Vol. XIX, No. 3
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Winter, 2007

AutoCAD® 2007 Reviewed

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

Reviewing AutoCAD 2006 in the Newsletter (see "AutoCAD 2006: A Review," by Harrison Eiteljorg, II, CSA Newsletter, XIX, 1; Spring, 2006: csanet.org/newsletter/spring06/nls0605), I tried not to be too negative, but version 2006 was not a major improvement, and I found a serious flaw. Then I was surprised by the appearance of AutoCAD2007 well before the 2006 calendar had become a relic. The flaw did not seem so serious as to require rushing out a new version, and I was worried that AutoCAD would not be eager to let us test another version so soon.

Meanwhile, Apostolis Kassios, a young man working in Athens with AutoCAD and other visualization technologies for archaeology, told me how good he thought AutoCAD 2007 was. I checked the Autodesk web site and saw some 3D features that looked intriguing. So I asked for a copy, and, happily, Autodesk was again kind enough to provide a copy of the latest iteration of their flagship program. I am certainly glad they did.

What follows is a short review of AutoCAD 2007, short because the important changes can easily be treated in a few paragraphs. The length of this review should not mislead. This is an upgrade that is more than just an upgrade. AutoCAD 2007 has the 3D editing tools that any user of the 3D features has been wanting for some time. Mr. Kassios did not mislead me. It's a much better mousetrap. If you model solids with AutoCAD, this is for you. Similarly, if you model surfaces and want better visualization tools, this is for you.

Readers may remember a short article in this newsletter concerning pseudo-parametric-modeling. Because AutoCAD's solids could not be edited, I suggested a scheme for keeping track of modeling procedures so that a solid could be created, erased, modified, re-created, and so on. (See "AutoCAD 2006: "Parametric Modeling in AutoCAD® -- Almost," by Harrison Eiteljorg, II, CSA Newsletter, XVII, 3, Winter, 2005: www.csanet.org/newsletter/winter05/nlw0506.html.) Such torturous work to edit solids is no longer necessary. AutoCAD 2007 now includes a variety of editing procedures that make solids remarkably easy to edit. Individual parts of a solid can be dimensionally changed, moved, rotated, etc. The possibilities are extensive. As one who used solids rarely -- usually to model from rough numbers or to design a device to use in surveying -- I could not run this version of AutoCAD through all its paces so easily as others might. Nevertheless, I was able to modify a variety of solids in different ways and without difficulty -- indeed, as is far too often the case for me, without checking with the manual.

Along with the 3D editing commands come a group of new visualization possibilities for seeing a model in three dimensions. The orbit command, for instance has been modified; one can now set a model in motion and watch it rotate. While that may seem to be pointless, it is an excellent way to be sure that you really see a complex model from all vantage points.

There is also now a fly-through command and a walk-through command in AutoCAD. I found both to be useful but inadequate for careful study of archaeological material. The problem lies in the inability to adjust the elevation of the viewer during the walk-through or fly-over. Fortunately, there is another new visualization feature that compensates for the inability to change elevation in a walk-though -- and then some. It is now possible to define a path (using a 3D polyline so that the path changes elevation along its course) and ask the system to create an animation sequence showing the model as a camera is moved along that path. As it moves along the path, the camera remains aimed at a point selected by the CAD operator in advance. The operator may determine the speed of the movement and the number of frames recorded. The animation is saved as a file in the WMV format (or one of two others); so it can be viewed on virtually any computer. (Three very similar of an animation I created are available here. It took just a few minutes to make them, but there was no attempt to use realistic textures, making the job very simple.) The files should be viewed with Windows Media Player.

Animation 1

Animation 2

Animation 3

The animations can obviously be shared with others, whether they have AutoCAD or not. While this is not the equivalent to the results of a top-notch animation program, it is an excellent way to examine the model as a full environment, even if one has not added textures or other 3D effects. Indeed, it was this kind of 3D view (achieved with an old Autodesk program called WalkThrough® (see "Almost Virtual Reality," by Harrison Eiteljorg, II; CSA Newsletter, IX, 4; February, 1997: www.csanet.org/newsletter/feb97/nl029711.html) that made it clear to me just how important the Mycenaean wall was to the conception of the older propylon in Athens.

As usual, I have not looked at many of the features AutoCAD makes available. Various capabilities involving drafting output, dimensioning styles, and so on are simply not relevant to the work most of us normally do. I did check, however, to see if Autodesk had corrected the problem with AutoCAD 2006 that was noted in the review of that version (see above for reference). Readers may recall that, if the default layer, 0 (zero, not the letter "O") had been frozen, certain entities could not be "snapped to" either with the object-snap feature turned on or by explicitly requesting that a point attach to an endpoint or other object-related point. I am happy to report that I could not re-create that problem in this new version of AutoCAD.

Modern software has evolved so fully that it is rare to find a new version with compelling features. This version of AutoCAD does have compelling features for anyone working with 3D solid objects or using visualizations of 3D surface models. For those working in 2D only, I am inclined to believe that AutoCAD had long since provided the features necessary for scholars. Those who are working in 3D, though, will covet this new iteration of the program. It is a significant addition to the scholar's tool kit.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

For other Newsletter articles applications of CAD modeling in archaeology and architectural history, consult the Subject index.

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