Nova Studio 2010

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Stephen Holmes looks at Nova Studio, a real time 3D engine that enables users to explore Revit or 3ds Max models in real time, much like they would a 3D game.

Nova Studio from French firm Vertice offers an interactive way to explore Autodesk Revit or 3ds Max models.

The product is aimed at all levels, whether it be small architects looking for an interactive way for clients to explore a building design; a larger practice wanting to explore a range of options of lighting or textures, or a specialist visualisation company looking to fit out an interactive museum or gallery.

A freely distributable executable file means that team members, clients and even the public can interact with the model. Image courtesy of Vertice

The quality of the renderings is excellent, with accurate shadows, reflections from glass and standing water, and lighting all in real time. It is suitable for all stages of the design process, from concept to final presentations.

Interaction

The most interesting thing about Nova is the level of interaction it offers with the model. Away from short fly-through animations and set pathways, Nova enables the user to pretty much explore the model in their own time, from any angle.

Users can navigate the model much like they would a 3D game, using a mouse/keyboard or a games controller. Vertice has recently added support for touchscreens and the Xbox Kinetic controller, with which users wave at the monitor to manoeuvre through an interactive model. Users can also navigate scenes in immersive 3D with support for professional stereoscopic 3D visual technology with Nvidia’s 3D Vision hardware.

Textures, shadows, reflections and all the physics are very accurate and can be viewed anywhere thanks to the online Nova Server. Image courtesy of Vertice

The software includes clash detection when navigating through a scene. Users can walk up stairs, open and close doors, switch lights on and off and move objects around. Colours, textures and lighting can also be adjusted interactively, with real time sun studies to see exactly where shadows will fall.

Nova Studio is specifically designed to work with Autodesk Revit and 3ds Max and there is a plug in for both applications that enables users to export Nova-ready models. Nova can also import .3ds, .obj, .fbx, .dxf and .dae formats from other 3D software, but the workflow is not as refined.

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The 3ds Max plug in allows lights, textures, interactions and special effects to be exported directly into Nova Studio. Baked textures from both Mental Ray and V-Ray are also recognised.

The Revit plug in works in a similar way but is unable to retrieve any light settings made to the original model.

Nova 2010 offers a high level of interactivity with 3D visualisations that transforms projects from Revit and 3ds Max. Image courtesy of Vertice

Materials, lights, actions and animations can also be defined inside Nova Studio. This is a fairly straightforward process, but it can take time to really get the most out of the BIM model. In saying that, the recently enhanced user interface is intuitive, which helps give novice users the confidence to dive in.

Nova has no geometry editing tools per se so all of the model building needs to be done inside Revit or 3ds Max. Any subsequent modifications to the model have to be done inside the native CAD software and re-imported. Nova Studio uses a Delta File (which records any changes that have been made).

Viewed anywhere

Once a scene has been compiled there are two main ways to distribute the model — to clients, members of the design team or even the public.

The first is by creating a freely distributable executable file that includes both the scene and the player. A comments tool also enables the model to be marked up with text boxes that are placed on a surface or texture. All comments can be collated in a dynamic linked database for easy reference.

Nova models can also be hosted in the cloud using a separate application called Nova Server. This enables users to navigate scenes anywhere in the world, with models streamed to lightweight clients including Web browsers and smartphones. Nova Server costs €5,990, or €206 per month for 36 months.

Conclusion

Still renderings and animations have become essential assets when it comes to visualising large scale architectural projects. While these photorealistic creations are excellent at presenting specific elements of an architectural project, one can argue that it is only by navigating BIM models in real time that users can truly engage with the design.

With Nova Studio, team members, clients, or even the public, can explore projects on their own terms and it offers a great way of getting a sense of scale and orientation. The ability to view models on lightweight clients anywhere in the world is also an exciting proposition.

The downside of Nova Studio, as with many real time navigation tools, is that it is still very much a presentation tool. While you can change textures and lighting within the software, you cannot edit or create geometry. Still, for what it does, it does well. The quality of renderings is good and interaction is smooth, and is well worth a look.

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