Computer-aided design (CAD) has undoubtedly revolutionized design and engineering, replacing paper and pencil drawings with detailed 3D models for example to create a 3D configurator. The latest news from Epic Games’ Unreal Studio release promises another leap in the way engineering projects are conceived and created by introducing the concept of real-time rendering into the workflow.
Real-time rendering has shown that it is possible to create engaging, dynamic experiences on a variety of platforms, including virtual reality. Until recently, however, these experiences were primarily limited to video games, not professional CAD applications. Although possible, the process required to export CAD designs to software such as Unreal Engine was a laborious one, so if you excuse the pun, Unreal Studio can be a turning point.
Real-time renderings continue to grow.
Those who remember the beginnings of real-time 3D rendering will remember the chunky and restless graphics associated with it. The 80’s Battlezone game included green wire models of tanks that seemed so impressive at the time that the US Army used them to train their tank gunners. The technology has since become so advanced that it is almost impossible to distinguish a game like Call of Duty from the real world.
Game engine technology is so advanced that the quality of real-time rendering competes with that of traditional render engines. The next natural step was for visualization professionals to begin real-time rendering for presentations, collaborations, and other activities that were not possible when renderings used to take hours, days, or even weeks.
In workflows that previously used traditional rendering techniques such as animated TV series, architectural visualization, and even technical visualization, real-time rendering can replace traditional render engines and accelerate the development of stills, presentation videos, 360-degree videos, interactive fly-thoughs, and other presentation materials 100 times or more.
Real-time rendering also finds its way into construction, mechanical and electrical engineering. In the civilian sector, a team of artists from the vrbn.io urban planning architecture recently tried real-time rendering with a dense city model created with CityEngine urban planning software.
With Unreal Studio, the CityEngine model was imported into the Unreal Engine with automatic optimizations to enable real-time rendering. Users could then navigate and explore the neighborhood in real time. The result was a breathtaking presentation of an urban environment with dirchtem foliage, streets and paths and a complex set of unique buildings.
A recent survey by CGarchitect shows that Unreal Engine is the most popular game engine for non-game applications as more and more non-gaming companies experiment with real-time rendering. The proportion of visualization professionals using Unreal Engine has doubled over the past year, with more users (40.8 percent) experimenting with Unreal Engine than with any conventional rendering engine on the market.
Given the potential for collaboration and engagement in a video game like environment, these results are not surprising, but importing CAD data into a real-time rendering platform is not easy and requires a lot of manual intervention to ensure that the data is not lost. Given this trend, it’s not surprising that Epic Games has developed a method to simplify the translation process.
Introduction of Unreal Studio.
Unreal Studio is a set of tools and materials designed specifically for non-game users of the Unreal Engine.
Unreal Studio includes:
- Datasmith – a suite of export/import plug-ins for a range of applications in Unreal Engine.
- Learning tools with Unreal Engine basics and industry-specific training materials as well as regular content updates.
- Assets – 100 Allegorithmic assets for common architectural and design materials, as well as industry-specific templates to quickly create stunning design experiences.
- Support – A monitored, community-based discussion forum and single ticket support.
The heart of Unreal Studio is the Datasmith Toolkit. As a central part of the package, the Toolkit simplifies and accelerates the process of non-destructive import of CAD data into Unreal Engine. The Datasmith Toolkit transfers CAD data from over 20 CAD sources, including Autodesk 3ds Max, to the Unreal Engine.
Unreal Studio solves common problems in the CAD data pipeline, including adapting assets to the capabilities of a real-time engine, maintaining scene hierarchies and metadata for working with assets in the engine, optimizing the scene to target platforms, and creating interactive visualizations.
The increase in real-time rendering associated with the beta version of Unreal Studio coincides with another visualization trend currently affecting designers and engineers in a number of large companies: Virtual Reality.
A new era of design visualization.
VR has entered a new phase of high-resolution graphics, greater portability and greatly reduced price, and therefore more and more companies are relying on technology for internal construction and design purposes. As you would expect from an often game-centric technology, VR relies on real-time rendering for immersive experiences.
An indicator of the increasing dependence on real-time rendering and VR in the design process is the fact that designers from major automotive companies such as Audi, McLaren and Ferrari came together in Munich to talk about the improvements that real-time rendering can bring to their design processes, including VR.
A new way to use VR is remote collaboration, where engineers meet in VR to discuss, propose, and redesign products. NVIDIA recently introduced its holodeck system, a hardware/software suite for this purpose. Users include automotive designers as well as architects and scientists. The holodeck uses a custom version of the Unreal Engine to control its real-time graphics.
BMW has set up VR workstations where designers can virtually try out a design before putting it into practice. With a VR headset, designers can interact with the dashboard and see a virtual environment updated in real time using the Unreal Engine. It’s only a matter of time before this technology finds its way into the car showroom, where we expect a photorealistic test drive without leaving the building.
NASA even uses VR to train astronauts before sending them to the International Space Station. Training within VR helps NASA overcome some of the limitations associated with training on Earth.
So far, porting the company’s CAD data to a VR platform would have been difficult, with tools like Unreal Engine being able to easily generate stereoscopic real-time images for a range of commercially available VR headsets. The introduction of Unreal Studio further streamlines the process by allowing CAD data to be easily incorporated into Unreal Engine to create VR experiences.
With engineers and designers giving up pencil and paper for CAD, they are increasingly able to use real-time rendering not only for more dynamic presentations, but also for VR experiences. This is facilitated in part by tools like Unreal Studio that make this process easier than ever.
Unreal Studio is currently in free beta, so you can try it out and better understand how it can be used to make your projects more dynamic and even more immersive.
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