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Best way to deal with autocad files?

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I am going to start getting autocad blue prints of buildings that I will have to render and navigate through. We might also need to edit and tweak the files a little but don't have the money to spend on the $2800 software suite. Anyone have any suggestions of where to start when dealing with AutoCad data? I thought I remember there were tools to convert from autocad files to Quake2 or 3 levels so was thinking about looking into that because there are several tutorials readily availabe to parse the levels. But this is completely new to me and I've started doing some google searches but would appreciate any help to point me in the right direction.

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I think you can convert autocad models to 3ds models, either directly or through another format, first. I know for a fact that you can convert them to STL files and 3ds can read STL, so if nothing else you could go that route to just get the basic geometry in a form you can play with. If you're just looking to do some minor changes, you can then play with it in 3ds max if you have access to that, or find a free version of some modelling software (maya, blender, anim8or) that can take STL files and do your modifications there. If you really have no access to a computer with AutoCAD on it, they do have a free trial you could use to get them out of the .dwg or whatever they're in now, and if your modificaitons really are small, use the demo to make them. I would recommend another route, though, because the free version I played with was streamed, so making even minor changes took forever.

To recap, see if you can get 5 minutes on a machine with autocad, get the files into a format more mainstream modellers can read (STL, 3ds, whatever) and work from there.

Good luck!

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