Thursday, July 31, 2008

Convert to Lines #30

Serving the Seattle VectorWorks Users Group and Northwest VectorWorks users.

An archive of past newsletters can be found at

In this issue:
• Animation made easy
• 3D fasteners
• What’s a slab object?
•3D collections growing like nonnative invasive species
•Changing your point of view

Greetings VectorWorks users! Here is a slimmed down summertime version of 'Lines' pruned to the essentials. I hope you’ve been able to take advantage of this amazing stretch of great weather and that all is well in your lives. I’ll check in with you again in late September. Meanwhile, on with the show.


Let’s make a fly-around movie using VW 2008.
I recently upgraded my computer from an old Mac G4 to a new laptop and found that rendering times have dropped to the degree that fly-around modeling was finally practical for our typical projects. If you’ve improved your hardware and haven’t yet tried this essential tool, I suggest we do a simple test drawing to see the animation process in action.

To begin, start a new file and draw a large polygon to represent the ground. Extrude it some small amount like a sixteenth of an inch (Model>Extrude). Drag out another poly in the middle of our ground object and extrude it to a size similar to what you work with day to day, be it a room, a cabinet or something smaller. Don’t give any of these extruded objects a fill since unfilled objects will render faster and we don’t yet want to present you with a rendering time that causes you to leave your chair for some other activity.

Hit a corner key on your extended keyboard (1, 3, 7, or 9) to see your model in 3D. Hit 5 to return to a 3D Top view. We now will add a RenderWorks Camera to the view. Click on the Visualization palette--it’s the one showing the light bulb. With the palette open, click on the camera icon. Move the cursor, which has turned into a + sign, and place it somewhere outside of your model, click and drag toward your model, click to end and release. Accept the default settings of the 3D view shown on the Object Properties palette (unless you’d like to play with the settings to see how they vary the model’s position). Double click on the array of lines that represents the camera. This action should tilt and shape your model into a perspective view. We remain in the same wire-frame mode we started in but feel free to choose another rendering style, after giving your objects a fill, and let it render (suggestion: OpenGL). Only now, with the perspective view selected and the rendering method selected, do we issue the command to create an animation.

Go to Model>Create Animation. Select Orbit Point from the popup menu and accept the remaining settings. Click Save Movie to save the file to your desktop. This action starts the rendering process. If your computer has not bogged down with fills, try adding a light (sun) and then textures to each object. In our office, a typical whole-house exterior fly-around, containing a couple of light sources, 3D plants plus textures on all surfaces, will take between two to two and a half hours rendering time on the new laptop. A typical Quicktime file will be 35 MB and take 45 seconds for the model to rotate 360 degrees which is plenty of time to see details. Once the movie begins to play, note that you can easily start, stop and go in reverse to admire the details of your genius.


Want a bolt to show as a 3D object and not just as a 2D side or end view?
You’ll need Designer or Machine Design* to get it but even then the method of discovery is less than straightforward. Assuming you are drawing in some other workspace, go to Tools>Workspaces and select Machine Design. Click on the Hardware Inch/Metric palette. Click on the bolt in the upper left hand corner of the palette. If you draw this bolt it will display as a 2D view UNLESS you click on the (blue) 3D icon on the mode bar. If you go back and look at the palette that houses the original bolt icon, you will note that all the other icons for wing nut, eyebolt, etc. have a little black triangle adjacent to them. Click on the triangle and you’ll see that there is a 2D and a 3D offering for each of these. It would be nice if the bolt icon had the same notation and behavior as the other hardware types or visa versa.
*See alternative bolt plug-in below.


There has been grumbling for some time now over the fact that the Floor Object tool cannot accept a unique texture for the band portion of the floor. It is a helpful tool in that the palette that controls its settings has an input box for height (Z) but those of us that assemble our buildings with the outer edges of floors flush with the outer surfaces of walls find that our drawings won’t render correctly using this tool. One can simply Extrude a polygon to serve as a floor but these simple shapes lack Object Info palette options. Enter Slab Object, a free tool from Once on the website, go to Old Links>Plug-ins>Slab Object and download. It’s free. Once on your desktop, unzip and add to your Workspace. I’ve added it to the Tool Sets palette, adjacent to Walls. (Scan the back issues of Convert to Lines to find a discussion on modifying Workspaces.)

Once placed into your Workspace, you’ll find a wealth of new options
including object extrusion depth, Z height options and automatically created classes for adding color or textures to the sides, bottom (ceiling) and top of the 3D shape. To add texture to a surface, select the object and click on the Organization palette for Classes (not via the Navigation palette) and dbl. click on one of the newly auto-created classes (Ceiling-Finish, Floor-Finish, Floor-Riser, Floor-Slab) and in the following palette called Edit Class(es), check the Use At Creation box, and at the bottom of the palette, choose Other and check the Textures box. Choose a texture to apply. So now you can show a floor that displays, when rendered, a carpet, a ceiling texture (popcorn asbestos) for the bottom, and a texture on the edges that matches the siding type.

Remember the VectorDepot site? If you don’t have Designer or Machine Design, you might also download the 3D bolt plug-in called Fastener. Find it in the main plug-ins folder on the the site, not in the Old Links folder. Once downloaded, manually move it to your VW Plug-ins folder, then import it into your Workspace. I’ve tried it in VW 2008 and it seems to work fine.


Need more (free) 3D objects for your drawings than VW provides? Of course you do! Google’s 3D Warehouse has been mentioned before for importing via the
Sketchup plug-in. But you might also take a peek at
Look at the left side of the page and scroll down until you see “3Ds Max and Autocad object,” below which you’ll see folders containing Humans, Trees, Kitchen, etc. Look in the Human folder and be sure and download your free copy of the Fighting Skeleton. Also take a look at
This site also features 3ds models--and there are a ton of them. Once you’ve selected your model, click on it to get the download screen to appear.
Want to dig a little? Many more sites listed here:


I want to add barge (fly) rafters, fascia or other trim objects to my roofs. One way to quickly orient your roof or any other object to a side-view position square to the drawing plane is to use the Set 3D View tool found under View. Looking at your model in Top view, click on the tool, then somewhere away from your model, click and drag toward it. If my roof face happened to be set at an odd angle, I would first draw in a guide to ensure my drag line would be square to the object’s face. Once this face was rotated square to me, I could then draw a polygon (might be a gable end barge rafter), extrude it, then going back to top view, drag the extrusion over and into place. This is a good one to note its keyboard shortcut and use it instead of hiking up to the menu bar each time an object needs rotating. This tip originated with Panthony from the VW Tech Board.

That all folks!

Tom Greggs
(206) 524-2808

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