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Tip of the Day
Language: DHTML
Expertise: Beginner
Apr 22, 1997

Is there a Mac-based modeler that outputs VRML?

Is there a Mac-based modeler that outputs VRML?

Yes, ModelShop from Electric Cafe can output VRML 1.0 from its version 2.5 software (a VRML 2.0 version is coming soon). It can also handle import and export of DXF and 3DMF files. It's available for Power Macs or compatibles with CD-ROM and 16MB of RAM, and the recommendation is that you use 32MB of RAM and a QD3D accelerator card.

Version 2.5 supports QD3D version 1.0.6 (so it goes for rendering speed, not quality); version 3.0 supports QD3D 1.5.1, which supports plug-in renderers. A new "industrial strength" renderer will come with version 3.0, making shadows, fog and transparency possible.

A Gallery containing a set of 10 projects is supplied for inspiration and to get you started with models, materials and textures. A 300-page manual in Acrobat format provides guidance.

This is an architectural design package, so don't look to it for an emphasis on organic shape modeling. Do expect to find a wide range of modeling tools, from Boolean subtraction for making holes in objects to lathe and extrude tools. All the standard shape generators are there, as well as walled and solid bezigon tools, lines, arcs and movement/scale/rotate choices — nice touches for architects duplicating and mirroring objects.

There are precision controls for numeric entry from plans, and adjustable units to work in. When you're done making your scene you can set a range of camera positions from which to view it, wander through it in a free-form manner or save a walk-through or fly-through as a QuickTime movie or numbered PICT sequence.

If you want 2D pictures, you can take these and export them as PICT or hi-res PICT files. The interface gives you one window to work in and choices of multiple views:

  1. You can view your model from any angle, save the view and access it for future modeling or viewing purposes.
  2. You can create and save as many custom drawing planes as you like on which to model. This includes a drawing plane tool that allows you to create a drawing plane on any object surface with one mouse click.
  3. You can model from any angle on any selected drawing plane as long as the view is not perpendicular to the drawing plane.

I can't comment in detail about how the cameras convert to VRML (apparently with a perspective camera view, what you see is what you get) or how the animation tool works, it seems very simple to use for setting up the walkthroughs.

ModelShop 2.5 comes with instructions for adding VRML to your Web site and has useful features like: drop URLs from NN onto shapes; and export all geometry, textures, cameras and lights in VRML. It uses DEF instancing for efficient files and keeping size down, produces clean well-labeled VRML files, and helps you break the files into chunks for in-lining purposes.

Free demo versions are available on the Electric Cafe Web site. Go try it out at Electric Cafe: www.eleccafe.com.

ModelShop has an interesting pedigree going back to 1987 when it was first developed by an architect as SCHEMA, published by ParaComp as ModelShop, then taken over into what became Macromedia. It emerged from there in 1995 to go through some growth iterations under the care of Scott and Brent Burgess and is now at version 2.5 with 3.0 due to appear later this summer. Priced at $349 for v2.5, $399 for v3.0, ModelShop (with a free upgrade mailed out for v2.5 registered owners) competes with Virtus' WalkThrough Pro at a similar price point.

However, the new version (3.0) of ModelShop has features that put it ahead of the Virtus product. Coming in the v 3.0 release are photorealistic rendering, QTVR, model polygon statistics, polygon reduction, sun studies. It also has contouring, sweeping, lofting, true-type and post-script 3D font tools, and VRML 2.0 export.

In the pipeline is a spin-off product to be called ModelShop VRML for Power Macintosh, which will import and export VRML 1.0 and 2.0 — look for a public beta by May '97 for VRML 1.0 and June for VRML 2.0. (This product will be available for $99 from Electric Cafe, with an upgrade path to ModelShop 3.0 for $199.) By the end of '97 there should be a Win 95 port available. For VRML 1.0 worlds, Electric Cafe is recommending the browser Live3D v1.0; no VRML 2.0 browser is available yet for the Mac. LivePicture/RealSpace have one in alpha, due for beta release in May. Haunt the sites www.livepicture.com and www.rlspace.com.

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