Monday, March 02, 2009

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Visibuild Imports 3ds Max, Maya and Sketchup Files into OpenSim World RealXtend

You should watch this new demo video from architect Keystone Bouchard, at least until :23, when something fairly amazing happens.  That's when he seems to literally take the outline of a real world blueprint he's working on and drag it up into full 3D.  This is made possible with Visibuild, a new software package from a company of the same name, designed to convert 3D StudioMax and other industry standard building software into the metaverse -- specifically, into RealXtend, the OpenSim-based world.  Here he's created the 3D version in Autodesk's Revit software, and referring to the original blueprints to to model the fireplace and porch," Keystone tells me, "and every time I pulled it down over the model from the sky to check the model for dimensional accuracy, I thought it was an interesting effect."  In previous projects (as here) he's matched real world blueprints with their 3D, metaverse-based rendition.  But this time, "I didn't have to guesstimate the in-world replica one prim at a time-- this model is exactly as it was in Revit, saving me at least 32 hours of painstaking replication time", he says. 

For OpenSim/Second Life-based worlds, this strongly suggests a breakthrough in construction tools. For architects and designers experimenting with virtual worlds as a building tool, this is a powerful innovation.  As the RL architect industrial designer known in SL as Chip Poutine puts it, "Most professionals I have talked to cite the inability to import CAD data [into the metaverse] as a non-starter. It's time to get started."

Read more about it on Keystone's blog; but first, he answers a couple more questions from me (how it works, and why it's so important) after the break.

Hamlet Au: How exactly does this process work from a technical point of view?

Keystone Bouchard: Visibuild divides the more complex models into several pieces using 3D Studio.   We then use the "Upload 3D Model" feature to pull those model pieces into the sim.  At first, they appear all white, with no textures.  Each imported piece has up to 12 material slots according to component type that are pre-establish before importing.   For example, we designated all exterior walls as one material slot - all window sash pieces are another, etc.  This makes it easy to drag different textures over those material slots to test many different material options.  I then used the in-world building tools (which are nearly identical to what you find in SL, only without size limitations) to build some of the areas we had yet to resolve in the design.  This enables me to test out and present several different options to the client so that I could illustrate several different options. 

HA - Why is this innovation so important to RL architects?

KB: Many architects and city planners are already working with a 3D model on a daily basis anyway, so the most immediate benefit is that they can now leverage an existing resource they already have.  Creating a building is a huge investment, and project stakeholders are justifiably eager to fully experience the entire design before construction starts, since it enables them to solve problems earlier and discuss solutions more efficiently.  This has always been one of the many promises of BIM (building information modeling) technology, and this immersive, multi-user, collaborative environment moves the industry closer to realizing the full potential of that vision. 

The fact that this is an open source platform with a cost-effective service is exciting too.  There are other ways to collaborate, but they are generally not true realtime, multi-user collaborative virtual environments, and they usually cost more and are more complex to implement.  There is something very exciting about the ability to e-mail your client and their builder with log-in names and passwords, then see their avatars appearing next to yours inside the lobby of their soon-to-be new building for a tour of the building far in advance of construction.  This is powerful stuff, and I'm excited to see how it all evolves in the years ahead.   

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Ann Otoole

A new world of IP theft awaits you in the realextend colonies! Models to steal abound on the internet so steal away my hearties!

My point being when all these available models were published the licensing did not include consideration of how they might be used in the future in technology that did not exist at the time. Interesting area for legal experts to debate eh?

Btw the video looked "cooked". Simple raw boring video captures that don't involve a lot of staged cam movement are preferred. Otherwise, while looking cool, it looks faked. And if real then you don't want the "faked look" do you?

Gary Kohime

More importantly is that you have 3 very expensive software programs to create in, Maya, 3ds Max, etc. That being the case, those that are traditional commercial builders will be left in the dust. I'm sure this will increase piracy, and competition for business. As it can be foreseen, by not too much stretch of the imagination, that this will have a ripple affect on most creativeness.

Furthermore, it will make traditional SL art creation more like RL creations. So, it wont matter what method you choose. But it will come down to what you created as art.

Yet, I can't help but wonder. All us NPIRL members, I bet we can push the envelope of virtual worlds more. :) How about it Bettina? :)

Jon Brouchoud (Keystone Bouchard)

So its fine if architects pass their models from Blender to AutoCAD to Maya to 3D Studio and back to Blender.. but if they dare to cross into a virtual world, they need to put down their professional software and start using these primitive in-world modeling tools, because they keep us all on the same primitive playing field, and you prefer that it stays like that forever? Maybe...

But this is a specialized solution. It might look like Second Life, but it isn't. It is an industry-specific software package aimed at a specific market of architects, urban planners, and the like - who want to enjoy the many benefits of a virtual environment without having to re-build their designs 1 prim at a time.

As far as models being available on the internet... IP security should always be protected, but I don't think the ability to import models from one software to another necessitates IP violation by any means. Architects have been pulling 3D entourage into their models from directories (some paid, some free) for 15 years or more, and I don't see how or why that is going to change because of IP issues on one platform that happens to have an in-world economy.

fwiw, it *is simple raw video capture. I cut the clips together and add a music track.

If the ability to import models makes virtual creation look more like RL creations, that would be a tragedy. I highly doubt that would be the case though. There is nothing about the in-world primitive modeling tools that suggests they're better suited to NPIRL creation - yet people continue to come up with increasingly innovative and inspiring creations that are purely virtual. Anyone who knows me understands that I'm far more inspired and excited by purely virtual creation as much or more than real life design. I love Second Life for that, and so many other features you simply can't find anywhere else.

Snewg

@Ann Otoole - If an architect designs a building and shows it to his clients on a private RealXtend server, how does that lead to IP theft? As for using content in RealXtend that's not licensed for use in RealXtend, the law is already clear: the creator can sue the infringer (or let the issue slide).

@Gary Kohime - Visibuild can import 3D models from Google Sketchup, which is free (i.e. very low cost). The 3D models in Google 3D Warehouse are also free. Moreover, I see no reason why using more-capable modeling tools would somehow limit SL art creations to be more like RL creations. RL creations are limited by RL physics and building codes, not the tools used to create them.

Galatea Gynoid

Every technological advance puts more capabilities in the hands of people, which they can use for good, or for ill. Everything from the printing press to the photocopier to scanners etc makes it easier for people to do many things, piracy included. Ann Otoole's comments aren't wrong, they're just "No duh". Criminals are people, it would be a logical absurdity to suggest you can empower people without empowering criminals too. *All* new capabilities make crime easier. (Ann can cut and paste her comments, with minor tailoring, into a million ongoing discussions. Cut-and-paste, by the way, makes plagerism easier.) The answer doesn't involve not empowering people, it involves prosecuting those who abuse the power.

JeanRicard

Great post…… This technology is not soup yet but a great leap forward. Importing and exporting complex 3D content has been on the radar as the #1 requirement for my work since starting with SL 18 months ago. As Chip Poutine says in his comment on Keystones blog post "Keystone is really not understating the significance of this".

I will be surprised if the brightest or even the dumbest in Linden Lab do not recognize the expansive nature of being able to provide an open immersive platform for professional content creators,manufacturers, not just Urban Planners, Architects and Engineers.

Rosedale's original vision of a 3D web cannot be throttled by those that only see SL as a closed game much longer.

Many already use high end software like Maya to create content for SL and if those that think that progress must stand still for fear of IP theft or to preserve their position will find their world and personal business model as outdated as selling 8track tapes.

Mo Hax

Did I miss something? Or does this work only because it is using RealXtend, which last I heard, was the only OpenSim variant to allow mesh imports.

Hasn't RealXtend been able to do mesh for a while now, which was one of the sticky points about the fork from the main OpenSim code base?

Sure this is cool, very cool, but given this substantial caveat I would hope a story about mesh import being supported in SL or even the main OS core, when that finally happens (wink wink Qarl, we love you) would warrant more of the attention this post may be getting.

Gary Kohime

@ Jon & Snewg.

My entire point, perhaps maybe unclear, is as follows:

Maya and 3ds Max is top of the line 3D modeling programs. The free version of SketchUp, if you have seen it, leaves a lot to be desired. Being able to import existing models from Google is not something I would do. I’m referring to making something original, creative and innovative. Hence, virtual worlds and pushing the non-RL envelope.

The ability of being able to show RL architectural models might be cool to for a RL proposal or whatever.

I’m trying to suggest that we NOT replicate RL in SL(virtual worlds). But, to push the NEW WEB to something that makes RL, and Web version 1 and 2 look like a has been, and makes "content" king, as it should be. Furthermore, I believe branding is best integrated into an Immersive build, and not in your face, yet still give an opportunity to convey the message that’s needed to conduct business. In other words outside the box.

Finally, and more importantly, if you’re going to put tools in the hands of only those that can afford them, or push that, then you’ve isolated many possible and very creative people. I know that’s not your intent, but how about opening this up as format independent or freely export/import from most all commonly used formats? Why was the most expensive chosen? Yes, I might be able to go through some hoops in taking or buying others 3d creations and bringing them to SL. But this does not foster existing content creator’s motivations.

In closing, look at the cost of Visibuild: Basic is $190 a month and Setup at $650, Standard version is $350 and $900, and Expert is $450/$900, respectively. 3ds Max is $3,999, Maya approximately $2,208, Sketchup is $495. To me this says lets only play to those that have a lot of money at the get go. In a world with the economy being what it is, it would serve more to take that under very serious consideration. Heck, there isn’t even a Trial version of Visibuild. At least I can TRIAL Maya and the rest. Do the math folks.

Jules Vos

@ Gary Kohime,

The cost of Visibuild is a lot lower than the cost of, say, Second Life and has more features that professionals need to use this software effectively. For $190 a month you get (roughly) the same hardware that an SL sim gets, and you get an extended featureset.

As you also might have read, Visibuild is currently in PRIVATE BETA. This means it isn't available freely yet and hence there is no trial. Once it is PUBLIC, it will be possible to try out Visibuild at no cost. A designated area will serve as a trial and a sandbox will also be included for those who don't want to make any financial commitment currently.

By the way, sketchup is $0. You do not need the paid-for version to use it to export to Visibuild.

In conclusion, you hit the nail on the head when you compare Visibuild with 3ds Max and Maya, as it strives to be a professional tool for professionals in the field of construction, urban planning and architecture.

For those who are not in these fields but still are interested in architecture and bringing in their creations (made by sketchup or other 3d programs) for the world to see, a (low cost) community version will be available once Visibuild is publically released.

radar

@Jules Vos:

When you say visibuild is cheaper than SL, you're assuming everyone owns a sim! You surely do not have to have a sim to be a content creator in SL, thank goodness.

Also, if you do own a sim, you probably aren't in the majority if you can afford a monthly sim tier AND another $190/mo for Visibuild.

Jules Vos

@ Radar

Any design or architectural firm that uses a virtual world like Second Life in their visualization solution toolkit will own a whole sim. I can not imagine that the lack of security and privacy of any other method will be feasible for serious applications.

That said, a community area will become available as soon as we go into public beta. This means smaller parts of sims can be taken into use instead of whole sims, lowering the cost dramatically, even become free in a public sandbox. This means everyone will be able to experiment and build within our grid.

On a sidenote, I'm wondering what would be the reason to keep a Second Life sim if you're using a Visibuild one? Second Life offers no unique benefits as a visualization technology.

Usu Ventura

The last few commenters, on costs, miss some key points I believe. OpenSim - I have a free server installed on my laptop. Private demo sim. The same can be done with realXtend and soon they will merge. There is already a merged build: see this update http://www.cybertechnews.org/?p=1290 Sketchup - free version works for import into realXtend. You can already do this in a portable format you can bring to your client or make available online, without the software charges and monthly fees. See Peter Quirk's work http://is.gd/oqxe for instructions. Dig and ye shall find.

Lloyd

How much for a hosted region? A trial version of visibuild, just download and build your own Modrex/OpenSim server/region. It's all free and anyone that knows how to configure a machine connected to the internet can configure a public.

janaD

Visibuild link is broken.

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