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Create, explore, refine: MODO drives faster, freer approach to product design


Alongside CAD and on its own, MODO from The Foundry is a uniquely visual and powerful tool for 3D sketching, modeling, sculpting, rendering, and animation. This article conveys, through the experiences of designers and artists in the field of product design, how MODO boosts creativity and fuels ideation.

Since the earliest days of industrial design, sketching by hand has been the gold standard for quickly and intuitively developing and communicating design ideas. As 3D CAD tools have gained influence over the design process, artists and designers have been forced to choose between the fluidity and creative control of hand sketching and the efficiency of 3D design.

MODO from The Foundry is changing all that. The 3D modeling, rendering, and animation package combines the smooth, unencumbered feel of hand-sketching with the power and efficiency of 3D digital design, empowering designers to explore more ideas and take them further, faster.

Image courtesy of Marcus Rizzo.

Designer Marcus Rizzo of Brazil used MODO to produce this rendering of a 1970 Puma GTE. “MODO was a solid part of the production pipeline,” he says. “The render engine is awesome [with its] well- balanced shaders and precise and fast rays. The modeling system is a piece of cake. I love MODO.” More of his work is displayed on his web site, Rizzo 3D.

Los Angeles–based industrial designer and MODO user Gary FitzGerald has built his career in the automotive, transit, and product design industries. He uses MODO as a 2D/3D mash-up for what he calls ”sketch modeling” in the early phases of the design ideation process. For him, working in 2D and 3D simultaneously is an advantage: He’ll often begin with a 2D sketch underlay, followed by quick, loose 3D geometry. Then, using MODO’s 3D painting toolset, he can quickly sketch detail ideas directly on the 3D surface before looping back to creating 3D geometry again. This iterative process is “about getting the right decisions made, not that each design is perfect. ... It’s about getting the right decisions made in a timely fashion.”

MODO works in a way that garners praise and passion from some of the most inspiring designers in the product-development community today. It wins the devoted following of users not merely because of its speed and efficiency, but because — at least according to the designers interviewed for this article — MODO is a genuine pleasure to use.

Image courtesy of Bert Simons.

Industrial designer Bert Simons says, “Once you know MODO’s different lighting methods and tools — such as SLIK (Studio Lighting and Illumination Toolkit), HDR backplates, carefully positioned luminous polygons, and standard lights, together with the layer-based Shader Tree — you have great control to get the images as you and the client want, and to have a consistent look throughout all projects.”

Power, speed, and ease of use

MODO is the industry’s fastest physically accurate rendering engine; it can accomplish in minutes what might take hours or days in other systems. In addition, rather than a highly technical, node-based shading system, MODO takes a layer-based approach to materials and shading that is familiar and intuitive to anyone who has ever used Adobe® Photoshop®. It lets users control whether renders should be optimized for speed, photometric accuracy, or somewhere in between. In this way, users can render any- thing from lightning-fast variations to incredibly accurate light simulations depending on the demands of the project.

MODO also takes a uniquely efficient approach to subdivision surface (SDS) modeling, a process often described as “digital clay” because users can push and pull geometry smoothly and see results in real-time. MODO’s SDS tools are easy and intuitive to use and support fast, fluid, iterative workflows early in the design process. “Visual storyteller” Paul McCrorey calls MODO “the central hub and lynch pin of my operation.” McCrorey runs an agency that specializes in rendering, animation, and other forms of digital visual communication. He uses MODO with CAD systems such as SolidWorks to develop images and animations, but he also values MODO’s SDS modeling. The ability to convert surfaces to NURBS for detailing means that highly organic forms that might take a skilled CAD operator days to model can be accomplished in hours or even minutes using MODO, he says, then sent on for CAD detailing, prototyping, machining, and even manufacturing.

Given its high-end functionality, you might assume MODO is complicated to use — but the opposite is true. While other 3D modeling packages overwhelm users with hundreds or even thousands of different tools, MODO takes an entirely different approach. On first glance, users are exposed to just a relatively limited amount of highly effective and flexible tools. And the way MODO lets you easily add preconfigured meshes, assemblies, and materials for reuse in future projects is perhaps its greatest technical strength. Designers can create incredibly complex models and materials using a simple, visual drag- and-drop system. Adding common mesh features or materials is as simple as dragging an icon from the visual Preset Browser, and saving custom presets is just as easy.

Thanks to MODO’s speed, users can model, texture, animate, and render striking images earlier in the design process, eliciting feedback from project stakeholders before expensive mistakes are made. This highly interactive, real-time design allows designers to fail early and fail often, quickly exploring numerous possibilities in a risk-free environment that ultimately results in better design in less time.

Image courtesy of Scott Robertson.

Modeling what can’t be drawn

Scott Robertson — an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and a design consultant for the entertainment, sporting goods, and transportation industries — is a household name in design circles. He has published several books through the publishing company he cofounded, Design Studio Press, and you’ll find those books strewn about the tables of virtually every industrial design studio in America. He’s especially famous for his “draw-through” hand-sketching technique, publishing weekly tutorials on his Drawthrough Jr. blog.

Despite the strength and speed of his famed drawing hand, Robertson uses MODO as a primary design tool. MODO’s digital design tools are “sexy,” but also powerful: “There are things that I can create with those tools that I can’t draw,” he says, and he can explore forms in entirely new ways.

Industrial designer FitzGerald under- stands why artists like Robertson are relying on MODO. “I see the designers with the strongest drawing skills being the most open to MODO,” in large part, he explains, because MODO encourages the kind of fluid, free thinking workflow that traditional artists need.

MODO plus CAD

MODO is powerful on its own, but it really shines when combined with other modeling tools. “One of the ideal workflows,” FitzGerald says, “is to have MODO and something like SolidWorks® together on your desk- top.” Using MODO’s CAD Loader and Power SubD NURBS plugins, the software fits seamlessly into a CAD- driven design workflow. A user can send geometry from CAD to MODO in any of a variety of industry-standard CAD formats, such as SolidWorks, ParasolidTM, STEP, and IGES, to name a few. Users can receive a SolidWorks component layout, bring it into MODO as a reference, and design over it using MODO’s SDS modeling, painting, sculpting, and rendering tools, then send clean, curvature-continuous NURBS surfaces back to SolidWorks — or nearly any other mechanical CAD system — for detailing and final part design.

MODO natively reads and writes both SolidWorks and Rhino® 3D files and easily exchanges curve and surface data with other design tools such as Autodesk® Alias® and PTC® Pro/ ENGINEER® and Creo®. Further, since MODO was designed to work well with the dense meshes often created by digital sculpting tools, it deftly handles the complex, multimillion polygon meshes generated by 3D scanners, making it an ideal tool for reverse- engineering complex organic scans.

For Hollywood set designer Scott Schneider, MODO works alongside Rhino. “[MODO gives me] the ability to rapidly amass ideas and change them on the fly while still maintaining accuracy” before building the physi- cal sets. He sees complex parametric design tools as a powerful but overly technical distraction from the design process that he equates to writing in code: “The [MODO] workflow and ease of use allow me to be a designer, not a code writer.” In two recent, high-profile projects, MODO played a key role in designing buildable sets: “MODO allowed me to build to an accuracy of 1/16 inch — more than adequate for set construction. The ease of modeling and rapid replication of elements gave me the ability to generate ideas quickly but accurately, thus speeding up the design process. The fact that I could take my MODO model into a CAD package like Rhino, convert it to NURBS, and begin generating 2D drawings without any retooling cut my modeling time in half.”

Image courtesy of Mike James.

Created by Mike James based on an actual aircraft, with both personal and Cessna documentation provided by the owners, this image represents the major structures of the classic Cesna 310K aircraft. Modeled in MODO, it includes complete interior and exterior lighting systems, moveable flight controls, animated propellers, retractable landing gear with sequencing doors, and many other details. View the project at Mike James Media.

Pushing boundaries

Industry examples abound. Sporting goods design studios are using MODO to streamline the colors, materials, and finishes (CMF) process by allowing CMF designers to drag-and-drop real-world materials onto a model and see the results in real time, then export photographic images for use in manufacturing, print, web, and 360° views. Designers in car design studios are using MODO not only for its sketch-modeling tools, but also for its industry-leading retopology tools to reverse-engineer entire car bodies from 3D scans of clay models. These retopology tools drastically reduce turnaround times for design iterations from clay to digital and back to clay again. Whereas remodeling from a scan can take days or even weeks using a traditional surfacing system, MODO delivers meaningful results in a matter of hours.

Yazan Malkosh, head of design at The Foundry, says, “MODO is really pushing the boundaries of how software tools can integrate with the design process. The Foundry’s vision is to make MODO a full-fledged member of the design-for-manufacture toolset. From material conversion to design packaging and BOM export, we are able to hide many technical aspects of digital design and free up the designer to concentrate on the actual design process — something that designers are more than happy to do.”

Image courtesy of Wes Wait.

3D illustrator Wes Wait of Wes Wait Design relies on MODO for modeling and rendering. He says, "One of MODO's key features is the ability to handle large data-sets, making maneuvering around a scene much easier. This has been a real boon in the development of the running shoes, as the production mesh of each shoe's sole is incorporated into all Brooks Sports visualizations.

One design manager remarked that MODO provides designers real-time feedback about three-dimensional forms and proportions that are difficult to conceive in sketch form and are often glossed over as a result. An old joke in the design world is that “sketches lie,” because it is easy to draw great looking forms that can’t exist in the real world. By empowering designers to sketch in 3D, design man- agers can help to ensure that creative work is based on realistic 3D form and proportion.

“I routinely tell my customers that although we can certainly emulate normal photography, the more compelling reason to use 3D is to portray things that cannot be done easily (or at all) in real life,” says Mike James, a 3D artist and the force behind the MODO tutorials at Mike James Media. “MODO has great tools for doing this in both still images and animation, allowing us to begin with an exterior skinned view and easily peel away layers to view the internal parts. Today, this is far less tedious than it would have been just a few years ago, and much faster too.”

Clearly, MODO 3D modeling and visualization software from The Foundry is changing the way designers interact with 3D, providing them not only a “digital sketchbook” for rapid form development, but also the back-end power to propel those designs into development. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s wicked good fun.