnel pressure test, require a physical scale model of the proposed building to be constructed, along with the surrounding terrain and cityscape.

“A pressure study looks at the effects of the wind on the exterior envelope of a building in the context of its geographic area. These wind effects will be different in a crowded downtown area than if the structure was built out in the middle of a field. Often times you’re dealing with very complex wind flows,” explained Matthew Browne, RWDI wind engineering specialist. “The wind tunnel testing gives very accurate, project-specific design information.”

A detailed model of a building ready for the wind tunnel test. The building’s surroundings are handcrafted using rigid foam.

RWDI constructs its study models using rapid prototyping technology (RP) or stereolithography (SLA) from 3D Systems, which produces a model via the layer-by-layer curing of photosensitive resin. The painstaking part of the work used to be performed manually. Modelmakers had to drill holes on every surface of the model to install all the pressure sensors, or taps, needed for the wind tunnel test.

RWDI sought a way to automate the installation of pressure taps with its eTAPS, or “electronic taps” program, so the model parts could come out of the SLA machine with holes perfectly spaced for testing.

“Typically, we have to install several hundred pressure taps in a model. The eTAPS project is a way of using our RP technology to also incorporate these pressure tubes in the physical model, rather than doing it by hand with a drill and glue,” Browne explained.

Through its in-house R&D department, RWDI developed software to locate the placement of pressure taps over a given building model at optimal spacing. To reach into SolidWorks and automatically change the geometry of the actual model, RWDI enlisted the help of Sungrace Software.

“SolidWorks provides a great deal of functionality in its API that permits geometric analysis and construction of these kinds of complicated features,” said Mark Yerry, the senior developer at Sungrace who led the eTAPS project. Automatic conversion of positional coordinates into the solid model features is a conceptually simple task.

“In many cases, it’s straightforward,” Yerry continued. “A tap will fit and have enough space behind the wall to accommodate the pressure tap. For the ones at the edge of the structure, or where there is a cluster of many in one section, we had to develop a more sophisticated set of tools. The most challenging aspects of this project involved the development of a few key algorithms.”

For example, some taps needed to slant upward or downward to prevent conflicting with other sensors. “We programmed the Multi-Point Tap design tool to create the custom paths for the more difficult tap placements. So rather than simple holes, these taps follow a path that the user specifies,” Yerry said.

The eTAPS add-on appears as an extra menu inside SolidWorks, which gives RWDI modelmakers the means to automate the creation of simple pressure taps in the virtual model, the Multi-Point Tap tool for more congested areas, and additional tools for mold fixturing. The tools that make more complex paths still require some human decision making inside SolidWorks, but the prep time to fully instrument a skyscraper is cut to a tiny fraction of the old drill-and-glue technique.

Automating these modeling tasks has increased efficiency at RWDI by about 15 percent, which in turn increases the company’s capacity to perform pressure studies on a monthly basis. Browne commented, “With the new eTAPS we are able to cut a significant amount of time out of a typical project.”

The eTAPS SolidWorks add-on is proprietary and not for sale, and given the highly specialized work of RWDI, few others would need it. However, as firms involved in 3D manufacturing and architecture look for new ways to improve efficiencies, many may soon seek a customized modeler of their own.

# # # A version of this article has been published in CADalyst.

About Sungrace

Sungrace provides technology driven engineering and engineering software development services to customers across the globe. We specialize in several mechanical and civil engineering domains and provide solutions to the entire Extended Engineering Enterprise. This includes the OEMs, Owners/Operators and their engineering and software suppliers.  During the past two decades Sungrace has worked with over 200 customers from large Fortune 500 organizations to small and mid-sized companies spread across the globe including US, Canada, UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Japan and India.  For more information, please visit:

Boarder Crossing

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Italian innovators design a multi-tool for the waves, slopes, and streets

By Alex Dickey and Brett Duesing

“Snowboarding is very popular on the Alps,” says Max Bonassi snowboard designer at the Milan-based Comvert. “The main difference between Europe and the U.S. is the consistency of the snow. Here we mostly ride on hard pack. Rarely do we get real powder you see in America.”

Comvert has carved out its own path with Bastard, a brand that offers a line of gear specifically designed for Italian conditions. “We produce boards with a longer effective edge, and a bit stiffer than average boards,” he says. “The result is a very fast ride.”

Although the snow might vary across the globe, snowboarding fashion is universal. Boarders on the slopes of Torino go for the same styles as their counterparts in Breckenridge. Since the Comvert released its first board designs in 1994, the Bastard label has steadily grown to include a full catalog of outerwear, street wear, and accessories.

Since its beginnings, snowboarding counter-culture has always traded style influences with the sport’s rebellious half-cousins, skateboarding and surfing. Boarding enthusiasts often change between the sports according to the season, a fact confirmed by a visit to Comvert’s offices. Comvert recently constructed an indoor skate bowl in their headquarters, so employees could skate on their lunch hour.

Comvert enlisted the help of another Milanese firm, Sardi Innovation, to produce a new accessory for Bastard’s new line. CEO and founder, Enrique Luis Sardi, seized on this idea that snowboarders hit the slopes in the winter, surfed in the summer, and skated to work. This persistent crossover inspired Sardi to devise an all-in-one tool designed for all three sports.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket snow/snow boarding and surfing tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

The Clash of Rhinos

Sardi’s idea was a pocket-sized multi-tool that would combine ten mechanical devices for use in snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. Other sports pocket tools existed, Sardi explains, but their looks were utilitarian rather than phat. To give character to the tool, the Sardi team looked to a bit of zoomorphism:

“We actually considered 60 different animals based on sketches,” says Sardi. The design team settled on the Rhinoceros, giving the guiding principle behind the shapes as well as the product name, the Bastard RHINO Multi-tool. “Once we had the animal idea, the whole design naturally came together. And let’s face it, if you want to make the coolest tool, the rhino is definitely one of the coolest animals.”

At that point, Sardi designers had already engineered the functional metal tool shapes in the 3D surface modeler coincidentally called Rhinoceros. Sardi says the modeling platform was ideal for Comvert’s tool project, as it is for many of his other high-concept designs. Comvert designers (as another coincidence) used the same application to model their snowboarding products and to engineer the curves of its wood-frame skate park.


The NURBS-based environment allowed the team to play with the tool concept on screen, arrange the metal parts into different positions, and define the encasing animal form with smoothly arching curves.

“Its horns, front feet, and back feet are three different open-end wrenches,” explains Sardi. “On its mouth, you plug in the four interchangeable multi-screwdrivers it stores in its stomach, which also contains an ice-or-wax spatula. Its throat opens up to the surf wax comb. Its tail is the keyring clip.” In keeping with the boarder lifestyle, the RHINO’s ears make for a handy beer bottle opener.

“From the business concept to the final design product, the project came together in no time at all,” says Sardi. Ordering the parts into production also went smoothly. The Sardi team could easily export the separate parts for different kinds of production (injected Nylon PA 6.6 copolymer for the casing or 316 stainless steel for the tool heads). Prototypes were made to preview the product with Comvert and its retail buyers.

“When we sent the design to rapid prototyping, it was ready,” says Bonassi. There was no doubt or redesign. We didn’t even make a single change in the Rhino model. The same prototype files were used in final production.”

Changing Geography

The Bastard RHINO is now released through Comvert retail partners through Europe. The toolkit hit a sweet spot, a balance between the practical needs of the sports and the fashion sense of the audience. And the audience for the product is now bigger, mainly because, as Bonassi points out, the tool can hang in shops year round.


“We haven’t done any kind of advertising at all, and still the response just gets better everyday,” he says. “We’re seeing not only magazine and design book features about it, but also hearing about cool stories from customers using their RHINO.”

The multi-tool even made the ADI DESIGN INDEX of the 150 best Italian-designed products in the world.”

As the RHINO gains momentum around the Alps and Mediterranean, it soon may be migrating to the Rockies and California beaches. “Now it’s available in the online stores and the Bastard web site. We are currently studying worldwide store distribution that will take it to North America very soon.”

Sardi is also proud of the recognition, and views the project as an instance of high-minded design turning a simple mechanical idea into a marketing breakthrough.

“The key to success,” says Sardi, “is to keep on innovating non-stop. That’s were the real business is. When the competitors try to copy, you are ready to launch a wholly new product and leave them the wake.”

sardi-innovation-logoAbout Sardi Innovation

At the cutting-edge of entrepreneurial innovation, Sardi is the multi-award-winning firm that businesses turn to for success in developing unique products that strengthen and consolidate their brand image. Clients such as Pirelli, Lavazza, Avio International Group, and McK Aviation have recognized the ability of Sardi Innovation to create real impact in the marketplace. For more information, please visit:


About Comvert S.r.l.

Founded in Milan in 1994 by four skateboarders, Comvert conceives, produces, and distributes gear and clothing for skateboarders and snowboarders under the brand Bastard. Comvert also distributes the brand Electric in Italy. To view Comvert’s quality lines of product, please visit:

rhinologoAbout Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros provides the tools to accurately model your designs ready for rendering, animation, drafting, engineering, analysis, and manufacturing. Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows, without limits on complexity, degree, or size.  To see the many diverse products designed with this affordable 3D tool, and to download a free evaluation version, please visit: