Author Archives: 02 Amos Dudley

You can download and experience the demo from Thursday at @ amosdudley.com/LoblollyHouse
Or, you can download using bittorrent @ amosdudley.com/LoblollyHouseVisualization.torrent

Just extract the .zip file, and run Loblolly Visualization Test (the shortcut).

If it doesn’t work, you may need to download and install DirectX. You can get it here:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35

If it’s running slowly, you can hit Escape and use the menu to lower the graphical quality.

In the demo, use the W, A, S, and D keys to move, and the mouse to look around. If you have a wired XBOX controller, that will work too. Use the “O” key to cycle time (or the right trigger on the gamepad).

Project B: Realtime visualization in Cryengine 3

Architectural visualization generally falls under two categories- static images, and video flythroughs. Both are accomplished in essentially the same way, via what is known as offline rendering. A visualization artist uses CAD software to indirectly configure a rendering engine such as Mental Ray, VRay, Maxwell, and countless others. He creates material definitions in the software, which control surface parameters that attempt to visually mimic real-life materials. Lights are added to the 3d scene, which illuminate surfaces through computationally intensive ray-tracing algorithms that can produce an extremely realistic image. From a visualization standpoint, this strategy has both advantages and disadvantages. Like photography, traditional offline visualization allows the designer to select and compose beautiful images, while the environment surrounding his composition can be left undeveloped. However, it is a challenge to get the feeling of occupying a space from static renderings, regardless of how realistic they are.

Therein lies the primary reason for attempting to use real-time rendering technology in visualization- to experience a building, or a space, as completely as possible, without actually being there. With real-time visualization, a designer or a client can move about a space with as much freedom as a person in real life would have. CAD software generally doesn’t offer this ability- when a designer looks at a 3D computer model, getting a dynamic, human-scale view into or at a space is very difficult. Video games offer a means of accomplishing this. A graphical arms race has led to real-time 3D engines having the capability to output very high quality real-time images, and the same technology can be used by architects to visualize their buildings.

Cryengine 3 is a modern graphics engine that I chose to work with for several reasons. First and foremost, it has a reputation for being capable of high graphical fidelity, and it allows the user to quickly generate convincing natural environments as well as building rendering. I hypothesized that it would make for a much more immersive experience if the user could see out of a building, as well as into and inside it. It also has a free software development kit. As a visualization strategy, using game engines is a fairly new and untested field. The goals of my project were to create an example of a realtime 3D building visualization as it might look with current game-engine technology, to document the process, and to assess how viable it actually is. I chose an existing building: the Loblolly House, designed by Kieran Timberlake Architects as a testbed. I chose this house for several reasons. It was designed entirely in BIM software, one of the first buildings to be created this way. This meant that it was likely to be component driven and modular. It is also well documented, in the book “Loblolly House, Elements of a New Architecture”, which made it easy to reconstruct in my own 3D modeling software of choice. Finally, it sits in a natural, water-facing environment, which is ideal for demonstrating a variety of the capabilities of Cryengine.

My research into finding an effective pipeline for building visualizations in Cryengine pointed to http://freesdk.crydev.net/ as the primary and most useful resource for this kind of project. It includes an in depth, if slightly out of date technical manual, as well as tutorials and references. At this point in time, Cryengine has not seriously been deployed as a real-time visualization platform, and the reason is obvious- Crytek has not yet made it simple for developers or designers to get their work into the SDK. In my opinion, too much specialized knowledge (relating to optimization, preparing 3D models for realtime rendering, and debugging and scripting) is required at present for Cryengine and its competitor UDK (Unreal Development Kit) to realistically be a tool for most architects. This is not to say that Cryengine isn’t capable. It has real-time bounce and image-based lighting, which allows the rendered world to much more realistically and dynamically simulate actual lights, and a powerful material creation system.

My pipeline looks as follows. First, I modeled the Loblolly house, including most major architectural elements (although I left out interior furnishings and some other smaller details, in order to save time). This step took the longest, because I had to interpret and model from drawings, which were sometimes inconsistent. An architect would likely already have a model he wants to visualize in CAD, so the work here would be to convert it into a polygon model format, and then clean up and optimize the model. Objects in Cryengine are textured on a per-material basis, so I grouped objects together by their material. I then created or found image textures (a great resource for this is www.cgtextures.com) for every material, and then UV unwrapped every submodel, using the image textures as scaling references for the UVs in my 3D software (Blender 3d http://www.blender.org/ ).

At this point, I switched over to the Cryengine FreeSDK. creating the terrain using an imported heightmap. I used the editor’s built-in vegetation to quickly “paint” in a natural environment. After importing my building, I assigned materials using the image textures I gathered, created lights, and scripted an interactive daytime-switcher.

Real-time visualization such as my demo has an incredibly promising future. Head-tracking, head mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculus_Rift) could be combined with this technology to transport an architect or his client bodily into a building, and the technology will only continue to converge with static rendering towards the point of photorealism. The most important thing that could happen, and perhaps is happening with other 3D engines, is for companies such as Crytek (the developers of Cryengine 3) to support architectural visualization as an application of their software.