3Dconnexion is a company, under its parent company Logitech, steeped in robotics and space exploration. Why, as a digital artist, do I care about such a company? The reason is that the company has taken the motion controller technology developed for controlling the robotic arm on the space shuttle, and applied it to working in 3D (and 2D) space within a computer.
The basic emphasis behind the 3Dconnexion tools it to manipulate your 3D scene and the objects within by using both hands – one on a mouse, and one on a separate controller to move around in the scene. This promotes fewer repetitive mouse moves and button clicks, which is intended to be more comfortable, ergonomic and less stressful to your tendons in a world where carpal tunnel is in vogue. The controllers have been around for a few years and have really made their mark in the CAD industry, but I have seen them hanging around SIGGRAPH and NAB. Only now have I seen that they have begun a migration to the 3D animation side of things. The primary products are SpaceBall 5000, SpaceMouse, and SpaceNavigator and the seemingly misplaced CADMAN (I was expecting SpaceCADMAN – but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue). The newest addition to the family – a SpaceBaby you might say – is the SpaceTraveler.
The SpaceTraveler is the miniature version of the SpaceMouse. Sitting at a svelte 2-inches in diameter, the SpaceTraveler carries a lot of mass for its size. The weight, however, keeps it firmly planted to your desk, which becomes important during work because the device is extremely sensitive to your movements. Its diminutive size is perfect for what it was designed for – working on your laptop. It fits nicely into your laptop bag along with its partner – a similarly Liliputian-sized Logitech mouse. The idea is to have the SpaceTraveler on one side of the laptop and the mouse on the other, working hand in hand.
The actual controller is roughly the shape of a hockey puck. The user can rotate the device in any one of the primary axes, as well as pulling up or down on it to translate in the Z-axis. This is your primary tool for maneuvering around in the environment. Orbiting, Panning, Zooming, etc. can all be controlled through the device. Changing the mode will move your control to the selected object(s). Again, giving you the ability to move and rotate.
Along the lower perimeter of the puck is an array of eight buttons. By default, specific functions are assigned to each button, providing quick access to things like framing the objects, stepping forward and backward in time, undo and redo, and sensitivity increase and decrease. However, the user can customize the SpaceTraveler to taste.
All in all, the device is pretty cool to work with. But there is a caveat. You need to be comfortable learning a new method of working. Many of us who have been around for a while have developed our own approach that makes us feel happy and comfortable. We become fast and efficient working like this. Introducing a new tool slows us down – sometimes dramatically. I see this as a flaw in the user rather than in the tool itself. There are many claims of increasing productivity by 30% after using the SpaceTraveler. This could very well be true, but how much of a hill is it to climb, where your productivity drops, until you hit that plateau. In my personal opinion, I feel that the SpaceTraveler can be a time saver if the user spends enough time getting used to using it. I, myself, have been using a Wacom tablet exclusively in production. Many people look at me sideways if I mention it or if they see me doing it, but I feel that I am exponentially faster as an artist when I have a tablet. If I’m forced to use a mouse, my productivity drops dramatically. I think the same effect would happen here. However, once the artist had made it over the initial learning curve, he won’t know how he functioned without it.
In addition to the dearth of CAD tools that are supported by the SpaceTraveler, there are several 3D applications that are currently supported by the SpaceTraveler. These include 3ds max, Maya, and Cinema 4D. There is currently no support of LightWave or Houdini, and the company says that Softimage should be supported within the next few months. Kadara Motion Builder and Maxon Body Paint are also supported, as is Adobe Photoshop. For a complete list of applications that are supported, visit the 3Dconnexion website at http://www.3dconnexion.com/applicationlist.htm
Todd Sheridan Perry is co-owner and VFX Supervisor of Venice, CA-based visual effects company Max Ink Cafe. His recent credits include: NCIS (spin-off of JAG), WB TV and Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. He is currently working on Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black 2 as a Technical Director. For more on Todd, click on over to www.toddsheridanperry.com and www.maxinkcafe.com.