The roots of the developers behind Strata Design go back all the way to the late eighties. When Apple Macintoshes with tiny computer displays, ram measured in single digit megabytes and hard disks packed in whopping double digits ruled the computer graphic design landscape. Desktop publishing had only just started. Two Bringham Young University Students, Ken and Gary Bringhurst, wanted to create a 3D illustration package for the Mac that would offer sophisticated imagery that was, up until that point in time, unseen in consumer grade software, especially on an Apple Mac.
Over the years obviously things have changed and shifted the 3D landscape drastically and where once high-end 3D was only the domain of very expensive workstations like SGI, now there is a wealth of great 3D software packages available for every level of user.
During all this time Strata has seen many developers come and silently go away, or being folded into larger companies. But Strata has remained alert, active and very much in touch with what is still very much the growing market of visualization and 3D illustration.
Now with Design 3D CX 6 they have focused their direction even more to the ever growing need of designers who are fluent with 2D packages but are searching for way to show and communicate their work and their clients’ work in the third dimension. And it looks like Strata Design 3D CX 6 is just the package that will cater to this group of artists.
The Adobe Connection
Strata has gone though great lengths to bridge the gap that designers feel when they come from their familiar environments like Photoshop and Illustrator and try to extend or enhance their with the power of a third dimension. To achieve this they have developed a series of plug-in bridges that facilitate the exchange between Adobe products and Strata Design 3D.
A User Interface to Match
A key into making artists feel familiar with a new software package is if tools look and more or less behave the same way than they would expect from their experience with working in Photoshop or Illustrator. The developers at Strata recognized this and have gone through great lengths to achieve this familiarity with a complete redesign of interface elements and tool icons so that they behave more or less the same as what a graphic user would expect from his working with Adobe products.
Right out of the Box Strata Design 3D has a series of plug-ins that weave a close relationship with Adobe Photoshop. It secures a very good connection for creating mapped artwork in Photoshop that can then be used in the texture channels in Strata immediately within the material. No extra setup required. It can also receive rendered files directly from Strata with all rendered channels intact to do post processing on shadow layers, reflection layers and so on. Strata is also the first application that I have seen that makes functional use of the ability of Photoshop’s 3D layers, which up until now I saw more as a novelty feature in Photoshop that was of no real use to 3D artists. Strata’s concept has changed my way of thinking.
Design 3D: A Closer Look
Software is only as good as its user interface. This might be a valid argument to make, especially with complex software that offers an enormous range of possibilities like most 3D packages do currently. Strata has decided to make the visual appearance of its 3D flagship product match that of Adobe’s products not only in look and feel. They have also tried to provide expected functionality from their tools to what users of Adobe packages might expect from their experience in using either Photoshop or Illustrator. The two most directly visible results of these efforts are the tool palette and the button bar.
The tool palette look very familiar to the Illustrator and Photoshop counterpart and, where that is possible, their functionality is exactly the same. It’s too bad that for practical reasons it was not possible to also allow for the same hotkeys to invoke a certain tool. This would maximize what users may have learned in the Adobe products and even more strengthen this approach to an integrated workflow.