And the Oscar for best architect goes to...


January 12, 2015   by Ike Ijeh  │

US software giant Autodesk might not immediately spring to mind when thinking of Hollywood blockbusters. But every film that has won the Academy Award for special effects over the past 19 years, such as Gravity, Avatar and Titanic, has done so using Autodesk computer animation software like Maya or 3DS Max.

While Autodesk is primarily familiar to the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community as a manufacturer of CAD and BIM software such as Revit and BIM 360, it is also a major player in the media and entertainment industry producing special effects for both animated and live action films and television programmes.

But increasingly, special effects technology is being deployed within the AEC industry and this is primarily down to the evolution of BIM. One of BIM’s principal selling points has always been its offer of one the most elusive elements within the construction process: certainty. As efforts to achieve this certainty become more and more sophisticated, architects are beginning to demand the same level of visualisation that the entertainment industry achieves when it does special effects.

Chris Bradshaw, Autodesk chief marketing officer and senior vice-president, summarises this latest trend as an evolution from architectural visualisation to animation and now to simulation.

“Visualisation technology was once purely the preserve of film and television,” he says. “Within architecture, our ability to visualise was limited to AutoCAD still rendering and largely dependent on graphics card capability.

“Animation offered fly-throughs and provided the opportunity to essentially make short movies of buildings. But it was still a primarily Mac-based process with plug-in connectors required for Revit compatibility. But what we have today is simulation which provides the opportunity to offer even more creative presentation material.”

Yet it is not architecture, television or even film where the most sophisticated examples of simulation are to be found but another industry entirely: gaming. The global gaming industry is vast. By 2017 it is estimated that the global games market will be worth a staggering £66 billion, representing an intervening annual growth rate of approximately 8.1% and, depending on which statistics you read, more than double the predicted value of the global film industry.

For Autodesk president Carl Bass this presents obvious opportunities for the architecture industry. “It’s ironic that games like Minecraft or Call of Duty offer a richer and more interactive user experience than is often the case within architectural visualisation,” he says.

“What if design tools were able to work in a similar kind of interactive environment? Wouldn’t that level the playing field and create a richer experience for designers as well as gamers?”

That richer experience is achieved by integrating game engine software into conventional BIM software. Traditionally, 3D architectural visualisation software has offered a static experience. Fly-throughs for instance offer an illustrative insight into what a finished space or building may look like but, like a book, they follow a set narrative route prescribed by their creator or designer with practically no scope for interaction or immersion.

“Fly-through movies only let you see what the designer wants you to see,” explains Bradshaw. “But what if I want to turn down a different corridor or open a door or explore an area of the room or building outside the screen? It’s the variations that are the hard part and in order to realise them a move from pure animation to simulation is required and this is exactly what game engine technology offers.”

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