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AECCafe at the movies…Avatar

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

At AU, attendees were treated to a special preview of the film Avatar that debuted over the holidays. I just went to see the film the other evening and found that it was surprisingly good.

As a writer, I generally look for story, but my audience here at AECCafe looks for technology. Definitely technology was at work in this film; besides Autodesk’s involvement in the film.

Producer John Landau of Lightstorm Entertainment gave a presentation on the visual effects used in the soon-to-be-released feature film, Avatar. Landau partnered with producer/writer James Cameron on this film as well as the Titanic, where he said they “broke new ground in using visualization effects as a storytelling device.”

Avatar is shot fully in what is called “stereoscopic 3D.”  The making of “Avatar,” which is set in a virgin forest on the planet of Pandora, took two years of new production technology development.  Innovations include image-based facial performance capture, a real-time virtual camera for computer-generated production, and the SIMULCAM system, all of which integrate computer-generated characters into live-action scenes. These techniques combined with stereoscopic photography result in a hybrid CG/live-action film. Lightstorm’s virtual camera technology is used to look around in a scene. The actors see the world with themselves in the animation. The camera man can work with all captured performances and track the position of each character as though the viewpoint is a camera view into that virtual world. “It acts how you expect a camera to act in real life, as close to real life action as you can get in a CG world,” said Landau.

Filmmaker James Cameron was once a machinist, a truck driver, and then a winner of 11 Oscars, and will be a featured special guest at SolidWorks World 2010, taking place Jan. 31 through Feb. 3 in Anaheim, Calif.

Cameron’s films, including Titanic, Aliens, and the Terminator franchise, have amassed over $3 billion in box office receipts, according to a recent press release.  Not only a filmmaker, he is also an inventor of technology.

Cameron’s films have blazed new trails in visual effects and set numerous performance records. Among Cameron’s inventions:

  • Filming, lighting, and robotic equipment for use in the extreme pressures of the deep;
  • A 3D digital camera system to enable shooting of 2D and 3D film versions in parallel; and
  • Mini fiber-spooling remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for deep sea use.
The story:
For those who want to know what the film is about, IMDB has a great synopsis.
For me, the story itself is basically a techno sci fi environmental story with perhaps a touch of  “Dances with Wolves.”  Ex-marine, paraplegic Jake Sully goes on a mission to Pandora, a moon of the planet Polythemus, populated by an indigenous tribe known as the Na’vi.  Colonel Miles Quaritch is in charge of the mission, and responsible for dispensing such military wisdom such as getting the fighting done with so they can all “be home for dinner.” The Na’vi as described by Quaritch are killers that have to be neutralized.
Although the story is not new, the beauty of the virtual landscape is stunning in 3D and the Na’vi people and animals are completely believable and engaging.
It is yet to be seen how this advanced technology will impact the AEC market, but it will be entertaining to watch it unfold.

U.S. states take the initiative in addressing climate change

Monday, January 4th, 2010

According to an article in The New York Times (Jan. 3, 2010), “American cities and states — the largest of which have carbon footprints bigger than those of most nations — have quietly been making serious commitments to curb emissions. Instead of finding reasons to do nothing, Congress should build on these actions to fashion a national response to climate change.”

Targeting building product manufacturers

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Two products that address the inclusion of manufactured products into architectural design, demonstrate the direction not only of sustainable design requirements but also of the need for product information inside building information models and to be able to extract that information for the marketing purposes of building product manufacturers.

1) ecoScorecard – “Anecdotal research shows that designers spend hundreds if not thousands of unbillable hours on some projects researching and calculating the contributions specific products will make toward achieving LEED points.

What if you could do it on the fly? Take a chair, put a fabric on it, calculate the final assembled product. Done! Change the fabric, recalculate. Done!

ecoScorecard can do that. A web-based tool accessed through a participating manufacturer’s website, ecoScorecard automates the process for searching, evaluating and documenting any available product catalog against every rating system in North America and Canada – in 30 seconds or less.

….ecoScorecard just introduced its new plug-in that works with Google SketchUp and provides a link between popular BIM (Building Information Modeling) tools and environmental rating systems such as LEED, GGHC Labs 21, CHPS, the NAHB Green Home Building Guidelines and other third-party product certifications.”

2) Autodesk Seek

Autodesk Seek incorporates information from Autodesk’s Project Showroom and Project Dragonfly. Autodesk reports that US $5-$10 billion a year is spent on marketing by building product manufacturers.

According to Scott Hale, vice president, Consulting Services for Avatech Solutions, in one year the market for linking architects with building product manufacturers has “exploded.” The advent of Seek is right on target with the need to bring product information into the Revit model and to be able to share it out with other decision makers.

Autodesk Seek embodies photographs and visualization to help building product manufacturers get products to their market. Seek is a pipeline to get data made into 3D models to a wide audience accessible right on the desktop. Manufacturers can make the information available on their websites.

Both Project Dragonfly and Project Showroom are set up so homeowners can select tools that they’d like to have in their homes through Seek. Over 1,000 manufacturers are in Seek at this time, and the same downloadable files are available in one manufacturers’ site currently, that of the kitchen appliance vendor, Dacor. Customers can drag and drop such items as ovens into their Revit project using Seek. Project Showroom has allowed Dacor to enhance their experience with digital models. All data comes from Seek and is modeled in 3ds Max, and is comprised of many cached images.

Q&A with Autodesk’s Carl Bass

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Carl Bass outlined the advantages of web-based computing in a Q&A session with the press on Tuesday at AU:

1) Project Twitch can run computers within a computerized data center. The user is experiencing a desktop application, and he describes it as “a really really long monitor cable.”

2) Side by side two people can co-edit simultaneously. A native application actually manages data on a server, with multiple people accessing it, and the client is just a browser. Software is designed from the ground up and deployed that way.

Project Dragonfly similar to the co-editing in that it’s native, written for the web, and deployed on servers.

“One places an opportunity for all of us to use the computing power that’s avialable for a web based model, for peak demand loading, for rendering animation and simulation and analysis,” Bass pointed out. “What if you could run a hundred Moldflow applications and the whole thing takes an hour?”

Bass said within three to five years, we will all be running variants of this and most software will be deployed this way.

Apple Mac – Bass pointed to the rising market share of the Mac, and the fact that they see a lot of Apple hardware running Microsoft. Also there are more Macs in entertainment than anything else. At one point Autodesk stopped developing AutoCAD for the Mac because there wasn’t enough user interest.

Most people have no idea that there is so much 3D in AutoCAD. The other 3D products from Autodesk have some other conceptural model underlying them. AutoCAD LT is strictly a 2D documentation system. Bass also talked about offering products at four different price points: Sketch, AutoCAD LT, AutoCAD and Project Cooper.

He said the market is changing, manufacturing is picking up faster and media and entertainment is also picking up. AEC is trailing because it will take longer for the construction business to recover.

He mentioned that about 6,000 people attended the physical AU and 16,000 people attended online. He also said he thought there would always be a reason to hold a physical conference.

Bass said relative marketshare for Autodesk in AEC was approximately 50%, manufacturing 35%. Autodesk has reduced the number of individual products by a third, and has moved a number of products together into suites.

When asked about interoperability, Bass said, “The way people work today they have less need for interoperability, but we will exchange file formats with anybody. They’re adequately served, and many companies are investing in translators.”

What is AEC? at Autodesk University

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

At a press breakfast this morning at AU, Phil Bernstein, FAIA, Vice president of industry strategy and relations for AEC, talked about what AEC was now at Autodesk.

Last year, AEC was comprised of building and Civil. Now the AEC division is comprised of building, infrastructure, plant and civil, with civil expanded to include water, wastewater and utilities.

What is somewhat unclear is that in the past, water, wastewater and utilities were under the heading “infrastructure,” but it seems infrastructure has a broader meaning now in the AEC space.

Bernstein said construction is a “significant growth opportunity for us.” The main business globally for all AEC software firms is in renovation and retrofit, as no one is building anything new. Autodesk is selling a lot of Revit and Navisworks into the construction market now.

Bernstein cited MEP as a “high growth area” that has been under penetrated, “AutoCAD MEP is already big, now we have to catch up with Revit MEP.”

Paul McRoberts, VP of infrastructure, described how Map 3D and Topobase are used to aggregate and reconcile data for reporting back out. Map and Topobase are used for records management and planning for property management. Visualization will be huge in transportation, he said. LandXplorer can create visualizations of cities and roads in very little time.

Roberts talked about utilizing weather data in Green Building Studio for design purposes, looking at erratic temperatures, rainfall, floods; all those weather peculiarities that can impact design and ways to predict them.

Bernstein talked about two projects that showcase Autodesk’s use of BIM and Integrated Project Delivery technologies:

1) Recent completion of the AEC Autodesk Headquarters in Waltham, MA, which cost $12 million to set up, with extensive use of BIM, sustainable design principles and IPD. The headquarters comprises 55,000 square feet and is a LEED Platinum design, built in eight months using all Autodesk tools.

The benefit of this project to the Autodesk team was that they worked very closely with the design and construction teams. The project is being used  to teach organizational change at Harvard.

2) Research project with the National Building Museum – this museum was laser scanned inside and out, then point clouds are captured in AutoCAD, converted to surface objects and then converted over to Revit.

The federal government has allocated $30 million to document existing federal buildings. There is a large amount of Stimulus money going into renovating federal buildings, as President Obama has mandate that the U.S. become carbon neutral in the year 2010 and to achieve zero carbon by 2030.

A lot of this discussion was repeated during an AEC Keynote held just after the breakfast, with the addition of more details on case studies and the plant and process sector, which I will expand upon in more detail in future writings.

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