Monday, November 09, 2009

Convert to Lines #40

Serving the Seattle VectorWorks Users Group and Northwest VectorWorks users.

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To contact me, please write or call (206) 524-2808

In this issue:
• Our next meeting time and place
• More review of Vwks 2010: HDRI’s, Planar Graphics, Viewport creation
• Piranesi—what is it?
• TouchCAD author speaks out
• CAD video of local urban disaster


Had a great demo of Vwks 2010 November 4th by Don of NNA with Kristine and Marcus providing support. Terrific food and drink was served with coffee cups in mid-century colors provided as take home gifts. I really hope they video Don presenting v2010 to a general audience and post it for others to view because his demo goes way further than what you've seen so far watching various vid's from the NNA website. The software has so much more depth than can be captured by the typical highlights fly-by.

Our next meeting will be on December 1st, a Tuesday, between 6:30 PM and 8:00 PM at 7001 31st Ave NE which is located east of the Roosevelt District. I'll be exploring beginning 3D so if you are struggling, please be sure and attend as we'll be looking at the easiest way to get the biggest return on your efforts. We'll also cover HDRI backgrounds and rendering. I'll have my computer hooked up to a big screen TV so the viewing should be good.

Feel free to bring a beverage or snacks. If you come from work, we'll have enough goodies to tide you over. Here's the Google Maps URL:,+Seattle,+WA+98115&gl=us&ei=yVT4SrjrLY_ysQPy3OEd&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CAgQ8gEwAA

Let me know if you plan to attend.


Mini review of v2010

Planar graphics has been one of the highlighted features of the new release. I tried it out by taking an older plot plan, selecting all the 2D lines that described the driveway, walks and property lines and then used the Object Info palette's new pull-down button to transfer those lines from their default setting of Screen Plane to a new setting called Layer Plane. I then transferred the lines to one of my story layers, clicked on Unified View, then used the Flyover Tool to rotate the whole collection.

This worked quite well with some conditions. Most important is that line work, once only able to show in 2D, now imparts context to the scene. This can't be overstated. Being able to see boundaries of all kinds is a key advantage in communicating a sense of scale.

This will be a great tool in locations where building lots are less sloped versus those with steeper terrain. For the latter, the DTM module or a process of subtracting solids from a ground volume might be a better way to communicate changes in elevation via line work.

One oddity was to find that lines composed of unjoined segments did not stick together when rotated and appeared to have gone through my laundry, shrinking at their ends. It might be wise to convert those segments into one line. I'll need to go back and try this and see if it works. Use Modify > Compose to join line ends. Way cool was to see that text selected along with lines when converted to the Layer Plane showed in 3D too. At least that's how it worked in the NNA demo of v2010. Trying it myself I see a planar box but no text within.

In order to get our attention, NNA has placed a new button on the View Bar called the Active Planes List showing choices of Active Layer Plane or Screen Plane. This new button takes up a large amount of menu bar territory and I get the feeling they really want us to see this new command. I also get the sense that we should be drawing with this button bar set to a default of Layer Plane so all our lines (and eventually text and dimensions) can take on a Planer Graphics view if needed. Lines set to Screen Plane should be used only when constructing 2D symbols.

I'm guessing that the next improvements delivered in v2011 might include dimensions and text staying oriented with the model when rotated. Let's hope.

The process of creating Viewports has also changed. In the past Vwks didn't like you to use the same name for design layer, viewport or sheet but of course that would seem the best way to keep track of what you'd made. Instead we needed three different names for essentially the same information. In my case, I found a way to trick Vwks by adding a suffix to my viewport and also to my sheet, coming back later to add a number to each sheet corresponding to my planset needs.

VectorWorks now does something similar. I used “Design Layer-1” as the name for the design layer, the viewport and the sheet with the only difference being the sheet has an automatic number (prefix) created. This is a great improvement as we can now proceed without having to have three different names for the same information or trick Vwks with prefix/suffix additions. There is a new box called Drawing Title which ties into automatic naming of the title block created via the Sheet Border tool.

Let's talk about object libraries for a moment. Since many, many of us work in residential design, we live and die by what we can import into our drawings pre-made. This is to save time as well as aid us in doing what-if scenarios where an object, even if it is not perfect, is a stand-in for the one we would eventually like to install. We should have a ready source of modern fixtures and furnishings with a means to revise finishes simply and quickly.

In Vwks 2010 I opened the Residential Furniture library and reviewed the contents. Scrolling down through the furnishings I noted that the models looks rather out of date. The CRT TV in a console may have outlived its usefulness, for instance. I counted out the number of pieces, then set out to review the same folder going back to version 12.5 to see what has changed. NOTHING HAS CHANGED. We have the exact same pieces from content provided four major upgrades ago. What's going on? Yes, we can download scads of objects from 3D Warehouse, Google's wonderful collection of just about everything. Problem is Vwks can't as of yet handle the import of colors and textures so instead we get exquisite models the color of clay. If the model has very many facets filling these in can be a job and a half. If you work in landscape design and import these models, render in Hidden Line / Sketch then hand-color, you just might have a really cool drawing. Or if you simply want to import and place silhouettes, then no color is needed. For those wanting realism, you're out of luck unless you use a third party program to aid in translation.

We can also import 3DS (.3ds) models from various websites with textures intact but the worthwhile models average $40 per piece. A collection the size of the Residential Folder--86 models--times $40 and you've rung up a cool $3,440. Any other ideas?

While TurboSquid is a prime place to go to buy models, if you prefer free, try this site:
I downloaded a great looking free Volkswagen Touran, among other models.
Here's a site which lists other sites of .3ds interest:
Bundled .3ds objects for sale:

Sketchup Pro can export .skp to .3ds. I tested this option and found the export/export/import process of .skp to .3ds to .vwx effective if somewhat time consuming.

A tool doesn't really go mainstream until it's easy to use. Thus, way back in v12.5 one could import HDRI backgrounds into drawings but only a few used this advance. In v. 2010, after assembling the model using Unified View and tipping it to best effect, you can go to View > Set Renderworks Background and choose from a number of interior and exterior HDRI backgrounds. The command has been relocated to the menu bar and therefore is more likely to be noticed and used.

I like Custom Renderworks for my general rendering method and found test-rendering from design layers much faster than doing the same from viewports on sheets. This is great as you can check the backgrounds without a time penalty. Once you have identified the preferred HDRI background, make a viewport of your model, send it to a new sheet, and use the Object Info palette to activate and/or modify the HDRI pattern under RW Background.

Take time to also explore the Lighting Options button to fine tune your lights. I expect you've added one or two. Doesn't matter which layer you place them on as long as they are on one of the visible layers you've selected to display your model. Note that there is another place to make HDRI adjustments and this is on the bottom half of the lighting palette. Now you are ready to hit Update on the OIP to render the model. It will take longer to render but the results will be worth it. Here is a recent rendering of mine using an HDRI background rendered in Custom Renderworks.

This was rendered on a 2.5 GHz MacBook Pro with 4 megs or RAM. The Mac OS was Snow Leopard. The rendering time was nine minutes.

While the model is not a major advance in architecture, the rendering does deliver a dramatic sense to the viewer. I found, in using various backgrounds while on my Design Layer, that I had quite varied reflection patterns develop on the window glazing. Also, faces of elements which would have been vague in renderings without the HDRI background now rendered with crisp detail. The set of stairs that face the viewer head on are an example of this. Previously, they would have rendered without clear demarkation between the treads.

Lastly, to change HDRI settings such as rotation, right-click on the HDRI in the Resource browser to activate the Edit Renderworks Background dialog box. Click the Options radio button and adjust settings in the Edit Image Environment (HDRI) Background dialog box.


Unfolding TouchCAD

There was a discussion a while back on the Listserv over the new unfold tool in Vwks 2010. Here’s a description of this tool taken from the Help file in Vwks 2010:

“The Unfold Surfaces command creates flattened, 2D representations of developable surfaces. A developable surface is curved in one dimension only, so that it is able to be flattened into a plane with no distortion. For example, cones and cylinders can be unfolded, but spheres cannot.”

One user wanted a more robust solution since his model was not unfolding as expected. Someone said why can’t Vwks be more like TouchCAD, a software package from Sweden that is quite advanced in its way of unfolding Vwks models. The TouchCAD author responded below.

“Perhaps I should comment, since my name was mentioned.

The VW unfold features should perhaps try to catch up with the more simple unfolding features, such as found in Rhino or formZ, instead of aiming towards catching up with TouchCAD.

As for TouchCAD, many seem to look upon it as some sort of utility program, which its not. It is also a very fast and highly accurate free form 3D modeling tool. The unfolding is not something bolted on at the end of the process. Unfolding and production preparation is an integrated part of the design process from step one, which is what separates it from pretty much all other programs with similar features.

The tent below[*] can be seen as an example. 1,000 square meters of floor area. Just under 4,000 square meters of fabrics used, distributed over 987 unfolded panels. With a material width of 1.6 meters, the imaginary roll used would be something like 3.2 kilometers (two miles). The design took just under two days, modeling it from scratch to sending a fully optimized ready to machine cut file , in a combined design and training session (it was the very first project where the customer used TouchCAD). The picture to the right was taken less than six weeks later, where the tent was in full use.

Would I even dream of doing this design in Vectorworks? Of course not. Nor would I use any other program. As much as I love Vectorworks, I really do, it is simply a question of using the right program for any given job. When drawing a house, Vectorworks is my obvious choice. The same would apply for complex solid modeling. VW is also my preferred
tool for 2D drafting. That does not mean that I have to use VW for everything. Of course not.  I for example use Photoshop to create Renderworks textures. I think most of us do.  Some architects prefer using Sketchup to do sketching. Perhaps not my personal choice, but as long as it works for you, fine. And so on.”

Claes Lundstrom

[*Contact Mr Lundstrom to view these images]

See TouchCAD here and be sure to watch the Why TouchCAD movie.



Inspired by some recent success in Renderworks, I set out to explore the world of rendering and modeling+rendering software and was blown away by the multitude of programs. I looked at (Mac supported) Maxwell Render, Kerkythea, Blender, Modo, Cheetah 3D, Lightwave, Maya, Form•Z, Cinema 4D, Artlantis, LuxRender and Strata 3D.

In my world I don’t get paid to primarily render so while advanced modeling is important, a photorealistic model is not essential to my clients. Still it’s empowering to approach realism, if not actually arrive. But after looking at the galleries of the providers above, after gazing upon the crystal air shimmering around those perfect creations, I stumbled over the opposite—a painterly style-and damned if it didn’t look good, maybe better. I had found Piranesi.

VectorWorks exports to the Piranesi EPX file format and has since Vwks v12.5. Assemble your model in Vwks and give it a perspective view. Export to Epix/Piranesi from a design layer, not a viewport. Next, download the free Piranesi 15 day demo. Use “Open” to find your EPX file. Since you’ve now watched the Piranesi videos you’ll be able to experiment with several painting effects.

What’s cool, as shown in the videos, is the ability to easily paste in scalable images, import 3D objects such as those from the SketchUp vault at 3D Warehouse. (Didn’t one tutorial show a menu bar button to link directly with the Warehouse?) and keep the live model and its elements segregated for fast application of paint and textures.

The nice part of this process is that the model need not be perfectly complete and correct. In fact the whole point is to keep a loose “in-progress” sense to the design. This way the client may not feel locked out of the design process as though each little detail has already been decided upon. The opposite of that scenario can also be avoided. An example is when the client fixates on one of those details which is subsequently changed later in the design. “Why doesn’t it look like the picture?”

Bottom line is these renderings exude a warm and organic feeling with a soft, kinetic sense of style.

To end this discussion, let’s go in a slightly different direction from the live model of Piranesi. You’ve no doubt tried using the Artistic options in Renderworks by now. They have their plusses and minuses. I’ve found another method that gives good result though it relies on Photoshop. Here the model should be more detailed, as opposed to my suggestion above regarding Piranesi. For my model I’ve included a sky which came via the addition of an HDRI background.

Tip: When doing a Vwks Help search for HDRI, use the term ‘background’ instead of HDRI.

Set up your lighting of the model, set perspective, create viewport, export image (jpg, tiff, etc.)

Second tip: Make sure you set the dpi of your model high, 150 to 300, depending on printer. If exporting from the viewport, edit the viewport to find the input field for dpi. Viewports with line work and text (vector info) print great at 72 dpi but any images (bitmap) need the dpi set much higher than the default 72 of monitor screen resolution.

Import your image file into Photoshop, then adjust using the filter called Poster Edges found in the Artistic group. The result is another way to soften a detailed rendering. One nice outcome using this method is the lack of hard cut lines where walls are joined. In Renderworks, the Artistic options show lines where walls are segmented or cut.


Piranesi video tutorials

The real Piranesi:


Quake, Rattle and Roll

See a video of our waterfront freeway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, depicting what would occur in the event of an earthquake. Graphic evidence of why you might want to reconsider buying a view waterfront condo. There is raging debate here about drilling an alternative tunnel but no video so far about what would happen to a tunnel built below sea level in the same area in the same quake scenario.


That's it! Thanks for reading

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