ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Modeling with Digital Clay

March 1, 2002
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A new 3D computer modeling system can help artists and production potters optimize new designs—without wasting any clay.

The sense of touch plays a fundamental role in traditional ceramic and pottery design. When a new design is developed, it must often go through the entire production process to ensure that the finished piece will turn out as planned. However a great deal of clay and other materials are often wasted through this process of trial and error.

Recently, a new three-dimensional computer modeling system* was developed that enables sculptors, modelers and designers to use their sense of touch while modeling on the computer rather than on actual clay. With the new system, users can sculpt, carve and deform a virtual digital clay model. By introducing the sense of touch to 3D modeling, this new system has reinvented the man/machine design interface.

Intuitive Design

With conventional computer modeling systems, users are limited by the mouse/windows interface, which works well for two-dimensional tasks like word processing but is poorly suited to three-dimensional applications. The interface, rather than the machine or the application, constrains professional productivity and creativity.

The new 3D computer modeling system makes working in three dimensions more natural, efficient and intuitive by allowing users to have continuous, two-way interaction with their work. Users start with a digital block of clay on a computer screen. In conjunction with the modeling system, advanced haptic interface hardware enables users receive force-feedback to their hand. Users actually feel the resistance of the digital block of clay they model and carve using a pen-like stylus. Using familiar physical metaphors, such as sculpting and wire cutting, the system’s tools work in a direct and obvious manner. Controlling these tools through touch gives users unprecedented connection to their models. These elements provide users with the ability to streamline designs and capture design intent in a natural, direct and intuitive manner.

The combination of a touch-based system and sophisticated modeling techniques enables users to spend less time setting parameters and more time working. The system is as expressive as physical modeling with clay or foam, yet has all the productivity advantages of a completely digital tool. No materials are wasted, and the final design can usually be seen within hours rather than days.

In addition to delivering the flexibility and expressiveness of clay, direct modeling interaction and familiar tools help eliminate the long learning curve typically needed to master the 3D modeling software. As a result, the productivity benefits of digital modeling can now be applied to a variety of challenges previously beyond the capabilities of traditional production practices.

Blending Form and Function

The latest version of the modeling system is available in two different products. Version 4.0 was enhanced with sketching and shelling and is designed to be an aesthetic styling tool, while the “Plus” version adds accurate, functional shape creation and deformation to the basic system. Adding these modeling techniques helps users generate smoothly blended features and ensures compliance with design criteria, creating the perfect blend of form and function.

The modeling system is already being used in a range of industries, from collectibles, giftware, toys, footwear and appliances. Prices start at $15,000 for the base modeling system.

For More Information

For more information about the new 3D computer modeling system, contact SensAble Technologies, Inc., 15 Constitution Way, Woburn, MA 01801; (781) 937-8315; fax (781) 937-8325; or visit

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