Tag Archives: Architectural Visualisation

NXT BLD: Emerging Design Technology for the Built Environment

NXT BLD is a new conference in London specifically aimed at the discussion on emerging technologies and their applications in the fields of architecture, engineering and construction. Organised by AEC Magazine, the first event was held in the British Museum on the 28th of June 2017. Videos of the event presentations have been released and provide some useful insight into the ways in which technologies like VR are being used within industry. I found the following talk by Dan Harper, managing director of CityScape Digital, particularly useful:

In the video Dan discusses the motivation for their use of VR. Focused on architectural visualisation the company often found that the high quality renderings they were producing quickly became outdated due to the fact that render times were not keeping pace with the iterative nature of the design process. They found that the real time rendering capabilities of game engines, in their case Unreal, helped them iterate images more quickly. Encountering similar challenges with the production of 3D models they realised that having clients inspect the 3D model could be used not only for communication but also as a spatial decision making tool. Supported by 3D data, real-time rendering and VR, which provides a one to one scale experience of the space, value can be added and costs saved by placing a group of decision makers within the space they are discussing rather than relying on the personal impressions each would draw from their own subjective imagining  based on 2D plans and architectural renderings.

Innovation of the design process with VR not only makes it less expensive but also makes the product more valuable. With reference to similar uses of VR in the car industry Dan identifies opportunities for ‘personalisation’, ‘build to order’, ‘collaboration’, ‘focus grouping’ experientially, ‘efficient construction’ and ‘driving margins at point of sale’. Case studies include the Sky Broadcasting Campus at Osterley, the Battersea Power Station redevelopment and the Earls Court masterplan. These use cases demonstrate that return on investment is increased through reuse of the 3D models and assets in successive stages of the project from concept design, investor briefings, stakeholders consultation right through to marketing.

Videos of the other presentations from the day can be found on the NXT BLD website here.

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First Look: Unreal Engine 4

Unreal_Office_04

Following Epic’s announcement that Unreal Engine 4 earlier this month I finally got chance to lock myself away for a few hours and have a look. If you are coming to Unreal Engine from Unity like me Epic have provided a useful guide Unreal Engine 4 for Unity Developers. I also found their video tutorials for Level Editing really useful. Following the tutorials I was quickly able to create an office scene using basic geometry and the Unreal Starter Content. After modifying the scene to include an extra office I added the garden with a patio, plants and rocks. As with Unity, adding a first person controller was a simple matter of dragging and dropping.

Unreal_Office_01

The wall lights were easy to set up and had a nice glow. I also included the overhead lights from the Starter Content but found they were a little distracting. Despite emitting the same colour as the wall lights their orange lampshades seemed to be overly reflective. Generally the lights could be a little dimmer in my scene but this can easily be changed.

Unreal_Office_03

What really made the scene for me were the real-time shadows and reflections. After positioning the external directional light to shine into the office four reflection probes were added to the scene. As a result the marble and wooden floors look fantastic. I was expecting a lot here and Unreal Engine really impressed me.

Unreal_Office_02

Another feature I was keen to try was Unreal’s visual scripting system Blueprint. As visual scripting isn’t included in Unity I wasn’t sure what to expect. After following the Blueprint tutorials I found it really useful for quickly creating simple interactions such as opening and closing the sliding doors of the offices and the rotating door to the garden based on the proximity of the player. Being quite process orientated I found visual scripting really intuitive. However, Blueprint also seemed a little quirky when trying more complex tasks. There is obviously much more to learn here but it has definitely encouraged me to consider seeking out something similar for Unity.

Unreal_Office_07

The buildings outside of the office were simple textured boxes that I created quickly in SketchUp and exported via FBX. On first import I experienced a few issues with missing geometry and collision. These issues appeared to be resolved by ensuring to explode any grouped geometry in the models prior to export from SketchUp. Whether this is best practice going forward I’ve not yet determined.

Unreal_Office_05

In summary my first look at Unreal Engine 4 was really encouraging and I look forward to working with it more. I did find the editor quite demanding on my current laptop’s system resources. I also wasn’t sure how to optimise my scenes fully and this will take further investigation. With a number of projects coming up I’ll be sticking with Unity for the time being. However, it was very easy to see why Unreal Engine would be such a popular choice for real-time architectural visualisation. Can’t wait to do something with Unreal and the Oculus Rift!

Unity 5 Released!

Great news today from the Games Development Conference in San Francisco. After almost a year since its first announcement the latest version of the Unity game engine has just been released.

From a real-time visualisation perspective the newly enhanced graphical features are the most exciting:

  • Realtime Global Illumination
  • Physically-based Shading – Makes materials look more true-to-life under a range of lighting conditions
  • Reflection probes – Adds better

Jointly these help enhance the realism of Unity scenes by more effectively simulating the way light interacts with materials and bounces off of them. This is demonstrated to great effect in Unity’s ‘Viking Village’ example:

These new features have been used to great effect by Alex Lovett in the development of his ‘Divine Shrine’ concept visualisation below. You can read more about the making of the project here.

Additional enhancements for Audio, in game UI and the Editor mean that Unity 5 is a massive leap forward over previous versions in all regards. This is brilliant news for the scores of indie developers who continue to make the most of Unity’s favourable pricing structure and ease in deploying projects to a wide range of platforms.

Over the coming months I expect to be working with the Unity engine extensively and can’t wait to explore Unity 5’s new features. Aside from the obvious benefit of the graphical enhancements I’m looking forward to experimenting with the ability to deploy direct to the web using webGL which should spare users the need to download an additional web plugin.

Unity 5 is now available for download from the Unity website here. Enjoy!

Unreal Engine 4: Free to Download and Great for ArchViz!

Yesterday Epic games announced that the latest version of their Unreal game engine would be free to download. This announcement came at the start week long Game Development Conference 2015 taking place this week in San Francisco. This is great news for indie game developers as it means there is now a second option alongside the Unity game engine which had already been free to download for several years. Even if you are a student or just curious about game development now is a great time to start out and give it a try.

As you can see from their ‘sizzle reel’ the graphical capabilities of the engine are fantastic, and this has made it very attractive for real-time architectural visualisation. This is demonstrated brilliantly in Dereau Benoît’s brilliant ‘Unreal Paris’:

Another great example of the lighting capabilities in particular is the following test by French artist Koola.

Finally take a look at German firm Xoio’s great looking ‘Berlin Flat’:

With ready support for Oculus Rift and Leap Motion the engine is really promising. In order to encourage new users Unreal are even offering development grants of between $5,000 and $50,000. Although I have a number of projects coming up I can’t wait to start experimenting with the engine to see how the workflow compares with Unity. If you are as curious as me why not go ahead and check out Unreal Engine 4 and let me know how it goes. For their part Unity are promising big news later today at GDC. I’ll keep you posted.

Google Project Tango

Project Tango

Back in the summer Virtual Architectures signed up to go on the waiting list for Google’s Project Tango development kit. The current 7″ development kits are powered by the NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor and have 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, motion tracking camera, integrated depth sensing, WiFi, BTLE, and 4G LTE for wireless and mobile connectivity. Due to other exciting developments for Virtual Architectures we haven’t been able to take up the offer at this time. However, its such an exciting project we can’t resist sharing the details from the Project Tango website:

What is Project Tango?

As we walk through our daily lives, we use visual cues to navigate and understand the world around us. We observe the size and shape of objects and rooms, and we learn their position and layout almost effortlessly over time. This awareness of space and motion is fundamental to the way we interact with our environment and each other. We are physical beings that live in a 3D world. Yet, our mobile devices assume that physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen.

The goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion.

– Johnny Lee and the ATAP-Project Tango Team

3D motion and depth sensing

Project Tango devices contain customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the device to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating its position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you.

What could I do with it?

What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn’t stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually-impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store?

Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path. Imagine competing against a friend for control over territories in your home with your own miniature army, or hiding secret virtual treasures in physical places around the world?

The Project Tango development kit provides excellent opportunities for new developments in architectural visualisation, Augmented Reality and games. It is also exciting to know that there is an integration with the Unity game engine. We look forward to seeing what developers come up with.