As you know, every project that involves some kind of construction—such as building a house, movie sets, or virtual sets—needs a project. These projects are made up of a lot of documents and technical drawings that help in the construction of these buildings and movie sets. For the construction crew, these technical drawings and documents are just fine. But when you need to make a presentation of these projects to people who can't read technical drawings, things can get a little difficult.
The traditional way to show architectural projects is with perspective views of the project made by hand and painted with watercolor or airbrushes. A perspective view of a project works like a picture of something that still doesn't exist. It's far easier to understand a picture of a building or environment than make decisions based on reading a technical drawing. These kinds of presentations look really great, but are expensive to create, and require a long time for production of each view. That's where the computer-generated architectural visualization comes in—to make everything easier for everyone involved with the project.
The benefits of using computer-generated visualization for architecture led to them quickly becoming a standard for these kinds of presentations. Today, almost every project for buildings, sets, or anything involving construction has a 3D-visualization for project development or to show the concept to someone who wouldn't understand a presentation based on technical drawings. The use of 3D-models bring more options even in the project stage, since it's possible to quickly visualize all the environments and parts while it's being planned, and to make changes to improve the organization and oversee every aspect of the project.
Even if its main benefit is being faster and cheaper to produce, the computer‑generated architectural visualization has another benefit. And it's one that can't be beaten by traditional art work! Yes, we are talking about animation. With animation, the project can be presented in a much richer environment than on paper.
What is Blender 3D ? And how is it related to Architectural Visualization?
Well, Blender 3D is an open-source 3D graphics suite, capable of modeling, rendering and animating 3D environments. Like many other open-source projects, Blender is completely free! Everyone can download and use it immediately in commercial projects. It's not a shareware with limited tools, or time constraints; you can use it freely. In the past few years, the Blender user base has grown significantly. Everyday, more and more students and professionals switch to Blender, as its tools get better in every new release.
One of the aspects that calls attention to Blender is its size—it is only 10 MB. That's right! Only 10 MB and we can even run it directly from a portable drive. Another great aspect of Blender is that we can use various Operating Systems such as Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X, leaving us the choice of which one to use.
When we start using Blender to model and render, we will see that lightweight does not mean lack of power. A lot of quality work has been done with Blender in the last few months, such as the first Open Movie made entirely with Blender, called Elephants Dream, which has awesome scenario designs.
If you want to download the movie, along with the production files, visit http://www.elephantsdream.org.
As we go through this book, we will see that Blender is a great tool, designed to give artists a lot of productivity and fast access to tools and menus. This means that Blender is strongly based on keyboard shortcuts, and not menus. For advanced users, this would be easy, although it can be difficult for new users. However, don't worry; with some practice and the examples that we will cover in this book, it will be possible to understand quickly all of the aspects and tricks involving 3D modeling and animation to create great Architectural Visualizations and Scenarios with Blender.
To download Blender, we must access the Blender Foundation website at http://www.blender.org, and choose the download page. There, we can find a lot of download options such as mirrors and compilations for different Operating Systems.
The Blender Foundation is responsible for the coordination and development of Blender and its support, since it's a community project, and not a product from the Foundation. It coordinates the efforts to develop and improve Blender, such as the Blender website and development forums.
Blender doesn't require a powerful hardware setup for anyone who just wants to start using it. (Just to get started with tools such as 3ds, max, or Maya, you need a very powerful computer.)
Is there anything special about the hardware needed for Architectural Visualization?
Well, if you want to produce photorealistic renderings, then I strongly recommend you ensure your system has plenty of RAM and CPU power, since these kind of rendering require a lot of processing. However, if you just want to create renderings that look more like a sketch, or something that doesn't look photorealistic, it won't be necessary to use a powerful computer, since this kind of rendering demands less resources.
The Blender Foundation recommends the following minimum requirements:
Open GL Graphics Card with 16 MB RAM
300 MHz CPU
128 MB RAM
1024 x 768 pixels Display with 16-bit color
20 MB free hard disk Space
However, there is more. If you really want to get maximum performance, there is a more powerful configuration:
2 GHz dual core CPU
2 GB RAM
1920 x 1200 pixels Display with 24-bit color
Open GL Graphics Card with 128 or 256 MB RAM
There isn't much to say about the software, only that you can run Blender on almost any operating system available. The following is the list of systems that support Blender:
Although it is a very powerful 3D graphics suite, Blender can't handle all the processes of creating Architectural Visualization alone. We will need some extras tools such as Gimp, for post processing, and image editing. There are some tasks such as texture editing and creation that need a more specialized tool, and for that, Gimp is the best choice.
Another great tool that we will be using is YafRay, which can make awesome renders using a Global Illumination engine that Blender doesn't have. The integration between Blender and YafRay is really great, and even provides direct access to the YafRay engine from the Blender interface.
The visualization workflow requires the use of a whole set of tools. Blender is just one of them, but we could say that it is the tool responsible for the creation of the images and animations. Along with Blender, the following tools can help a visualization artist to create a good presentation:
Presentation: After the editing process, we could use some other tool to make a presentation. If we choose to print the perspectives, Inkscape could be a good choice to make a sheet or folder. Another option is to use a slideshow to present the perspectives, which can be done with Open Office Impress.
To work with Architectural Visualization we will need to understand how Blender deals with files from CAD software such as AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, QCAD, and other tools. The most common file format used to exchange CAD drawings is DXF (Drawing Exchange Format). So if your CAD software can save your drawings in the DXF file format, Blender will be able to import it. Since most CAD packages can do that, it makes Blender highly compatible. Another common file format to use is the 3DS, from the old 3D Studio. If you want to make some 3D-modeling in your own CAD software, the 3DS file format is also a good choice. Besides these file formats, Blender can read a lot of 3D formats such as Maya OBJ, LightWave LWO, and a lot more.
Creating architectural visualizations and scenarios with computers may be a very quick task if you only need to model and work on walls, floors, and other basic elements. What can really change the look of our scenes are the details. The secret for a good scene is the amount of detail and objects that it contains. A good visualization for an office space is filled with desks, computers, chairs, and objects placed over the desks. However, don't worry—we don't have to model all of the objects every time. For that, we have to create a good library of objects, which we will be able to use for our scenes. These include cars, people, vegetation, and all other objects that can be interesting.
The easiest way to gather all these files is from the Internet. Places such as 3D Cafe (http://www.3dcafe.com), allow anyone to download 3D models for free.
http://resources.blogscopia.com/: Furniture models in the native Blender file format.
http://www.e-interiors.net: Lost of pictures and free models of furniture. Most files are in 3DS or DXF file formats.
http://www.linedstudio.com: More furniture models and scenes already in Blender native file format.
http://blender-archi.tuxfamily.org/Models: A collection of models to be used in Blender for Architectural Visualization, all in the Blender native file format.
If you want to find some good examples of Architectural Visualization made with Blender, there are some websites that you can visit. Most of them are related to some external render engine which can be integrated with Blender. However, their communities of artists are a great example of what Blender can do for visualization.
For this book, we chose to use YafRay, which is the external renderer that best integrates with Blender. There is even a standard menu, which we can use to render a scene with YafRay. We could use some other great external renderers as well:
Take a look into the gallery of these renderers and you will find some great examples of Architectural Visualization made with Blender. Also, we can't forget about the Blender Gallery (http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/gallery/images/), which is updated monthly. This gallery has nothing but images from Blender, and almost every month some great new new visualization images hit the gallery.
As an example of what we will cover throughout the rest of this book, here is an image of a dining room made with Blender, and rendered with YafRay.
In this chapter, we took a glance at Architectural Visualization and Blender and some other techniques and assets that we will need along the book. We learned the following:
What is architectural visualization?
What is Blender, and the software and hardware required to start using it.
The benefits of using computers to create Architectural Visualization
How Blender is related to CAD software.
How important a good model library is, and where to find some good free 3D‑models to use.
The workflow of Architectural Visualization and where Blender is located in this pipeline.