Our March 2011 usergroup meeting was one of my favorites: there was a wonderful turn out and a lot of lively discussion. The main topic for this meeting was what is everyone doing to leverage BIM / ArchiCAD to get and retain clients? While we did cover a lot of how-to stuff, it was all structured around that basic question.
BIM offers a lot of great opportunities. Better coordinated documents, clash detection, and other ways to minimize problems in the field. Ease of prototyping various design options, incorporating energy modeling and sustainable design options via EcoDesigner and similar programs, and the myriad other ways to improve the design process. In our local group most of us have found the biggest advantage of BIM / ArchiCAD to be improved communication with the client via better visualization options.
One of our members shared his experience using CrazyBump to develop normal maps for use in Artlantis. I don’t know enough to say whether the normal maps built in CrazyBump would work in the Lightworks rendering engine in ArchiCAD, but I don’t see why not. There’s a short video on the CrazyBump website showing how it works. Very cool and very easy. Maxwell Render was again brought up as a counterpoint to Artlantis. I need to get someone to do a presentation on that so we can see how cool it is. I think we’ll also aim to do another presentation on Artlantis this fall, as there is a lot of interest in learning more about that program. And it sounds like our presenter from last time has learned a whole bunch since the original tutorial he gave.
Animation and walk-throughs were also discussed. There was a post on the forum about creating an animation of a section that moves through a building. This can be done by using an object that moves with each frame as an operator on the rest of the building. However my two-year-old daughter Madeleine decided to get up at 6:30 am and not take a nap, so my brain is a bit fuzzy and I can’t find the post. A similar animated view of the building should be possible with this add-on. One local firm uses video conferencing software to do remote walk throughs with the ArchiCAD model. Most of us have done walk-throughs for coworkers or clients in person using this method. It’s good, but not great.
Over the past few months I’ve had a lot of success with Virtual Building Explorer (VBE) and I shared my experiences with the group. For those that aren’t familiar with VBE, it creates a stand-alone model that requires no special software to run and no secret knowledge to explore. The files are typically small enough to e-mail or otherwise transmit over the internet and are self-executing. The clients I’ve sent VBE files to have loved them. And as a testament to how useful VBE models are to understanding a design, for the first time in my career I can finally hold conversations with my family about my work. And perhaps the best part is that I’ve found providing VBE models for clients to be an additional revenue stream. If anyone wants to see an example of the VBE models I’ve created, wants more info about creating one, or is interested in getting Virtual Building Explorer send me an e-mail (sorry that last line sounds a little sales-y; it’s just such a killer app).
I’ve talked about hidden line renderings before, but I learned something new this week which I thought was really cool. Or perhaps another way to say it is, some dots were connected for me this week. One of the local firms uses the Sketch Rendering engine to produce all of their elevations. It’s a great solution to two of the majors complaints about computer elevations. If your aim is construction documents, your drawings tend to look cold and unsexy. If you create beautiful drawings, you’re spending too much time adding redundant 2D fixes or creating drawings that are tangential to the working drawings/model that you have to do and don’t necessarily further your understanding of the design. The Sketch Rendering engine allows you to dirty up your elevations without wasting time. Go to Parallel Projection Settings, set your camera to look straight at the elevation, set the sun to a pretty angle, and render (this also works great with sections and could also work for plans from the 3D window). I did three quick studies below. One is the elevation as it shows up in the construction documents. This elevation has no 2D additions. The line weights are what the model says, nothing extra. (surprise, surprise when the contractor saw the drawings he wasn’t freaked out that there was no heavy airline). The second image is the same elevation rendered with materials and full color with the internal rendering engine. The last image is the Sketch Rendering engine. The 2nd and 3rd images each tell a different story. The colored image looks done. You see the image and believe that’s the final design. There’s a confidence to it. The sketch image though suggests more the essence of the building than the final solution. One understands the design, but its roughness hints at flux. It leaves room for interpretation. Same model in all three images, just different expressions and different accents. What I find so wonderful about these various options is that I can design and develop the model however is best for my own processes. And I have a variety of outputs available to me during the entire duration of the project (from first sketch to post construction) that can accurately represent the project, highlighting permanence, uncertainty, confidence, transience, etc.
There was a lot more covered–our meetings usually end at 8:00 pm, this one continued until closer to 8:30 pm. We talked more about 3D documents, .ifc data exchange with Autodesk products, Telka BIMsight, and EcoDesigner. Some of us also mused about point clouds and 3D printing. I’ve also been working back and forth with SketchUp and shared my experiences with exporting a site model from ArchiCAD 14 to SketchUp 8 Pro (the site was incredibly faster to build in ArchiCAD than in SketchUp). But many of those topics deserve a blog post to themselves, especially the ArchiCAD to Sketchup process which is a nice continuation of this post.