Sun Studies and moving beyond what we always did
To end my post on the Where, When, and Who of renderings, I did a quick sun study. Like I mentioned in my followup article on bettering siding, I was just showing off what we can do in ARCHICAD. Here’s the video:
With CineRender it is so easy to make cool visuals. I love making renderings, videos, or creating new Surfaces for even the flimsiest of reasons. I then get excited and want to share them because I’m still recovering from the mindset of someone who used to slave away for hours and hours to create renderings that weren’t even a tenth as good as what we now get by using just the defaults (or the defaults with some minor adjustments). So while working on the original article, I uploaded the sun study to my ARCHICAD tutorial YouTube channel. I also posted it on Facebook and Twitter. I tend to do that these days when I create an image or video and can’t wait to share it. Plus it’s fun to get some instant gratification, constructive feedback, and thoughts from other architects and ARCHICAD users. After watching the video on my Facebook page, Jim Dodson of SPINN Arkitekter responded with this tweet and video:
“Meanwhile above the arctic circle…Baksalen School in summer, midnight sun.”
These two videos are great compliments. One video is from the POV of the future client (or his slightly shorter neighbor). The other is an aerial view, essentially an animated 2D view. One attempts to approximate a sense of realism. The other is monochromatic, becoming a 4D diagram. One video focuses on shadows cast on the project; the other cast from the project. Both use the CineRender engine and would have been very difficult to create pre-ARCHICAD 18. The white model effect for a project north of the arctic circle is so evocative. The mesh looks so much like drifting snow. But of course during a day of midnight sun, there wouldn’t be snow on the ground. Google Street View can confirm that for us: Neither of these videos is trying to replicate what we did in the past. They are new things. Reminiscent of previous work, sure, but they are not trying to be something old. They are attempting something new. Furthermore, both are by-products of proper data. They are output. They are side effects. And once you’ve already got a project modeled and located properly (which we discussed here), doing one of these sun studies is just a matter of choosing your rendering aesthetic, POV, and intent. And then of course choosing the correct settings in the Create Sun Study dialog box that support your decisions.
The Basics of Sun Studies
I’m going to spend the rest of this article discussing the minutiae of the Create Sun Study dialog box rather than the aesthetics, POV, and intent of the sun studies, as those aspects are for other posts focusing on design and communication intent. Results — I don’t have much to say about this option. MP4 and Color are a good default. But there are a bunch of other options you can explore. PhotoRendering Window or 3D Window — The PhotoRendering Window is going to produce a better image and allow you to control the resolution of the resulting video. But it’s going to take much longer to produce. In general, you’ll want to produce a more polished video. But sometimes the 3D Window is good enough. Here’s a video I did a long time ago that was straight from the 3D Window. If you put extra effort into the aesthetics of the 3D Window, you can create a nice cartoon-y video/image/sun study in much less time. For more info on improving the quality of your 3D Window, read this article. Another time to consider the 3D Window is when you would otherwise be producing a sketch. A polished photorendered sun study will be great for high end presentations, websites, social media, etc. But anytime you’d be comfortable showing someone a hand sketch, think about also showing them something from the 3D Window—whether that’s a still image, a movie from a Camera path, or a Sun Study. To verify this, I did the same sun study from the beginning of this blog post, but using the 3D Window (see I told you I’m always looking for excuses to produce interesting visuals out of ARCHICAD). It looks nice and comes with the benefit of the time and location display at the bottom of the video, which to be honest is a mixed blessing. It took less than five minutes to create rather than five hours (which is about how long the fully rendered version took to generate). That’s wonderful, as it means you could easily create a Sun Study in the time it takes to use the bathroom, get a coffee, check your e-mail, or any other minor daily task you regularly do. Or of course you can just keep working with the Sun Study creation happening in the background, but what fun is that? One tip: if you are using trees or other image based objects, turn off contours in the 3D Window so that you don’t see the rectangular outlines around the Objects.
Date — Whatever you want, but pick something that’s important: a solstice, a holiday, your client’s birthday, a prototypical summer day… Embed meaning into everything you do. If you create the sun study from the 3D window, that date will be staring the client in the face throughout the entire video. Make it add value to your arguments. From Sunrise to Sunset or From / To — If you go with a specific time, you can have the video go from midnight to midnight, or whatever times you want. Doing a full twenty-four hours will make the video longer and give you time to talk over the beginning of the video (either live or with post-processing narration). A full day suggests something different than just sunrise to sunset. Which meaning do you want to convey? Interval — The interval is how often ARCHICAD does a rendering (frame). The smaller the interval, the more frames. You can set the interval to anything between 1 minute and 999 minutes. If your interval is 1 minute, you’ll have sixty frames per hour of time in the sun study. If your interval is 15 minutes, you’ll have 4 frames per hour. If your interval is 60 minutes, you’ll have 1 frame per hour. Depending on your goals, you’ll probably create a video with an interval of between 1 and 60 minutes. More on that when we talk about video length and smoothness. Frame Rate — The number of frames per second. Rebuild Model for Each Frame — If you are doing a sun study, you probably don’t have to worry about this. Certain Objects move with the camera, always face the camera, move along a path, or have some aspect that changes based on the frames of an animation. Here’s a fun 007 themed example. As most of these Objects are vehicles, having them in a Sun Study doesn’t make sense (you aren’t going to have a car move slowly in a sun Study), but it’s a good feature to know about. And actually you could set up a car to leave a garage in the morning and return at night to help your client understand their daily routine. So maybe there are some instances where this matters. If you have one of these special Objects, you’ll need to rebuild the model with each frame. Be warned: this feature adds to rendering time, so if you don’t need it, don’t check it.
A very important equation
There is no video length option when you create either a Sun Study or a Fly Through. Instead you have to reverse engineer the length of the video you want by adjusting the Interval (Frames), Frame Rate, and From/To of the video. Here’s the simple equation to remember:
Frames/Frame Rate = time (in seconds)
To create a longer video (given a constant from/to), either decrease the frame rate or increase the number of frames by decreasing the Interval. If your video covers 12 hours, has an interval of 60 minutes, and has a frame rate of 12, it’ll be one second long (12 hours/60 minutes/frame = 12 frames; 12 frames/12 frames/second = 1 second). If you do that same video with a frame rate of 1, it’ll be twelve seconds long (12 frames/1 frame/second = 12 seconds). If you keep the frame rate of 12 but change the interval to 5 minutes, it’ll also be twelve seconds long (12 hours/5 minutes/frame = 144 frames; 144 frames/12 frames/second = 12 seconds). The numbers you want depend on how smooth and long you want the video. It’s not inconceivable that you’d want a 12 second video with 12 frames for a sun study. It’d be jerky, but for a sun study, that might be okay. You tell me. Here’s an example of a 24 second video with 24 frames. Each frame lasts a second and equals an hour, and the video covers a full twenty-four hours. The jump from sunrise to an hour later is a little abrupt and I realize I really want to see the sun moving in the sky too (because of the interval we never see the sun). But the 1 second per frame isn’t so bad. I could image a version of this video where each frame is 30 minutes or maybe 20 minutes.That subtle shift might be enough to make it quite lovely. The quick movement of my original video is nice, but there’s value to slowness. A 60 frame/1 frame a second sun study where each frame is 15 minutes would be a really good video to watch and discuss how the sun moves across the site. Or perhaps a two minute video… I think the goal would be to set the speed such that it reinforces the mood and tone you want to set. Is the sun a speedy fireball across the sky? Or are the shadows moving slow and lazily across the earth?
The shadow at the end of this video bothers me. Why is it there? Is it from the moon or something else? It’s distracting. I’m tempted to redo the video and fix it. It’d be easy to solve. I could turn the camera and look at what’s going on. Maybe the moon is hanging in the sky. Maybe it’s a glitch. One or two quick renderings wouldn’t be hard to run to find out. Actually not even that. All I would have to do is set the time right, turn off the moon, and update the preview on the PhotoRendering Settings. If it wasn’t the moon, I could just make some other tweaks and update the preview again. No need to render. So let’s do that. Yup. It’s the moon:
Now that I know the issue, I could find a solution other than turning off the moon to remove the shadows I don’t like. Or I could live with it because technically the moon is casting a shadow. In the end, I’m fine with the video as it is. It’s a doodle; a throw away output; a digital napkin sketch.
A Long Way From Where We Started
We have this powerful tool (ARCHICAD) and all of us rightly say “I don’t even use half or a quarter of the program”. Typically it is said as a lament—if I had more time, I’d do more—rather than a call to action: there’s so much potential waiting for me to discover, and with each new release there’s even more! With CAD or hand drafting there was rarely a mountain of awesomeness waiting for us. But with BIM (and especially ARCHICAD) there’s much we can do if we just explore a little bit more, or push a little farther with each project. The opportunity and rewards are exponential, not linear. As I’ve said a million times, it’s all about baby steps. This series of blog posts started as a few slides in a presentation I gave back in May, 2015. The original intent was just to talk about existing conditions. But it kind of snowballed. I’ve written over nine-thousand words so far between five blog posts and recorded over thirteen minutes of video.
- Where, When, and Who: the starting point of visualization
- Lap Siding and Baked On Shadows
- From CineRender to the 3D Window
- Control Joints and Strong Air in ARCHICAD
We started with simply setting the location of the project and ended up learning about how to show or hide the moon in a rendering. We don’t know all the features, but there are a lot of things we can do with what we do understand. Now that we understand the generalities, additional usage of these concepts and techniques are essentially free, especially if the lessons can be included in our templates. And then if the production can be automated in the background while we do other things, like write blog posts, eat lunch, play with our kids, or maybe do other work, more opportunities will arise. If we explore and experiment, our capabilities grow. I don’t know what I’ll do with my knowledge of moon-control in ARCHICAD now that I have it, but I’ll figure out something. Maybe there’s some as-yet to be designed bedroom window that will be positioned such that it gets awesome views of the full moon on typically clean winter nights… I don’t know. But it’s one more tool for design.
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