I've been known to back a few of the wrong horses when it comes to tech. 

When some folks chose the Apple II, I chose the Commodore 64.

When the Macintosh and then the IBM PC were released in the mid 80's, I chose to think different and began my love affair with the Amiga.

Over its seven year lifespan, I bought every new model and pushed the boundaries of the Amiga's graphics and video capabilities. But while most 3d artists fell in love with the Newtek Video Toaster and Lightwave, I just had to be an individual and chose to master Impulse's Imagine3d and its little-known 24-bit framebuffer called the Firecracker.

And when I returned to 3d graphics in 2004 after a decade-long absence, I tried to learn to love industry leading 3DS Max and Maya, but instead I became infatuated with Softimage.

Today, Autodesk announced that the upcoming 2015 release of Softimage will be the last and that the program will be forever retired in 2016.

I've been in mourning ever since the news was confirmed and, to mark my grief, I remembered this photo I took a while back of an Amiga 500 I modeled in Softimage last year, region rendered on a Surface Pro.

I meant the image to represent the computing power of the tablet, but instead it's a snapshot of two under-appreciated technological marvels done in by consumer indifference and corporate mismanagement.

The Amiga 500, modeled and region rendered in Softimage 2014 on the Surface Pro. Mental Ray, full anti-aliasing, two lights, 27,000 triangles, 110 objects, 95 textures and the Surface Pro didn't even break a sweat.

Given my track record, I also admit that I'm worried that the Surface Pro might someday join that sad roster consigned to footnotes in tech history.

UPDATE 12/13: We've already published a new version with improved icons. Check out the details here.

ORIGINAL POST

When I published my review of 3d apps on the Surface Pro last week, many of you wrote to suggest I check out ArtDock. This fascinating utility creates a touch toolbar with common commands that can be used in conjunction with a pen. While we're waiting for developers to embrace touch and tablet oriented interfaces for their programs, this useful tool is the next best thing. 

I first encountered a sibling of ArtDock shortly after I launched this blog. The ArtRage Pen-Only Toolbar seemed pretty geeky at the time and not very necessary, given the relatively simple UI of ArtRage.

But the continued frustration with Photoshop forced me to take a closer look. It turns out that using and modifying ArtDock isn't as difficult as it first appears. The biggest challenge is to cobble together the various files needed to make it work on the Surface Pro.

To make sure credit is given where it's due, below are the sources I referenced when researching this topic. These links are not essential to getting the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock up and running, so you may want to skip ahead to the installation instructions links below.

These customized toolboxes, or docks, are made possible by an ingenious program called AutoHotkey, which enables users to assign common keyboard, mouse and touch commands to onscreen icons.

The AutoHotkey script  RawInputControlTest.ahk was first written for the Asus Eee Slate EP121. 

The script was then adapted for the Samsung Series 7 Slate here by tbaldree and dubbed Paintdock.

Konartist3D further modified the scripts at his DeviantArt page, creating GUIs for Photoshop, ZBrush, Maya and others and dubbing the program as ArtDock.

Over at TabletPCReview, DoctorBunsonHoneydew adapted the Konartist3D ArtDock for the Surface Pro.

Enter The Surface Pro Artist ArtDock

Although Dr. Honeydew's script is minimalist and very Surface-y, I found it to be a little inscrutable and not really aimed at artists. Therefore, I decided to go back to Konartist3D's work.

Because it was developed for a larger screen tablet, I decided to scale all his icons up 150%. The buttons are now a nice size that is difficult to miss. I also made all the toolbars 100% opaque because I wanted to make sure that the small type on some of the icons was readable.

Konartist3D also included a lot of desktop controls on his ArtDock that I couldn't make work on the Surface Pro, so I removed those. I also deleted Topogun and MyPaint controls because I didn't have those programs to test. Lastly, the original ArtDock includes a program called TGuard that toggles touch on and off. This is supposed to guard against stray marks, but I find it's very dangerous to use on the Surface Pro because it disabled both touch and pen control while I was experimenting with it. Needless to say, I deleted that as well.

Here is the resulting launcher.

Launcher.png

The ArtDock will open in the top left corner of your display. To move it, just drag the top left icon with your finger. The middle top icon minimizes the dock and the X closes the dock.

This first pass includes toolbars for Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, Paint Tool SAI, Maya, Silo, ZBrush and 3DS Max.

The deleted icons for Topogun and MyPaint are included in the archive if you'd like to restore them.

Tapping any program icon loads the appropriate dock.

 
PhotoshopAD.png

Photoshop

To drag any of the program-specific toolbars, just tap and hold the program icon. Tap the Left Arrow to return to the launcher.

Several icons have multiple commands. Tapping the Tab button will clear menus, but tapping and dragging left or right will bring up the Save As or Load file requesters.

The Undo button becomes a Redo if you tap and drag left.

Holding down the move button will allow you to drag a selection with your mouse. Holding down the shift button will allow you to add to a selection.

Dragging up and down on the magnifying glass will zoom in and out. You can scroll through various transparency amounts with the Opacity button.

The icon on the left changes the size of the brush nozzle and the one on the right toggles between brush and eraser.

Hold down the eyedropper to sample a color and hold down the hand icon to pan around your image with the pen.

The remaining buttons are cut/copy, Esc/Enter/Delete, Lasso/Wand and Select All/Deselect.

Below are the other toolbars included in the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock.

 

 

Sketchbook Pro

 

Not all programs benefit from having a custom dock. I've included Sketchbook Pro because it was part of Konartist3D's original archive, but I don't think it make much of an improvement to an already well designed program.

Not all programs benefit from having a custom dock. I've included Sketchbook Pro because it was part of Konartist3D's original archive, but I don't think it make much of an improvement to an already well designed program.

Paint Tool SAI

Paint Tool SAI's crowded UI really benefits from the custom dock, but I'm not certain these are the most appropriate functions to include. Your suggestions are welcomed.

Paint Tool SAI's crowded UI really benefits from the custom dock, but I'm not certain these are the most appropriate functions to include. Your suggestions are welcomed.

The Maya buttons dwarf the standard icons.

The Maya buttons dwarf the standard icons.

The precise selection and placement of commands is very flexible. Please send along suggestions if you think other tools should be added to the dock.

The precise selection and placement of commands is very flexible. Please send along suggestions if you think other tools should be added to the dock.

ZBrush is a little less intimidating with its custom dock.

ZBrush is a little less intimidating with its custom dock.

Installation instructions

First off, you need to install AutoHotkey, located here. 

Then download and unzip the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock here.

Copy the artdock folder to your C:\ drive.

Create a shortcut of the file ArtDock.bat and pin it to your desktop or taskbar.

Start the ArtDock and then your desired program (Photoshop, etc.). Tap the corresponding ArtDock program button.

Move the launcher by holding and dragging the top left icon. Move program toolbars by holding and dragging the program icon.

Next Steps

I've only tested the Photoshop toolbar thoroughly. If you encounter problems with any of the other toolbars, please let me know so that I can make corrections. I'm also not certain that Konartist3D has chosen the most appropriate commands for each of the programs. If you think there are more important shortcuts to include in the docks, please let me know. The toolbars can be shortened or expanded as necessary.

I'd like to add controls for additional software like Softimage and Mudbox, but I can't commit to doing so right away. If you care to contribute icons or program controls to your favorite software, please do so and share your work with the community.

 

If you're interested in learning more about AutoHotKey, RawInputControl, Paintdock, ArtDock and the rest, please visit this great thread over at TabletPCReviews: http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/artists/58400-artdock-guide-compatibility-links.html

To learn more about how to edit RawInputControl, download this pdf created by lblb: http://www.mediafire.com/download/hb2x1oj644jy33o/Instructions_RawInputControl_v3.pdf

Surface Pro is the number one Windows tablet for artists, but the user interfaces on most 3d graphics applications don't pass the touch (or pen) test.

NOTE: I stopped updating this post in October, 2013. However, much of what runs on the Surface Pro 2 should also work with the original Surface Pro. Applications that have had compatibility issues with display drivers such as Autodesk Mudbox will likely break if you attempt to update the SP1.

One of the principal objectives of this blog is to help take the guesswork out of making your purchasing decision. I'm taking the time to install and determine whether these creative applications run so you won't have to. 

Here's what I've installed and tested so far: 

Adobe

 

ArtRage 4 - runs, recommended

Autodesk 

  •  3DS Max 2014, 2013 - runs
  • Maya 2014, 2013  - runs
  • Maya LT 2014 - runs
  • Mudbox 2014, 2013  - incompatible, requires discrete graphics
  • Mudbox 2010 x64 - runs
  • Sketchbook Designer 2014, 2103  - runs, pressure sensitivity corrected with Wacom Feel driver update
  • Sketchbook Pro 6.2.3  - runs, recommended
  • Softimage 2014, 2013  - runs

Blender  2.68 - runs, not recommended: interface tool small, not scaleable, scaling reacts to pen movement

Celsys

  • Clip Studio Paint 1.2.7 - runs, recommended (Japanese language)
  • Clip Studio Modeler Beta 0.9.0 - runs (Japanese language)

Corel

  • Corel Draw x6 - runs
  • Corel Painter x3 -runs

 

Gimp 2.8.6 - runs 

Lumion Keyshot 4.1.35 - runs

 

 

Luxology/Foundry Modo 701601 SP5 - runs, set input device to tablet 

Maxon Cinema 4D Studio R14 - TBD

Newtek Lightwave 11.5 - runs, with pen control issues

Pilgway 3D-Coat 4.0.03 - runs  

Pixologic

 

61 Solutions Mischief 1.08 - runs

Smith Micro

  • Anime Studio Pro 9.5 - runs
  • Manga Studio 5, 5 EX - runs, recommended (update to 5.0.3)
  • Motion Artist 1.1 - runs
  • Poser Pro 2010 - runs

 

 

 

Speedy Painter 3.0.7 - runs

TeamUP (Lagoa) MultiOptics - runs, Chrome only

Toonboom Animate Pro 3 - runs

Trimble Sketchup 2013 - runs 

Triple Squid Software Design Moments of Inspiration 2.0 (Moi3D) - runs  

Unity Pro 4.3.0b5 - runs, touch response unreliable. Works with mouse, capacitive stylus.

Would you like me to test any other programs? Please leave a comment below.

3DS Max on the Surface Pro: look, don't touch

3DS Max on the Surface Pro: look, don't touch

OPINION  Like their 2013 counterparts, the newly released Autodesk 3DS Max and Maya 2014 install and run properly on the Surface Pro.

But these two powerhouse programs point up a lot of what's wrong with Microsoft's "no compromises" device.

It's frankly amazing that so much computing power has been packed into the tablet form factor. And so long as scenes fit within the tablet's limited RAM, rendering times are relatively quick.

But the Surface Pro's 10.6-inch screen size and 1920 x 1080 resolution make both programs' crowded UIs next to impossible to use. The standard 150% magnification of the system text only affects the menu bar and dropdown items. All of the tiny icons in the interfaces are left unchanged and are so small and tightly spaced together that it is a chore to perform the simplest of tasks.

So the final conclusion we've drawn is that 3d modeling on the Surface Pro will have to wait, at least for this generation of software tools.

Hopefully Autodesk will soon port over the 123d suite of apps that have appeared over the years for the iPad. Although those applications are rather simplistic, they are at least designed for touch interfaces with their much larger touch targets and uncluttered interfaces. And when run on a muscular system like the Surface Pro, these tools might actually be useful.

Silo's simple UI is a good candidate for a tablet makeover

This also has to be a huge opportunity for independent developers who can build something fresh from the ground up. For example,Nevercenter's Silo 2 is a robust low-cost app that should be easy to skin for a touch interface. Adding multi-touch capability would be less trivial, but first things first.

Windows 8 store development seems to be picking up, with Microsoft recently announcing that they've hit the 60,000 app milestone some six months after the store's opening. But quality creative apps are still very rare. For the Surface Pro and other Windows tablets to achieve their full potential, this has to change...and soon.

Posted
AuthorRick Rodriguez
Categoriesopinion
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