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Alias' StudioTools CAID and Apple's Industrial Design Group

7 Apr 00

If you are reading this you are either very interested in anything that has to do with Alias/Wavefront's software and running on Mac OS X or you love Apple's cool products and want to learn more about their industrial design group and its history.

Apple IDG: Alias Studio (StudioTools) provides powerful CAID for Ive and Co.

Apple's Industrial Design Group has been using computers and sophisticated CAD and CAID (computer-aided industrial design) software for many years now. According Paul Kunkel's absolutely fantastic book, Apple Design: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group -- a book which documents the history of the Apple IDg in such fascinating detail that it provides a unique perspective on the most import computer firm of our time.

The use of Alias' Studio software began in the IDg many years ago. Apple's designers and the amazing eMate Newton OS computer are featured at the Alias/Wavefront Web site.


According to Paul Kunkel's tale of the Apple IDg, CAD started at Apple on the Macintosh with the "Blackbird" project (remember, Apple loves code names). Designer Ken Provost, a self-taught engineering type, began 3D CAD for IDg out of a necessity to deal with the complex curves of Blackbird's surfaces (Blackbird was the PowerBook 500 series -- which has some of the sweetest details of any Apple computer ever made). I would love to show you pictures, but straight scans would be copyright violations. The QuickTime movie above is a collage taken from manipulated scans from Rick English's photography for Paul's wonderful book.

Designer Daniele De Iuliis actually made his 2D drawings on a Macintosh running Ashlar Vellum. This was fine for 2D but Provost needed to do his 3D drawings on a Silicon Graphics Indigo II workstation running Unigraphics and Alias software. In Blackbird's case, the complex curvature was made up of B-splines (three dimensional curves with no fixed radius or direction) which is Alias's strong suit. Unigraphics was used for solid modeling and then the data was refined using Alias 3D software.

Apple's IDg is doing many of their products entirely in Alias Studio these days, according to Provost's story at Alias/Wavefront; the eMate was done this way. This is one reason why it would be great if Alias StudioTools were ported for Mac OS X, as A/W Maya is reported to be. Then Steve Jobs can say that Apple not only eats it dog food, but eats its dog food to make its dog food.

A Truly Visual and Intellectual Delight: Apple Design

I got my copy of Apple Design the moment it came out. I couldn't wait for it and although I had to because they ran out of first print editions the wait was worth it. The book, which is a lavishly illustrated coffee-table history of Apple as seen through the work of the IDg, has hundreds of color photographs of all of Apple's products, many of which never saw the light of day. In fact, some of the coolest things they ever designed were never brought to market (for all kinds of fascinating reasons). The QuickTime movie above was produced using vignette images of some of these never-before-seen Apple computers.

Although the pictures of early versions of shipped products (like the concepts for laptops and the Newton) are what will fascinate artist and designers, the text by Paul Kunkel (minus some poor editing) is completely fascinating and illuminating from the point of view of design. Regardless of what type of designer you are (architect, id, graphic, etc.) you will learn a lot about design thinking and the theory behind how Apple makes its computers distinctively humanistic compared to just about all others manufactures. Also you will understand something that very few Mac users do: what makes the Mac interface relate to the shape of Apple's computers.

So go ahead and buy yourself a gift. You deserve it. After all, you're a Mac user and proud of it. You'll learn a whole lot and be glad you did. :-)

AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, by Paul Kunkel

Amazon reviewer comments -

Insanely great stuff

"March 23, 2000

I just received my much-awaited book early this month a couple of days after my birthday. I found it absolutely stunning and enlightening in some ways.

The sheer extent of products by the Industrial Design Team was overwhelming and found the history behind the design team very useful. Can't wait for the next updated edition with iBooks, iMacs, PowerBooks, PowerMacs and ASDs and all. :)

This is definitely a must-buy for Mac users as well as those who appreciate well-thought industrial design and innovation."




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