Creating Interactive 3D PDFs with Acrobat 3D and the Right Hemisphere PDF Publishing Module


The look on people’s faces when I tell them that Adobe Reader 7.0+ supports interactive 3D content is priceless. Some people are shocked. Some people don’t believe me. But the people that really understand the concept of interactive 3D in a PDF get really excited.

So why are people so excited about 3D in PDF? For the first time in the history of computing there is now a ubiquitous platform for 3D content that is widely accepted by most, if not all, IT departments. Unlike the many 3D players of the past 10 years that use Active X controls or Java 3D, PDF is the Holy Grail for those of us in the 3D content creation business. In simple words, there is now a free, cross-platform 3D viewer that is accepted as a standard. The ‘killer app’ for 3D is Acrobat Reader 7.0+. The implications of Adobe owning the 2D distribution of documents via PDF and adding 3D capabilities to that is sending shockwaves through the 3D industry. I am sure the folks up in Redmond are shaking their heads in disbelief.

Why is interactive 3D a big deal? Unlike a 2D picture or a movie which have a single camera view, 3D content has unlimited camera views controlled by the PDF or the end user’s mouse. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then 3D is worth a thousand plus pictures.

Naturally, you would assume that this 3D content takes a high powered workstation with 4 GB of RAM and all the bells and whistles. But I have been creating real-time interactive 3D content for the last six years on laptops. The 3D revolution really started three years ago, in my opinion.. Revolution is a powerful, but abused and overused word. In this case, it’s not just hyperbole. Here is a short list of events which I feel transformed real-time 3D from vaporware to reality.

  1. Workstation CPU performance became available in laptops.
  2. NVIDIA and other graphics card manufacturers’ graphics processing units (GPUs) now ship in nearly every computer sold, to accelerates 3D content.
  3. The single biggest source of 3D data in the world is computer-aided design (CAD) data, 80% of which is generated in 3D. This CAD data can now be converted to real-time polygonal data accelerated by a GPU.

So why should anybody care about a 3D revolution? The bottom line is that you can communicate more information, more precisely, and in less time with 3D, and the end user will retain that information longer. How many times have you purchased a product with ‘some assembly required’ and stared at the Bill of Materials and a stepped 2D diagram like it was written in a foreign language? Now imagine you have the daunting task of repairing a jet engine or even a copy machine with similar documentation. With product complexity on the rise and shorter product delivery cycles, it’s miracle that these products even have assembly and maintenance manuals. There have been a number of studies that show users are more likely to retain and understand 90% of content if it’s presented in interactive 3D versus 10% – 30% if presented in text and/or 2D form.

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About the Author: Lars Olson

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