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Please chime in to explain how Autodessys can get Referenced files, Components and Clones right.

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This is something that has been a big concern for so many years I have lost track....

I want to explain from a user point of view how these features are expected to work.

Most projects contain repeating elements, from simple fixings, roof tiles or furniture there is a lot of use cases.

It is important internally to keep a formZ project manageable. It is important externally when exporting a project for animation or rendering. It is important when managing assets across multiple projects. It is important.

Currently and historically it does not work in formZ. The symbol libraries in earlier pre-version 7 editions of formZ were better but still riddled with problems.

First some important concepts.

Translation, rotation and scaling from within a project referencing a component copy or instance is not the same as editing the referenced item. Please hold the referenced geometry in a bounding box and have translation, rotation and scale applied to that instead. Obviously editing the topology of a referenced object would either break the link to the reference or update the reference, this is how it works in other applications too. The current way this works makes the feature redundant.

Materials should default as an override or as with editing the topology break or update the reference.

It would be nice if snapping could be toggled between the bounding box and referenced geometry.

Finally exporting components, clones, referenced files.

Currently, DWG supports components exporting as blocks (if only they worked properly in formZ). With simple projects where I only stamp components and do not try to reposition, scale or replace after initial placement I can export as DWG open in Vectorworks then send to Cinema 4D and most of the components will come over as render instances. Of course, I can do this with projects created in Vectorworks without any need to use formZ.

Support for components as part instances in STEP export is not just useful for interoperability with other CAD software (MCAD) but is also useful to generate render instances in Cinema 4D, or replicas in Modo via Power Translators, Power Translators is also available for 3DS Max. Okino Polytrans will generate instances from Step files too.

Please don't be offended but these features need to be brought out of the 1990s if FormZ is going to have any relevance in the near/immediate future.


Other user opinions on what needs to be addressed for Components, clones and referenced files to be a useful feature set for FormZ would be much appreciated here.

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Posted (edited)

Fundamental question!

I completely agree and I await the response of the developers on this point because it is indeed very important.
I would like to add a question:

In a recent post I mentioned our own workflow:

I would like to know if it would not be possible to use the new instance system (component) to improve the link between 2D and 3D
Precisely it would be creating a dynamic link

Clearly, I imagine the idea of pasting as s in 3d vector drawings (typically plans, facades and others) as a fully editable file instance in Formz Draft Layout (what I will simply call "FormZ 2D" )

Conversely, it is a little more complicated I think the idea will be to create particular instances in FormZ 2D automatically recovered by cutting in the 3D model

Remember what Ben Dean's plugin does in Formz 6
We can cut a model and recover all the result of a series of intersection with a cutting plane or even only a cutting line.
This result can be imported in 2D
The idea would be to perform the same operation with the creation of an instance that can be placed in 2D

But full operation should not stop ...
We should also be able to calculate the hidden line plot of the part of the cut model that remains visible and similarly recover it in 2d as an instance.

(currently in fZ 6 I do this by a real cut (non destructive if I keep the objects in ghost for example) of the model then then by a Hidden line calculation of the cut model then by a copy past from modeling in hidden line mode
(I thus recover the part seen beyond the cutting plan in vector form in FZ6 draft)

Otherwise we had the possibility of realizing the same thing in the form of an instance in FZ 9 the link between 2D and 3D would then be fully dynamic.
Instances that simply need to be updated according to the evolution of the source file (2D or 3D)
From then on, the production of construction documents from the model could then be greatly simplified, partly automated (excluding annotations and other quotes).

In the end it would only remain to introduce the corresponding bitmap rendering (which can be produced with the engine of your choice RenderZone Vray or Maxwel) in the background on 2D compositing to have the perfect basis for our construction documents (vector / bitmap )

I am really curious to know the position of the developers on these questions ...
Unless I am mistaken, it seems to me that this would be a way of considerably improving the possibility of cross work between 3D and 2D
For architects this is an essential feature.

Naturally the possibility of exporting these isntances to other software (like vectorworks) would also open up very attractive prospects for those who model in Formz but wish to exploit the potential of other software for the 2D part.

Edited by jldaureil

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Although I mention more than a few bugs in the following I think the distinction and the need for References, Components and Clones is clear.

References - a multi user feature that if working properly opens up new avenues for formZ workflows (but that does not stop the use by single users) - but once you go down the multi user route you need better tools than are currently provided (I get that it might be a first iteration thing - let’s see what 9.5 brings). Generally whole files/ complete models rather than the smaller content of components (but doesn't have to be).

Components - reusable content that is generally not edited once created (it can be) and is placed in multiple files.

Clones - content that is file specific and and aid to quick modelling and editing.

With the addition of referencing (if ADS manage to increase their presence in the market) comes more complexity of working and a more CAD like workflow and I would then like to see multiple workspaces (not formZ workspaces but the CAD versions) - think modelspace and paperspace in ACAD (if I have my terminology right - I’ve never been an Autocad user) or the multiple versions of the same in Microstation.

Referencing should be the glue between layout and modelling - modelling here being both in 2d and 3d - there is no difference in concept, but it is all linked, and can be in the same file (see my 1. Request below for self referencing) or between separate files for the multi user setup.

If I can expand a little on organisational tools (sorry if it drags the convo off a little) what I do not get is the distinction between Group and Join on the Organize palette - why not have one tool that every object type can join, that has the benefits of both and some important additions - namely things are selectable within the ‘container’, clones and other such things are still editable once inside (are they? am I missing some way of achieving this?)

Aren’t the two tools ostensibly doing exactly the same things?


Reference Files.

A copy here of my post in the suggestions forum with a bit of tidying up.

The bugs are there even with the most basic and simple test files, so I wouldn’t have the confidence to use the feature for any proper work.



Take a simple cube - divide a face and then add object symmetry and play around with a few faces with the reshape tool. Then save the file and add it as a reference to another file. Add some rotation (it can be on any axis -it doesn’t matter) the reference file will not rotate ( it shows some odd lines on some of the faces) until the file is saved, closed and then reopened. Then the rotation is shown, but only until the first tool is chosen at which point it rotates back to its original position.

This isn’t just a bug with object symmetry - try it with some bulge reshaping added to a cube and the same non rotation happens.

If you just try with a simple cube then the rotation works, it works right away after exiting the reference file dialog box and stays rotated - handy if you only ever place cubes in a file I suppose.

Also right clicking on a reference on the object palette opens the context menu which allows a reference to be duplicated - but this is not reflected in the reference files dialog box (transformation can be applied by double clicking on the dup ref name) and disappears after a file save, close and reopen - I assume this is a bug and the duplicate shouldn't be allowed or is it a feature?

As I said i have only tested with very simple objects and am consistently getting the bugs.


As to the features and usability what I would like to see:

1. Self referencing. A file can be referenced back into itself singly or multiple times to make more complex layouts.


2. Nested referencing. (let’s say based on the little street graphic shown on the formZ pro feature page) - the reference file could be called street.fmz and be an empty file. But referenced into street.fmz would be separate files for each house, say number1.fmz, number3.fmz and so on to make up the street scene. Then attaching street.fmz as a reference file with a nested attachment of 1 would also attach the houses as references as well.

If the original number1.fmz, number3.fmz house geometry files also had reference files attached - let’s say some interior furnishings, then in the scene file attaching street.fmz with a nest depth of 2 would add the street, the houses and the furnishings.


3. Logical names - not just the name of the file but an additional name used for recognising and sorting reference files - back in 1. with the self referencing, let’s say the file was a structural layout and was a beam and column model. It was then self referenced multiple times to form a layout  (and each reference moved into place) - each reference then could be given a logical name , say the layout grid reference.


4. Moving , rotating and scaling of references graphically rather than just through the dialog. Working from a dialog gets tedious pretty quickly.


5. Identification of layers, views etc with the ref file name (and also the logical name as an option - see request 3.) and the sorting of such in the various dialogs and palettes.

Appending file names to layer names might not be the best idea here though in small palette boxes, so maybe grouped separation of layers of the type shown in the object palette - each ref file gets its own group with the group name being the ref file name - nested ref files would then be nested groups.

Maybe these group titles could be shown in an optional separate colour.

And control over where they were listed - at the beginning of the list, end of the list, hidden until needed (a button on the layers palette would disclose the groups - see 6).


6. Being able to switch off reference info in palettes - not switch off the reference(s) in graphics, but a simple one click button on the relevant palette to not show any ref file information. Sometimes you want the graphic window to show the references but not be interested in showing layers, views etc in palettes.


7. An overarching ‘show refs’ button to switch off all reference files in graphics (put it next to show axis and show grid buttons in the display palette). It might also be handy to be able to drag references into object groups - this to be able to control ref visibility and snapping across user configurable groups of references.


8. A snap palette tool to ignore references wholesale (and more fine grained control over individual references - say like on the inspector palette attributes for layers and objects).


9. Views to optionally control reference visibility (in whole and by layer). And then with a toggle to apply to references or not - ie when a view is saved the actual state of the graphics is saved, if then references or reference layers are switched on and off the view can optionally change the visibility or just change the camera.


10. A correct reference file section in the online help.(It shows Object Symmetry instead).


11. In place editing of reference files - turn off the padlock icon on the object palette for full control and editing of the reference file. A dialog warns the user if this cannot be achieved - if say another user has the file open.



This is a mixture of bug reports and suggestions for improvement.


1. A Clones section added to the online manual - what are clones?, what are their limitations?, when would I use clones rather than components or references? even just an update to the transformation page to show up to date graphics.


2. Symmetry to work with clones - at the moment the clone that receives the symmetry is no longer a clone and will not update other clones (other untouched clones still react as clones should).


3. Scale to size does not change the clones - just the clone you click on, but they all remain as clones (nice) - if this is working as intended then I would like to see an ‘apply to all clones’ checkbox in the Tool Options palette.


4. A quick way to identify clones graphically - how about a show clones in different colour temporarily button on the Display palette? Click to toggle on and off with each separate clone group in a different colour.


5. Transforming clones - the individually option moves all the clones (but not in the exact same way as the family option) - is this a bug or an obscure feature that I am missing?

Certainly the individual and family options on the scale and rotate transformations do as they say - it is obvious in those cases - but I cannot fathem the move ones?


6. If I copy a cloned object and the ‘Make Clones” checkbox is unticked then I would expect to get an uncloned object - but no, it is still cloned. If this is as intended then a drop cloning on copy checkbox would be nice to have.


7. This seems like another bug - make a simple cube, then make a rectangular array with ‘Make Clone’ checked.

Then copy one of the clones individually and drop the cloning on  it (unclone from the end of the Organize tool palette - you want the individually tool option) - check that cloning really is dropped on the copied cube - the ‘Is Clone’ box in the Inspector dialog should say no.

Also try to Reshape one of the original array clones and the copied cube will not update - all as it should be.

Next make another cloned rectangular array from the copied uncloned cube.

Then move the original array with transform clones on and with individually checked.

The copied cloned array also updates - but surely it should be completely separate from the original?

Generally the cloning/ uncloning then cloning again works and there is then no link - just seems to be a problem with the Rectangular Array tool.


8. If a new material is dropped onto a clone then this looks like it is allowed as the graphic updates - until a change is made such as a transformation or reshape when it reverts back to the original - is this as designed or a bug?


9. There are no clone options for the ‘Mirror About’ tool. Cannot see why there shouldn’t be.


10. Why are there no clones in Layout?


11. An option on the delete tool to delete all clones (just the ones that are part of an individual cloning group obviously).


12. Not sure if this is a clone thing or a Group thing (or if it is a bug) but it would be nice to be able to then edit the clones once in a group.



I am generally ok with components and have not noticed any bugs but I would like to see:


1. Being able to replace all instances of a particular component without first prepicking - so a checkbox option on Tool Options Replace Component to replace all instances.


2. A bigger library selection.


3. Roll in the LAB tools.


Sorry for the length.




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To add to the Reference file features:  

I would love to see DWG (and possibly other popular file types) referenced.  This would vastly help communication with other software.  

For example I draw a technical cross section of a house (or any object really) in AutoCAD.  I want to see that info in FormZ so I can update my 3D model per the technical section.  Currently I have import the DWG, then reimport every time I update the cross section.  If I could have that file referenced into my FormZ file, when the AutoCAD file is updated - the referenced information shows up automatically in FormZ.  I can't edit the cross section in FormZ of course, but I could see it and snap to it.  

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