On the Job: Success in 3D

30 Nov, 2003 By: Laracella Sheridan

3ds max helps civil engineering firm create account-winning presentations.

How many people does it take to build a bridge? According to Robert Stava, this task requires far fewer people than you might think. Stava is creative director of the 3D Media Group at Arup, a multidisciplinary, global engineering firm with offices in New York City. The 3D Media Group creates photorealistic 3D visualizations with 3ds max to support Arup's projects worldwide.

In 2001, the New York State Thruway Authority selected Arup to provide engineering services for the Tappan Zee Corridor in New York. This project comprises a three-year study of about 30 miles of thruway and includes the 3.1-mile Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River. The study's purpose is to identify and evaluate alternative proposals that address the transportation needs of the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor.

Arup's portion of the project includes the Tappan Zee Bridge, which has been in use since 1955. As part of the project, Stava and 3D Media Group colleague Anthony Cortez used 3ds max to create two photorealistic 3D animations, one two-minutes and one three minutes long, as well as 40 still images that show an assortment of retrofitted and new design options intended to accommodate estimated future traffic volumes. The imagery is now being presented to local communities so they have a better understanding of the project's scope and how proposed changes will affect them.

Tappan Zee Bridge
Figure 1. Tappan Zee Bridge.
According to Stava, the capability of 3ds max to support the RLA format was crucial for this project. "We had to build a three-mile-long bridge, to scale, in 3D, with every truss, gusset plate, and rivet correctly modeled and textured," Stava says. "Even the rust and bird droppings had to look right.

"Rendering to the RLA format is the most amazing thing since sliced bread," he continues. "We could do most of our rendering in separate passes, then incorporate the passes into one file, which greatly streamlined production. And we had the luxury of sprucing things up by post-tweaking distance fog, sky color, and so on. Without this feature, our 3D bridge probably would have been sunk." Stava and Cortez used SplutterFish LLC's Brazil 3ds max plug-in for high-resolution stills and Darkling Simulations' DarkTree 3ds max procedural texture library for texturing.

Stava notes that the flexibility and ease of use of 3ds max enable him and Cortez to achieve high-quality results more quickly than they can with other 3D visualization applications, regardless of the project. A case in point is the presentation they created when Arup pitched for the Fulton Street Transit Center project, a transportation hub the MTA/New York City Transit is building in downtown Manhattan.

Working with various architectural firms, Arup created a conceptual design for the $500-million project. In less than two weeks, Stava and Cortez textured, lit, and rendered the models they received from the architectural firms, and then created seven one-minute animations and more than a dozen stills showing what the proposed center would look like and how Arup would deal with logistical issues during construction.

Transit Station
Figure 2. The Fulton Street Transit Center Project--a transportation hub.
Arup won the contract for the project, thanks in part to the 3ds max visualization. Stava cites two 3ds max features as being particularly helpful for this project: character studio's character animation extension and the Light Tracer feature. "On the showpiece animation, we wanted to wow the client with something other than the cutout people pictures typically used. So we cooked up the idea of a CGI crowd of people moving through the space and up and down the stairs and escalators--which is where character studio and its crowd animation function came in handy," says Stava.

They also wanted a global-illumination look on all the animations. However, deadlines were tight, and the models arrived in AutoCAD format and produced artifacts during rendering. "With AutoCAD geometry you frequently get coexistent faces, which confuses the global illumination renderer," Stava explains. "This is where the Light Tracer in 3ds max came to the rescue. It's highly forgiving on unoptimized geometry, and it gave us very clean results, even on our animations."

"I have yet to find a 3D package that allows me to work as quickly and intuitively as I can in 3ds max," Stava concludes.


— Laracella L. Sheridan is Cadalyst’s managing edtior.

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!