I have been looking forward to reviewing Autodesk Alias Sketch 2011 since being first introduced to in this spring at the Manufacturing HQ.  I had no idea how versatile and capable the application would prove to be. If you are not familiar with Alias Sketch, then get ready to see the most flexible sketching tool available.

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  • Overview
  • Test Performance
  • Interface
  • Vectored Sketch Geometry and Manipulation
  • My Comments

Overview

What Alias Design brings to manipulating models, Alias Sketch brings to sketching.  Powerful objects and intuitive manipulators.   Alias is not a photo editor. It is a full blown sketching solution that merges traditional Raster paint implements such as Pen, Airbrush, etc, and non-traditional Vectored curves you might associate with Inventor splines. What makes Alias sketch different from other sketch and paint apps is the ability the user is given to control, adjust, and revise these Vectored features. The control of fill components is amazing, and the color interface is pretty snazzy too.

Test Performance

I tested this application on an XP 32 bit Dell 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 with 2 Gig of Ram (single core) and a Vista 64 bit Dell m6400 2.66 GHz with 4 Gig of ram (dual core) laptops.  I thought both machines would be fine, but I was mistaken.  I went back and reviewed some of the hardware requirements:

  • Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor, 3.0 GHz or greater or Intel or AMD
    Dual Core processor, 2.0 GHz or greater
  • DirectX 9.0c capable graphics card with 128 MB or greater dedicated video
    memory
  • 2GB RAM minimum. 4GB or more is highly recommended
  • 5GB of free disk space
  • Wacom Intuos3 or later tablet is recommended but not required

On the dual core machine it was a dream, but the single core was fighting the whole time, and barely performed.  If we saw some recommendations, they’d likely say “Dual core processor or better, and 4 Gig of Ram minimum”.

Alias Sketch also comes with AutoCAD extensions, and work in AutoCAD 2010 and 2011.  I did not test these because of a footnote I barely noticed in the requirements. Alias Sketch For AutoCAD does not support any vertical platforms.

Interface

The interface was a merger of past UI styles, and some new technology added in.  A Photoshop like layered organization with gestured commands and a Toolbar based on the Current Layer’s context. Multiple pages can be housed in the same document as well.

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Layer Manager

The Layer Manager functions like a collapsible tree, comprised of Folders, 2 types of Layers, and a Canvas. The Canvas acts as a background. The 2 types of layers, Paint and Vector, dictate how a brush or fill is stored and manipulated. Folder organization can be leveraged to produce some interesting and flexible results, and I think is one of the more powerful features in the Layer Manager.

  • Folders bind layer components together into objects, or quite like AutoCAD blocks
  • Folders can globally affect its content object properties, like AutoCAD groups
  • Layers can be reordered as desired
  • Layer order affects sketch components visibility, as each layer’s contents are drawn over top of the one below 
  • Layers can contain imported images
  • Layers can be turned on and off, locked, merged and copied to any page
  • Both Folders and Layers offer Opacity, Blend, and Symmetry options, independent of one another

Gesturing

I think one of my favorite features is the Layer Manager’s gesturing.

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Pick inside the Layer Manager and pull.  The controls appear with new layer options and commands.  Deleting a layer is as simple as picking the layer and dragging to the upper right.

Toolbars

The toolbars are populated with tools based on layer context, divided into application and manipulation tool groupings.

Paint

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Vector

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Each of the context toolbars contains these common tools:

  • Brushes: Pencil, Pen, Brush, Marker, and Airbrush (eraser is Paint only)
  • Fills: Solid, Linear, and Radial
  • Transforms: Basic (translate and scale), Distort, and Warp

The Paint toolbar also contains:

  • Raster selection methods: Magic Wand, Lasso, Polyline, Circle, Rectangular, and deselect
  • Effect and blend brushes: Dodge, Burn, Blur, and Sharpen

The Vector toolbar contains editing tools related to geometries:

  • Selection methods: Select Curve, Select Segment, and Select Curve Segment Tails
  • Curve tools: Shift, Smooth, Straighten, and Combine
  • Brush Edits: Stroke, Pressure, Size and Intensity

Color Editor

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The Color Editor controls the colors of the entire document.  This interface provides comprehensive control and easy navigation to access the lighting and color adjustments. Wheel, Sliders, and Reference color adjustments are set on alternate tabs. The sliders can be changed out from RGB to CMYK, HSI, and HSB.  The reference color interface permits a preview of a lit and shaded object that in turn can be picked from for fine tuning of shading fills.  A nice touch.

Attribute Editor

The Attribute editor is a dialog that populates with the attributes and settings pertinent to whatever Toolbar tool grouping is actively selected. Essentially a tool/brush context.

  • When brush tools are active, brush settings are populated
  • When edit tools are active, specific sketch geometry properties populate, based on the tool in use
  • When a Folder is selected, then only Transform tools are available, and the editor populates with position and translation tools, such as scale, rotation, coordinate position, etc.

Brush and Tool Palettes

Below you will find a sampled collection of the different palettes that populate the Attribute Editor mentioned above.

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Each is managed by differing tool and layer contexts.

Navigation Bar

The Navigation Bar is simple, and contains view manipulators like Zoom, Pan, etc, as well as Flip horizontal and vertical. A Zoom and Pan Wheel can also be activated by using the spacebar as a momentary hotkey.

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Asset Manager

The Asset Manager contains the Page layout if multiple pages will be used in a single document.

Vectored Sketch Geometry and Manipulation

Alias Sketch separates itself from any traditional sketching applications in the way it applies and manipulates vectored geometries. The concept of Paint and Vector layer contexts is an innovative method to determine how content is manipulated in the sketch document. The brushes and fills that apply the sketching features are the same, no matter which layer context is active. The benefit to the user is the consistency of the applied colors, curves, and fills in any context.

Curves

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Curves can be applied through Stroke mode, or by Point mode. During Point mode, you can pause, reposition a grip, and then keep on trucking with the remainder of the curve creation.  Once created, all Vector curves act and edit in the same manner, no matter how they were created.

A selected curve highlights with a visible color change, and by grip as well.  The number of grips is menu driven.  The grips have nothing to do with curve geometry; they are all about control.  The same curve can be displayed with 1 grip or with 10 grips. Simply select the grip slider, and move it between 0 and 10. If you select 5 grips, then all curves selected will highlight with 5 grips.  If you need a bit more control, then just move the slider.

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Curve geometry can be shifted about, smoothed and merged through the Toolbar editing.  Various geometry sliders and indicators will appear on the curve to visually assist you with the modifications.

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Curve selection is nice as well. Entire curve segments can be selected, or just partial segments between intersecting curves.  Curve Tails can be picked up with the last button in the set.  This selects all the outer intersected segments, the strays you could say.

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In the latter example above, I use curve tails for my selection method, and then windowed all contents. As with any of these selection methods, a quick tap on the delete key, and you have some pretty fast cleanup.

Fills

Fills are smokin hot.  I don’t care what world you come from, or how you design or paint, these things are awesome.

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Fills use the standard flood-fill methodology. Paint fills derive their limits from all curves on any layer type, and are editable with standard paint tools. Vector fills derive their limits from curves on the current layer, and respond by adapting when those curves change, similar to an AutoCAD associative hatch.

Manipulating a fill has to be the the coolest thing in Alias Sketch. After the fill is placed, a set of grips on a control line and a bounding box appear. At least 2 grips will appear on the control line, each representing a hotspot for a color. Using the Color Manager, these colors can be manipulated until the correct lighting or effect is achieved.

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Dragging the bounding box warps the fill relationships. If you need some curvature, just add more grips by picking along edges of the bounding box. If you need more colors, just pick along the control line, ad more color grips are added. Subsequent tuning of colors and shaping of the fill will achieve any arrangement of fill and shading.

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Removal of unwanted vertexes can be achieved by selecting the delete box attached to each vertex.

Layer and Folder Symmetry

Whenever the symmetry property of any layer or folder is set on, a manipulator is displayed while that layer is active. The axis of the symmetry is displayed, and controlled by dragging the control where the line of symmetry is desired. The axis can be rotated by a drag glyph present on the axis.

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Radial patterning is performed by placing the manipulator at the pattern center, and dragging the pattern count index tab around the dial to the desired count indicator. The maximum seems to be 15.

Object Translation and Warpage

Object translation and warpage is achieved via an object manipulator, or through the Attribute editor. When an object is selected via a vector edit tool, the manipulator appears representing the extents of the object, (or objects if a grouped folder was in focus).

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Each glyph on the manipulator either translates, scales, moves, warps, skews, or rotates the object or objects as a group. No more back and forth to a menu, this tool really makes fast work of positioning and rotating objects.

Did I mention that you can add vertexes to a warp?

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Now that’s bad ass.

Comments

This article took a bit more time that I had envisioned.  It was intended to be a short narrative, but I kept coming across more functionality, and eventually had to stop adding content. There is so much more capability that is being described about this product, and so many tricks and tips that I keep learning every day as I use this application.

If there was anything I did not like, it was the zoom features.  No Mouse Button Pan and Zoom, etc that the design industry is used to.  It is obvious that this tool is designed for a Wacom Tablet, and I bet that would be a smooth method to operate with.  However, teams that use a pen tablet are few, when compared to the rest of the design industry. That Mouse Button Pan and Zoom would be the first thing I’d want changed.

There is no telling what Autodesk has in mind for the future.  This application opens many new doors for Autodesk to explore. We have just seen evidence of some direction with Autodesk Design Suite 2011, which contains  Alias Design and Alias Sketch among other applications.

I think the future adaptations of this application will be dictated by the imagination and talent of those designers that use the app. The industry will be looking at how we all integrate this new addition to the Autodesk Design lineup.