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From CAD User AEC Magazine Vol 22 No 9 - SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
If you want to really test your architectural concepts then why not put yourselves, and your colleagues, in the picture!
With so many people already exploring virtual online worlds like Second Life it was inevitable that someone was bound to see the commercial possibilities of applying the concept to other arenas. You may already be a player of Second Life yourself! It's the online game where you take on an alta persona or 'avatar' and do loads of things that you couldn't possibly envisage doing in real life, like flying around superhero-style, driving fast cars, buying fabulous houses or chatting up complete strangers!
The world of Second Life is there to be shaped by its users, with players being free to reinvent or evolve every aspect of their online experience, from the appearance of their avatars down to the buildings and locations that make up the world’s environments. The concept has legs (and arms and all the other relevant bits and pieces) and has been taken up by MOOFU, a UK-based company that has seen the potential of using 'avatars' to negotiate through virtual environments, where you can experience and interact with a variety of situations - architectural concepts, work, play or living environments - testing and exploring concept designs. MOOFU’s software, Archi-Me, revolutionises the way professionals who use 3D design can showcase and test their ideas, and can be used with any 3D CAD model as well as buildings - including yachts, golf courses or holiday resorts - all of which are brought to life with with every element customisable.
The possibilities are, well, virtually unlimited. And, just as with the avatars in Second Life, you can treat the experience as a group meeting, interacting and chatting to fellow travellers as you wander through and around the designs. You can even interact with the 3D models themselves, opening and closing doors, moving furniture around, switching on lights and more.
The neatly named Archi-Me software (www.archi-me.com) takes any 3D CAD model and processes it to create an environment that people can easily engage with, using the simple interface to navigate their avatar in much the same way as you control a character in a video game. PC and console games have now become so sophisticated that the art design, architecture and textures of their interactive environments wouldn’t look out of place in any architect's virtual 'flythrough'. The problem with the ones that architects use, though, is that they remain stubbornly passive, with limited user interaction, and any human content tends to be provided by imported 3D stills that litter the concourses of their virtual shopping malls, with little to offer in the way of conversation skills!
The problem of bringing these scenes to life, to create immersive 3D designs like the ones used for virtual architectures in Second Life and videogames, is that the designs have to be rebuilt from scratch - at great expense. Archi-Me changes all that, enabling architects, designers and, potentially, end-users, to create their own virtual environments, complete with avatars, so that they can immerse themselves in their own designs, interact with other avatars, comment/chat and fully test the designs for usability and function. And, as we said earlier, they can even change the environment by moving fixtures, furniture and altering the lighting. This means that design ideas can be fully tested at an early stage, before construction starts.
The developers of Archi-Me, MOOFU, are a fast-growing, Devon-based company focusing on emerging technology, emerging markets and emerging people. They worked with Kenn Fisher, Director of Learning at global architectural firm Woods Bagot, and the Institute of Education to build a 3D schools environment that planners, stakeholders and pupils can engage with. The company has also produced interactive environments for property developers, marina construction and a golf course developer.
Creating an interactive experience for its clients has enabled them to become involved with the design, providing a hands-on demonstration of their prospective plans. It has also given clients a chance to explore the space before the designs are finalised and approved, and construction begins. The interactive model has become a valuable evaluation tool. MOOFU launched Archi-Me after receiving an exceptional response to calls for early adopters to take the software forward - from companies in the UK, USA, India, Italy and New Zealand. A number of these early adopters can be found on the Archi-Me website, which showcases the company's latest partnerships and work in development with new videos and examples, updated weekly.
Nick Palfrey, managing director and founder of MOOFU, says: "We have been stunned by the overwhelming response from our test companies, and with the launch of Archi-Me we are giving a new edge to the way architects, planners, developers and builders create and showcase their work. As a company, we're committed to leading with emerging ideas, creating new markets and championing the best people - and Archi-Me is a solution that meshes perfectly with that." The success of the company has not gone unnoticed elsewhere, and Nick Palfrey was presented with the 'Times Essence of the Entrepreneur' Award earlier this year. Nick’s remarks were echoed by Dr Kenn Fisher, Director of Learning at global architectural company Woods Bagot and Director of Learning at Futures Rubida.net. who said, "Archi-Me is a highly innovative way to test the 'in's and out's' of a building's design with clients and stakeholders, allowing architects, planners and designers to justify key features to their audience. It's a superior solution, giving a hands-on and interactive approach that is desperately needed. It's hard to share a physical model, whereas Archi-Me allows you to collaborate and share ideas through a user-friendly interface and engaging experience." We mentioned that early projects featured educational establishments - an appropriate application for software that combines 3D visualisation with games technology - and its benefits in that area were highlighted by Nick Peacey, coordinator of the Special Educational Needs Joint Initiative for Training (SENJIT) at the Institute of Education.
His organisation, which is developing a pedagogical environment with Archi-Me, commented: "The idea of mixing CAD design with games technology is very exciting. It is an imaginative approach to engaging all those involved in school building designs. Everyone can share the experience and play with the best school models locally, nationally and internationally. It allows them to bring these ideas into the designs of their own. The concept of playing with designs is engaging for young people and an excellent way of getting their feedback".
Archi-Me is delivered as a service. You send MOOFU your 3D model, and they prepare the interactive model for you and send it back. In the standard service, all models can be explored via a character that can walk, sit and interact with 3D objects. Objects and scenery can be imported from the Archi-Me catalogue and when the job is done, all models are packaged for Mac and PC. The finished environment can also be accessed through a web browser, allowing remote users to explore and interact. Or, if preferred, you can have the job custom tailored - providing characters with specialist clothing or adding new types of interactivity. If you require custom objects beyond those available in the catalogue then MOOFU can cater for it. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) can also be customised, ensuring your model is unique. Archi-Me also offers a free evaluation service for its customers. You can contact them on their website, and they will evaluate any 3D model that you have created and want to convert, advise you of its suitability, and provide you with specifications for your intended scenario. If both sides are happy they will proceed with the conversion, and supply you with a completed 3D interactive model on DVD or via the web. The production bit is, of course, not free!
Archi-Me uses a specialist 3D engine to produce fully interactive 3D models of your designs, and the company can accept models direct from ArchiCAD, 3D Studio Max and also in .fbx, .3ds or .max formats. They also provide guidance notes on the website that give you more information on what other information needs to accompany the models, such as object numbers and polycounts.
When you have received your 3D models, transformed by Archi-Me, they can be exported to your customers as a software application or made available for use on a website, allowing anyone to interact fully with your designs, exploring them - as you would in Second Life - as an avatar www.archi-me.com
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