PADT 1.002 – Real-Time Rendering Overview
Some harsh realities
Thoughts on Real-Time Rendering Apps
As many of you know, I thought about this a long time ago. Playing Doom and thinking why couldn’t we move around architectural projects like this – and just not shoot things. Here are just some off-the-cuff thoughts on some of the major real-time rendering applications:
Lumion is the granddaddy of all of this. It's been around longer, so it is much more entrenched and has a huge customer base. It has a very complete feature set. One of its best features is its enormous content library. However, when it comes to cars or plants or interior design objects, there is never a library that has everything you need, so you're always having to find things in other libraries. Lumion lacks some of the features, especially their use of all the standard texture maps found as part of a lot of content. They are using their own rendering engine, so they will never be able to catch up to the kind of quality offered by systems based on Unreal. They currently don't offer RTX support - this is a HUGE advantage for D5 and Unreal. Lumion has some features that make creating ArchViz much simpler. Such as their rendering presets, such as Exterior, Night, Interior, etc. Another feature that doesn't get a lot of coverage is landscape textures. Assigning a texture to grass or ivy is an amazing feature instead of having to place individual plant components. This is a huge timesaver and makes creating lawns with “hard edges” much easier than all the other applications. It’s currently very, very expensive and so are the yearly upgrades. In the latest releases, there haven't been a lot of new features.
Enscape is a lesser player and doesn't offer nearly the same feature set. I see it mostly for creating quick fly-throughs from SketchUp or Revit. It lacks animated components which is a huge oversight compared to all the rest. However, one of its best features is the use of “proxy models” - I'll mention this more at the end.
Blender – you can't talk about this industry without mentioning the “bad boy” in this world. Blender has an enormous following because it’s free. The tools it offers are amazing and a lot of great work is being done with it. However, it’s not Unreal and its rendering quality, although excellent, is still having to play catchup to Unreal. Its use of nodes for creating materials is now becoming the norm in the industry and the new geometry nodes offer an interesting look at what's possible in the future.
D5 Render – this is what you might call an “upstart”. It has a very complete feature set but unfortunately is hampered by a lack of really good examples on its YouTube channel. When I look at their website, I see an enormous number of features but haven’t seen specific examples of where they’re being used. I hope this changes in the future. They are currently supporting real-time ray tracing and many other great visual enhancements.
TwinMotion – is often compared to D5 Render. You have very similar feature sets and rendering quality both being based on Unreal. They do have a good YouTube channel. They don't offer RTX as of yet, but I'm sure that's coming. Now being offered by Epic Game, their price is very low. The other huge advantage is being able to take projects from TwinMotion and bring them into Unreal for further development there. This is why TwinMotion is seen as an ArchViz front-end for Unreal.
Unreal – many firms are now just taking the leap and learning Unreal for ArchViz. This is very challenging because of the very high learning curve. But a lot of firms are just going this route – maybe by modeling in Blender and using Unreal to its full advantage. Besides its rendering and real-time advantage, it has the advantage of being fully customizable on several levels. Having a programming interface makes it much more suited for VR/AR.
Summary – I really like D5 and TwinMotion being based on Unreal. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s impossible to say that anyone is better than the other. Most firms just need to see what fits in their budget and commit to learning their chosen application to the fullest. You can see that amazing output can be created by all of the applications I’ve mentioned. Unreal will have the greatest learning curve, but also the greatest potential in many areas. Enscape’s lack of full animation is a shortcoming, but if all you need is a fly-through, it may be just the right choice.
The key to most ArchViz is that it needs to be very simple, quick, and easily repeatable. This is where most ArchViz applications have a problem. For most firms, ArchViz is part of marketing and they usually cannot dedicate a huge amount of money and time, unlike firms that do nothing but offer ArchViz services. That's what made Lumion so successful – firms could do what they needed in-house and not have to use outside consultants. A big focus for any ArchViz application needs to be ease of use and repeatability. To make the application easy to use so that users don't have to have huge amounts of training – where they can fire it up get done what they need to and go on to something else. This means as much work on the interface (menus, hotkeys, etc.) as with rendering features. It means startup templates and presets. It also means libraries, BUT the user also needs an easy way to create their own libraries of objects and materials – they need to be easily organized and exchanged.
One area missing from most software is the use of proxies not only for components but for materials. We’ve seen this some with components. When the user brings in a simplified component from their modeling application, a more complex, fully-textured component is placed at the same scale and angle in the rendering software. This needs to also be done for materials. Any materials I've created in the modeling application should have a material in the rendering application assigned to it. So the user knows whenever they chose that material it will always have the custom material in the renderer. There would be no need to assign the same materials over and over again when new models are brought in to be rendered. As I mentioned before, Lumion's vegetation textures are a huge timesaver. Another feature I've seen mentioned is 2-dimensional object arrays. Some offer single lines, but not 2D Arrays for something like a forest or garden. They also should be editable after they are placed. You should be able to select them again and adjust the parameters. I would like to see more animation controlled programmatically, such as creating more realistic crowds and traffic. On the traffic routes, I would make things more realistic if cars and people slowed down when they went around corners. I'm also interested in seeing what could be done programmatically with nodes.
This blog is mostly about my thoughts coming from 40 years in the biz and this is no exception. I’m sure I’ve missed things or gotten things wrong – this industry moves pretty fast.
Let me know what you think!
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Dave Edwards has been in the CAD/BIM industry as a manager, developer, consultant, speaker, and author for almost 40 years. He has had 80 magazine articles published, written 3 international newsletters, reviewed over 300 CAD/BIM applications, and 3D modeled 2 Billion dollars worth of architectural projects. He is available for professional alpha/beta testing, application feature consulting, technical documentation support, seminar presentations, and voice overs.
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