I was initially excited when I heard about Autodesks new suite of tools that allowed you to ‘Make Awesome Stuff’. I like making awesome stuff. It seems Autodesk was calling out to me.
It seems I was wrong. Autodesk wasn’t calling out for me to make awesome stuff. They were calling to aggravate and frustrate me to no end. The suite is comprised of 4 different apps: 123D, 123D Make, 123D Sculpt, and 123D Catch. I’ve only experienced the last two.
123D Sculpt is actually pretty cool. Available on iPad, it allows you to mold organic shapes starting with basic mesh. The toolset is extremely intuitive, almost exactly like pinching and pulling clay, so don’t expect tools like a lathe, loop cut or extrude. Painting directly onto the surface in solid colors or ‘rubbing’ a photo gives your model some texture. You can even rub photos from your own photo gallery. Exporting to OBJ is an addon costing $9.99, but if your modeling skills are decent, the price is well worth it. The OBJ and its material can be sent directly to your Dropbox account or email. These files work in Blender without a hitch.
123D Catch is the app that really gave me high hopes. The idea is to take a series of photos, upload them to the ‘cloud’ and let the Autodesk Servers take over from there, spewing out awesome 3D meshes for everyone to enjoy. An account is required to access the cloud, and it’s free. Catch comes in 3 varieties: Windows PC version, iPad app, and Web app. In a strange turn of events, I had the most success with the iPad app. After capturing my series of 30 photos, the total time of processing took about 5 minutes. I was quickly able to zoom, turn and analyze my fine work on the iPad. Editing and export to OBJ is not supported on the iPad.
This is the result from my iPad, notice that the mesh picked up detailed areas like the eye sockets and shirt wrinkles.
123D has some difficulty with certain objects. Understandably, high gloss surfaces and transparency cause problems. It seems to work better if the background cluttered or heavily patterned- this allows the mysterious cloud to determine depth and cut out the background. Blurry photos can cause obvious problems, as well as being too far away or too cropped in to the subject.
If it is possible, the web app is even worse. Uploading images required 30 minutes or more, if it didn’t halt mid-process. If the images uploaded, processing took the normal 5 minutes to spew out an unrecognizable mess. This seemed strange to me, because both the web version and ipad version seem to be using the same cloud.
Supposedly exporting to OBJ works in the web app, but all it does is lock up my browser. Autodesk hates me.
To the credit of 123D Catch, the concept itself is intriguing and sometimes the results are surprising. This is a completely automated system that doesn’t require the user to enter reference points. The technology is almost there, but I keep hoping that somewhere, out in the cloud, my ‘awesome stuff’ is floating out there waiting to be discovered.
You can check out Autodesk 123D at http://www.123dapp.com .