Hands On With SurfaceSuite
3D Texture Mapping Just Got
A Whole Lot Better
Three of the most important aspects
of any good 3D image are the modeling, the lighting and the
texturing. Over the years, 3D packages have gotten progressively
better at modeling and lighting while texturing has remained
fairly primitive. 3D paint programs have helped some, but they
have their own limitations. While they allow the user to paint
directly on a 3D model, painting in 3D isnt a very intuitive
process. Because of this, painting in 2D (or even by hand and
scanning in the texture) is usually much easier. But it is difficult,
if not impossible, to accurately place the 2D texture on the
model. That is until now.
Enter SurfaceSuite Pro.
What it is
SurfaceSuite Pro is a texture mapping application that
allows the user to precisely place a map onto a 3D object. With
SurfaceSuite Pro images are placed by choosing the projection
type and moving the projection gizmo into the correct orientation.
Sounds pretty straightforward, so far. Well, heres were
the revolution begins: SurfaceSuite Pro allows the user
to stretch and warp the applied image to precisely control where
on the model various aspects of the texture go.
This is accomplished through the
use of Adaptive Image-based Surface Technology (AIST). With
AIST, you can set a series of points on a texture map and then
by assigning corresponding points to your model, control the
exact placement and warping of the applied textures. (See Figure
1, the control points are the orange and yellow tick marks.)
With SurfaceSuite Pro, you
can also composite multiple maps (called layers) onto a surface
while giving each layer its own mapping gizmo. This capability
is facilitated through the use of: 1) layer opacity; 2) layer
affectation (selecting which faces a layer affects); and 3)
layer specific alpha channels.
Figure 2, for example, shows an
alpha channel layer applied to a model. By changing this layers
opacity to 86%, and using it to overlay a layer of scales, the
right-side of Figure 1 is created.
What it isnt
It isnt a 3D paint package. SurfaceSuite Pro doesnt
have any drawing tools (not even simple lines, boxes, gradients).
As such, to use SurfaceSuite Pro you need to couple it
with a good a paint program, scanning software, and/or stock
images. If youve been doing any 3D work, you probably
already have these items in your arsenal.
What do I need
SurfaceSuite Pro requires Windows 9X/NT, 32MB of RAM,
and an SVGA Graphics card. It is also recommended that you have
a video card with OpenGL acceleration.
Whats the use
As is evidenced by the tutorials that ship with SurfaceSuite
Pro, the package is ideally suited for mapping real-world images
(such as pictures of peoples faces) onto 3D objects. Among
other things, this could be used to create realistic faces,
to precisely place image maps over terrain, and to bring 3D
objects to life with real-world textures.
In addition to the use of real-world
images, you can also create a 2D image in your favorite paint
program and then use SurfaceSuite Pro to place it on your
3D model. This would be especially valuable in the 3D gaming
industry, for example, where custom textures need to be accurately
placed on low-polygon count models. Since, creating a texture
in 2D (or even by hand) is more natural then trying to create
it on a 3D model, using SurfaceSuite Pro opens up a whole
new level of sophistication and workflow.
Supports and will support
Supported image types are: BMP, TGA (with or without alpha channels),
JPG, TIFF (with or without alpha channels), and SoftImage PIC.
Supported model types are: 3D Studio
MAX (3DS), AutoCad (DXF), LightWave Object (LWO), and WaveFront
Supported image mapping projections
are planar, flashlight (basically the same as planar, but only
affects the front of an object), cylindrical, spherical, shrink
wrap (a modified version of spherical which replaces bipolar
pinching with monopolar pinching), and UV (which is used for
Support for other applications
is (or soon will be) available through Sven Technologies
LiveLinks. LiveLinks are extensions which enable SurfaceSuite
Pro to easily (usually through a keyboard sequence) exchange
data back and forth with other applications. They must (unfortunately)
be purchased separately and range in price from $100 to $400,
depending on the application being linked to SurfaceSuite
Pro. LiveLinks are currently planned for Photoshop, SoftImage,
3D Studio MAX, Maya, and LightWave.
As another note, there is also
a version of SurfaceSuite Pro which is a 3D Studio MAX
(version 1.x or 2.x) plug-in. Actually, SurfaceSuite Pro
started out as a MAX plug-in and has only recently been reworked
to be a standalone application. So, if MAX is your package of
choice, you might want to check out the plug-in version which
would avoid the need for LiveLinks.
Diamonds or Talc
So, how easy is the package to use? Very! Within the 15 minutes
I had worked through the first tutorial (again see Figure 1)
and felt very comfortable with the application. That is one
of the beauties of SurfaceSuite Pro: the interface is
simple and elegant and because of this, the package is very
easy to learn. (Refer to Figure 3 for an example of the user
The second tutorial (and there
are only two) goes into a bit more depth and shows you how to
texture with two or more alpha channeled layers. This tutorial
took about 10 minutes and the results can be seen in Figure
4. Granted, creating it completely from scratch (including the
alpha channels and original texture scans) would have taken
a bit longer, but the ease of use is still pretty impressive.
(Authors note: the seam along
the top of the head in Figure 4 results from discontinuities
in the models geometry not from texturing (whoever originally
created the mesh didnt weld the vertices in the model
before saving it, so the scalp and the face are two separate
OK, so now you have your texture what do you do with it? You
have several choices. If you have the appropriate LiveLink,
you simply export the fully textured and still layered textures
back to your 3D application. If you dont have the appropriate
LiveLink, you can collapse the maps down into a single map (through
a process called Global Map Generation) and export the map.
The Global Map generated for the project seen in Figure 4 is
shown in Figure 5. This map was generated for use with cylindrical
mapping gizmos (you can choose the mapping type for the generated
Welcome to Missouri
Lets walk through a quick tutorial of how to use SurfaceSuite
Pro. (Authors note: the model and textures for this tutorial
are modified versions of content that shipped with the MAX version
of SurfaceSuite Pro.)
In this tutorial, Ill be
texturing the banana seen in Figure 6. Ill be applying
the images seen in Figures 7, 8, 9, and 10. To Figures 7 and
8 the alpha channels seen in Figures 11 and 12, respectively,
will be applied. These alpha channels are necessary because
they help the sides blend in with the front and back of the
banana. They were created by opening up Figures 7 and 8 in Photoshop,
using the magic wand tool (with a tolerance value of 64) to
select the white area surrounding the banana, creating a new
layer, inverting the selection, contracting the selection 5
pixels, feathering the selection 4 pixels, filling the selection
with white, selecting the original layer, and filling this entire
layer with black.
Figures 7 &
Figures 9, 10, 11
Next, I created the appropriate
layers within SurfaceSuite Pro (see Figure 13). Since
the top and bottom layers (Figures 9 and 10) dont have
associated alpha channels, I placed them first in the layers
list. I did this because layers are applied in the same order
that they exist within the layer list; as such, Figures 7 and
8 which have alpha masks (so you can see through parts of them)
should be applied AFTER Figures 9 and 10 which are completely
Once youve set everything
up, select a layer, rotate the model until it is in the same
position as the image in the layer youre applying, create
the appropriate gizmo type (Im using the flashlight gizmo
for each layer), press the view align button, press the fit
to object button, then create control points until the map lines
up in the desired manner (see Figures 14 and 15 for examples).
I started with the alpha channel layers first, because I like
to spin the model around and make sure that Ive correctly
applied the alpha channel (i.e., there are no hard edges in
the textured areas) before applying the underlying areas.
Now, do the same thing to each
layer. Once you have done all four layers (see Figure 16), youre
ready to collapse these four layers into one new layer and create
a global map. To do this create a new layer (call it target),
check Tiling U and Tiling V (otherwise the resulting global
map will not be seamless), apply a cylindrical gizmo to the
object, align the gizmo to the banana (see Figure 17), go to
Action->Generate Global Map, select target as the mapping
target, select the appropriate size and name for the output
image, check collapse layers, click OK. The model is now textured
using the cylindrical gizmo and the four layers have been saved
as a single image map (see Figure 18). You can now export the
model for use in the 3D package of your choice.
Hits and misses
- Hit: it works
and it is very easy to learn!
- Hit: The manual
is well laid out and easy to read.
- Miss: The manual
is in black and white and is NOT spiral bound. Color plates
would help to show off differences in the pre- and post-textured
models; spiral binding would allow the manual to lie flat
on the desk and make it easier to work through the tutorials
and to leave it open while working.
- Miss: There
are too few keyboard shortcuts so you are forced to use the
mouse for almost everything. While the use of keyboard shortcuts
tends to be a matter of personal taste, for those people who
do use them (like me :>), they are a real time saver. Ideally,
the shortcuts would also be customizable.
There are tooltips for the main tool bar, but none of the
buttons on any of the other windows seem to have any. Tooltips
are valuable when youre first learning to use an application
because they help to reduce the learning curve by reinforcing
the button shapes/colors with their names/actions. While SurfaceSuite
Pro doesnt have that large a learning curve to begin
with, it would be smaller still with more Tooltips.
- Miss: While
the toolbar is moveable, successive runs of SurfaceSuite
Pro dont remember where the toolbar was last placed.
Instead, each time you launch SurfaceSuite Pro the toolbar
starts in the default position. Furthermore, the toolbar position
isnt saved with the project files either; however, the
positions of the various windows are saved with the project
files. Along the same lines, when launched, SurfaceSuite
Pro always comes up in the same sized window. Granted, neither
of these is crucial, but they are nice-to-haves that I have
grown accustomed to with other packages.
- Hit: Right
click cancels an action. Since I routinely use 3D Studio MAX,
I have gotten used to right-click cancels. It was nice to
see it included.
- Hit: Flashlight
projection. Flashlight projection works the same way that
planar projection works, BUT it only maps one side of the
- Miss: You can
not repeatedly tile a texture over an object.
- Hit: Can use
the alpha channel stored within an TGA or TIFF image to control
the region of the model affected by the texture.
- Hit: Updates
occur quickly and in general, the program seems very responsive
(Im running NT 4.0 on a dual P-Pro 200 with 160MB).
- Miss: As may
be expected in version 1.0 of any new software, SurfaceSuite
Pro has some bugs and quirks. The quirkiest feature is Dual
Create Control Points, which seldom worked past the placement
of the first point. There were other times when I couldnt
get the mesh to show up in the image window (although when
I exited and started the program again, it worked just fine).
Ive also experienced intermittent bugs with zooming
in the model window.
- Hit: You can
view your model in wireframe, shaded, or a combination called
shaded+wireframe which shows the texture with the wireframe
overlayed. Shaded+wireframe is extremely helpful when trying
to align image control points. An example of shaded+wireframe
(using orthographic projection instead of perspective) can
be seen in Figure 19.
- Hit: Both orthographic
and perspective viewports are supported. You can also truck
and zoom the camera to change the amount of perspective.
- Hit: Multiple
undos and redos.
- Miss: Currently,
SurfaceSuite Pro doesnt support any type of surface
texturing other than diffuse mapping. So you cant use
it to interactively apply bump maps, specularity maps, or
the like. Instead, you must create the diffuse texture and
then use your primary 3D package to create the necessary bump,
specularity, etc. Since bump-maps and specularity are often
tied to the diffuse channel, this isnt overly evil,
but it would be nicer to be able to use SurfaceSuite
Pro to completely texture my object.
- Miss: There
are no controls for the lights used in the model window.
- Miss: Imported
models dont seem to maintain the same concept of Front/Left/etc.
that they had when they were exported from 3D Studio MAX (I
havent tested any other 3D package).
- Miss: There
is no way to align the camera to a gizmo. You can align the
gizmo to the camera (which aids in gizmo creation); however,
if your model imports and doesnt align with any of the
viewports, youll find yourself constantly adjusting
the camera. It would also be nice to be able to save specific
"user" view settings to come back to them later.
Worthy of fame or worthy of
So, this is what it comes down to: does SurfaceSuite Pro
do all that it claims? Yes.
Is it the end all be all package?
Probably not; but if some of the misses listed above are addressed,
it will get much closer.
Do you need it? That depends, do
you plan on doing any 3D images/animation? If so, I would say,
Yes! you most definitely need it. With its ability to
combine multiple maps while allowing for exact placement of
each map, SurfaceSuite Pro brings texturing 3D objects
into a whole new era.
By the numbers
On a scale from 1 (the CD will make a wonderful coaster) to
10 (using this product is a life altering experience), I give
Ease of Use: 9
Overall rating: 8.25
other examples of the work of Shawn Lewis, see DPM's Gallery