When we subscribe to the Autodesk AEC Collection, we have access to a handy application for visualization and analysis called InfraWorks. InfraWorks can not only take in your AutoCAD Civil 3D designs for the purpose of envisioning the proposed concept, but it can also further enhance your presentation with data from Autodesk Revit, GIS, Raster, Sketchup, DGN, and various 3D model file formats. Once one has been shown the ropes, InfraWorks is easy to use.
In a previous post, InfraWorks: Cleaning Up after Model Builder, I discussed how to proceed once Model Builder has composed your site. In this post, we will take a deep dive into implementing one of those suggestions: improving the appearance of the buildings produced from Model Builder. As mentioned in that previous post, if the audience cannot picture how your design will impact the site, it may be difficult winning their approval.
Model Builder is a quick way of getting a bare-bones version of your site up and running. The Model Builder link is in the left navigation panel which appears on the InfraWorks start page after the application is opened.
Once Model Builder is open, we simply zoom into our site, give our site a name, and specify our coordinate system.
After clicking Create Model, the program takes a few minutes to pull together the existing conditions of our site from Bing Maps, USGS, and OpenStreetMap. When ready, the site will pop up among the recent documents on the start page; a notification will be sent as well by email.
After opening the model, we observe that existing buildings have been imported. A random façade has been mapped onto each building. The image below displays how InfraWorks/Model Builder depicts a Wendy’s restaurant.
Now we could go out on the web and find 3D models of Wendy’s and pay $15 – $60 for a single building, or luck out and find something suitable for free in Trimble’s 3D Warehouse; or we could work with what Model Builder provided and address the façade. What I have done in the past for existing buildings is go with no façade and apply a white or gray shade instead. If we do not need each existing building’s identity to stand out, this is an easy way to go.
Another issue we may see is incorrect building heights. A 3-story Wendy’s is probably very rare so we would more than likely want to adjust this building height.
These modifications are easily resolved in the Properties panel. Click on the building, right-click, and click Properties. In the Properties panel, click the ellipsis next to Rule Style and use the Select Color/Style dialog to pick a new façade for the building. You can choose another building façade, or a color. Once the choice is made, we hit OK. Then, before anything else is done, we must either choose Auto Update to automatically apply all future property updates or click the manual Update button to apply the changes. Forgetting to do so will not affect any changes to the building façade.
An interesting option for the building façade can be found on the Façade tab in the Select Style/Color dialog. Hitting the Parent option in the dialog will bring us to a set of folders. Choosing the Simple Color & Material folder will reveal three multi-color options. These will apply shades of blue, red, and yellow but in varying degrees of Transparency. Hovering over each will display transparency values in the style name.
In the image below, a multi-color style with 75% transparency has been applied.
By holding down the CTRL key, more than one building can be selected. Then, the façade can be adjusted for all buildings selected.
Changing the building height can be done on the Properties panel. Remember to choose one of the update options after entering the new value.
An alternative to using the Properties panel is making use of the grips. Clicking on the upward pointing arrow grip will allow you to drag the height of the building to a suitable position; or we could type into the field of the Height tool which automatically opens when the grip is activated.
Speaking of grip edits, sometimes InfraWorks/Model Builder will include overhangs as exterior walls in the building model. The image below is a bank building. The part of the building projecting out towards the south is the drive-thru. This can easily be corrected. If you right-click on a grip, you have the option of adding a vertex or removing a vertex. Selecting Remove Vertex on the two southern most grips will remove that portion of the building.
We can use programs like Revit, AutoCAD Architectural, Sketchup, or even plain AutoCAD to create simple custom 3D versions of our buildings if needed. For example, if we wanted to replace the drive-thru canopy for the building in the previous example, we can create a 3D version of it in AutoCAD by creating rectangles and extruding them upward to a certain height. Then we would wblock the canopy out; as an insertion basepoint, it’s a good habit to select the lower left corner of the building structure to maintain control over placement in InfraWorks.
In InfraWorks, on the Data Sources panel, use the Add File Data Source button to import a 3D AutoCAD file.
Browse to the location of the wblock of the canopy, select it, and click Open.
We will see the following alert. Just click Send to continue.
The Data Sources tab will show the drawing file as Not Configured. Right-click on the file name and select Configure.
In the Data Source Configuration dialog, set the following:
- Type: Building
- Coordinate System: XY-IFT or XY-M, depending on the units you are working with.
- Under Position: Change Local Origin to Lower Left Front; hence, the location of the insertion base point of the wblock.
- Click Interactive Placing to locate the insertion basepoint for the building structure.
Next, we hover our cursor close to the main building and double-click to place the canopy. We will fine tune the placement in the following step.
In the Data Source Configuration dialog, click Close & Refresh.
Now, we will use the X and Y axis grips along with the rotation grip to finalize the placement.
To use these grips, we must click on the arrowheads to manipulate. By clicking on the arrowhead of one of the rotation grips, we can line up the rotation of the canopy with the main building. Then by using the X and Y arrow grips in tandem, we can center the drive-thru to the back of the main building.
Incidentally, when bringing in 3D objects from other files, InfraWorks uses the materials from the other files. Those materials cannot be overridden in InfraWorks. In this case, the InfraWorks building facades were set to white to match the white material from the AutoCAD drawing.
The approaches described in this post can be applied to other areas of InfraWorks. Being able to manipulate InfraWorks content enables us to create media for our audience that will tell the appropriate story of our site. Tweaking our existing buildings is only the beginning. There is much more we can do with the existing site to prepare it for the conceptual rendering: imagery can be improved, and the InfraWorks/Model Builder roads could use attention. Site furnishings such as automobiles, traffic lights, and signage will increase the sense of realism in our renderings. We will look at these tasks in future posts.
– Cyndy Davenport