Autodesk Expands 123D Product Line for Maker Market

Close up of the head of a Buddhist figurine, reconstructed in points and meshes based on a series of uploaded 2D digital photos, a process made possible in Autodesk 123D Catch.

The figure of a dog, to be reconstructed in numbered 2D flat patterns, a method used by Autodesk 123D Make to enable easy model creation.

Autodesk’s consumer-friendly product line, 123D, is getting two new additions: 123D Catch and 123D Make. Like other 123D titles, the latest pair takes aim squarely at the emerging maker market, spawned by the do-it-yourself crowd that frequents Maker Faire, Renegade Craft Fair, and similar events.

The latest additions are:

  • Autodesk 123D Catch: a free application to transform digital photos from standard point-and-shoot cameras into editable 3D models.
  • Autodesk 123D Make: a model-making application (currently only available for Mac OS X) for creating 3D physical prototypes.

123D Catch is the official public beta version of what used to be Project Photofly, previewed on Autodesk Labs more than a year ago. The technology allows users to upload a series of digital photos of the same subject taken from slightly different angles, then extract a 3D point-cloud and mesh model of the subject. The most intense computing operations — analyzing the uploaded photos for detectable geometry and constructing a 3D model based on them — take place on a remote server, not on the user’s local hardware.

The ability to automatically extract a 3D model out of 2D photos will give hobbyists, enthusiasts, students, and tinkerers an easier way to create 3D digital models of existing products (for example, a piece of furniture or a sculpture). They’ll be able to bypass the daunting task of learning and mastering a 3D modeling program.

Though 123D Catch is targeted at the maker market, the method exemplified by 123D Catch will also be appealing to professional designers and commercial manufacturers, as it allows them to digitally capture the approximate shape of an existing product in order to explore possible improvement to its aesthetics, function, and durability in CAD and analysis software.

123D Make mimics the 3D printing and laser-cutting process, whereby users can turn a 3D model into a series of 2D cutouts that represent the desired volume and mass. When assembled, the resulting flat patterns (perhaps created from cardboard) will give users a 3D physical object corresponding to his or her idea. The cut pieces are numbered to make assembly sequencing easy.

123D Make is currently only available for Mac OS X, a surprise for the company that relies primarily on PC users for its professional software sales. (PC-based 123D users looking to create 3D prototypes may choose to work with Autodesk partners who provide laser-cutting and 3D printing services.)

123D Catch and Make are preceded by the launches of 123D, a general-purpose 3D modeling software (currently in Beta, available as a free download); 123D Sculpt, an iPad app for touch-based model creation and deformation; and the 123D content portal, for sharing your digital creations with other 123D fans.

123D Sculpt, now available at Apple app store, is based on Autodesk Mudbox, a digital 3D painting and sculpting software selling for $745. 123D Sculpt provides users with a way to create organic shapes, typically not easy to create in parametric CAD modeling programs. (Imagine building the head of a horned monster from a 2D profile, a series of extrusions, and rounded edges.) The iPad’s multi-touch capability makes digital sculpting much more intuitive; bypassing the mouse and keyboard, it allows users to employ pinching, poking, and stretching to reshape a digital model to his or her satisfaction.

Though Autodesk caters primarily to professional engineers, designers, and digital content creators, the latest push for 123D products, along with its investment in a fledgling Consumer Division (responsible for such products as Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile), suggests the company is looking at new opportunities beyond the professional customer pool.

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