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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

SIGGRAPH 2014: Clara.io – Cloud-based 3D Modeling, Rendering, and Animation

 
August 27th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Although SIGGRAPH is primarily focused on computer graphics (CG) as it relates to media and entertainment (M&E), there were several technologies that could be used constructively in the MCAD arena.

One of the more interesting ones we came across with possible MCAD implications was Clara.io, a web-based 3D computer graphics software developed by Exocortex, a Canadian software company. Clara.io was announced in July 2013 and first presented as part of the SIGGRAPH 2013 program later that month. With that in mind, we checked it out earlier this month at SIGGRAPH 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Clara.io: Basics of Polygon Modeling

Clara.io is offered on what the company calls a freemium basis, a pricing strategy by which a product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for proprietary features and functionality. Clar.io freemium pricing structure is discussed below.

Clara.io is part of an ongoing proliferation of web/cloud-based 3D technologies. WebGL, HMTL5, CSS3D, and Canvas were the start, and were followed by a myriad libraries and other 3D software that runs inside web browsers, and also can run under any OS, tablet, or smartphone.

Clara.io is an impressive example of such burgeoning cloud-based technology. Instead of being a proof of concept or a set of limited features, Clara.io is a comprehensive 3D app. It’s also open source and promises to support the Blender file format in the future (more about Blender later).

Clara.io: Real-time Collaboration

Clara.io has many interesting following features, including:

  • Hierarchical scene graph
  • Lights and cameras
  • Robust support for Polymeshes, including indexed UV, Normal and Color maps
  • Flexible operators (known as “modifiers” in 3DS Max.
  • Keyframe-based animation
  • Powerful sub-object editing
  • Renderer and pass management
  • Extensive materials
  • Sharing/collaboration capabilities
  • Rudimentary bones and skinning
  • Real-time multi-user collaborative editing
  • Automatic versioning with history (somewhat analogous to parametric, history-based CAD modeling and a PDM system)
  • Plugin model
  • Script log
  • FBX, Collada, OBJ, ThreeJS and STL file format support.

Clara.io also supports V-Ray, helping make it a very compelling package for some types of 3D modeling, rendering, and animation. V-Ray is a rendering engine that is used as an extension of several 3D computer graphics software editors, including 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Maya, Sketchup, Softimage, Blender and Rhinoceros 3D. V-Ray is used in the film and video game industries, and is also used extensively in making realistic 3D renderings for architecture.

While hardly being alone in the cloud-based 3D modeling space, Clara.io does have some unique features that set it apart, not to mention, the price is right for the Basic capabilities. The demo I witnessed at SIGGRAPH 2014 and the little I have worked with it since then have shown me that creating and editing 3D files inside a web browser is not only possible, but useful, as well.

Let’s get back to the freemium thing. Clara.io is offered in three flavors and prices based on cloud storage and rendering time:

  • Basic – free of charge, 5GB Cloud storage, one hour personal rendering.
  • Standard — $10 per month, 20 GB cloud storage, one hour personal rendering.
  • Professional — $24 per month, 100 GB cloud storage, unlimited/priority personal rendering.

Finally, let’s get real. Is Clara.io really suited for MCAD design? I’d say marginally, but a good case could be made for it for conceptual and industrial design. Another open source CG application, Blender, may be a better fit for MCAD design, especially in a supplemental role with a traditional 3D CAD modeler.

This autumn I’ll compare and contrast Clara.io and Blender to determine which of the two is more useful for mechanical design, emphasizing the conceptual phase.

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2 Responses to “SIGGRAPH 2014: Clara.io – Cloud-based 3D Modeling, Rendering, and Animation”

  1. Ben Houston says:

    Hi Jeff Rowe,

    Thanks for the great article. If you ever wanted to chat, give me a shout. With regards to CAD, the main issues with http://Clara.io at the moment is the lack of robust Booleans, and a lack of support for the standard CAD formats for import and export (we only support the animation formats FBX, Collada, OBJ, 3DS, Blend, etc.)

    We already do support importing *.blend files but with only partial support, thus advanced features are not imported at this time. We hope to increase that support as time goes by.

    Best regards,
    Ben Houston

  2. Unti says:

    Thanks for the interesting post!

    ___________________________
    archicgi.com

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