Preparing Your Workflow for Augmented Reality

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Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
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Augmented Reality
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As Augmented Reality (AR) and AR-enabled devices rapidly evolve from early adoption to mainstream, now is a good time to prepare your workflow to take advantage of this ground-breaking technology.

Providing clients with an ‘Experience’

Augmented Reality is an experiential medium and an opportunity to communicate the true impact of your design. As with every niche industry, a little ‘local knowledge’ goes a long way toward achieving attractive results without breaking the bank. Spending a little effort to learn the basics will see your designs brought to life in full interactive 3D Hollywood glory. For your client, this means a better understanding and appreciation of the value of your work. For you, it means an improved feedback loop and value added to the project process.

Understanding the ‘AR Asset’

Augmented reality technology works the same way as today’s mobile games – both are interactive real-time 3D experiences. This means that to make your content AR-ready you have to convert your design assets to be compatible with the file formats supported by mobile game platforms. Note that there are two distinct streams of 3D authoring – architectural visualisation versus 3D game – and they are completely incompatible.

Architectural visualisation vs AR assets

Architectural visualisation is the world you live in, but unfortunately these file formats are not usable by AR technology. The reason is that AR requires 3D models to be optimised for real-time processing – usually on a mobile device. Conversely, arch/vis assets are very high in detail and therefore too complex for AR platforms.

The world of AR uses terms like low polygon count, low-res texturing, and mobile optimised assets. Creating AR-ready assets is a professional specialisation on its own, so I wouldn’t recommend architects verse themselves in this space. However, there are a few steps you can take bridge the gap to AR.

Wavefront .OBJ file

Many CAD platforms offer an export option to the popular Wavefront .OBJ format which is also supported by the tools used in AR content authoring such as Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max and Blender.  The .OBJ format stores geometry and texture information which will significantly reduce the time it takes for a 3D artist to process your work to be AR ready. This equals time and money saved. Where possible, take the time to produce surface textures for your designs, such as correctly shaded brick patterns and wall colours. Surface textures are one of the most important elements in AR and also the most time consuming for 3D artists to create from scratch.

3D Scanning Tools

Why model it when you can scan it? Where you have a pre-existing construction or scale model, make use of the low cost 3D scanning tools available such as Autodesk’s 123D Catch. These export directly to AR ready formats and are very easy to use.

Where to from here?

I’ve only scratched the surface on preparing your architectural workflow for AR. Although AR is a rapidly changing frontier technology, it is built upon mature principles and technologies which are extensively documented and readily grasped by the architectural professional. Appreciating the business benefits of AR and identifying its technical dependencies are the two most important first steps towards adopting this revolutionary technology.

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