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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Welcome to my home: first attempts at using Unity3D for architectural visualization | The ARCH Network [Revit Visualization]

We're in such an interesting place right now. I don't know how many of you see the big picture, but we're at this crossroads in regards to technology, workflow, process, expectations, analysis, design, coordination, marketing and I'm sure there are 10 other things, but you get the point.

How is it that one the one hand, there's this obsession with line weights, colors and layers and on the other end of the spectrum, there's a passion for visualization and realistic design views. Reality - builders have to build structures in 3D. They need information to do that. An accurate model depicting the building, with all of its systems and structure coordinated as to create a greater efficiency in the cost and timeline of the construction process.

It's not that I don't like AutoCAD (and I really don't like it at all), it's more of what you do with it, that as a general contractor, I'm fed up with. What is your firm's mission statement? Is it to create the prettiest looking pieces of paper, with fantastic fonts, beautiful hatch patterns and spectacular annotation symbols or is it to create a set of documents for construction in order to provide your client with a well designed building that can be constructed within a certain budget and has taken into consideration means and methods to reduce energy usage?

I don't know how I get on these rants so early in the morning, but I think it's when I see something like the post below and how forward thinking it is to push technology further and further into the future, it just makes me cringe as to how many people out there are stuck in doing as little as possible to make it easier for those downstream.

Here's from the About page of The Arch Network:

The primary aim of the ARCH Network is to improve the quality and efficiency of architecture and the built environment by accelerating, simplifying, instigating and facilitating the adoption and development of multi-user, online, virtual environments by providing resources, services and a community network that can help organizations understand and leverage this emerging technology.
Here's a little hint: Design it like you build it. If you can't do that, get out of the way and let visionaries like Jon Brouchoud do their thing and create work like he has below.

Repost: http://archvirtual.com/?p=2053 - The ARCH Network

Chez Keystone! Come on in…(plugin required).

This isn’t multi-user (yet), and navigation might take some getting used to, but this is an Autodesk Revit ‘as-built’ model of my home, imported into the Unity game development platform I wrote about last week. If I make a change in Revit and save it, the Unity build dynamically updates. With the exception of the trees, this is pretty much a raw output from Revit without any optimization (which is why it looks so crude). If I spent a few hours on it, I could add dynamic lighting and even import lightmaps to really enhance the model. I can also export it to Nintendo Wii, iPhone or a variety of other platforms if I really wanted to, but at this point, I don’t have the necessity or resources to do so.

I should add a disclaimer that we didn’t design this house, but we are planning a green make-over in several stages in the months and years ahead, so we’ve been using this model to test master plan ideas. I haven’t built or enabled access to the interior spaces, but I will soon. This is just a starting point for design exploration, so even though I don’t have much to demo yet, I wanted to share some of my initial progress and publish updates with more thoughts on what I’ve learned about using Unity in professional practice.


What I like most about Unity so far is the ability to quickly and easily embed the virtual model on a web browser, or to a stand-alone .exe application if need be. This makes it much easier to share design ideas with long distance clients that might not have the time or patience to deal with a registration process, large client downloads and orientation of larger virtual worlds. Once they get the hang of using their mouse and arrow keys, just about anyone, even on lower end machines, can be walking around inside of a design concept within a few seconds.

When the time comes to add additional details and entourage, I simply save most raw file-types in their native format to the Assets folder of the project. Unity then automatically finds updates if I change the model in its native application (Maya, 3DS Max, Photoshop, etc.). What I find doubly enticing about this work-flow is that I can transition my assets into any platform I choose without being locked into a proprietary format. For example, if/when Second Life enables mesh imports, I should be able to take these same raw assets and use them in SL, or Blue Mars, or on whichever platform I wish – without having to rebuild everything from scratch. I will then be able to choose which virtual platform is most appropriate for the project’s requirements.

I also like the fact that the indie version of Unity is free to download and use. Plus, its relatively easy to learn – much easier than any other 3D app I’ve worked with. Also, there is a rapidly growing community of Unity users and support forums to find answers to just about any question you have, and lots of in-depth tutorials to help you get started.

With several companies building MMO’s or virtual worlds on Unity, it probably won’t be long before I can drop this model into a virtual world for multi-user, and avatar-based experiences. However, I don’t think we will see realtime, in-world building tools in Unity the way we have in Second Life, or OpenSim. Unity wasn’t designed or intended to be used that way. I also think that any Unity worlds that do surface will likely be smaller, niche communities. For those reasons and more, I really don’t see Unity as any threat or comparison to Second Life or OpenSim. However, for online, realtime, virtual architectural visualization, Unity is definitely a platform worth exploring.

Be sure to check out this thread in the Unity forum about architectural visualization in Unity: http://forum.unity3d.com/viewtopic.php?t=33684&highlight=architectural

Also, check out a recent post by epredator on his Life at the Feeding Edge blog regarding the combined application of Unity, OpenSim, Evolver and Smartfox to create the next generation of virtual worlds.

Source: Welcome to my home: first attempts at using Unity3D for architectural visualization | The ARCH Network


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