William Sutherland


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Some elementary rendering techniques...

Although appearing to trail behind the rendering feature list provided in packages like Revit and Microstation, Allplan is still remarkably effective at rendering models 'straight out of the box'. Here are a few things I have picked up while trying to improve my rendering skills that may help other novice users...
(once you master rendering from within Allplan you will almost certainly want to get to know the 'companion product' from Nemetschek subsidiary Maxon - Cinema 4D - which gives a more detailed level of control over lighting and textures, and with the Advanced Render module allows Radiosity rendering and since v9.5 also Ambient Occlusion - see using C4D and Allplan)

Update September 2003 - some minor changes since this page was written for v16 - green check mark now replaced by 'OK' in dialog boxes in Allplan v2003; new uplighter on by default in lighting dialog (apparently to illuminate ceilings inside rooms - I usually turn it off as it looks silly in external views); lighting and surface settings now stored for each project. Otherwise most comments still apply.
Update October 2004- some changes in v2004, although most of the text below still applies. v2004 added the ability to choose the surface for a wall in the Wall Properties setup.  Still no fix for the problem of textures not rotating with the object.
Update January 2006 - not a huge amount has changed in this part of Allplan over the years - some small improvements in lighting but I still use Cinema 4D for all my renderings.

The image at the top of this page only took minutes to throw together (OK, so it looks like it... :) but it serves to demonstrate both the ease of use of Allplan for rendering and some of the issues that arise in practice...
Click for larger image (151k) Click the image for a larger version and file size details...

note that textures are applied to all sides of single layer 3D elements...
Click for larger image (83k)
The brick wall texture is a higher resolution bitmap 'tile' than the stonework - when you zoom in (right) the stonework looks 'fuzzy' because of this. The stairs are in pen colours chosen to be similar to the desired material and are always sharp but rather 'flat'. The post in the foreground (right) has a reasonably high resolution timber texture. The floor is a standard Nemetschek tile bitmap. All textures are applied using a tool that has only recently been added to Allplan.
Assign custom surface properties 'Assign Custom Surfaces to 3D Solids /Archit. Elements' has greatly enhanced the rendering abilities of Allplan. Do not confuse it with the older method of assigning textures to pen colours which has a similar icon: Assign surface properties
Assign custom surface properties Using the 'Assign Custom Surfaces... ' tool it is possible to point at a 3D element in any regular view (aim for an edge when clicking) and a dynamic toolbar appears (as centre illustration below):
Animation View of Multi-layer wall with different textures applied to each layer
Click this ->Assign custom surface properties
to get this...
Assign Custom Surfaces to.... dynamic toolbar
Click in the space!
Isometric View of Multi-layer wall with each layer edited separately - note that I have also edited the pen colours here just for clarity - it is not necessary  to do this to make the textures work
Not only does this allow you to select 3D objects in the manner of all the 'Modify Format...' tools - i.e. select them all then confirm the change by right-clicking in the workspace or clicking but even better you can (by careful selection - aim for an edge) choose each layer of a multilayer wall (as shown here above) for separate textures. As with all Allplan tools you can use the Match button to pick up texture from any existing elements. It is not obvious but click inside the empty box under the word 'Surface' and the 'Custom Surface' dialogue will appear (as below):
Custom Surface Dialogue The buttons here are not self-explanatory - I highly recommend that you press 'F1' for the online context-sensitive Help and then the hyperlink 'parameters' from that Help window and then 'surface color and other parameters' once in the 'parameters' Help file.
Although I talk about 'textures' I really mean 'bitmaps that can be tiled in a seamless repeat' - Allplan stores bitmaps and property settings as a 'surface' file. Although it defaults to 'tif' format most common formats will work (jpg, tga...)

This dialogue can be summarised as follows:
'Surface' section (top) - you must save any 'texture' or bitmap you wish to apply as a 'surface' file so that it can be used in Allplan (see below). This 'surface' file also contains all the information that you set up in the 'Details...' dialogue here.

'Settings' section (middle) -
'Color' allows you to choose a surface colour for the 3D object from the many reference colours supplied with Allplan - note that this is nothing to do with the pen colour of the object as drawn.
Note also that very good results can be obtained by changing from the default Allplan color palette to 'Brillux Scala' or one of the others in the drop-down dialog box reached by clicking this 'color' button.

'Texture' allows you to import a bitmap in most common formats
'Off' I find is best left alone - it turns off the texture (why is it in twice?)

'Save/Delete/Import/Export' - these actually refer only to Allplan 'surface' files and are nothing to do with the importing of bitmaps.

The 'trick' here is to realise the sequence you need to follow:
1. Click the blank long button beside 'Texture:' and bring in your bitmap 'tile';
2. Click the button marked 'Details...' which then opens the detailed dialogue:

Custom Surface - Detailed properties dialogue To understand all the options here (and some are duplicates of the last dialogue) you need to read the online Help file... however, pressing 'F1' alone is not enough here - you have to repeat the procedure outlined for the last dialogue box - i.e. click the hyperlink 'parameters' from the 'F1' Help window and then 'surface color and other parameters'. The most common parameters to change are the 'Scale' in X: and in Y: to make your bricks say, the right size on the model.
For glass you would want to change the 'Surface Properties' Transparency setting and Reflection. Most of the other settings are self explanatory because the finished effect is shown immediately on the cube in the Preview Window.
3. Note that you can Save your settings here as an Allplan 'sfs' surface file.
4. Note that if you click the blue 'undo' arrow or 'Off' check box you can re-import the bitmap via either of the two buttons in the 'Texture' section in the middle of the dialogue.
5. Tick means OK in Allplan to accept the settings and close the dialogue which returns you to the previous dialogue where, if you go straight to the Tick means OK in Allplan and do not Save the settings and bitmap as a 'sfs' file first Allplan will pop up an error message:
Click 'Yes' or your settings will be discarded!

Once saved you will be returned to Allplan with your 'Surface' file name in the dynamic toolbar ready to choose 3D elements to apply it to - in the same manner as all 'Modify Format...' tools.
Allplan saves your 'surface' file for reuse. If you subsequently reload the 'surface' file and change any of the parameters then Allplan will prompt you to save it again as above - a 'sfs' file is a combination of bitmap and the parameters you have set for it's use in Allplan. Thus you can import the same bitmap many times with different settings which will all be saved as separate 'sfs' surface files in the /nem/Allplan/STD/design folder on your 'data' drive (as defined when you installed Allplan).
Of course you can go straight to the 'sfs' files from the 'Surface' section at the top of the first level 'Custom Surface' dialogue if you have given them sufficiently descriptive filenames so that you know their properties.
Match You will note that by using the double chevron button on that first level 'Custom Surface' dialogue you can pick up a 'sfs' file already applied to a 3D element visible onscreen in Allplan and then edit it and apply it elsewhere - note that it does not edit the surface properties of the 'donor' element unless that 3D element is subsequently selected after the new surface properties are saved.

Some Issues in practice
Assign custom surface properties Surface files applied to an element in Allplan will be applied to all faces of the element. This can be a nuisance when you have solid walls and you might want plaster on the inside for example.
I am told, but have not had a chance to use this yet, that you can assign internal surface finishes via the Quantity Takeoff module and these can be turned off and on in the animation view via the Animation Settings Animation Settings dialog.

Assign custom surface properties There seems to be a limit to the size of the bitmap file that you can use as a surface file within Allplan - trial and error suggests it is around 1Mb - but it is unlikely that you would be using such hi-resolution images in Allplan anyway. All that happens with a large file is that it does not display correctly and using the scale factors in the surface dialogue will not correct it. Not really a problem this one but perplexing if you do not realise why it happens.
Assign custom surface properties If you apply a particular surface file to a surface or Archit. element then apply the same file to a second element it will affect the placement of the surface on the first element - i.e. Allplan treats the second use of that surface as an extension of the first - this can lead to undesirable results if the surface file is a tiling or an object image such as a door, window or painting hanging on wall. If placement of the surface is critical then it seems best to create a new surface file - i.e. the same (or amended) properties but a new file name.
Rotate If the 3D object or Archit. element is rotated the surface file may not also rotate. If rotated around the z-axis this is not so noticable but it is a real nuisance on things like timber textures on exposed rafters where the wood grain is vertical instead of parallel to the line of the sloping rafter.
Original surfaces in Allplan These walls were each applied a different surface texture
(to rotate the walls in Allplan they were converted to 3D objects)
Walls rotated around the Y-axis in Allplan 
Original exported to C4D and then rotated By contrast In Cinema 4D XL (left) the surfaces rotate correctly with the elements...

(note however that if the top right arrangement had been exported to C4D then it would render just the same as in Allplan)
Although correct in Cinema 4D notice that it only works for elements with textures that are rotated within Cinema 4D - which rules it out as a fix for the problems in rendering textures such as in the case of the sloping rafters mentioned above.
What is required is an extra option in the Surface Properties dialogue to allow rotation of the surface file (and an option to 'pick up' the angle of the element would be nice too!)

Lighting Too large a subject to cover here even if I knew much about it!
Here is some general guidance on lighting setup within Allplan...
Setup Lights Setup Lights in the Animation module is where to start.. Clicking on the icon brings up the 'Light Settings' dialogue shown below:  
Sun settings are on the left side of the dialogue:(click for larger version)
Light Settings dialogue - click for larger image (16k) Click on the 'Sun...' button to set up it's 'real' position for any location but Note that you must set up the North point here relative to your plan and tick the 'Shadows' check box here if you want shadows when rendering (these only appear when using one of the 'raytrace' render options)
Corner lights are not mentioned in the online Help F1 (I assume that they are a sort of static sun since they are called 'parallel light' - see Stefan Boeykens' informative site (click on 'Lighting' and then 'Directional'). I usually leave these turned off for rendering as they mess up the Sun shadows.
Camera light is a bit gimmicky but you can have fun with it - it is like having a spotlight fixed to the camera - I usually leave it turned off.
Ambient 'Fill-in light' - pretty vital - uncheck the box and see what happens - your animation of the model goes dark! Balance this with the 'Sun' colour setting.
(In Jeremy Birn's book 'Digital Rendering & Lighting' he suggests avoiding Ambient or Fill-in lighting altogether)
Notice in these 'Sun' colours that I have set my lights to dark grey colours - between 18 and 24 in the standard Allplan colours. You will also find that the OpenGL driver for your graphics card will make a big difference in brightness of these settings in the animation view. Although I use the 3D Labs Wildcat 5000, I also still like and recommend the Elsa Gloria III card but the cheaper Elsa Gladiac Geforce 2 GTS is also good.
Update Feb 2002 - I am told that Elsa recommend the Synergy III for budget workstation use - it is about the same price as the Gladiac 921 but, they say, it has a better OpenGL implementation (the graphics chip in the card is the Quadro 2 MX).
Update March 2002 - Elsa has gone out of business it would seem - unless someone can resurrect the company - for latest drivers go to the Nvidia home site and download their unified driver for all cards using their chips.
Update March 2002 - Any Nvidia chipped workstation card will give good performance - and the games versions almost as good at much lower price.  The PNY Quadro range are good - I currently use an FX2000 on my main machine.
Save / Load settings Remember also that these settings can be Saved/Loaded in the usual way (bottom left of the dialogue box) as they apply Globally - to all projects!
To position user-defined lights click the 'Set' button on the right of the lights dialog (shown above). This will cause the dialog to disappear and a dynamic toolbar will appear
lighting setup dynamic toolbar which allows you to set, move, rotate and edit properties of lights. It also allows the scaling of the light symbols seen in plan (enter percentage in command line prompt - e.g. 50% to halve the apparent size).
default conical light symbol   light symbol once direction set   individual light properties setting light target z-value in the isometric window

'conical' light symbol displayed (default)
source on top of target

  Conical light symbol displayed after source and target set   Individual lighting properties dialog...
Click the double chevron buttons and use the isometric or elevation windows to pick an x,y,z or just a z point for source and target for each light shown here (above right) choosing the target point
This is the only time
these indicators appear unfortunately despite what the Help file says about enabling them via 'Tools->Options->Global->Display->Show eye & target symbols'
      lit chair viewed in animation window in Allplan FT
produce this sort of effect in the animation window... quite useful...
Conical light on the left and Spotlight on the right...  

a few seconds later...
The same chair exported to Cinema 4D .
Here you can interactively move the lights around and click and drag their cones and see the effects in real time in a Gouraud shaded view...
there is a plug-in called 'lightpro 2' available as a free download from Maxon which gives you a sort of lighting panel to control all lights at once or in scenes...
  chair exported to Cinema 4D XL v7
In Allplan FT once a light is set you can have it individually ON or OFF using the properties tool in the dynamic toolbar - press ESC when the dynamic toolbar is onscreen and the original lighting dialog reappears where you can turn off and on all lights globally.
Save / Load settings It is also a good idea to save your lighting scheme here as it will be applied to every project now (new feature in v2003 - each project keeps its own settings).
Note that there seems to be no UNDO available to lighting setup and editing and when finally exiting the main lighting dialog use the green tick button or press Enter - do not use ESC to exit or some or all of your setup will be lost.

There is room for improvement in this module of Allplan - setting the lights is OK but compared to doing it in Cinema 4D or Lightwave/Lightscape/etc etc it is rather cumbersome. The lights do just about show up in the animation window but again not as well as they do in Cinema 4D. Generally I use Allplan to set the sun position before exporting to Cinema 4D for doing the lighting and rendering. Note you can replace the Allplan sun with a sun object in C4D changes colour as well as brightness and position with the time of year - amazing.

Update October 2004 - to be honest I never do renderings in Allplan - always in C4D - however I do use screenshots of the animation window for client presentations all the time. You can use '20-20' which was once supplied on Allplan CDs for screen capture rather than the Save as bitmap feature in Allplan - but then I use a high resolution display... [2004] I now use HypersnapDX for screenshots.
Drop the screenshots into an A1 sheet in Coreldraw or Illustrator - nice and large - and plot them using a large format colour plotter (I currently use a Canon W6400 plotter).
Clients love it and it only takes seconds to do.

Update January 2006 - not a huge amount has changed in this part of Allplan - some small improvements in lighting but I still use Cinema 4D for all my renderings.

please email any comments or corrections

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