Engine Viz Pipeline

Gaming Technology Takes Over—SPACIALISTS Promotes Its Unreal Engine Viz Pipeline

ENGINEERS ON SGI WORKSTATIONS in the 1990s could never have anticipated this day. More than two decades ago, the cutting edge of computer 3D graphics was firmly in the hands of the technical and scientific elite. Lockheed Martin aerospace experts, for the most part, would have laughed if you told them in 1990 that in the future, youngsters in their beds would be propelling the state-of-the-art in 3D computerised graphics. But that’s where we are right now. It should come as no surprise, then, that technologies dubbed as “game engines” are beginning to permeate the professional AEC visualisation sector. SPACIALISTS, a small boutique visualisation firm situated in Los Angeles, is one such company on the cutting edge of that workflow.

It Seems Unreal

“All of the work presently coming out of SPACIALISTS is done with the Unreal Engine and ARCHICAD,” explains Jen Oloo, SPACIALISTS’ head of marketing. SPACIALISTS was founded a little over five years ago by Jen’s husband, Philip Oloo, who has degrees in interior design and construction management. “Clients appreciate Philip’s extensive knowledge in construction and building.” It enables us to give added value that most visualisation firms cannot.” SPACIALISTS has undergone a significant technological transformation in the last year, transitioning from ARCHICAD plus traditional high-end renderers to ARCHICAD plus Unreal Engine. “We started ditching all the conventional rendering software four months ago,” Philip says. The journey began when he began to investigate and teach himself the Unreal Engine, one of the world’s premier computer game engines and development platforms. Because game developers have strived to distribute their innovative titles to as many people as possible, they have released games on a variety of rival gaming platforms. To assist game development studios in accomplishing this, the major game engines have established extensive development environments that ease the tasks associated in coding for different sorts of operating systems and computer hardware types. Suddenly, game engines themselves appear to be rather appealing to software developers working on applications for professional sectors such as architectural visualisation.

Architectural Professional

Every architectural professional does not wish to wait so long for high-quality visuals. Time is of the essence. Rather than creating scenes in 3D and then sending them to a typical renderer application, Philip produces more complete environments and then bakes the lighting and atmospheric conditions into the environment only once. “We can bake the scene once and then go inside the model and click, click, click,” Philip explains. “This is a more cheap technique for clients who want numerous photos,” he adds. 02 – The benefits of the Unreal Gaming Engine environment include the ability to bake once and more quickly generate high-quality numerous images and animations at the back-end of the process, resulting in better flexibility for both SPACIALISTS and its clients. Philip adds that the industry practise for developing animations is to charge by the second. “We no longer need to render each image within the animation. “Once the scene is baked in Unreal, you walk into the model and wander around, recording it to the computer like you would a movie on your iPhone,” he explains. According to Philip, it is significantly more versatile and powerful because you can immediately react to what your client may require, particularly when they want more views or different flows in an animation. Why ARCHICAD As Modeler? SPACIALISTS’ modelling work is entirely based on the BIM programme ARCHICAD.

Philip mentioned that when he was looking for modellers to use to begin his visualisation practise a few years ago, he explored tools like 3ds Max, formZ, and Rhino. “ARCHICAD just made a lot of sense for architectural visualisation,” Philip explains, “in terms of library, window editing, fast generating the many sorts of windows and doors, and also the details.” Getting the true connection details between pieces was also very crucial to him, which is something BIM software like ARCHICAD has an advantage over pure general modellers. Knowing that many architectural visualisation professionals use Autodesk 3ds Max, Philip stated that “3ds max was wonderful, but it didn’t come with the degree of smart objects for architecture that ARCHICAD does.” He also mentioned that he was able to effortlessly construct complex structures with ARCHICAD, and that the morph tool made organic designs straightforward. “I have friends that use 3ds Max, and it’s wonderful, but it’s a tool built for many things other than architecture, including 3D character design, animations…for me, ARCHICAD just made the most sense.”

The Work’s Details

In one case, SPACIALISTS designed a waffle bar rendering for a customer. It is rich with intricate elements in the scene, such as loaves of bread and waffle machines. However, Spacialists does not model everything in a scenario. Jen Oloo adds, “Before we do anything, we look at what is in the object marketplace…and buy it if it makes financial sense.”

In the case of the waffle bar image, they modelled the waffle makers in ARCHICAD. According to Philip, the market’s availability of high-quality models is shifting. “I would argue that six to eight years ago, putting models out on the web was fairly expensive, and corporations didn’t share anything,” he says. “I can now call any company, such as a juicer company.” I’ve contacted Hamilton, for example, and told them I needed an object, and they just gave it to me.” “Nowadays, distributing such 3D things is considered as a kind of marketing tool for those huge firms,” he continues, “but years ago, that just didn’t happen very often.” Another factor that contributes to this is that manufacturers today create their products in a 3D CAD environment and then go straight to production, whereas in the past they did not. Companies can now share these 3D models.


SPACIALISTS is currently in the first year of its move to the Unreal Engine, and Philip confesses that some clients are still getting used to it. When I asked him what might be done to optimise the workflow, he indicated GRAPHISOFT could collaborate with Unreal to fix the UV map issues that could arise during the process. “And the roofing tool isn’t as good as it could be,” he noted, reflecting on modelling components of the BIM application. “Our workflow is very different than what their focus is at Unreal because they are not working with many architects,” Jen adds, “they are working with visualisation companies and the few companies that are using Unreal are modelling everything in 3ds max, and that is where the focus has been for Unreal because those are their early adopters.” However, things are changing for Unreal. The Unreal Engine powers Abvent’s successful Twinmotion AEC visualisation application, and other game engines are making inroads into professional 3D market categories other than gaming. Phil and Jen believe that continued developments in software integrations provide considerable opportunities for Unreal to further serve the AEC market. For the time being, architects interested in this type of process—a workflow that integrates both the time-saving components stated earlier as well as other prospects that come from Unreal, such as VR—SPACIALISTS is planning a seminar to teach this technique. Those that are interested should definitely get on board.