Opinion

Why VR Will Become Part of Everyone’s Architectural 3D Workflow

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3ds Max now includes a real-time engine to create virtual reality visualizations. Why the 3D and VR mashup? For starters, we’re confident that VR will become an integral part of the architectural visualization process. At the same time, connected workflows are easing the tedium of manual data prep. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Like many distributed teams, we use video chat at Autodesk. It’s a big step up from a phone call and definitely an improvement over email, which has forever been missing a “tone” button. And while the visual ‘J’ emoji is universal, it still has a way to go to tackle the nuances and ambiguity of language.

So what’s the connection with virtual reality? In a broader sense, VR has massive potential as a communications medium. And it’s a promising one - particularly in breakout disciplines like architecture and product design.

VR lets us experience and discuss something that doesn’t yet exist with a common perspective. Instead of speaking in abstractions, virtual reality gives us a more tangible frame of reference. As a result, it tightens the understanding gap between clients and architects, and between visual and non-visual thinkers.

But there’s a catch: taking the leap into creating VR content remains one of the thorniest technical challenges for design viz artists. We’re setting out to change that.

FROM POTENTIAL TO PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF VR

Starting today, 3ds Max now includes everything you need to create immersive architectural visualizations in VR. But why combine 3D tools with a VR engine? It’s about taking the long view.

In the not-too-distant future, virtual reality will be adopted broadly in the architecture market. For design visualization artists seeking more expressive ways to convey a mood or a moment - or sell an architect’s vision of an unbuilt space - VR is destined to become both a fundamental part and natural extension of the 3D creative process.

The combined 3D and VR toolset in Max bridges the gap between previously disconnected disciplines. Our goal is to give visualization specialists an easier, smarter, and frankly more relatable approach to virtual reality. That’s why we’re placing the power of VR creation broadly in the hands of visualization artists working with 3ds Max 2018.1 - at no additional charge - to keep things democratic and accessible.

While it’s early days, 3ds Max with VR authoring portends to a brave new world where connected workflows and automated data prep ease the burden on human creativity, and leave the heavy lifting to the machines. For more on that from a software perspective, read what Bruno Landry from the Autodesk 3ds Max development team had to say.

IT’S TIME TO GET REAL ABOUT VR

Making VR more approachable is absolutely a big, important deal. But what precipitated this? So many industry developments are fueling our vision of the future for immersive visualization.

It’s happening: the creative evolution from image to immersive

Photorealistic imagery has reigned supreme in visualization for some time, and for good reason. It takes an extraordinary amount of artistry and technical skill to create this type of still imagery, and CG visualization remains in constant demand because it tells a good story.

The forward-thinking architectural community doesn’t stand still - and immersive architectural visualization is definitely on the radar. According to a global survey of visualization specialists by CGarchitect, upward of 77 percent of respondents currently experiment, or plan to experiment, with VR in 2017. For new visualization artists coming on the scene, proficiency in virtual reality experience design will be an expected skillset. This signals impending changes to the visualization artist’s toolbox, too. The standard repertoire also will expand to include 360 videos, along with virtual reality, augment reality, mixed reality, and whatever ‘next reality’ takes hold.

The hardware hype is receding

The price of virtual reality hardware has dropped over the past year after being embraced by the first wave of adopters. At the same time, the demand for VR content is going up.

We’ve seen professional-grade head-mounted displays come to market, followed with rapid developments like untethered experiences on the HTC Vive and the addition of Touch hand controllers in the Oculus Rift, broadening the appeal for architectural visualization. Even new VR cameras from the likes of Facebook and Google are poised to cut days off of production, and cost a fraction of their original price.

All this hardware innovation has been a catalyst for experimentation, and has removed some of the hurdles in getting started with virtual reality content creation. We’ve had discussions with studios large and small that understand the competitive advantage of adding VR to their capabilities, but need a low-barrier path to entry without retooling. Software providers like Autodesk are stepping up to fill this space.

In no way is VR easy, but it can be easier

The idea of virtual reality content creation strikes anxiety in the hearts of some because it requires a level of development expertise outside the standard 3D skillset. But thoughtful user experience design can make a big difference.

By starting in the familiar tools visualization artists already use daily, and moving into the less familiar territory of a game engine, it’s simply a more logical and empathic approach. In this case, we’re connecting and synchronizing 3D scene data between Max and the real-time environment – making the whole process a little less daunting and a bit more what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Data preparation is the next big opportunity

Then there’s the other thorny challenge of data prep. We’re working on diminishing the time and aggravation associated with moving design data between 3D and VR environments – hours that clients aren’t keen to pay for.

Last year we rolled out Autodesk Revit Live, the powerful cloud-based visualization service for architects that transforms Autodesk Revit models into VR experiences in one click. With the new Max to VR workflow, we’re shoring-up data drudgery with capabilities like support for translating materials from the popular V-Ray renderer in 3ds Max to VR – freeing visualization artists to focus on the part they care most about: creating stunning imagery.

Designing for VR is a journey, not a destination

We’ve taken an important step toward merging the workflows of 3D modeling and animation and VR experience design. Our exploration continues as we look for new ways make VR content creation easier, automate processes where it makes sense, and narrow the knowledge gap

Who knows: closer to home at Autodesk, maybe one day soon, we’ll even be collaborating with our colleagues in VR over Slack.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:

  • Autodesk 3ds Max 2018.1 web-based home base
  • Introduction to Max in VR video

The 3ds Max Interactive real-time engine now included with 3ds Max 2018 Update 1 is available for customers with active subscription plans, either as a standalone application or as part of any industry collection containing 3ds Max. 

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Ralph Bond

Ralph Bond is PR Manager for Autodesk AEC

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