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I'm working in academia on the physics of elastic mechanisms. We have our tools for accurately predicting their physical behavior, but the tools are not suited for producing good-looking renders of these mechanisms. I'm looking for software that can help me do this, to surpass the typical low-quality graphics in my field :-)

Below is a simple example of a typical elastic mechanism in a neutral position and in a deflected position, captured directly from our physics tools. These mechanisms always consist of 1) a number of very thin plates that actually flex, and 2) rigid blocks of some shape that only provide the connection between the flexible plates.

enter image description here

Ideally, I would like to make a movie of an elastic mechanism that starts in the neutral position and moves towards the deflected position shown. In the software, I would like to define surroundings, specify material textures, add lights, choose viewpoints etc.

The software should not do any physics. My tool can provide the configuration of the mechanism in various data formats, based on our own physics simulations. I have NURBS data for all flexible plates, at each time instant.

So, essentially, I am looking for 3-D video rendering software that can model NURBS surfaces based on control point data that changes over time. High-quality graphics is the goal. (I have looked at SolidWorks since we already have a license, but it does not do movies for flexible elements. I see that Autodesk has nice tools, but I cannot figure out whether it is accepts e.g. NURBS time-data from a text file.)

I would like to know if you have some good suggestions.

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A very good choice is the Blender 3D modeller.

The plus points:

  • Cross Platforms Windows, OS-X & Linux
  • Free, Gratis & Open Source
  • Can produce very high resolution, (e.g 4k), images/movies given time &/or processing power or lower resolution for testing/preview.
  • There are a number of Render Farms that will, (for varing fees), do your high quality renders for you or
  • Blender has a network rendering plug in & there is lots of online help for building your own blender render farm, or possibly using all/several of the other computers on campus overnight
  • Directly accepts NURBS data
  • Time data can be accepted via python scripting
  • Lots of community support, books, examples, etc., including a dedicated stackexchange site.
  • There is a decent physics engine
  • Support for lots of image and video formats
  • You can even add an audio track to movies, (possibly describing what is going on or pointing out important features), in the built in video editor.
  • Import and Export multiple formats including: Collada, 3D-Studio, FMX, Motion Capture, Stadford, Vavefrond, X3D, stl & svg.
  • Since it is free you can give it a try at no cost other than some time.

The minus point(s):

  • Quite a steep learning curve as lots to learn
  • Time taken for really high resolution movies
  • I wasn't aware that the Python interface added the functionality of time-data inputs; that makes Blender quite versatile, especially when you're doing the physics calculations with different software. Thanks! – Marijnn Sep 19 '16 at 13:58

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