✱ Get Inside Your Project with VR

2016 is turning out to be a huge year for Virtual Reality (VR). I'm sure you already know this. The stars have aligned – the raw power of our pocket computers and the tools that allow us to create interactive experiences have finally matched up, and this is great news for architects.

This article isn't about the Oculus Rift ($599) or the HTC Vive ($800), both of which are technically more complicated. By that, I mean that they require a headset with wires, an expensive computer, motion trackers and a gaming controller to walk through your building. They are both amazing pieces of hardware, and I'll be watching closely as their development continues. I'm sure the prices will begin to drop as the technology moves forward.

This article is about a simpler, wireless technology that is accessible to far more people. I'm talking about Google Cardboard ($20 or less) and 360 degree spherical stereo panoramic renderings that many of you can already produce with the right software and view in a modern web browser.

Immersive VR Headsets 

Before I get to the Google Cardboard part of this article, I want to quickly talk about the Rift and Vive. I'm really excited about the technology these headsets are promising. They are, for all intents and purposes, fully immersive. The videos I've seen of people using them are fun to watch and imagine myself as a user. This is something I'm pretty comfortable with since I am an architect who makes a living imagining what users feel like in spaces before they are built. You can probably imagine why in turn I'm so excited about the possibility of these new tools. 

Here's an fun example. Turn down your speaker volume if you're in an office because the language has been bleeped out, and it might raise an eyebrow or two:


There are some really incredible experiences being developed to fully immerse users into other worlds. Architects have an unprecedented opportunity to jump on this technology and use it to our advantage. I've had high-power clients use these tools and quickly turn back into 6 year old kids. It's really fun and powerful to see them truly experience their buildings in this new way. 

With the release of Rift v2 and Vive, the resolution of the screens has doubled, and the processing power of the CPU's pushing the data to the headsets has increased by a lot. It is now possible to actually feel like you're in a nicely rendered, real time environment. Both sound and motion tracking are part of the system as well. They do require hefty computers with serious graphics processing units (GPU's) however, and along with the price tag, this is why they aren't as accessible to everyone. On top of that, the headsets are connected to the computer via wires that scoop over the back of the users' head, so being tethered to the computer is something else to consider. If we were to give a client a demonstration with the Oculus or Vive, they would need to come to our offices most likely, or we would need to have a substantially expensive powerhouse laptop and a lot of parts to tote along with us when we go to visit them.

Google Cardboard

In contrast, what makes the Google Cardboard so compelling is its simplicity. It runs on devices that practically everyone on the planet has in their pockets and purses already, there aren't any wires, there's no software to install, and it's laughably affordable at less than $20. Sounds too good to be true, right? I know... but it actually works. I have a project I've been working on to prove it, and I want to share it with you. All you need is a Cardboard viewer. Actually, you don't need a viewer. You can look at my project without it, but there are advantages to having a viewer in your possession. It just runs in a web browser – there's no software to install. You already have what you need.

Math & Science Building, STEM Center - Golden West College, Huntington Beach CA
Imagery and VR courtesy of HMC Architects

Once you open the website address to our STEM center project by clicking on this link or by clicking on the image above, you'll see a panoramic interior view of the space. You can use your finger if you're on your phone or tablet, or your mouse if you're on your computer to look around. This is pretty standard panoramic navigation. What's a little different about these panoramas is that there are several nodes linked together via the large white-bordered arrows you see hovering over the floor. If you tap on those when you're looking on your computer or hover the crosshairs in the Cardboard viewer over them for a couple of seconds, you'll be transported to another location within the space. You can actually tour the building by jumping from node to node!

It's magic

Let's take it a step further. There's an icon at the bottom of the screen that looks like a Google Cardboard viewer (where the green checkbox symbol is located in the image above). Tap that, and the screen splits in half displaying the synchronized stereo panoramas. This is where the magic happens. Once you've entered this mode, place your phone into the Cardboard viewer for an amazing 3d experience. With the slight shift of twin renderings about the width of a human's eyes apart, depth is enabled. Stereo panos coupled with the gyro motion tracking sensors in our phones allow us to look around inside our spaces in full 3d as if we are standing inside them. If you do it long enough (for about 5 minutes or so), you'll actually start to believe you're there. It's a mind-bender when you lower the viewer and you're standing in another space than the one you were just experiencing. 

$16.99 $39.99

I can't believe we have computers powerful enough to do all of this with us all the time. This is so exciting!

If you don't have a Google Cardboard viewer yet, you can get them on Amazon for less than $20. A word of warning: not all viewers are created equal. Yes, you can find them for less, but the lenses are crap in the cheap ones, and they are the most important part because they insure you can actually see what you're looking at. I've included a link on the right to a viewer that has great ratings and has nice lenses so you can see the space you go into without blurred vision.

Why should you care about VR?

I'm excited about these immersive environments for two uses. First, for presentations this is a killer way to communicate a design. As I've talked about before, it allows us to put our projects in our client's hands to let them drive. Clients don't want to watch you drive around their project in 3d. They should get to do it themselves. Second, I'm excited to use this as a tool during the design process. I don't need a fully photo-realistic rendering to make spatial decisions. I could easily be modeling space within my 3d program and spit out a clay model of the project so I could quickly get inside and check it out. For this, photorealism isn't necessary like it potentially is for a client presentation. I now have the ability to intimately and immersively experience shade and shadow, volume, light, the way spaces interact, and much more in a very different way than just by seeing it on a screen or on a sheet of paper.

In both instances, the barriers of 2d mediums are no longer a communication hindrance, and projects can be experienced and therefore understood without the need for a presentation. In other words, people just get it, and the work will for the most part be able to speak for itself. I couldn't be more excited to share architecture people in this way.

In a future article, I'll be talking more about the software needed to generate these types of panoramas so that you can do this too. It's a fast-moving technology where things are constantly changing, so I'll keep it as timely as possible so you can give your models a try and experience them for yourself. 

Happy viewing!

Special thanks to Chris Grant and Francisco Penaloza, both good friends and visualization gurus who have contributed to my understanding of this technology in huge ways. It is through their talent and drive that I get to show off our project in these amazing ways.

Create a Realtime Walkthrough of your Revit Project with Autodesk Showcase

Even though my thoughts in my recent article on realtime rendering came to the conclusion that I wasn't willing to spend a ton of time on the bleeding edge of that technology, I haven't ignored it either. The truth is that the idea for that article came from me spending a decent amount of time figuring out realtime rendering using Autodesk Showcase, which comes with either a perpetual license or subscription to some of their suites. The funny thing that you probably can relate to is that I didn't even know Showcase existed or what it did when I found it. Luckily the office I work in has this type of subscription and I had a presentation to create, so the stars aligned.

I ended up making a tutorial that takes you through the process of getting your model out of Revit and into Showcase with a lot of steps along the way to make a successful and very nice looking realtime model. It is now live over on the Novedge blog where lots of additional people other than Method visitors can see it. This works well because this is certainly not an Autodesk-centric site. So if you're interested in my process for creating realtime walkthrough's, please go check it out and let me know what you think.

Click here to head over to the Novedge blog and read my tutorial.

✱ Which Rendering Program is the Best One for Me?

I get asked all the time what 3d rendering program I use and why. This is coming from a particular point of view - mine. I do architectural work. I do my own design. I work in small and large teams on small and large architectural projects. You may not do the same thing as me, but I'm sure there's some overlap if you're reading my site. I hope this is useful for you. 

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✱ Should you be considering a realtime rendering program for architectural presentations?

✱ Should you be considering a realtime rendering program for architectural presentations?

I’m sure you’ve heard of "realtime rendering," but just in case you haven’t here is a quick explanation: your 3d object or scene is being rendered by the computer on the fly, allowing the person viewing it to interact with the model and look wherever they want. The most common application of it is in video games, and as far as architectural visualization is concerned, it’s what’s next. Here's my current thinking on the subject.

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✱ Maxwell Render Surface Properties Q+A

A community member here recently sent in a question about painted surface properties when using Maxwell Render and I thought others might find it interesting as well. The Q&A comes down to understanding what the different settings in MXED are for. While my answer doesn't get into detail about each setting, it does talk about which ones we should be paying attention to depending on the type of material we are trying to create. A lot more information can be found in the user guide for Maxwell materials.

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✱ Get Personal Training

Personal training is the fastest way to learn

I've taught thousands of students in person during my 10 years teaching digital design at both California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and Mt. San Antonio College in their architecture departments. My students all had the benefit of being able to ask questions and help steer their education through group conversations and one-on-one learning during and after lectures. A nice additional outcome is that I still talk with many of them to this day because of the relationship we established over the years. The tutorials on this site have been able to take them even further since they graduated and I stopped teaching in brick-and-mortar institutions.

With that in mind, I put up a page here on the site that talks more in depth about the personal training, the tools I teach, and about the benefits of what I call "learning without a speed limit." I'll leave that information out of this this post because you can read about it on my training page. The biggest take-away is that I want to help you be worth more, and personal training is truly the best method to get better, faster.

A few people have already taken advantage of my personal training and the feedback I've gotten has been very positive. Here's a testimonial from Sven Johnson who is a professional architectural illustrator in New York:

My name is Sven Johnson and I’m an professional architectural illustrator in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve studied all of Evan’s tutorials and done one-on-one training with him to improve my skills in my rendering pipeline.

Method is my go-to source for learning both the conceptual framework and the practical little details that go into mastering this type of software.

To me the one-on-one training is a great investment as I have learned a number of tips that I know will be saving me countless hours and increasing the likelihood of getting a full night’s sleep even with a deadline looming. Keep it going Evan, thanks for sharing your expertise!
— Sven Johnson, Greenpoint Brooklyn

Sven had told me that he wanted to do some personal training and that he had some things in mind of what he wanted to cover. After he sent me a list of what he wanted, I was able to tailor a session to match up with what he wanted to learn so he could get the most out of our time together. We setup desktop sharing over Skype, and even though we are three hours apart, were able to pull off a couple of hours of training without a hitch. I also recorded video of our entire session and provided that to Sven so he could go back and reference it anytime. We covered a lot of information.

This is about making you worth more, faster

All of this is to say I'd love to do personal training with you. Check out my page where I talk more about the types of training I do, my teaching philosophy, the tools I cover, and my rates. This is a great opportunity to take your skills and your future into your own hands and become worth more to your business, firm, colleagues and clients. The best part is being able to choose exactly the kind of training you need to get to the next level. No one knows that better than you.

Read more about my Personal Training here and let's get started!

✱ New Viso3d Plugin Lets You View SketchUp Files on an iPad

A new exporter for SketchUp called Viso3d is out that allows us to view our models in 3d on an iPad. Today I'll be comparing it to the current heavyweight champion in this arena (that I'm aware of) - Revizto. As far as Viso3d goes, here's a quick run-down from what I've gathered so far: 

  1. Sharing to the iPad happens through Dropbox or email.
  2. The exporter plugin costs $29; there is a free trial. The iPad app is free.
  3. You can add a lightmap to your model that bakes the shadows into the textures into the model. This is what starts to set this software apart from the other 3d viewer app out there.  The shading helps a ton for the untrained eye to figure out what's going on, and it really softens the image to make it more palatable.
  4. You can turn edge display on and off. It seems to maintains your per-edge settings from SketchUp if you have hidden particular edges. This is a nice way to add some detail to basic models, or define between surfaces with similar materials.
  5. All textures are exported with the model. 

We've run a quick model through it, and the export process from SketchUp is super fast. The default settings are great. Be sure to use the lightmap because having shadows really adds a lot to the overall look. I'll also say that on the new iPad Air, with its super-fast WiFi, loading the model is insanely fast. The model looks really great - much better than the Revizto models look on the iPad. In my experience, Revizto models seem to load very slowly, and crash a lot (even with the fast WiFi). I found Viso3d to be refreshing in this regard.

On the downside, the navigation controls in Viso3d are not intuitive at all. There are 3 different ways to navigate, and the controls are way too complicated. Compared to Revizto, they've got a lot of work to do to simplify. I would never put an iPad in my client's hands as it stands right now with Viso3d. I would, however, be fine putting a Revizto project in their hands - the navigation is dead simple in that app as I showed in my recent Novedge webinar.

So Revizto has the edge for navigating a model, and Viso3d has the edge in graphic quality. Who will be the first to have both?

Then there's cost. $29 for Viso3d. $199/$299/$399 for Revizto (depending on your host platform). Is Revizto worth that much more? That's a hard decision to make. Again, I wouldn't put Viso3d into my client's hands (yet), which could be the difference between delighting a client and just another job. And Revizto is just so easy to use. Cost is not the only factor when weighing the options!

seriously think a client would just put down the iPad if they tried to actually use Viso3d as it stands right now. And of course there are many other things that Revizto has going for it to possibly justify the higher cost - they have an additional program that allows you to tweak the textures, set the visual quality, and much more. But in the end it just doesn't look as good, and that's too bad.

Viso3d is being released for both Mac and PC by Cadalog, the same group that makes SU Podium, a low cost rendering program for SketchUp. It runs in Sketchup 8 and 2013 and is cross platform. Revizto is PC only. This might sway you as well - I know it gets points from me for being on the Mac. This is a serious omission that seems like the developers of Revizto are ignoring. Hopefully they address this in the near future.

I suppose the final word is that both of these programs still have some work ahead of them, but I can't stress enough that they are doing some great things in this arena and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. 

Here's a promo video that gives us an idea of what Viso3d can do: 


(h/t @cgrant3d

✱ My 2d Drafting Software of Choice

There's been quite a bit of talk about moving on to BIM versus continuing to use AutoCad, Vectorworks, or other programs for production drawings of architectural projects. I thought I'd share what I use for CAD on my Mac (and Windows and Linux too if that's your thing) because unfortunately it's still a necessity to have something for basic CAD work. 

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