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Visualisation program offers both evolution and revolution

Architects and designers demanding precise visualisation in 3D should be satisfied with Autodesk's latest version of VIZ

When viz r1 was first introduced two years ago, it was a nice program, similar to max, but with no special redeeming characteristics. viz R2 with its dwg linking, SmoothMove panoramas, object snaps and so on began to differentiate itself as a program for designers. Finally with viz R3, Autodesk has really begun to carve a unique niche for this program. The company found that there was a real need among architects and designers for a program that would be relatively easy to use, that would have functions dedicated to their needs, and that would integrate quickly and easily with their cad documentation programs. If you are an architect, engineer, or designer in need of 3D design conceptualisation and visualisation, viz R3 should really knock your socks off. The new release includes a number of powerful new design visualisation features - including faster, more intuitive commands, enhanced compatibility with Autocad 2000 and the Design 2000 family of products, as well as new tools for creating rich rendering and environmental effects. 3D Studio viz r3 software combines the modelling, and rendering features of 3D Studio max r3 with a robust array of intuitive and innovative tools designed specifically for architects, engineers, and other professional designers.

The new user interface, consistent with Autocad 2000, allows designers to move easily between Autocad design steps and 3D Studio viz tasks. Autocad 2000-like menus and commands, single-click geometry creation, new tools for quick creation and refinement of forms, and default material settings join forces with new intelligent object snaps to streamline essential conceptual design tasks. While the dwg linking in R2 was primarily oriented to architects, the enhanced version of dwg linking in 3D Studio viz R3 can for the first time dynamically reference cad data from Autodesk's entire family of Autocad 2000-based products. These include Autocad Architectural Desktop, Autocad Land Development Desktop, Autocad Map, and Autodesk Mechanical Desktop. Design edits made in any of these applications are automatically reflected in 3D Studio viz R3, opening up design visualisation to cross- disciplinary design.

A timesaving new Partial Reload function lets users reload specific layer- selection sets that have been dwg-linked into viz. And there is a nifty new Object Substitution modifier that works well with dwg-linked Autocad blocks. With this feature, linked Autocad blocks can be 'swapped' in viz for more realistic 3D representations, and as the blocks are re-positioned or scaled in Autocad the 3D Studio viz representations will update accordingly.

viz has taken the customisable ui architecture in max r3 and used it well for making the product more approachable for non-technical users. The new Tab panel has a lot of 'one-click' design-oriented functionality built into it. Included on the Tab panel are custom interface settings for various kinds of tasks.

To simplify the interactive creation of common design forms, there is an entirely new Modelling Context feature, which lets users precisely sculpt 3D volumes out of existing object primitives as though they were modelling a tactile object. Once a simple initial form is created, a user can 'dive into' it with Modelling Context to add, subtract, and refine the form of that object.

There is also a very handy new Default Material Mapping, which automatically applies preset materials to common objects as they are generated. Tell a cylinder that it is made out of marble, for example, and every cylinder you make thereafter will automatically be made out of marble until you tell it otherwise.

3D Studio viz R3 incorporates the same completely redesigned renderer that is in max R3, including max's new interactive Render Effects tool. With this tool, users can easily apply final details and special effects to their design concepts as well as interactively adjust other special effects, including secondary lens effects such as glows, stars, and streaks. Other rendering features include anti-aliasing plug-ins for easily changing the overall look of a design. As before, there is free network rendering included. If you wish, you can network render with up to 10,000 pcs. (I have a 25 pc renderfarm). viz r3 also includes a new hidden-line renderer as an alternative renderer, which allows you to produce scalable vector representations of your models for output to dwg or eps.

New light types use physically-based lighting parameters and industry- standard photometric descriptions for greater realism. The program also has enhanced interoperability with Autodesk's Lightscape R3.2 radiosity rendering product that shipped last July. These lights allow you to use real-world settings like Kelvin colour, lumens, manufacturers' distribution settings for renderings in viz, and also make it easier to transfer lighting data between viz and Lightscape.

New cad-like intelligent object snaps have also been added to viz R3 software that simplify the accurate positioning of new geometries based on existing objects. Ortho and Polar mode snaps now join end-point, vertex, intersection, centre, pivot point, perpendicular, tangent middle of face, and many other types of snaps for both 2D and 3D environments. Ortho mode tracks to 90-degree angles, while Polar mode allows rapid 'n-degree' snapping from the last angle drawn.

A really important collaborative tool has been added with the new web- enabled Asset Browser. Now users can import a myriad of design content directly from the Internet into their design scene. By integrating Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 into the Asset Manager, the new viz R3 Asset Browser radically extends its drag-and-drop capability by making it fully web- enabled. Using the Asset Browser, a user can browse the Internet and download texture samples, aerial/satellite photos, and 3D models such as clip art and manufactured items from any number of vendor websites. The weird and interesting aspect to using the Asset Browser in this way is the way it works with standard websites. Almost any bitmap on any web page can be grabbed off the page and dragged into viz. Users with Internet access at their workstations will have immediate access to viz online, a web- based support and information site for viz users. Included on viz online will be a list of vendors who have so-called 'vizable' sites, ie websites by third-parties with good downloadable data.

Users can also employ the same Asset Browser to browse their own personal asset library, stored on their hard drive or network server, and drag- and-drop .dwg files and thumbnail images just as easily. When geometry files like .dwg or .max are dragged into a viz R3 viewport from the web, viz R3 will automatically download that geometry and the user can interactively position it in the scene. When image files like jpg or tif are dragged over objects in a viz R3 scene, they will be applied automatically and intelligently to the surfaces of the object. This means, for example, that designers can interactively drape furniture components with scans of fabric and/or laminate samples if these bitmaps are posted on the website of the manufacturer.

In the last version of viz, Discreet included a light version of SmoothMove, the popular panorama and interactive movie plug-in. In this release of viz, Discreet has added an impressive selection of ready-to-use content from ArchVision's realworld content libraries, entitled realpeople, realtrees, and realfountains. The company has also included ArchVision's rpc Reader plug-in. It has become very popular among the architectural, engineering, and industrial design communities. This plug-in makes use of a special rpc file type invented by ArchVision to create the illusion of 3D content without a high polygon overhead. Randall Stevens, president and founder of ArchVision, says that 'rpc not only provides a way to include complex, render-friendly objects in animation, it also makes including that content as easy as drag-and-drop'. For example, image-objects in the realtrees library are meticulously crafted digital models, with as many as 2.5 million polygons per plant. Using the rpc file format however, each image-object is distilled down to only one polygon and one texture. As a vizable vendor, ArchVision will have its product available via e-commerce direct from viz's Asset Browser or at www.rpcnet.com (from the end of 1999). On the site, users will be able to download the rpcreator tool allowing them to create their own .rpc content.

For users of max or previous versions of viz, an rpc plug-in demo and rpcreator are available for download on the rpcnet website. Registration is required. This combination package allows users to view their own creations, but not another designer's. The purchase of a licensed full-function rpc plug-in v.1.5 is required for it to act as a Universal Reader. The fully functional plug-in is also available at www.rpcnet.com and comes complete with one content library. Customers may choose from the casual people or trees Vol I libraries.

I have been using viz in my architectural and design practice since the first version was announced. This program has become so intuitive, that I have been using it not only for presentation, but for the conceptual phase as well. viz 3 is not only evolutionary, it is revolutionary. If you are already using an earlier version of viz, I highly recommend you try viz 3 for all its enhancements. If you haven't yet tried viz, you should try this intuitive, top-of-the-line product.

Ed Goldberg is an architect and professor at Carroll Community College in the US

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