Welcome to the real time world

How will new visualisation technology help us communicate? Squint/Opera's CTO Ryan Lintott discusses the potential of realtime visualisation.

There's a lot of talk right now about realtime visualisation, how would you describe its benefits to those who are new to this?

Essentially realtime is about giving people control over what they view and how they view it. An interactive 3d environment allows for multiple paths to tell multiple stories with each user able to have their own unique experience. By touching and swiping a screen, waving their hands or even just turning around they can explore anything from a room or apartment to an entire city. Realtime visualisation has a wide range of applications from interactive architectural design to personalized real estate presentations and even 3D data visualization for city planning.

Siemens' Crystal: a set of interactive exhibits for the Crystal Building in London's Royal Docks. 

How will this affect the current market for traditional stills and film-based visualisation?

Of course stills and films will continue to have their place in how we visualise future developments and tell those stories; the quality of those images is a great deal better than is currently possible in realtime. However, even if with equal quality, films and images still have their place. Sometimes a carefully chosen image with a strong composition or a film with a well-paced, linear narrative are the best ways to deliver a message. Interactive presentations have their advantages, but handing over control to the viewer can mean losing control over the delivery of the message. Understanding this balance and the type of content being presented can help in deciding which methods might work best.

How has Squint used this technology to best effect?

For us, realtime visualisation is seen as a great presentation tool, either for individuals to explore information on their own or even for presenters to tailor their presentations on the fly. One of our recent projects for the Siemens Crystal sustainable cities exhibition in London was a 3d interactive exhibit dedicated to telling the story of the Crystal building itself. The use of realtime makes it possible for visitors to understand how the building operates, its water recycling, energy use and so on. Users with no previous understanding of 3d navigation were able to easily move around the model thanks to a custom camera-control system that works based on simple swipe motions. This method of exploring is very different from a walk through or a fly through, the movement still feels free and smooth yet the limitations ensure the user never gets lost even as they delve deeper into information.

An interactive tour of Brazil's Pernambuco stadium.

93 per cent of the recent Unity survey respondents felt that realtime visualisation technology will become more integrated into workflows - do you agree and what do you see as the major benefits of this?

Yes, I can see that realtime will be be used more and more, particularly by architects, as a tool to facilitate their design process. For us, realtime may help with 3D workflows, but we are more focused on what kind of new presentation tools might be possible. Realtime visualisation enables us to break away from a linear presentation like a film so that people can explore along their own path to find the information that’s most relevant to them.

What's on your Christmas software present list to improve the way that Squint creates its architectural visualisation work?

We already have a whole array of interactive toys from the Oculus Rift to the Leap and the Kinect. We’ve experimented with them and are always on the lookout for others like Project Perception Neuron for example. We experiment to understand what kind of doors tech like this can open, but for us the presentation and the core message come first. If we end up using some sort of new tech we definitely want to make it as comfortable as possible and we don’t want the tech to be the focus. The focus is always on the content, the message and the overall experience and technology would need to be integrated in a way that it won’t take the centre stage.

Can you describe some great uses for realtime visualisation?

It can be helpful across the whole built environment. For the developer or estate agent, I see this technology competing with the brochure in showing potential buyers around. However, to be successful, realtime has to be just as quick, seamless and intuitive as a paper brochure so that users can navigate the content and find what they need to know without even thinking about the platform. At another level, this technology can be used to help immerse people in the architecture. Comfort will be key as not everyone wants to wear a VR helmet, so sometimes bespoke installations are the best approach where you have control over the entire space. Meanwhile, for architects, realtime is a great help to the design process, and can also be used as a presentation tool to help explain projects in an interactive visual way with clients. This is another area where I see Squint being able to step in and help out. We can work with the architects and use the design materials to create an interactive presentation. And then for planners, an interactive, data-rich, 3d city model could be used as a central discussion point for different teams to come together and discuss issues with the information visualised on the spot. This type of intelligent model could be interrogated in numerous different ways to talk about all aspects of urban development, for example looking at data about incomes and balancing that with real estate values, helping with traffic planning, infrastructure and more.

Douglas & Gordon media wall: 9 screens controlled by a bespoke iPad app.

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