As more and more visualization professionals adopt real-time rendering for presentation and collaboration, we’re seeing yet another trend in this emerging field: the integration of various technologies to serve a wide variety of workflows.
Every firm has different needs for compatibility with their chosen CAD programs. No one wants to learn a new process from scratch when they've already spent countless months setting up a design-to-presentation process that works for them.
And then there's the choice of output. While visualization professionals recognize that they'll need to up their game over the standard stills and videos of yesteryear, there are many choices. Will they use real-time rendering just to speed up the videos they already offer, or do they want to start producing virtual reality experiences? Maybe they'd benefit from using VR during the design process itself, but if so, would they use it only for clay models or for final imagery? Could they better serve their customers by offering a real-time configurator for selecting finishes and furnishings?
With so many possibilities, it would be near-impossible for a single program to satisfy every workflow. Fortunately, many of the established players in this exciting field are working toward integration, giving users a wide variety of options.
The most basic tool for real-time rendering is the engine itself. For architectural rendering, Unreal Engine from Epic Games stands at the front of the pack for its capacity for photorealism at real-time speeds of 30-90 fps (frames per second). The gateway to Unreal Engine is Unreal Studio, a free suite of tools that includes the Datasmith plugin for importing CAD data.
While Unreal Studio offers a lot of real-time tools right out of the box, Unreal Engine itself is an open platform with many possibilities for integration. One example is Mindesk, who has developed a sculpting application for building models right in virtual reality, and is working on integration with Unreal Engine's full array of materials and lighting solutions. In addition, Mindesk will work with even more CAD programs in the near future. This integration forecasts a new era of design where architects will be able to work in full stereoscopic 3D, intuitively sculpting a photorealistic model with hand motions only.
Twinmotion is another player in the real-time game. Twinmotion has long had a real-time prototyping tool for architects with a user-friendly interface, but has recently stepped up its game by providing a bridge to Unreal Engine. By bringing their designs into Unreal, architects can elevate output quality with physically-based materials and realistic lighting tools.
Chaos Group's V-Ray, one of the most popular physically-based renderers for 3ds Max, Maya, Rhino, and Sketchup, is yet another player in the real-time game. Chaos Group recently announced V-Ray for Unreal to provide a direct pipeline between the two platforms. When a V-Ray design is imported to Unreal Engine, V-Ray for Unreal converts its lights and materials to their real-time equivalents, with the added bonus that it retains a smart connection to the originals. This means users can continue working in the Unreal Editor to create full-quality ray-traced renders.
With Unreal Engine being 100% scriptable in Python, real-time users have started creating their own tools for speeding up the visualization process. Theia interactive, one of the earliest adopters of real-time rendering for VR and AR, has recently released Optim, a series of Python scripts to add more functionality to the Datasmith plugin. Optim automates many of the repetitive optimization tasks that can come up when importing architectural data, such as the creation of LODs and the grouping of similar objects, reducing the amount of time needed for data-prep and leaving more time for creativity.
All this integration means the barriers to VR, interactive design, and immersive customer experiences are falling away, leaving many paths to this exciting new field— you can keep much of your existing design workflow intact while taking advantage of the many options real-time rendering has to offer. The first step is to sign up for the free Unreal Studio beta. Try out the Datasmith import tools, then take a look to see where you could tighten up your workflow with some of these great new integration tools. Real-time output may be much closer than you’ve imagined!