As some of you know I spent a good deal of my year travelling around the world attending conferences, speaking engagements, press events and meetings to keep up with what is going on in the industry. In this day of social media, email and online communities, I think too many people forget the value of a face to face meeting and seeing things in person. Nothing in my opinion will ever replace it! If you make a resolution for 2013, make sure to attend at least one industry event.
In my travels there are a small number of CGarchitect members that I run into multiple times over the year so it’s always a great way to get a feel of what’s going on in the industry and how things are changing. A few weeks ago I came back from my last trip for 2012, Autodesk University. None too soon as I’m sure I’ve received enough radiation this year from flying at altitude to give an X-Ray technician a run for their money! I had originally planned for this article to be solely about Autodesk University, but then it occurred to me that it might be interesting to summarize some of the highlights of my 2012 on the road, along with the new trends and technologies that I see affecting our industry in the next few years.
The first trip of 2012 was to attend the opening party for Transparent House’s new office, located in San Francisco. The move to their new office was literally next door to their current office, but the spaces are worlds apart. A two floor office complete with an art gallery and green screen studio, the new space is full of custom made furniture and beautiful art. The opening was attended by designers, architects and artists from around San Francisco, and catered by a gourmet food truck parked conveniently just out the door of the office with music from up and coming indie rock bank Geographer. In a recent article by Shootline Magazine, Transparent House’s Denis Kylov and Krista Mollion were featured along with some great before and after pics of their new space.
In April I flew down to Scottsdale, Arizona to accept an award from the CAD Society during the annual COFES conference. The conference, the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software, is an exclusive invitation only event for the top engineering minds and vendors from around the globe - everyone from Microsoft to NASA research Engineers. The list of attendees reads as a who’s who in the engineering world. I was fortunate to have been honored with the Joe Greco Community Award this year for my work on CGarchitect over the last 11 years. Joe Greco was a journalist for Cadalyst Magazine and MCAD Tech news before his sudden passing in 2004. His wife along with current president of the CAD, Society Rick Stavanja presented the award to me during the dinner presentation on the final night of the event. Past winners of this award include: Richard Doyle, Evan Yares, Sean Dotson, Chris Yessios, Lynn Allen, Randall Rath, CJ Shirk, Kristine Fallon, Ralph Grabowski, and Roopinder Tara. It was a real honor to have received the award which now adorns my office wall.
End User Event 2012
Probably one of the least well known and best kept secrets of the CG industry is the EUE conference (End User Event) held each year in a pub in Utrecht, Netherlands. Started by Joep van der Steen and Michiel Quist, this conference has grown a lot over the last few years and attracts top super stars from the VFX, Gaming and Architecture worlds. This year’s speakers hailed from such companies as the Mill, Meshroom, Unity 3d, NVDIA, Analog Studios, and Autodesk to name a few. Unlike many larger conferences, this event is about as intimate as it gets. The days start in the Florin Pub and break out into multiple sessions hosted across two different buildings over two days. Breaks, lunches, dinners all end back up in the pub where everyone can network and hang out in a very relaxed atmosphere. It is a pub after all. This is one of my favorite events of the year so I highly recommend putting it into your schedule for 2013. Planning is already in progress!
Those of you who follow our annual 3d Awards know that we host our awards ceremony each year in the small city of La Coruna in the far North of Spain on the North Atlantic Ocean at a conference called Mundos Digitales. An odd place for one of the top industry conferences in the world, but it was founded by Manuel Meijide who is the Director of Ilux Visual Technologies at the University of La Coruna. Through his tireless efforts he has, over the last 11 years, managed to transform his town into the center of computer graphics for all of Spain. This year all of the winners from the CGarchitect 3D awards joined us in Spain to accept their awards in person. CGarchitect hosts the architecture day each year and I’m proud to be one of the conference chairs.
The conference attracts some of the very best artists and studios from all over the world. Everyone from Factory Fifteen to the founders of Pixar and Digital Domain can call themselves alumni of this amazing conference. But bring your stamina if you plan on attending in 2013. There are long days of excellent sessions and VERY long night following. I think most of us were out until 6am for the entire week! You can catch some glimpses here of the Mundos After Party’s, affectionately known as “Sub-Mundos” If you don’t believe it’s the best conference on the planet, just listen to what Scott Ross, the found of Digital Domain had to say this year:
Well what else can you say other than, it’s SIGGRAPH. The largest CG event in the world. While not overly geared towards the architectural space, a fair number of CGarchitect members make the annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles to attend the greatest CG spectacle on earth. This year marked my 16th consecutive SIGGRAPH. I’m starting to feel old now! This year SIGGRAPH played host to just over 22,000 attendees from 83 countries, along with 161 exhibitors and more than 1200 speakers. Sadly I am rarely able to attend sessions at SIGGRAPH as I often find myself in meetings, but there were a few technologies that I saw that I’ll talk about in more depth at the end of this article on future trends.
Hoare Lea is the largest consulting engineer practice in the UK specializing in mechanical engineering. They were founded in 1862 and this year celebrated their 150th anniversary. I was asked to speak at their internal event about emerging visualization technologies and the future of our industry. Most of the speaking engagements I do usually surround emerging technologies in our field so it was interesting to speak to people who are on the fringe of our field, where you don’t often see visualization artists involved.
While in London, I managed to make the rounds of some of the city’s top studios, including: Vyonyx, dbox London, Factory Fifteen, Vertex Modeling, Hayes Davidson, Woods Bagot and Alex Morris Visualisation. I have to say, there are some really nice studios in our field, sadly almost always full of screens of private projects, and thus no photographs.
Earlier in November I was invited to jury the 2012 KROB competition in Dallas, Texas. I’ve promoted the competition a number of times on the site over the years so it was a great opportunity to see first-hand some of the submissions and help select the winner along with my fellow jurors Carlo Aiello (Editor-In-Chief & Creative Director for eVolo Magzine) and Michael Malone, AIA (Founder of Michael Malone Architects) After the judging was completed we live broadcast the winner announcements and an attendee Q&A from the Dallas AIA. The event was moderated by former NBC journalist Andrew Tanielian. What I liked most about the submissions from this competition was the divergence from what we normally see submitted to our own 3D Awards. I’m looking forward to being involved with the event in the future as it’s really well done. Be sure to keep an eye out for the 2013 call for submissions and submit your own works.
Best in Category - Professional Digital/Mixed (Robert Gilson)
The Shadow Society
If you followed the CGarchitect Twitter last month you likely saw mention of the somewhat ambiguous and puzzling hashtag #shadowsociety2012. For the last five years I have been hosting private events on and off with top studios in our field to discuss the state of the industry and where it needs to go. While I worked for many years as a production artist myself, I found it far more rewarding to bring attention to others in the field and help develop the industry I am so fond of. And of course how else would I be able to work from my pool side office if I didn’t do this.
Thirty three attendees from eight countries flew into Miami and over the course of two days discussed the industry of visualization in great depth. Some great progress was made, and if as a group we can begin to formalize some of the action items we’ve set out, I think we could see some incredible moves forward for our profession. Stay tuned for more information as the group develops and formalizes itself.
Autodesk University, Trends, The Future, New Technologies
And that brings us to the last trip of the year, Autodesk University (AU) and where I wanted to loop together some of the talks I do each year with the technologies and trends I see affecting and influencing the visualization profession. This year’s Autodesk University was held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas where over 8,000 attendees from around the world attended 1000’s of online and offline classes. The theme of this year’s event was “Imagine, Design & Create a Better World”, but the focus of the Innovation Forums, Autodesk’s multiple keynote presentations, was a bit confusing to most, including many of the press who attended the event. Autodesk who is known more traditionally for applications like AutoCAD and 3ds Max, focused the vast majority of the event on the fabrication side of their business and even more focus this year on their consumerization push. Over the last several years I’m sure you have all seen the number of apps that have been pushed out into the consumer space the likes of SketchBook, 123d apps Tinkerbox, and Pixlr-o-matic to name just a few. Many wondered if this meant Autodesk was moving more into the consumer space and away from professional applications, but Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO, assured everyone that this was not the case. Carl stated that “the consumer market is interesting because it’s orders of magnitudes larger and a few years ago [he] would never have though there would be so much interest in [their] products from the consumer side”. Carl suggested that in 2013 he projected about $20-30 million dollars would be earned from their consumer facing products, but their “main mission in life is still providing professional tools, and [he] don’t see that ever changing”, however the “consumer products have significantly increased mainstream awareness of the company”.
Carl Bass - Autodesk CEO
In my opinion the consumerization push has more to do with building a new generation of customers and engaging people with engineering software tools in a different way, than changing the direction the boat is steering. Consumer trends, brought up in one of the keynote sessions, indicated that traditionally technologies have been adopted by the professional sector first, but that is no longer the case. Technology is now being adopted on the consumer side first and people are bringing that technology to the office. (Bring Your Own Device – BYOD) . Despite the objections that I’m sure Autodesk’s IT department must have, Carl Bass himself said: “behind the firewall is no longer interesting for me. Why should I not be able to have the same convenience in personal life as I do in my business life” referencing BYOD and the cloud computing and SaaS (Software as a Service) trend that has been sweeping many industries.
Two other consumer trends mentioned this year were “Creativity and Personalization of Design” and “The Return of Making”. While I don’t think its overtly apparent unless you’ve attended Autodesk events in the last few years, there is a HUGE push that Autodesk has been making with the “Maker Movement”. The vast majority of the Autodesk hosted sessions this year were in one way or another tied to fabrication and the DIY subculture of “making” things.
In the weeks after coming back from AU I’ve been thinking a lot of about this movement and how it could translate into our own field. Model making had been a huge part of architecture for many years before CG came into the picture, but it’s making a comeback. Rather than foamcore, models are being made out of ABS and PLA. Given the skillset of those in our field, it strikes me as a perfect fit that some in our industry can move into to diversify their client offerings. While 3d printing is not new, the price points and accessibility of 3d printing is. You don’t need a $100K machine to do 3d printing and can now get into it for $1000-2000 for a desktop printer from someone like Makerbot. Even Staple is planning to offer 3d printing in their stores. Already companies like HKS and Morphosis have 3d printers in house. When I visited HKS a few weeks ago they had Makerbot machines on every floor of the office and have them in almost all of their offices around the US. A few years ago when I visited Morphosis in LA they had a full building dedicated to 3d printing and model building. I think there is a huge opportunity here for our field. As diversification of offerings has become a near necessity for architectural CG companies, it surprises me that more people have not started exploring the possibilities here.
Personally I’m in the middle of building a home machine shop complete with metal lathe, CNC milling machine and likely soon a 3d printer, so I guess I too will be part of this new movement. Not so much because it’s the up and coming thing, but because my grandfather was a machinist at the start of his career and made a lot of things by hand and has inspired me to do the same. Sitting in front of the computer for so many years I have found myself yearning to use my hands again to actually make something real. It just so happens that the community built around this movement is very strong right now.
Big Changes Ahead
Many of us are experts at using the computer to model architecture and visualize how it will look, but as a profession I think there is a huge change upon us that I see starting to take effect in the next 2-5 years. Those who are currently making a living because they are masters of a software and are leveraging its ability to create photoreal images should take a long and hard look at where things are headed. It’s not going to be long before the hardware will allow anyone with a consumer gaming card and/or an internet connection to be able to render photoreal imagery with the push of a button. The technology is already here, the hardware just has to catch up. Applications, like iray, VRay RT, Bloom Unit, Caustic Graphics, TeamUp are just a few of the applications that have emerged in the last several years and I’m seeing new applications almost monthly. Every single one of these applications has one thing in common, ease of use and democratization of visualization and design. The democratization of visualization is just around the corner. It’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s when. And when it does happen, everyone throughout the design process will be using visualization to aid in the design process in some form. Visualization in most cases will not be the realm of specialists like it is now, but in the hands of all. Unless you are in the top 10% of the industry (dbox, Neoscape, Luxigon, Vyonyx, etc), you have specialized your skillset to the point of significant industry differentiation, or the scope of the deliverables you can offer to your customers is greater than just creating imagery, I think you should start to plan ahead now. I’m not saying everyone who does not fall into the categories above is going to lose all of their business, but the way you do business is going to change. What we do as a profession has to be about more than just making pretty pictures and mastering software.
I stumbled upon a very telling graph a few weeks ago from the market research company Gartner. Annually Gartner's Hype Cycle Special Report assesses the maturity, business benefit and future direction of more than 1,900 technologies and trends. Since 1995 they have been publishing their Hype Cycle tool to highlight the common pattern of overenthusiasm, disillusionment and eventual realism that accompanies each new technology and innovation. The vast majority of the themes, applications and direction that Autodesk and other emerging 3d technology companies have been pushing for the last 2-3 years fall all over this curve. The largest focuses are those technologies at the Peak of “Inflated Expectations” part of the curve. Gartners is predicting 20-30% potential audience adoption when a technology reaches the “Plateau of productivity”. In the case of 3d Printing, that is expected to happen in the next 5-10 years, whereas technologies like cloud computing are only 2-5 years away. As you look to develop your businesses think about how these technologies might affect the direction you chose to go. Certainly within ten years visualization is not going to be the same industry it is now, but if you keep your eye on the trends and evolve with them I think you’ll do well.
New Technologies and Products to watch in 2013
For the last part of this article I want to focus on some of the nitty gritty technologies that I’ve seen over the last 12 months that should be watched in 2013.
As I mentioned above this technology is not new, but the accessibility and low barrier to entry has reduced to a point that more mainstream adoption within our field is inevitable. Makerbot are the largest shareholders of the tabletop 3d printer market and just recent released their Replicator 2 Desktop 3d printer that is capable of printing within an 11” x 6” x 6” print volume. They just recently decided to close their source, but there are literally dozens of open source 3d printers and companies that build them that still make up the reprap movement. For between $800-2200 you can get your own desktop 3d printer.
Caustic Professional/Imagination Technologies
I’ve been following the developments of this company for quite some time now and this year at Autodesk University the public announcement was finally made about the availability of their Caustic Series 2 OpenRL boards (A real-time hardware raytrace accelerator). Some of you might remember the company Caustic Graphics that acquired the Brazil renderer a few years ago to showcase the OpenRL implementation with version 1 of their card. At the time, many, including myself, were skeptical of the how they might succeed, but once they were acquired by Imagination Technologies the possibilities took on a whole new life. The Caustic Professional card is proprietary hardware raytrace acceleration card that consume only 30-60W of power and are capable of processing up to 160 million incoherent rays per second. Significantly more speed and less power than any current GPU offering by either NVIDIA or AMD. What makes the acquisition of this technology by Imagination Technologies so relevant is the fact that they own nearly 80% of the mobile GPU market. Couple a highly capable, lower power consumption, GPU with a company that basically owns the mobile GPU market and I don’t think it takes long to figure out where this all might be headed. Within the next five years we may very well see high end rendering being done entirely on a mobile device. The speed of the current R2500 card is approximately 3 times faster than a single Tesla card.
The two cards announced at Autodesk University were the R2500 and the R2100, priced respectively at $1495 and $795 come with the Maya Visualizer plugin and will be available for sale in January 2013. The production version of the 3ds Max Visualizer will be available in Q2 of 2013 with beta trials beginning in February.
Unlike applications like iray, V-Ray RT etc. which basically have real-time capable preview windows, the Caustic Professional Visualizer software allows for a fully interactive viewport. So you can manipulate anything in the viewport as you do now in wireframe mode, except you are getting a real-time photorealistic rendition as you make those changes. The former VP of strategic development for iray, Michael Kaplan, is now the Director for Product Management for Imagination Technologies if that says anything.
In the coming week’s we’ll be getting our hands on one of the cards for testing and will report back with our findings, but this is definitely a company and technology I’ll be keeping my eye on.
FormIt is a new mobile applications announced at Autodesk University this year that helps you capture building design concepts digitally anytime, anywhere ideas strike. One of the latest mobile iPad developments from Autodesk the application is very much like SketchUp. The intent is that designers and design principals who are always in the field and on the go can use the application just like a napkin sketch, but facilitate easy integration of the design into a BIM workflow. Users with no experience with applications like Revit or SketchUp can still easily capture building design concepts digitally.
Bloom Unit, a cloud based collaborative rendering technology for SketchUp came out late this year, show great promise in the GPU and Cloud Based rendering space. Leveraging Reality Server, a technology they acquired from NVIDIA, and the iray renderer, they are enabling millions of SketchUp users to render entirely in the cloud with very little cost. You can read more about this software in our in-depth review here, but I think the significant take-away here is the direction this is all headed. Rendering is being democratized and with literally the push of a single button you can achiever very fast and photorealistic results at a very low cost. In the next several years I see all of the applications used in 3d moving towards simplified user interfaces, ease of use and near real-time performance. That does not mean more advanced functionality is going to go away, but it’s going to open the door for visualization to be accessible to many more people in the design process with very little additional knowledge that what they already know.
Fusion 360 & Sunglass IO
Fusion 360 was also announced at Autodesk University this year and while it is primarily aimed at the manufacturing and fabrication spaces, I think the important point to observe is the movement of professional applications into the cloud with very accessible interfaces that facilitate collaboration and accessibility of data. Fusion 360 reminded me a lot of another application that was announced earlier this year called Sunglass IO that received $1.8 million in funding from a number of venture capitalists this year. According to Sunglass they aspire to be the playground where designers explore and build the next great product, building or city together. With Sunglass you are able to model in your own application, but then upload the model to the cloud for version control and collaboration.
Announced at SIGGRAPH this year, TeamUp is a technology company based in Montreal, Canada. Their CEO is Thiago Costa the mastermind behind the Lagoa Multi-Physics engine in SoftImage. He and his team have created another new cloud based rendering offering powered by Multi-Optics® rendering technology, that also allows you to collaborate and share. The entire application is browser based and is worth following in 2013. They are currently in beta, but you can request access on their website. I was able to play around with the application for a few hours and it shows a lot of promise.
Our field has taken a real beating the last few years and more so than at any point in its history, there are some dramatic shifts in thinking and technology that are taking place. In my travels around the globe and in my discussions with many in our field, I think too many are focused on the next 12 months rather than the next five years. Nothing changes overnight, but how our field currently operates will undergo significant changes in the very foreseeable future. The art of visualization and representation is going to be pushed even further into the forefront as businesses built around mastery of software and specialty knowledge are going to be pushed to the side. The democratization of visualization throughout the design process is quickly approaching and how you decide to act on that knowledge will mean the success of failure of many in our business. 2013 is bound to bring even more developments and I’ll be on the road again this year to explore how they might impact our industry.
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