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Wizards of Vizard

Editorial Type: Case Study     Date: 03-2009    Views: 1151   

Avatars from Vizard put a human element in architectural visualisations at Wolverhampton University

Wolverhampton University The effects of the lighting solution Shades of Second Life! It's all very well spending your time inhabiting a virtual life through the use of avatars and fantasy 3D worlds, but so much more satisfying, I would have thought, to use avatars that can mimic your own movements in a purpose-built 3D scene to verify the ergonomics of human interaction within your immediate environment.

Sounds really grand, but all it boils down to is being able to design an interior scene, view it in 3D, and superimpose a digital human inside the scene that responds to and copies the movement of the subject by picking up reflected signals from his specially designed suit.

Architectural models can sometimes be soulless entities, and can often benefit from the introduction of a human scale. The technology is ideally suited to other less cosy applications such as the creation of ultra-realistic training sessions for difficult to access plant and equipment or, starker still, military battle simulations. That is why the library of characters that come with Vizard includes a full set of soldiers.


Vizard (almost sounds like an amalgamation of Visual reality and Wizard - and for a good reason) is a virtual reality development kit developed by WorldViz, a leading US Virtual Reality hardware and software supplier. As part of its suite of VR tools, it has recently launched Live Characters, a set of about 180 avatars, known as Complete Characters and Soldiers. This software plug-in provides a full human presence in a 3D scene for both 1st person and 3rd person viewpoints. The sole distributor in the UK for WorldViz is Virtalis, the Salford based Virtual Reality company - currently leading the field in Europe in advanced 3D visualisation.

Vizard is basically a 3D toolkit enabling the creation of interactive content. It was originally designed for rapid prototyping and was very much the province of programming experts, but now the user can choose between two scripting levels. Users with no programming experience can create interactive 3D content and instantly interface with a broad range of

hardware devices via the simple scripting language, Python. Programming experts can utilise a C++ interface in the Enterprise Version of the software.

Live Characters allows users to interact with a virtual Vizard environment and the system accurately mimics their movements in real time via motion capture. Observers can view the avatar's movements both in the virtual world and those of the user, thanks to a split screen.

Those who are unused to developing 3D scenarios can utilise the services of Virtalis to set up their systems, creating the interfaces between Vizard and the CAD visualisation software, such as Revit or 3dsMax. One of Virtalis' clients is the University of Wolverhampton, whose Architecture and Product Design department - in the School of Engineering and the Built Environment - has set up a studio to explore the possibilities in using software like Vizard.


I spoke to David Heesom, the leader of the degree course - The University of Wolverhampton's Architectural Visualisation degree, to give it its full title. David is a recent Vizard convert. He explained that his students loved using the avatars. "They can have fun with them and even populate their designs with virtual versions of themselves and their contemporaries.

The university bought 20 Vizard licences plus additional light versions, which allowed students to work in Vizard on their own PCs at home. David explained that students were able to work on their projects away from the studio, and then bring it in to display their work on the departments 3D projection system.


Wolverhampton's Architectural Visualisation course is the first in the world offering this

Using Vizard's live characters avatars of all shapes and sizes can be added to a real time scene. Modelled and developed by Nigel Moore specialised discipline. It grew out of its previous course in VR Design in 2006, when the University noted that many graduates of this course were being snapped up for careers in construction, architecture and planning. The University therefore decided that the time had come to design a course devoted entirely to architectural visualisation.

"Originally, we approached Virtalis to buy a different software package," commented David, "but after listening to our requirements they felt Vizard would give us the best results. I am glad we had their impartial advice, as our students, for whom the programming isn't the ultimate aim, are able to achieve great results and tackle real-time VR modelling."

The Architecture and Product Design department offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in architectural design and the use of CAD, as well as the undergraduate course in architectural visualisation. This particular course provides students with the technical knowledge they will need for visualisatrion production, including 3D CAD modelling, BIM, photorealistic visualisation and real time simulation development using Vizard.

There are numerous other courses on offer, including a unique postgraduate course (MSc) in CAD and Construction, which, besides also including aspects of visualisation production, also covers the

management of CAD systems and BIM Building Information Modelling. The software packages they normally use include Autodesk Revit, 3D Studio Max, Vray, Photoshop and Vizard itself.

Working in real time provides a unique feature of the visualisation aspects of these courses, allowing students to create photorealistic representations and then explore and interact with them.

All of the visualisation studies are centred around the specialised Visualisation Centre in the department. This was refurbished in 2008 and now contains a 5m x 3m 'stereoscopic wall' in addition to student

workstations. This active stereo set up was provided by Virtalis and integrates extremely well with Vizard to provide an i"mersive projection system for students producing architectural visualisations. This set up also allows immersive 3D vis

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