Abvent Artlantis Render & Studio v2.x
A - Introduction
Artlantis (http://www.artlantis.com) is a rendering application from the French company Abvent (http://www.abvent.com). It is primarily targeted at architectural visualization. It is a commercial, closed-source application for Windows and Mac OSX.
The application has some specific goals, which are important to understand, before complaining about certain limitations:
- Artlantis is meant to be easy to use
- You don't have many dialogs, nor many parameters to set.
- "What you see is what you get": the rendering preview is pretty close to the final render output
- Drag and Drop content into the scene to place it
- Artlantis is meant to be fast
- You don't get the depth of control from an application such as 3ds max or Cinema4D, but Artlantis makes up with speed. Everything is optimized for a (realatively) quick rendering of architectural projects. As always, special effects (radiosity and raytracing) and anti-aliasing slow things down.
- Artlantis is meant to complement other applications (especially CAD software)
- There are no modeling tools
The software is available in different editions.
- Artlantis Render is the current rendering release of Artlantis, providing advanced rendering (fast radiosity, raytracing, editable materials, insertion of library objects).
- Artlantis Studio contains all the features of Artlantis Render and adds animation: creation of walkthroughs, sunstudies, Quicktime panoramic images and Quictkime VR Objects. This is the version we use in our tutorial, but apart from the animation topics, everything is identical in Artlantis Render).
Students can obtain the software for free (one-year license). See our CAAD software info page for a link where you can sign-up.
B - Importing CAD and 3D Models
- There are Artlantis Exporters available for VectorWorks, SketchUp and ArchiCAD (not surprisingly all cross-platform applications).
- It can load scenes from some 3D file formats: SKP (SketchUp 5 and 6), DWG/DXF (AutoCAD 2007 and earlier), 3DS (3D Studio old format), OBJ/MTL (Wavefront old format), FBX (3D Exchange format for Maya, 3ds Max and others).
- You can import a scene and convert it into an Artlantis Object (AOF) to use as a component which you can drop in another scene. Use it to create custom library elements.
- ArchiCAD, SketchUp and VectorWorks have separate ATL-export plugins available, to create the Artlantis scenes directly and optimized. This is the preferred approach in most circumstances. Download them at the Artlantis website.
C - Overview of the interface
While Artlantis is fairly easy to use, it doesn't hurt to at least give a brief overview of the user interface.
- The Toolbar contains common operations, such as view navigation and rendering. On OSX this Toolbar is attached to the render preview window.
- The Controller is a properties palette, which contains all settings for a specific type of object. Switch between them with the buttons on the toolbar (on Windows) or the controller itself (on Macintosh). You can choose between:
- Shader: materials and their settings (color, texture, opacity...)
- Light: where you control the light sources
- Heliodon: where you control the sun and the sky
- Object: where you can add and edit library objects
- Viewpoint: a single button where you can choose between different view modes
- The List Panel, which displays for each mode of the controller, the different available objects (shaders, lights, heliodons, objects, viewpoints)
- The Catalog Window, which displays the library of available shaders, textures and objects
- The 2D Window, where you can visually edit the position of cameras, lights and objects from a top or side view. This is usually displayed as a wireframe.
- The Album Window, where you can keep PostCards, which are quick-rendered images, with addtional material information for the scene.
- The Preview Window, which gives a quick, but accurate preview of how the final rendering will look.
The Windows Version of Artlantis Studio looks like this:
The Macintosh Version is similar, but looks somehow different (more akin to the Mac OSX user interface style):
Remarks: Note that the placement of windows and palettes can be changed and thus the layout on your screen might differ slightly. Files can be exchanged between the Windows and the Macintosh version without much trouble. One license can be activated on the platform of your choice and you can transfer your license at any time (without cost) to the other platform. Simply deactivate your license, open the software on the other computer and reactivate (with the same serial number). You'll need an active internet connection to do this.
The main workflow with Artlantis is identical in all versions:
- load a 3D model
- optionally assign materials and place library objects
- edit the lighting
- set up cameras
- create a rendering
- tweak the results untill you're satisfied
That's all there is to it. While Artlantis does not offer the wide control over the rendering process which is available in applications such as 3ds max, Cinema4D or Lightwave, it makes up with a fast and easy workflow. You will be able to produce qualitative renderings and animations, in a fairly short amount of time.
Before you can start working, you need to know how to manipulate what you see. You can pan, zoom and orbit around the scene as in many other applications. However, beware that all these view navigation commands actually modify the active viewpoint. If you want to retain it, make sure to first select the Perspectives mode in the Controller and then copy the current view by pressing the large red +-button, which creates a copy of the selected viewpoint.
You can activate the navigation mode by pressing the button displaying a move icon on a sphere. The preview turns into the faster OpenGL display mode and the mouse now operates on the view position.
- Clicking and dragging = orbit the camera around its viewpoint. The point where you click becomes the viewpoint or target.
- Right-clicking and dragging = orient the camera (turn the target around), as if you were pointing a camera around yourself.
- Clicking the middle mouse button and dragging = pan the viewpoint (move camera and target at the same time).
- Scrolling the mouse = Dollying in and out (a dolly is a movement where the camera moves forward or backward, so camera and target move together).
D - Rendering & Visualization with Artlantis Render/Studio
While working in Artlantis you will switch between the different modes in the Controller.
A Shader is the method with which materials are displayed. To choose a realistic material, you have to assign a shader to the correct geometry, by dragging it from the Catalog or from a PostCard into the scene.
When you open the Catalog Window, you can activate shaders, objects, postcards or textures. Choose Shaders and browse through the list of Catalogs, which are folders of specific object types. In each folder, different materials are available. PostCards (snapshots of scenes) contain material information, so you can drag, from the picture, the used material into your scene. Use it to store different versions of projects you are working on and quickly retreive their materials.
To manipulate the shaders, click the Shader button in the Controller. Now you can activate a particular shader by clicking in the scene or in the Shader List, which you can fold open from the Controller Window.
Depending on which shader you applied, the settings in the controller are different. However, most shaders contain comparable properties.
- Diffuse Color = the main material color (either as an RGB triplet or by picking the color chooser).
- Reflection and Shininess sliders. Set it higher to define smooth, shiny, mirror-like materials. The limit defines that only the closest part of the scene is reflected.
- Transparency slider and Refraction Index (you can also choose a preset)
Beware that the material settings might seem rather limited. Artlantis uses a model based on reality to calculate the effect of these settings. So e.g. shiny materials will always be reflective.
When you want to project textures on the object, you have to add textures to the shader. Press the Edit... button and the Texture Mapping dialog opens. A texture is an image which is projected/glued to the geometry. The texture can be tiled (repeated) and has a projection mode.
- You can add additional Textures, which are layered from top to bottom. Making them transparent or using an alpha channel can make other Textures visible underneath.
- Position and Scale are used to define the size of the Texture map.
- The projection method (Planar, Orthogonal, Vertical, Spheric, Y Cylindric, X Cylindric, UV, Planetary). Use UV when you load pre-mapped models (e.g. SketchUp or ArchiCAD models). Orthogonal is often usable too.
- Horizontal and vertical Size of the texture (= the size of a single image, in real dimensions)
- Horizontal and vertical Spacing defines the gaps between repeated tiles
- Rotation of the texture
- Repeat = to tile the texture. Turn this of for a single image (e.g. a painting). Lower texture maps and the main material will be visible outside the border of the texture.
- Flip/Mirror the tile when repeating
- The other material properties for the selected texture are similar to the main settings, but now for this texture layer only. Use this to place e.g. a reflective layer on a dull base material. This is quite extensive, so you could create the effect of a main material (e.g. bricks), with reflective pools of water on top.
- Bump = simulate real surface detail (cracks, dents, mortar seams) by using contrast/brightness in the image.
Remember that it is possible to have multiple layers of texture on top of each other. It is a good habit to get into, for added realism. It is usually best to start with the main seamlessly tiling base texture (e.g. bricks, plaster etc...) and overlay it with additional color and/or dirt-layers, which can use an alpha-channel or be partly transparent.
In the catalog you can choose examples using different Shader Types:
- Basic Shader: common materials
- Expert Shader: more detailed control
- Realistic Glass Shader: optimized for all kinds of glass, with included distortion, for breaking up reflections as in real buildings
- Luminous Glass Shader: glass that emits light
- Neon Shader: for objects that emit light into the scene
- Realistic Water Shader: includes waves, reflections and transparancy
- Texture Shader: simple texture mapping (predefined)
- Procedural Shader: using mathematical procedures to generate the texture maps instead of images (inherited from Artlantis Classic)
Light sources in Artlantis cast light and shadow in a scene. They are usually applied for artificial lighting, but you can use them for whatever suits your purpose. The different light sources in Artlantis can be placed and adjusted in the Controller. You can also visually adjust their position and orientation in the 2D Window.
- The Power defines the brightness of the light source. This is a slider to increase the power of a lightsource. You can also set the light color. You can hugely improve the atmosphere of a rendering by adjusting colors.
- The Halo/Lens Flare is an effect to mimic the effect of lens flares, which are a result of lens distortions and which are not present in a digital model. Use them sparingly or avoid them alltogether, since they are a clear sign of a beginner at work in most cases.
- You can activate Shadow-casting and set an amount of bluriness, making shadows more subtle or more defined.
Artlantis places Lights in Light Groups. Beware that to actually see the effect of lights, you have to make sure that the desired light group is activated for the current view! Multiple Light groups can be activated at the same time for a particular view. This makes it easier to control larger groups of lights, e.g. per room or per building part.
While a Heliodon might be regarded as a special type of Light, it receives its own Controller panel. It is actually a combination of a Sun and a Sky, since they work together.
- The Sun Light is the most important lightsource. It is a directional
light source, with constant light intensity. It gives parallel shadows and while real
light will diminish over distance, this effect is hardly visible with a sun light, since
the differences in distances are negligable when comparing with the distance of the sun
from the earth.
You define the orientation of the sun with the Date and Location parameters. You can also define the power of the Heliodon (0 = the physically correct sun).
- The Sky Light gives an additional environmental light. This is an almost even amount of reflected and scattered light, arriving from around the scene. This could be emulated with a large series of individual light sources of low intensity, placed in a hemisphere around our scene. Without a sky-light, regions that are hidden from the sun (the shadows) would be totally black, as they are on the moon, which lacks an atmosphere to scatter the light around.
- The Clouds are used to generate not only a nice and realistic background image, but also to define the light and colours that are cast and reflected. Use the dice button to use a different random value.
You can place people, cars, trees and other accessories as Objects in Artlantis. It is generally advised to place highly detailed objects not directly in the CAD model, since they will slow down drawing generation. You can place them in the rendering application, for visualization purposes.
The Scene controls the complete project. Here you can move, rotate and rescale everything. This is especially useful to bring an imported scene on the correct scale. Use it when added objects seem to be all on the wrong scale. You can also add an infinite ground plane, which can be assigned a material.
Additional Objects can be added to liven up the scene. You can adjust the size and the rotation of the objects and also edit their materials. Use the 2D Window or the 3D Preview to postion them graphically.
The Catalog displays some default objects, but you can add new objects, by opening 3D files in one of the recognized file formats and save them as an Artlantis object (*.aof) and drag them into the Catalog.
You can download additional free sample objects from the Abvent site or buy additional object (and shader) CD-Roms. There are 3D trees and 3D people. The trees have additional settings, such as their height and they can look different depending on the date or season.
This is the part of the controller where you control the view position and orientation. This is also where you switch between the different camera modes, such as perspective or panoramic.
- A Perspective camera is the regular 3D view. This is used for still
- Parallel views have orthographic projections.
- Panoramas (Studio only) are cylindrical projections from the scene onto
a single image, which can be displayed interactively using Quicktime. This immerses the
viewer seemingly into the scene, but there is no 3D information.
- VR Object (Studio only) are series of images taken from positions around
a focus point. The end result is an interactive Quicktime movie, which seemingly lets you
orbit around a scene. There is no actual 3D information, however.
- You can define an Animation (Studio only) by modifying parameters
over time. This is used with object animations, camera walkthroughs or flythroughs and
D - Rendering
For most of the Viewpoints, you can choose the properties of the camera and which light groups and heliodons are active. There is an option to define the background, which can be a color, a gradient or a picture. You can also choose between two rendering styles: Photorealist and Hatched.
Radiosity is a technique to distribute light around a scene. This is an energy balance, which is calculated as an iterative process: light falls on objects, which in their turn distribute some fraction of their received light as reflected light. Depending on the surface characteristics (material), more light can be reflected. Each surface becomes a small light emitter.
While most people will utilize Artlantis to generate photorealistic images, there are some additional rendering options in the effects panel from the viewpoint settings. The option Edge and Pastel, can create more a conceptual renderings.
Animations (only in Artlantis Studio)
It is possible (with Artlantis Studio only) to create animations. This is used for two main purposes, at least in architecture: camera animations or flythroughs and sun animations or shadow-studies.
To create or edit an animation, you have to activate one of the animation-enabled camera-models. Choose the Animations option to follow along.
This will display the timeline. You might have to drag this control window to a suitable place. It will dock in the Windows version, but will float in the Macintosh version.
The timeline is the interface to edit sequences. When defining a movement, instead of adjusting the position of an element on each and every frame of an animation, keyframes are defined, which are the global points in time where parameters are set. The software will interpolate between these keyframes. The timeline displays time from left to right and allows you to zoom in or out and to navigate similar to a video player.
To define an animation sequence, make sure the object to animate is selected first. Then you can create a new animation sequence or copy an existing one. When you are in recording mode, every (animatable) parameter that is changed, is recorded. You can animate the sun's position, the camera postion and view angle, an object's position and other settings.
- You can select each animation in the Timeline and select the animated parameters. Then the keys for that parameter are displayed.
- You can create, move and remove keyframes in the Timeline window.
- Press the Record button to automatically record parameter changes on specific time positions.
- Make sure you are in animation mode first, before you start changing object parameters that need to be animated.
You can display the animation path and the defined keyframes graphically, when you open the 2D view. Here you see how an object is moving, where keyframes are defined and where the object will be located at the current time. You can drag the beginning and end point on the animation path, which defines when the animation starts and stops. In this editing mode, you can not edit the XYZ-position of nodes in the path graphically.
To edit an existing path graphically, you can activate the Edit Path option in the 2D view (the button might be hidden on the right popup menu). Now you can edit the path with familiar Bezier-handles. You can also use this to create a path. The Timeline automatically creates two keyframes: one to lock the postion to the beginning of the path at the beginning of the sequence and a second to lock the camera path position to the end of the path, at the end of the sequence.
Panoramas (only in Artlantis Studio)
Panoramic images are created as a series of six orthogonal images, projected onto the inner sides of a cube, with the viewer placed in the center. You can look freely around in all directions, but there is no real 3D information available. This is much more interactive than a single image yet it is still reasonably fast and supporting full render quality.
When saving the panoramic image to a file, make sure to choose a suitable image-compression, such as Photo-JPEG in the Quicktime exporter dialog.
VR Objects (only in Artlantis Studio)
VR Objects can be regarded as the reverse from panoramic images. Instead of looking to the world around a single point, you look to a single target, from different view positions around it.
As a result, VR Objects take considerably longer to render and take up much more disk space. In practice, they are not used that much, but they can still be an effective interactive presentation of a design or model. Make sure to set the suitable "angles" as this directly influences the total amount of images to render. It is not uncommon to require some 60 images for one VR Object!
When saving the VR Object to a file, make sure to choose a suitable image-compression, such as Photo-JPEG in the Quicktime exporter dialog. This is not a real animation movie, which requires other settings.
E - Reloading 3D/CAD Models
After you made some rendering, material and light settings, you might have to modify the original model again. Artlantis has a solution to re-use the visualization settings for this modified geometry.
- Export the modified CAD model again, but use a new name for the ATL file (e.g. version2.atl).
- Open this in Artlantis and then choose "Use Reference File".
- Now point to the original Artlantis file (e.g. version1.atl) and choose which parts of the reference file you need to re-use:
- replace current shaders = use the edited and improved materials from the original file
- check the toggles if you want to re-use lights, heliodons, objects, perspective camera's, parallel camera's, panoramic camera's, VR objects and animations.
- You get the updated geometry from version2, but with the recovering of all work you did in version1.
- When you use ArchiCAD, the ATL-exporter plugin can do this directly in the export dialog: you point to the reference file and choose which part of the reference file to re-use.
- A first example can be downloaded (3,25 MB). It was created in SketchUp and translated with the plugin to an ATL file (actually using the older 1.2.x version of Artlantis). This is the complete Artlantis scene, after editing of lights, materials and camera's. You can create archive copies of your own scene, from the File menu. This contains not only the Artlantis file, but also the referenced textures, shaders and objects. This can be used to exchange scenes with other people.
- An additional example (using the 2007-2008-2009 ArchiCAD model from the BIM module) can be downloaded here (0,5 MB). This is not edited at all. It is just the exported model from ArchiCAD (using the ATL exporter) and it needs serious work to generate quality renderings.
- This last example was further edited can be downloaded here (6,6 MB). This is a much more refined version, including different camera types and some animation. It was used in the preparation of the syllabus text.
- Artlantis Tutorial from the SketchUp Wiki:
- Video tutorials on your installation DVD or on the Abvent
- Artlantis 3 Radiosity Tutorial from Abvent:
- Artlantis 3 Quick Overview from ArchiCAD Monkey: http://vimeo.com/10521561