Lumion 4.0 is targeted as architectural previs, but focuses on a very direct, real-time approach without bogging the user down with a lot of irrelevant technical nuances. In short, you import your models and spruce them up with an extensive library of built-in assets and materials and render then in near-real-time. Point is that when you show your client, or potential clients, your stuff it looks prettier than the stuff coming from the competing firm down the road and was extremely fast to previs - like an experienced user can bang out a great looking previs in under an hour from start to finish... animated!
For high quality previs you used to have to either ship your models to a firm that specialized in it, or hire an in-house 3ds Max guy whose entire job was previs.
Lumion changes some of that in the sense that one guy can now be proficient in under an hour and an expert in a day. You can make your own previs at a much lower cost because the same guy who makes the CAD model can also make the previs with very little training. The real-time approach also makes tinkering significantly faster.
Lumion reminds me of using using a game editor, where you have real-time control over everything from terrain, weather, trees, people, buildings, materials, effects, pretty much everything you need and it is all immediately responsive, but without worrying about the gritty details. In Lumion, you're usually not concerned with the index of refraction, reflection, absorption and transmission limits - you simply say "this is water," "that is glass," and so on, and Lumion takes care of it and it does a pretty good job of it, too.
It has an extensive library of built-in assets (2409 models and just over 500 materials in total). You simply import your hero object (house, building, stadium, whatever) and assign materials with immediate feedback. Spruce things up with a few assets from the library and click render.
The library itself is impressive, there are even a few things in there you might not expect. You can plant trees, vegetation, street signs and park benches or whatever with one click. Click - bam, it's a palm tree and already blowing in the breeze. A few clicks later and there's a person with idle animation sitting under it on a park bench with a cup of coffee with leaves blowing past.
The real advantage to Lumion is speed. Speed of renders, speed of interface, speed of getting a previs done. The quality of the interactive editor where you place your assets and so forth was very good and the interface was very clean and minimal, but well thought out. The interactive quality is tunable, depending on your graphics hardware, but even this is simple to do.
Making a still render was pretty much the click of a button and resulted in a very high quality render. Making a movie was almost as easy and the render times are very fast indeed. For still frames, if you blink you'll miss the rendertime. For a minute long walk-through a rendertime of 10 minutes or less is common on modern hardware. A skilled Lumion user can have a previs done, rendered and in the client's hands literally within the hour. All the tools, materials and settings all have sane, immediately useful defaults.
The camera in Lumion is first-person style, very similar to first-person shooter games. This makes navigation quite intuitive, but for some unfortunate souls, including myself, also a rather unpleasant experience. I can use the software about 10 minutes and I'm done for the next few hours unless I want to puke. As long as I don't move the camera I'm good forever. Most people are not affected. If you can play first-person games without a problem, you'll be totally fine.
This isn't a fault of the software so much as an susceptibility in some people. When using 3D software, where the camera's tumble pivot remains stationary or moves slowly relative to the camera's actual position (such as traditional 3D viewport in a modeling program), I have zero problems with motion sickness. Put that same camera in first-person mode and it's time to break out the Dramamine. Fortunately, you can test drive Lumion for free to see if you'll have a problem!
It's pretty cool and also pretty addictive. For what Lumion was designed to do, it does it very well. It is high quality software to get architecture previs done fast. The render quality was surprisingly good, especially considering that it's hardware based. It's also a lot of fun to play around with! You're not going to beat Mentalray or V-Ray in terms of quality, but you'll come pretty close and you'll have it done it in minutes - not days. You also won't need to waste a month to get up to speed on how to use it. If you have a tight schedule and need to get a previs out the door quickly, consider test driving Lumion (you can use a limited version for free to see if it's your cup of tea). All things considered, Lumion is pretty sweet.
Kurt Foster (Modulok) falls somewhere between programmer and visual effects artist. When not sifting through technical manuals, he takes on freelance roles in both programming and visual effects, attempting to create a marriage of technical knowledge with artistic talent. He can be seen helping out on the Renderosity Maya forum, when time permits.
January 20, 2014
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