One thing led to another and I now find myself doing some kind of a comparison on the best way to embed a 3D model into a blog post, or for that matter, any web page. Or maybe I should say that I am trying to find the least painful way. Earlier I tried 3D VIA and 3D PDF . While 3D PDF appears to be a better approach than 3D VIA, one reader started bitching that he had to download the free Adobe Reader which he considered to be bloatware. So now I am going to try a totally different approach, one which uses something called Autodesk Freewheel. The reason I didn’t try this earlier is because this is a service from Autodesk, not a software like 3D VIA or Adobe Reader. As of now the service is free and pretty fast considering that I am sitting on the opposite side of the planet in India.
The way this works, you need to first come up with a 3D DWF file of your 3D model, something which should be far easier than it currently is. Then use these simple instructions to embed the Autodesk Freewheel web-based viewer into your web page using an iframe. I use the same Iframe Embedder WordPress plug-in as I did in the 3D VIA post. You should see my rose in a 400×400 window below.
[iframe http://freewheel.autodesk.com/dwf.aspx?path=http://www.deelip.com/wp-content/uploads/models/2010-05-03-SolidWorks-Rose.dwf&mode=ViewOnly 400 400]
Autodesk Freewheel does not need any proprietary viewer, browser add-on or any other software to be downloaded and installed on your computer because the rendering happens on the Autodesk server and not on your computer. So this actually becomes a cloud application where the computing (rendering) happens on the Freewheel server while the data is stored on your web server or some other online resource. The Freewheel software reads the 3D DWF file on your server, renders an image and sends it to your computer where it is displayed. When you navigate around the model using the mouse, your camera position is sent across to the Freewheel software running in the cloud which renders another image and sends it back to you to be displayed on your computer. That’s why you see a time lag between renders and the navigation experiences becomes a bit messy. So actually the window above is not a “3D” window like in the case of 3D VIA and 3D PDF. Rather it is a raster image viewer.
I mentioned that getting a 3D DWF file of my rose was a bit of a problem. Let me explain why. My rose was modeled in SolidWorks 2010 which does not have the ability to spit out a 3D DWF. So one way to get 3D DWF was to let SoliddWorks create a 3D PDF file which I could import into Autodesk Design Review, the free software by Autodesk to create, view and markup DWF files. The problem is that Design Review does not know what to to with the 3D data in a 3D PDF file. I get a ugly note saying “Enable 3D View” and I have no idea what to do after that. Saving the model from SolidWorks to any other neutral format like IGES, STEP is no use since Design Review does not read those 3D formats. However, it does have a free plug-in to read the JT format, but SolidWorks does not save to JT. So you see, this whole thing becomes one big mess and makes your head hurt.
Another way was to make SolidWorks 2010 write out the rose to an ACIS SAT version 6.0, import it into AutoCAD 2011 which could publish to a 3D DWF. The problem with this approach is that I get only the geometry into AutoCAD and not the color. So my rose looks like one big gray lump of crap. AutoCAD blissfully ignores the object properties such as color in a SAT file.
After scratching my lead a little and looking at the tons of CAD software installed on my computer, I found a solution. I imported the SolidWorks 2010 assembly of the rose directly into Inventor 2011 and published a 3D DWF, which shows up above with all the color information intact. So basically, if I have a SolidWorks model and I want to embed it into my blog post or web page using this approach, I need to have a license of Inventor. I am pretty sure there must be a better way of doing this. If you can think of something please leave a comment and I will update this post with your information.
However, if you have Solid Edge, things could be more straight forward since Solid Edge can save to JT which can be read by Design Review through the JT import plug-in. I have not tried that though. If you have Pro/ENGINEER I think you are in the same boat as SolidWorks. Same goes for a number of other modelers. So unless Autodesk adds more file import capability to Design Review I think Autodesk Freewheel is going to end up as a solution for users of Autodesk software only, which probably was the point of DWF in the first place.
I now want to see how many readers can bitch about this approach. Bring it on. 😉