AEC

AEC From the Ground Up-Multimedia Presentation Trends

1 Oct, 2005 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg Cadalyst

Stay on the edge with these digital presentation tools.


Presentation software for architects continues to mature, and digital presentations have taken on an importance all their own. Ten years ago, a digital presentation indicated that a company was on the cutting edge. Today, the absence of such a presentation says that a firm is behind the curve. Where once presentation software was the venue of the graphic designer, AEC and engineering professionals can now easily use those programs. In addition, presentation programs have drastically matured. Programs such as @Last Software's SketchUp often blur the lines between presentation and CAD, and other programs, such as Adobe's Photoshop, now include features that directly relate to the industry. Adobe is capitalizing on this and showed Photoshop for the first time at this year's national AIA convention. Let's review the top tools and discuss recent improvements to each.

@Last Software SketchUp 5

www.sketchup.com

As I've noted in the past, SketchUp is the best AEC multimedia and presentation software available (figure 1). Judging from its expanding user base, it seems others agree. Available in both Macintosh and Windows versions, SketchUp 5 was introduced this year with many new enhancements and features. Watch for Cadalyst's review of this new version in an upcoming issue. A new interface gives the program a more up-to-date look, but it works the same as in previous versions. SketchUp 5 includes new Sandbox tools for modeling topography. Users can import contours and use the new Drape tool to project roads onto the topography. DEM (digital elevation model) Import lets users work from digital terrain models and point-cloud surveys. An improved Push/Pull tool lets users create multiple levels, and the Smoove Tool allows berms and hills to be built.

 Figure 1. SketchUp is an excellent and affordable tool for creating AEC presentations. This image was created by Pat Hannigan of GS Architects LLC.
Figure 1. SketchUp is an excellent and affordable tool for creating AEC presentations. This image was created by Pat Hannigan of GS Architects LLC.

SketchUp has always been great for creating sketchy, loose and tentative models needed at the front end of the design process. Now depth-cued edges that make lines in the foreground of the model darker than lines in the background can add a 3D effect. The new Endpoints feature highlights the corners of an object, and Edges Off turns edges off for a softer look.

Transparency Maps allow users to transparently place image objects and texture maps. DWG and DXF import and export now use the latest DWG direct libraries. Import of 3ds files is now supported, and the 3ds exporter has been enhanced so that large meshes with more than 65,000 vertices or faces are split into multiple meshes. SketchUp now exports OBJ, FBX and Softimage XSI.

The included SketchUp tutorials are excellent. Another great resource is Bonnie Roskes' SketchUp 5.0 book. It's filled with tips and tricks—look for it on the SketchUp site. At $495, or $95 as an upgrade, this program is a best buy for the buck. For a test drive, @Last Software provides an eight-hour free trial of a fully functional version of the program.

Adobe Creative Suite 2

www.adobe.com

I've always thought that all AEC firms should have Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator in their creative coffers. Although these products are available separately, the Adobe Creative Suite 2 includes Photoshop CS2, Illustrator CS2, InDesign CS2, GoLive CS2 and Acrobat 7 Professional. Adobe added tools to aid the AEC market when it realized that architects use Photoshop for everything from 2D presentations to inserting a 3D model into photographs and creating logos and Web site content.

One of my favorite tools is the new Vanishing Point feature, which lets users clone, paint and paste elements that automatically match the perspective of the surrounding image area (figure 2). For those who want to illustrate a new façade on an existing building, this feature is a great boon. Just create a 2D graphic image of the new façade (this can be done with a CAD program) and place the Vanishing Point feature to match a bitmap picture of the building.

Figure 2. Photoshop's new Vanishing Point feature (A) lets users clone, paint and paste elements that automatically match the perspective of the surrounding image area. Image Warp (B) creates dimensional effects by wrapping an image around any shape or stretching, curling and bending an image.
Figure 2. Photoshop's new Vanishing Point feature (A) lets users clone, paint and paste elements that automatically match the perspective of the surrounding image area. Image Warp (B) creates dimensional effects by wrapping an image around any shape or stretching, curling and bending an image.

The program converts and places the new façade, in correct perspective, on the building. It's easy to place signs, logos, textures, windows and the like in perspective on any plane in any captured bitmap picture. The new Spot Healing Brush is great for effortlessly retouching photos.

Image Warp creates dimensional effects by wrapping an image around any shape or by stretching, curling and bending an image. The next-generation file browser, Adobe Bridge, simplifies file handling. With it, users can process multiple raw camera images at once, quickly review images, search metadata and resize, rate and label thumbnails.

Available for Macintosh and Windows, Creative Suite Premium sells for $1,199. Creative Suite Standard costs $899 (includes Photoshop CS2, Illustrator CS2 and InDesign CS2) and PhotoshopCS alone sells for $599.

Scott Onstott's videos are the best tutorials covering Photoshop for architects and the AEC market (www.scottonstott.com). His Photoshop for Architects line includes three titles: Essentials, Compositing and Plans and Elevations. Download them for $34.95 each, or $99.95 as a package on CD.

Alias Maya

www.alias.com

Autodesk 3ds max, Autodesk VIZ 6

www.autodesk.com

Auto•des•sys form•Z 4

www.formz.com

For anyone serious about 3D modeling, visualization and animation, these seasoned products are capable of many multimedia chores, from creating realistic models to high-quality lighting and effects. If it can be modeled, these programs can do it. Alias Maya is mostly used in movies, and 3ds max is a favorite in the game industry. Autodesk VIZ 6 is available only for the PC while form•Z 4 is available in Macintosh and PC versions. Autodesk VIZ is the most AEC-centric of the group, and a variant of the program is included with Architectural Desktop 2004–2006.

ArchVision Composer, RPC Content Libraries

www.archvision.com

ArchVision's RPC technology and content libraries make this company the leader in 3D visualization content. RPC People, RPC Automobiles, RPC Trees and RPC Environments are used throughout the world. Several software products, such as Autodesk VIZ, Revit, Architectural Desktop, AccuRender, Bentley MicroStation, SGI Performer, Cubicspace rtre and Informatix Piranesi offer native plug-ins.

Informatix Piranesi 4

www.informatix.co.uk

Available in Macintosh OS X and Windows versions, Piranesi is a 2.5D specialized painting tool. Users start with a simple rendering of a 3D model and quickly develop it into high-quality images ready for client presentations (figure 3). This program responds to depth and material information stored in the rendering.

Figure 3. Piranesi is a 2.5D specialized painting tool in which users quickly develop a 3D model into high-quality presentation images.
Figure 3. Piranesi is a 2.5D specialized painting tool in which users quickly develop a 3D model into high-quality presentation images.

Piranesi 4 contains more than 100 software enhancements and 300 new high-resolution cutout and texture images. One of the most popular features is its ability to place 2D cutouts (elements of scenery, such as people or vegetation) into a scene, with automatic sizing and perspective matching. With Piranesi 4, users can now place 3D models in painting environments as 3D cutouts. These 3D cutouts can be viewed from any angle, ready for further rendering as required.

Piranesi 4 supports the latest ArchVision RPC models and introduces new techniques for tweaking and assembling cutouts, along with 3D text. New painting feature provide a bristle brush and brush dynamics, which introduce selected random elements into the stroke to increase the hand-painted effect.

Piranesi's new illumination fades make it easy to mimic spot and strip lighting. New radial fades fade outward from a 2D or 3D line to mimic metal tubes, for example. Users can choose between fade to transparent and fade to color, and insert new cutouts with fade automatically applied. Piranesi 4 also offers seven new filters:

  • 1. Sharpen accentuates edges.
  • 2. Majority smoothes color boundaries and reduces noise.
  • 3. Classify flattens a scene by grouping adjacent pixels with similar properties.
  • 4. Brightness adjusts contrast and brightness.
  • 5. Hue adjusts saturation and hue.
  • 6. Smooth Edges smoothes pixels on horizontal and vertical edges.

Users can now zoom into views by any factor. Last but not least, more than 300 new cutout and texture images have been added to the thousands already available in Piranesi's library.

Piranesi also comes with 3D sample models created by ArchVision, SketchUp and MicroGDS. Download a 30-day trial at the company Web site.

QuadriSpace Document3D Suite

www.quadrispace.com

This year, I recommend that you investigate the Document3D Suite, an electronic presentation program whose main focus is 3D. The Document3D suite includes Pages3D, Notes3D and Publisher3D (figure 4).

Figure 4. The Document3D suite, including Pages3D, Notes3D and Publisher3D, provides a full authoring environment for creating multipage interactive 3D documents that can be transmitted over the Web.
Figure 4. The Document3D suite, including Pages3D, Notes3D and Publisher3D, provides a full authoring environment for creating multipage interactive 3D documents that can be transmitted over the Web.

Pages3D is a full authoring environment for creating multipage interactive 3D documents for transmitting over the Web. Users can embed a 3D model within a document in a format that lets recipients interactively rotate, zoom and pan.

Notes 3D lets users interactively view 3D and move individual parts in a step-by-step sequence and document each step with text, hyperlinks and markups.

Publisher3D is an add-on to Notes3D that provides many real-world publishing outputs, including the ability to create high-resolution images, static Web pages and animated documents as Macromedia Flash and AVI files. This program can publish Web, print and PowerPoint-type presentations—all with 3D capability.

New this year is the 3D PDF Module, an add-on to Document3D that publishes Adobe PDF files with embedded 3D objects. When objects are embedded in a PDF file in this way, recipients can rotate, zoom and pan the 3D model while reading the document. With Document3D, users import CAD files directly and publish to PDF with a single button click.

Try out the free trial versions on the QuadrSpace Web site. Document3D suite sells for $2,495, and the 3D PDF module is $295.

Wacom Cintiq

www.wacom.com

Alias SketchBook Pro 2

www.alias.com

Wacom's new Cintiq 21UX interactive pen display ($2,500) combines the advantages of an LCD monitor with the control, comfort and productivity of Wacom's cordless, battery-free tablet technology. By using a pen directly on the screen, users can work much more quickly and naturally. I've heard many fellow professionals say that they don't design with computers because they think better with pencil and paper.

From personal experience, the Wacom Cintiq provides the same feel and ease as pencil and paper. This device uses resistive technology that even lets you use a plastic triangle or ruler on the screen.

Alias SketchBook Pro 2 is the latest version of a raster drawing program specifically designed for use with a Tablet PC or Wacom Cintiq (although it also works with any digitizer pad). It uses raster brush technology gleaned from Alias' high-end industrial design software. SketchBook Pro 2 features a gesture-based user interface. No keyboard entry is necessary; even layers are labeled by handwriting.

New for this version are the ability to Save SketchBook Pro layers in Adobe Photoshop format, an interactive brush resize tool and new layer features (Layer Move/Rotation/Scale tool). A Lasso tool selects an arbitrary shape on an image so users aren't confined to just a box-shaped lasso tool. Image/Canvas manipulation tools change canvas size, image size and image resolution.

Free demonstration software is available at the Alias Web site. Alias Sketch Book Pro 1.1 for the PC and Macintosh sells for $179.

More in the Trenches

Many more excellent software products are available for interactive presentation. Also check out these products:

  • 1. Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration (www.righthemisphere.com|~www.righthemisphere.com/),
  • 2. Tornado Technologies' AEC/VIZ (www.aecviz.com|~www.aecviz.com/) and
  • 3. TechSmith's Camtasia Studio (www.techsmith.com|~www.techsmith.com/).

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall; www.prenhall.com) is now available. He also offers online Architectural Desktop training sessions delivered directly to the desktop. Visit www.hegra.org for more information, or e-mail ed.goldberg@cadalyst.com.


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