Industry News

By Jeff Mottle

Latest news about VIZ4 from Autodesk

Hi all,

I’ve seen some posts here recently speculating on the future of Lightscape. We recently announced a new release of Autodesk VIZ 4 (formerly know as 3D Studio VIZ) that includes much of the Lightscape functionality and I think this may be causing some confusion. The fact is that we continue to sell and support Lightscape.

So having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to fill everyone in on this new release of VIZ. We have been hard at work over the past few years developing a new generation of radiosity technology and we will be introducing in this release. And there are many other new features of Autodesk VIZ that I think would be of considerable interest to many of you.

I should start off by making sure everyone understands that there is a lot more functionality in VIZ then there is Lightscape (hence the price difference). Whereas Lightscape is designed primarily for lighting, rendering and camera animation, VIZ is a fully featured 3d modeling, rendering and animation application with a broad range of 3d and multimedia tools. It tailors the 3ds max platform specifically to the needs of designers by adding some features (such as layers, architectural objects, sunlight system) and removing other features that are not as relevant (such as character animation).

Like Lightscape, VIZ can import models in other formats such as DWG and DXF but, unlike Lightscape, it also offers a unique DWG linking feature that lets you maintain data integrity between any application that outputs a DWG file. For example, if you are working with AutoCAD or Architectural Desktop, you can create a model, link it to VIZ where you can apply materials, set up lighting and do your rendering. If you later make a change to the original model, you can update the link and all the geometry of the scene will update but all the materials and lights will be preserved. I should also mention that this DWG linking feature works with many products that produce DWG files – not just Autodesk products.

In order for you to be able to use any legacy data from Lightscape, the new release will import both .lp and .ls files (the .lp import supports geometry and limited lights materials but it does not support blocks). While we’re on the subject, the new implementation in Autodesk VIZ uses a single unified (.max) file stricture. If a radiosity solution is calculated, it is stored as part of the scene file – not as a separate solution file.

Autodesk VIZ 4 does preserve all the photometric lighting capabilities of Lightscape and then some. A new object type, called an assembly, allows you to define luminaires that can model all the mechanical operations and constraints of a real luminaire using the new Inverse Kinematics (IK) functionality. As you aim the target of a spot light the head of the luminaire will swivel and move as a real one. To help you aim your spot lights you can set your camera view to that of the light.

A new feature lets you assign a real luminance to a material and have that incorporated into the radiosity and rendering solution. This means you can turn any object into a light source and easily create effects like neon lights – something that is not possible in Lightscape.

Much of the lighting analysis functionality of Lightscape has also been preserved (pseudo color display and quantitative statistics per object). While we no longer support point by point grids we have introduced new functionality to render an image to a TIFF LogLUV file format. This format maintains photometric data and can be used in conjunction with a 3rd party tools for more advanced analysis or display capabilities (Some public domain tools, such as Radiance, are available for this).

Now to the heart of the matter… The radiosity engine for VIZ has been completely reformulated. The new engine does not use the “progressive refinement” approach but is based on new statistical sampling techniques that produce fully converged radiosity solutions in a fraction of the time that it would take with Lightscape. Scenes that would take hours to process in Lightscape can often be processed in minutes in VIZ, meaning that radiosity can be a more practical technique for everyday design studies.

A new method of calculating meshes has also been introduced that produces more regular shaped mesh elements, avoiding the long skinny triangles that could lead to streaky artifacts in Lightscape. The new radiosity technology does not support adaptive meshing so the typical workflow for using radiosity in VIZ is to use radiosity only to calculate the indirect illumination and then render the direct illumination using the VIZ renderer. It is still possible to store direct illumination in the mesh if desired for interactive display or for better rendering performance (it is the default that is used for area, linear and sky lights).

Like Lightscape, the radiosity solution can be viewed interactively in a VIZ viewport. In fact, you can continue to move or add objects in the radiosity rendered scene (although you would have to reprocess your solution for these changes to be updated in the solution).

An important goal of our new implementation is that the radiosity solution be fully integrated into the production rendering system of VIZ. This means that you can now incorporate in your images a wide array of rendering effects that were not possible in Lightscape such as bump maps and volumetric lights. And radiosity solutions can be incorporated into animations (with or without calculating solutions at each frame).

One of the most exciting new features of this implementation is a new “pixel regathering” functionality that can be used to calculate the radiosity value of each pixel of a rendered image. While this can add considerable time to a final rendering, the results can be truly stunning – capturing all the subtle shadows from indirect lighting that cannot be captured in a radiosity mesh. It also eliminates most of the artifacts that you can get with Lightscape (floating objects, light leaks and shadow leaks). If you use the pixel regather option you don’t have to be as careful about creating those “clean” models required to get good Lightscape solutions. It also lets you typically keep the resolution of the radiosity mesh much coarser than would be required saving time and memory. So while this can take more time at the back end (rendering) it can save you a lot of time up front in the modeling stage.

In general, rendering time will be highly variable, depending upon the resolution, scene complexity, number of lights and level of quality desired. Small-scale design studies can often be done fairly fast with a minimum configuration (Pentium 3 with 512 MB Ram). Complex scenes with hundreds of light sources using pixel regathering will use as much muscle as you can throw at it. The good news is that both the radiosity and rendering of Autodesk VIZ are multi threaded so you can take full advantage of multi-processor workstations and use network rendering with up to 10,000 nodes.

I believe that covers most of the major new features of Autodesk VIZ 4 but there is so much more to this product than I could cover here. As the ship date approaches in mid December, we will be posting more information to the website ( so I invite you to check this out.

Stuart Feldman
Product Manager – Autodesk VIZ and Lightscape.

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About this article

Courtesy of the Lightscape web board - Stuart Feldman, Product Manager for Autodesk VIZ and Lightscape, lets users know what's new in Autodesk VIZ 4. Have questions? Post them to our Forum.

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About the author

Jeff Mottle

Founder at CGarchitect

placeCalgary, CA