If you’re like me, it seems like all the cool new design and review programs that have been released over the past several years have been more focused on the building/structure side of the business. Sure, Autodesk had released InfraWorks for us Civil folks, and have put in a lot of effort into further developing it and making it a practical application for us to use during the design process. But it still has its limitations.
I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate InfraWorks into my design process since its first release, and have found it to be great at many things. I can do my preliminary existing site analysis by quickly obtaining topography, waterways, drainage features, buildings, etc. in a matter of minutes; whereas this process would have taken several hours, sometimes days, trying to track down all this information online and through various agencies. It also increases speed and decision-making during your project’s conceptual design phase as you can run through different design scenarios on the fly.
Probably the most important use I’ve found InfraWorks to provide, is it’s ability to improve your Civil 3D Models from a visualization standpoint as well as it’s improved interoperability with other BIM applications. Yes, Civil 3D can bring in Revit models via ADSK and DWG exports, but trying to view your Revit and Civil 3D models in a rendered state in Civil 3D can be quite painful, time consuming and will cause file corruption in your design models at some point.
As Clients and Owners discover the true value of properly developing an accurate BIM | CIM design, and adapt to this new technology wave, it’s becoming more common for them to make it a requirement for AEC firms to include their 3D models along with hard copy plan sets at each design deliverable. Over the past few years, I’ve seen many design review meetings take place where BIM models are brought into Navisworks, where firms are able to navigate through the model with their clients. Clients are typically left feeling impressed by the new technology and much more comfortable with the design itself, as they can really visualize how everything is coming together. Trying to get design models from Civil 3D into Navisworks has been a whole other process that isn’t as seamless as Revit into Navisworks. Another downside to this concept is that Clients are required to download software to view these models on their own.
The more I have incorporated InfraWorks into my design process, the more I see it as just an extension to Civil 3D. It really has brought some of my company’s designs to life. I’ve produced some really cool renderings and videos of site fly-overs and walk-throughs of the entire design model. I’ve been able to incorporate our design models from both Civil 3D and Revit, thus providing another program that gives us the ability to review these models for interdisciplinary checks. It also provides a much improved visualization from a Civil standpoint as other disciplines aren’t just looking at lines on a drawing anymore. They can really visualize how their building/structure models are being integrated into the surrounding land, and the rest of the site design.
A couple years ago, I came across a webcast that demonstrated how to bring your Civil 3D models into Stingray. Stingray, as far as I knew, was more of a gaming platform. That being said, I assumed that if you ever just wanted to be that person turning your Civil 3D models into Stingray Games, and if you have that kind of time on your hands, more power to you. To be honest, although it seemed pretty neat, I didn’t see it as very practical in any sense. Plus, the demonstration had you go from Civil 3D, to InfraWorks, to 3ds Max and then, finally, into Stingray. To me, this just seemed like a whole big workaround just to produce a game.
With all the recent advancements in technology, it just seems like there should be an easier process. The more I get into relying on InfraWorks as an extension to Civil 3D, the more I see both programs as 1. I have also since found out that I can ultimately bypass using 3ds Max altogether. I can actually export my InfraWorks model to an FBX file, which can then be brought directly into Stingray.
Once you import your FBX model into Stingray, and get everything positioned in your scene the way you want it to appear, you can then deploy your scene to an executable (EXE) file that can be launched on any computer without having the need to install any additional software. This is extremely important to note, as clients and owners will feel much more at ease with the overall concept and final output, and not feel overwhelmed by having to acquire, install and actually learn a new software, or tool.
Another concept that might take some getting used to during this process (I know I had some trouble getting used to it at least), was not to consider this EXE file as a “Game”. I’m sure you can imagine what the response would be if you discuss turning your models into a “Game” to upper management. Instead of considering it a “Game, you’re going to want to consider it a “Virtual Reality Simulation”. This phrasing of the concept will get you increased buy-in from upper management, as well as Clients and Owners.
Although this Virtual Reality Simulation is actually an EXE file that can be launched directly on your laptop, Stingray also provides the real deal VR experience where you can hook up Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and some other VR headset devices for your simulations, thus allowing you, clients, etc. to be fully immersed into your design models.