The ARCH


Welcome to my home: first attempts at using Unity3D for architectural visualization

Cross posted from The ARCH Network main site!  http://www.archvirtual.com

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Chez Keystone! Come on in…(plugin required).

This isn’t multi-user (yet), and navigation might take some getting used to, but this is an Autodesk Revit ‘as-built’ model of my home, imported into the Unity game development platform I wrote about last week.  If I make a change in Revit and save it, the Unity build dynamically updates. With the exception of the trees, this is pretty much a raw output from Revit without any optimization (which is why it looks so crude). If I spent a few hours on it, I could add dynamic lighting and even import lightmaps to really enhance the model.   I can also export it to Nintendo Wii, iPhone or a variety of other platforms if I really wanted to, but at this point, I don’t have the necessity or resources to do so.

I should add a disclaimer that we didn’t design this house, but we are planning a green make-over in several stages in the months and years ahead, so we’ve been using this model to test master plan ideas.  I haven’t built or enabled access to the interior spaces, but I will soon.   This is just a starting point for design exploration, so even though I don’t have much to demo yet, I wanted to share some of my initial progress and publish updates with more thoughts on what I’ve learned about using Unity in professional practice.

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What I like most about Unity so far is the ability to quickly and easily embed the virtual model on a web browser, or to a stand-alone .exe application if need be.  This makes it much easier to share design ideas with long distance clients that might not have the time or patience to deal with a registration process, large client downloads and orientation of larger virtual worlds.  Once they get the hang of using their mouse and arrow keys, just about anyone, even on lower end machines, can be walking around inside of a design concept within a few seconds.

When the time comes to add additional details and entourage, I simply save most raw file-types in their native format to the Assets folder of the project.  Unity then automatically finds updates if I change the model in its native application (Maya, 3DS Max, Photoshop, etc.).   What I find doubly enticing about this work-flow is that I can transition my assets into any platform I choose without being locked into a proprietary format.  For example, if/when Second Life enables mesh imports, I should be able to take these same raw assets and use them in SL, or Blue Mars, or on whichever platform I wish – without having to rebuild everything from scratch.  I will then be able to choose which virtual platform is most appropriate for the project’s requirements.

I also like the fact that the indie version of Unity is free to download and use.  Plus, its relatively easy to learn – much easier than any other 3D app I’ve worked with.  Also, there is a rapidly growing community of Unity users and support forums to find answers to just about any question you have, and lots of in-depth tutorials to help you get started.

With several companies building MMO’s or virtual worlds on Unity, it probably won’t be long before I can drop this model into a virtual world for multi-user, and avatar-based experiences.  However, I don’t think we will see realtime, in-world building tools in Unity the way we have in Second Life, or OpenSim.  Unity wasn’t designed or intended to be used that way.  I also think that any Unity worlds that do surface will likely be smaller, niche communities.  For those reasons and more,  I really don’t see Unity as any threat or comparison to Second Life or OpenSim.  However, for online, realtime, virtual architectural visualization, Unity is definitely a platform worth exploring.

Be sure to check out this thread in the Unity forum about architectural visualization in Unity: http://forum.unity3d.com/viewtopic.php?t=33684&highlight=architectural

Also, check out a recent post by epredator on his Life at the Feeding Edge blog regarding the combined application of Unity, OpenSim, Evolver and Smartfox to create the next generation of virtual worlds.

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Using Virtual Worlds in Residential Design

Using Second Life as part of my real-life practice, Crescendo Design, to meet with long-distance clients and describe design ideas are what drew me into virtual worlds – over 3 years ago now!  I have since had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of purely virtual projects, and still believe virtual worlds will become a game-changing technology for the professional practice of architecture, design and education.

Here’s an update on how we use virtual worlds in residential design practice; cross-posted from Crescendo Design blog: http://www.crescendodesign.com

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Crescendo Design has been using virtual worlds as part of our practice since June of 2006, and have found it to be a very useful resource for a wide variety of applications.  We’ve used our virtual office to meet with long-distance clients, prototype and share design ideas, host open houses, educational workshops and to demonstrate some of the core design principles we try to incorporate in all of our work.

During virtual meetings, we can test different design ideas in ‘real time’ – meaning the changes we make appear on your screen immediately as they’re made. Clients and builders can even learn the simple building tools and make their own suggestions. The virtual model works great for testing out material choices, paint colors and eventually even landscaping options and furniture layouts.

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Recent advances in virtual world technology have made it much easier to import the 3D  models we generate with our architectural software into the virtual environment.  The virtual experience isn’t right for every client, but for those who are more tech-savvy and have newer computers, the virtual experience can provide an invaluable means of understanding design ideas before construction starts in a way that sketches, illustrations, and even animations cannot fully accomodate.  The virtual model provides a much more holistic representation of the design, enabling clients to walk around and experience the design in an immersive way – rather than looking at floor plans and trying to imagine what it will look like.

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Clients can even give friends and family access to their virtual home, to hear their feedback on the design.  For example, if you’re building a new home  in Wisconsin, but have family in Australia you want to share the design with – you can provide them log-in information.  Soon, they will be standing next to you inside of your soon-to-be new home, and you can invite them in for a tour.  You can even talk to each other with embedded spatialized voice – similar to a phone call or Skype – only its totally free, no matter where you are in the world, and no matter how many people join you for a tour.

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