AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue
#20 (July 31, 2007)
Collaborating with Acrobat 3D Version 8
Book & Video Author
Acrobat 3D is an awesome design collaboration
tool. It would be a rare thing indeed if all the
parties working on a given project used exactly
the same design software on the same platform.
Acrobat 3D puts everyone on the same pageno
matter if they are on Mac or PC, using AutoCAD,
Microstation, Pro/Engineer, Inventor, Solidworks,
Catia, 3ds Max, Rhinoceros, Lightwave, and many
other design and visualization packages.
Acrobat 3D can also import 3D models saved in
common exchange formats such as 3ds, obj, dxf,
wrl, iges, and so on. It would be nice if Adobe
added BIM file formats and SketchUp/Google Earth
in particular, but as it stands, there is almost
certainly one common format that will handle the
translation of your 3D data. In addition, Acrobat
3D allows you to embed 3D models in Word, Excel,
Powerpoint, and InDesign documents. This makes
it possible to share 3D models with folks who
have never used a 3D modeling package.
One needs Acrobat 3D to create 3D-enabled PDFs,
but anyone with Adobe Reader (that's almost everyone
in the universe) can view, interact, comment and
markup the very same PDF. Complex 3D models can
be emailed as PDF files because they can be optimized
for remarkably small file size with their dependent
texture maps embedded. We will see how it works
in this tutorial.
I'll start with a fully texture-mapped 3D model
in 3ds Max 9 (3.8 MB). By the way, the model I'm
using is a fantastic prefab design by Michelle
Kaufmann. In 3ds Max, I chose File
> Export and selected the ancient
3ds format. You really have to
experiment with a variety of export formats in
each 3D package to get the best results importing
into Acrobat 3D.
I find that 3ds files work well in Max as the
texture maps are preserved and the model doesn't
get reoriented as it can in other formats. The
only downside to the 3ds format is the fact that
the texture maps must have 8 characters or less
in their file names (an anachronism from the days
of DOS). If you're using another 3D modeling package,
you'll have to do your own experiments to find
the optimal file type to transfer your models
into Acrobat 3D.
Launch Acrobat 3D, and choose Create
PDF > From File or press Ctrl+N.
Select the Files of Type drop-down
and scroll through the extensive list. Here I
selected 3D Studio Mesh (*.3ds,
*.prj) and opened the 3ds file I previously exported
from 3ds Max. A large Acrobat 3D Conversion
dialog box appears.
Click the Optimize tab to control
mesh/texture quality, and thus, file size of the
resulting PDF. I've set Mesh Quality to
80% and Texture Quality to
40% to reduce the polygon count slightly
and to use higher compression on the bitmaps.
You'll see more dramatic reduction in file size
by decreasing texture quality as compared with
mesh quality (assuming you are importing a well-built
I've also chosen to Remove parts smaller
than 1% of the Model Size, duplicate
parts, and duplicate and unused
materialsbut don't remove the normals
as they are needed for surface orientation.
Click the Transform tab and
check Set custom scale. Here
I chose to set 1 model unit equal to 1
inch because I'm working in Imperial
units and the source file from 3ds Max used inches
as the system unit. Selecting proper units makes
it possible to measure the model accurately.
Once you try this a few times and dial in the
settings to suit your situation, click the +
button in the Acrobat 3D Conversion
dialog box to save settings for future use. After
that, 3D conversion will be as simple as selecting
a preset and clicking OK.
After the 3D model has been imported into Acrobat
3D, click the 3D control to activate
it. A special 3D toolbar appears
at the top of the control. This toolbar has a
blue arrow that you can use to toggle it on and
off. The default Rotate tool
is a poor choice for architectural models as it
tends to roll the model while orbitinguse
the Spin tool instead. The user
interface is clean and quite attractive in Version
and Zoom the model to create
a pleasing composition. Click the Model
Tree button along the left edge of the
screen. This panel is used to create and navigate
views, and manage reviews and comments.
Once you are satisfied with the orientation and
position of your model, click the Create
View button in the model tree (circled
below in red). If you save a less-than-ideal view,
delete the view, navigate correctly and save a
new viewit is not possible to update existing
A node called NewView1 appears
in the list with a camera icon. Click the text
of this node and rename it Overview.
Then right click it and choose Set as
Default View from the shortcut menu.
This will now be the view that appears when the
control is first activated.
You can save as many views as you like to showcase
the model. It's a bit tricky, but possible to
create interior views, although there are no field-of-view
or walkthrough navigation tools yet in version
8, so interior spaces can seem cramped.
Understanding views is really the key to using
Acrobat 3Dthey store a lot more than just
camera position and orientation. View settings
include projection type, model render mode, lighting,
background color, cross section, and 3D view-specific
comments. Some variations in model render mode
and lighting are shown below.
Toggle the Cross Section button
on the 3D toolbar to turn on
the section plane. Open the Cross Section
Properties dialog and uncheck
Show Cutting Plane. Drag the Offset
slider to move the cutting plane. Click
the Save Section View button
to create a new view right from the Cross
Section Properties dialog box.
Click the Review & Comment
button > Comment & Markup Tools
> Callout Tool. Place the
callout by dragging from arrow tip to text location.
Type in some text and describe the feature you
are calling out. A new view is automatically created
when you add a comment. Get the Cloud
Tool from the same place and click a
few points around the affected area to draw a
cloud that focuses attention. Notice how the view
gets dependent review and comment nodes identifying
the author of said revisions.
If you want to share your spatial ideas and get
feedback from someone who doesn't have Acrobat
3D, then choose Comments >
Enable for Commenting and Analysis in
Adobe Reader. Then choose File
> Save As. Saving this PDF
yields a file of 1.2 MB, which is less than a
third of the model's and texture maps' original
size. Moreover, all the texture maps are encapsulated
within the PDF, so no files can get lost in translation.
Send the PDF to your boss, sub-contractor, consultant,
client, or whoever. You can download this tutorial's
PDF file here.
The beauty of it is that the recipient isn't going
to squawk when receiving an ubiquitous PDF, and
the chances are good that even those new to 3D
will be able to get around the model, provided
you made views and/or bookmarks for them to use.
Tip: Use Acrobat 3D to embed
a 3D model in a multi-page PDF, Word doc, Excel
spreadsheet, or Powerpoint presentation. PDFs
can pack documentation, drawings, specifications,
site photos, and 3D models into a super-organized,
digitally signed and encrypted project repository.
About the Author
Scott Onstott is a book and video author of
AEC software tutorials. He has a degree in architecture
from UC Berkeley and has served as an instructor
there, in addition to working in several prominent
engineering, architecture, and interiors firms
in San Francisco. He has also worked as a technical
editor and technology consultant.
Scott has contributed to over two dozen books
and videos on AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop,
VIZ Render, Revit, 3ds Max, VIZ, Photoshop, Illustrator,
Painter, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver. He most recently
with Lynn Allen. He can be reached via: www.ScottOnstott.com.
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Tricks > Collaborating with Acrobat 3D
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