The Goals of Virtual Reality.
The goal of VIRTUALIZATION will be to develop a workflow to take our project from a digital model to a virtual experience.
Following the tradition of borrowing tools from outside industries, we will leverage the real-time visualization power of gaming engines used by leading game studios to create hyper-realistic interactive environments.
This process would allow our project to be explored in real-time on-screen, but also in fully immersive virtual reality.
This will involve mapping the process and best practices that will facilitate taking our designs from Revit through Unreal Engine, our chosen platform. Unreal will allow us the capability to produce various virtual versions of our project.
This will include standalone desktop programs which will be shareable and accessible on any computer, miniaturized app versions for quick viewing on Android or iPhone smartphones, and, ultimately, presenting high-quality virtual reality experiences utilizing select high-powered computer platforms capable of running the Oculus Rift VR hardware.
VIRTUALIZATION was selected to be developed within the Perkins + Will office as the first internal Researcher-in-Residence grant in 2016.
To develop the process, I used preliminary versions of the Simon Fraser University’s Student Union Building, which another team at Perkins + Will had been working on (later completed construction in 2020).
The VIRTUALIZATION project spanned approximately six months, culminating in the laying out of a workflow process of taking an architectural project from the Revit (the standard 3D BIM software) to the Unreal Engine (gaming engine).
Interactions were implemented using Unreal’s Blueprint visual coding language, and included:
- look-to-teleport movement
- saved location teleportation
- free flight (drone) flight
- daylight studies
- pop-up notes
Using Unreal Engine allowed the project to be scaled for multiple device types. Most of the development was done for the HTC Vive, which allowed for high quality renderings with materials and real time shadows.
This was also translated into lower quality mobile VR devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR headset. This would potentially allow for impromptu demonstrations for clients without the need for extensive hardware.
Limitations of VIRTUALIZATION was that it required thorough expertise in modeling and skinning beyond the typical Revit workflow, making it much more time consuming. Moreover, specific equipment, namely powerful GPUs, was necessary for the process, whereas the office normally ran lightweight notebooks.
However, unlike plugins that I had tested (and implemented its use within the office), the presentation quality and rendering ability is unmatched, providing stunning client experiences.
Documentation for VIRTUALIZATION was maintained and made available as an office resource in a comprehensive wiki, detailing the workflow and particular nuances that come with the 3D modeling / rendering pipeline.
I held two full day workshops to demonstrate and teach the process to around 20 architects and design professionals within the Perkins + Will Vancouver office.
This was an opportunity to share the resources that we had developed, and lead the field into a new direction of rapid virtual prototyping and incredibly high quality client presentation capabilities.