Imagina 2011 report

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Monaco was once again the hub of the European visualisation and simulation industry at Imagina 2011, writes Stephen Holmes.

The French contingent took a lead at this year’s Imagina conference and much of what was on show reflected the different projects going on around the country.

The Grimaldi Centre featured a large presence from the established French companies, but also a number of international giants and other smaller European companies that are bringing new ideas and technology to the community.

In Skape, buildings can be moved around or replaced in an accurate city model. Image courtesy of Skape

Defence of the realm

Major themes this year included the branching out of established defence firms into the friendlier mapping and urbanism sector.

Astrium, an aerospace subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which more typically provides civil and defence space systems, was present with its product Skape.

Designed by Infoterra (an offshoot arm of Astrium), Skape is a pre-built and fully rendered 3D world with much to offer architects and planners.

200 cities have been mapped by a variety of satellites and low-flying aircraft in the Astrium fleet in varying levels of detail, with 15 key cities accurate to within 40cm.

The resulting models are highly detailed, but for the architect or planner every building can be selected, removed or replaced with one of their own.


Further defence industry knowledge was on display from Thales presenting its latest technologies for the production and visualisation of large urban areas.

On show was a new fly-through visualisation engine based on the company’s flight simulation technology.

Piloting a small plane or helicopter was more interesting than the usual ghostly urban fly-throughs, but the level of detail down below was very accurate and could be zoomed upon.

Accurate lighting and weather conditions brought the geography to life, along with civilian activity.

This was all in relation to Thales’ security software Hypervision, a powerful tool for next generation public space evacuation and supervision, but applicable also to urban visualisation, energy, utilities and transport industries.

French favourites

The Gallic CAD and rendering brands were determined to make their presence felt. Dassault Systèmes took a turn away from last year’s launch of Catia Architecture with the news that it would be transferring its architectural arm towards SolidWorks.

SolidWorks Live Building, based on the standard V6 platform, is to be launched later this year, although whether it will still maintain the detailed levels of Catia Architecture is yet to be seen.

Catia Architecture was built on Dassault’s heritage of shipbuilding software, and several versions have been used almost ‘bespoke’ by architectural houses such as Fosters + Partners.

The move to the less engineering-driven Solidworks base is an odd move, but it seems to be more about using a well known name than the architecture of the software.

Eric Piccuezzu, Dassault Systèmes general manager of construction and city life, had little to add, offering the explanation that: “Solidworks is more well positioned from a brand point of view than Catia.” Expect more news in the coming months.

Enodo’s adapted hi-end video-game technology, Cryengine, was shown in its purest architectural service mode yet.

Real-time ‘multi-player’ technology meant numerous people could enter a huge model and explore it at their own leisure by car, foot, or from the air.

A new Urban Life System provided realistic action for the virtual habitants around the rendered model, offering architects the ability to play ‘God’ with their creations.

Sophisticated algorithms enable intuitive behaviours from virtual habitants, such as how real people would react to rain, or the effect of urban planning on driving conditions.

Further rendering excellence was shown by Lumiscaphe and its Patchwork 3D tool.

Using ConfBuilder in version 4.0 models can be configured with parameters and viewed in real time and in 3D, ideal for textures and finishes on a 3D model.

ConfExplorer controls the rendering calculation of a high-quality 3D image without any hardware constraints – enabling rendering on an iPad or other mobile device.

At the speedier end of rendering visualisations, Twinmotion was demonstrating its Twinmotion2 software.

Proudly declared as a product designed by architects for architects, it is an incredibly fast real-time renderer with real-time lighting and physics. With the architect in mind it has been optimised for importing files and super quick graphics performance with multi-core processors.

Viewing power

Another strong trend at this year’s show was the stereoscopic technology.

Away from its impressive cloud-computing demonstrations, Nvidia’s stand featured its own visualisation cave to showcase its upgraded stereoscopic glasses system.

3D Vision uses radio frequencies to send stereoscopic signals. Previously only a limited number of people could be connected to each signal emitter, and had to be placed straight in front of it. The new technology can now reach a virtually unlimited number of viewers from a signal emitter that can be concealed anywhere in the room.

On a less grand scale, Vertice was using Nvidia’s technology to take its Nova product into impressive 3D. The interactive 3D visualisation tool for transforming 3ds Max and Revit models into detailed, explorable walkthroughs looked great through the stereoscopic glasses.


The show was not all about the future; the biggest crowds were huddled around the giant LITE (Light Immersive Transportable Environment) display of the Gunzo Project.

Two inclined 4m by 2.25m screens, one in front, the other on an overhang above, gave an amazing impression of height when the viewer was immersed in a building or a 3D mock-up.

Specifically designed for heritage projects, viewers donned stereoscopic glasses and were transported to the demolished French church abbey of Cluny, Burgundy – digitally remodelled by a team of engineers, archaeologists, historians and geographers.

The high quality projection system allows 15 people to view the transportable screens, where the looming screens can be used for walkthroughs.

The Gunzo project is heading to Scotland next where it is remodelling the ruins of Crossraguel Abbey in Ayrshire.

With Enodo also showcasing heritage projects, the uses for 3D modelling had a distinctly stately feel to it this year in the sovereign principality of Monaco.

Imagina Award winner Crystal CG created a dreamlike world where Ieoh Ming Pei’s extraordinary architectural vision, though never built, is finally realised over a half-century since its conception. Image courtesy of Crystal CG

Imagina awards

This year was as glamorous as usual, with the tuxedo-clad recipients of the architecture category picking up awards for pin-sharp visualisations and clever animations.

The UK arm of visualisation specialist Crystal CG received an award for its first ever animation, that of legendary architect Ieoh Ming Pei’s 1954 Manhattan skyscraper.

The London practice was commissioned by Royal Institute of British Architects to produce a two minute animation of the Hyperboloid Tower, IM Pei’s frustrated dream.

“Our clip was: ‘if it was built how would it look?’ So we had these surreal cubic crystals rising up to the sky and one of them was not cubic, but a sphere,” explained Ximo Peris, Crystal’s creative director. “The Hyperboloid was at the time an incredibly forward thinking project as skyscrapers that were then created by extruding a square. Curved skyscrapers didn’t exist properly.”

It was a five-week project, with a small budget that forced the team into using every ounce of its imagination.

“We had to be creative with the ideas. It suited us not to use realism, to make it look a bit more ‘designed’, like a parallel universe where Manhattan is made out of glass.

Working with 3ds Max and VRay to produce the renderings, Mr Peris and the team edited the animation with Adobe Premiere to produce an animation that IM Pei would be proud of. The video can be viewed here


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