Learn how SimRTR developer Eduardo Pérez used Unity Reflect to create RETIMA, a real-time manager for building information modeling (BIM) that enables you to create high-quality instant renders, fully configurable graphic settings including volumetric light and symbolic representation, automatically generate people with variable occupancy density, and more.
Switzerland-based SimRTR builds cloud platforms for advanced BIM integration in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and facility assets management systems (FM). When tasked with making a solution that could edit, review, coordinate, and present projects with render quality in real-time, SimRTR turned to Unity Reflect.
SimRTR’s made with Unity application, RETIMA, is a real-time BIM manager for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, with a free version for Unity Reflect projects available now. We talked with the RETIMA developer, Eduardo Pérez, about his experience with Unity and how Unity Reflect is unleashing the possibilities of real-time 3D for AEC.
What motivated you to create RETIMA?
I am an architect with a long career developing custom solutions for AEC and BIM. Since 2015, I have been working with game engines to pioneer real-time projects for AEC in Switzerland. These first projects were presentations to show different design options in protected historic building renovation projects. It played a big role in helping the city authority’s decision making.
Despite this, we found that the workflow was less than optimal. It wasn’t efficient to have to develop and distribute a large Windows application every time a design changed. On top of that, the design teams couldn’t use the presentations to directly iterate the design. In 2018, I started my own company, SimRTR, with the goal of taking a different approach by using real-time for AEC. There are three main concepts behind RETIMA development:
- An easy to use application that can load different models instead of a heavy, custom application that is developed around a specific model.
- Rich functionality to edit and review the models in the same real-time environment with a focus on creating different design options.
- An online platform that allows several users to edit and review the same project anywhere at the same time.
How has Unity helped you develop RETIMA?
Before starting development in 2018, I had never used Unity before. It was a bold decision not to use a game engine I had prior experience with. But I was confident that Unity was the best option. I made more than 100 plugins with the Autodesk Revit API using .NET and C#, so I felt at home developing with Unity.
Immediately I was surprised by how fast and efficiently I could implement complex functionality despite barely using Unity before. It only took one month to create a working prototype with editable elements, which are internally defined as parametric BIM objects, and bidirectional connection with Revit. And not long after that, a prototype of the application loading models in run-time as a client of a custom-developed online platform.
The first prototype in 2018 (left). It was called VRE. Everything was a bit rough compared with recent releases (right), but the core of RETIMA was there already.
How has Unity Reflect influenced development?
Originally, RETIMA was based on a project division of a fixed base and editable model generated from libraries of parametric BIM objects. Both the fixed model and the libraries were downloaded in run-time when selecting the specific project. The preparation of both parts is offered by SimRTR as a custom project service. This custom-made solution approach is interesting for a variety of cases. But the end goal was always to create an easy-to-use solution that would allow users to bring their models directly from their authoring tool without any custom preparation for real-time. When Unity Reflect was released in 2019, it was the exact technology we needed to fulfill this vision.
What I like most about Unity Reflect is how you can combine models from different sources, bringing huge federated models to real-time with ease. Unity Reflect also allows the flexibility to host projects wherever you want, whether it’s on-premise or in the cloud. It’s rather impressive that you can immediately export your model from Autodesk Revit or Rhino to the cloud and you can live-sync with several remote users, anywhere.
Now that Unity Reflect allows RETIMA to sync models from the original authoring tool, there’s no need for custom preparation of illumination or post-processing. RETIMA has evolved to allow the users as much direct control of the graphical appearance as possible. What started with some controls for the sun angle and sun intensity is now full geo-localization and direct control of any graphic setting and post-processing effect.
From just the sun angle and intensity (RETIMA 0.5) to the current full settings (RETIMA 0.9).
Describe RETIMA for Unity Reflect users
RETIMA is a desktop application for Win64 devices. It focuses on render quality in real-time but balances fast performance and symbolic architectural representation. There are two versions for Unity Reflect projects: free and standard. The free version is a viewer with locally saved custom settings and presets. The standard version brings additional functionality for reviewing and commenting with some model editing possibilities in the road map. Being connected to the RETIMA online platform, each review conversation, custom setting, or preset is automatically synced online and available to all project users. Both versions share the same features like high-quality instant renders, fully configurable graphic settings including volumetric light and symbolic representation, automatic generation of people, presets, and much more.
Examples of instant renders pulled directly from Revit models with automatic generation of persons and environment buildings. The extensive graphic settings of RETIMA allow a wide range of render looks, from realistic to more abstract/symbolic. Lower left and top right images are example projects based on BIM Facility AG models.
The standard version is currently in private beta, with a public beta coming soon. The free version is already available with the open beta of RETIMA 0.9. This new release brings many improvements, such as the automatic generation of environments using online resources and the ability to edit the automatically generated people.
It is an exciting moment to make RETIMA available to all the Unity Reflect users!
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