3D Format Wars! COLLADA (.dae)

WARNING: Geek-talk Alert! This article contains serious geek-talk. If you start feeling dizzy from this post, please consult your closest 3D artist/designer/engineer professional for an explanation. Be prepared for a lengthy response.

This may be some serious geek-talk, but it’s serious business for so many. With today’s computing power, Internet speed, and Web collaboration tools, the need for a standard 3D exchange format is serious business. Professionals need information quickly, and if that information comes to slow, you can lose money. In our world (of 3D), we cannot accept phrases like “we cannot export format XX, we only use YY”.

The Engineering industry has finally nailed down a good standard (STEP) for exchanging 3D geometry and project data (I know, IGES is still useful, but STEP is better in most cases–see my video on IES vs. STEP here). However, the Digital Content Creation (DCC) industry has yet to pronounce a clear winner. Also, there is a clear need for a standard from Engineering 3D models to DCC applications: What format is best here? The reuse of engineering data for marketing (renderings, animations, video, print) is a very common (and often problematic) function within our industry.

I believe there has recently been a front runner here: COLLADA’s .dae format. Yes, I know there are many other useful exchange formats, and if they work for you, use them, but I since I have been using COLLADA (.dae) as my exchange format, I have had no issues…seriously.

I believe that COLLADA is inching ahead, and will be the “STEP” for DCC. I’m sure I will receive a lot of rebuttals on this, but that’s good, we welcome the discussion. Why do I think .dae is the clear standard? Two reasons: 1) Most common 3D DCC applications can already import/export .dae, and 2) The format is not owned by a corporation, but a consortium – the Kronos Group, who handles COLLADA (.dae format) who will continue to expand the format for future uses (more on that here).

Let me give more detail: Photoshop users can import .dae files as 3D layers, Google’s .kmz format is really a compressed .dae file, and all the major 3D DCC applications for gaming and movies/video, can all import .dae. And recently, 3DVIA (so odd that I would mention 3DVIA, huh?) now allows download of any 3D model as a COLLADA .dae. This is BIG, because 3DVIA imports almost all 3D formats (click here for list), so 3DVIA can work as an online conversion tool.

Why is the 3DVIA download functionality important? Say you are a graphic artist, web designer working internally or externally for an engineering firm developing a Product-X. You were given the 3D model of Product-X from the engineer who built the model with an engineering application (i.e. SolidWorks, CATIA). You can ask the engineer to send you the 3D model (which will NOT open in your DCC application). You could ask for a .dae file OR you could upload the native engineering file to 3DVIA.com, where you could then download a .dae file to use.

Okay, that’s enough geek-talk from me, but I know there are plenty of you who have more to add on this topic. Maybe you have new information? I encourage you to add a comment, as it is quite possible I forgot to mention something…just maybe. ;^)

Also, check out my Cliff’s Clips video, which details more about the uses for .dae.