Many of us have struggled with incorporating analysis data from energy consultants or software like Ecotect and Energy Plus into the the early stages of design. This is largely due to the cumbersome process of moving models between design and analysis software, or worse, the necessity to completely rebuild a model to suit a particular type of analysis or tool. To complicate things further, the result of such efforts isn’t easily incorporated back into the design process, because the data harvested is usually output in a static format such as a chart or two-dimensional graphic. A large part of our research is focused on discovering methods of improving the design/ analysis workflow so that that analytic tools can inform decisions made in the early stages of design. In this post we demonstrate a workflow for moving 3d geometry from our design tool, 3DStudio Max through Rhino/ Grasshopper, into our analysis tool, Ecotect. After gathering data, we import a 3-dimensional representation of that information back into Max to help shape the design. This process is also compatible for use with Maya or any other 3d modeling tool that can work with vertex colors (known as false color in Rhino) such as Blender or Unity.
To use this workflow you will need Rhino with Grasshopper, Gecko and MeshEdit plugins installed. Grasshopper is a free downloadable plugin for rhino users. Gecko and MeshEdit are add-ons to Grasshopper by [uto] and can be downloaded here for free. You will also need a copy of Autodesk Ecotect Analysis . A 30 day trial of Ecotect can be downloaded here. In the demonstration video we use Autodesk 3DStudio Max as our design tool, but this can be substituted with any tool that can output an .OBJ file. The workflow in the video is summarized below:
1) 3DSMax (design/modeling software) – export the 3d model as OBJ2) Rhino – import the model and launch Grasshopper.
3) Grasshopper/Gecko – Apply materials and send the 3d model to Ecotect.
4) Ecotect – Run the analysis
5) Grasshopper/Gecko – Read analysis data from Ecotect and generate geometry with false color applied.
6) Rhino – Export the 3d file as a VRML
7) 3DSMax 32 bit – Import VRML file and save as a native .MAX file
Alternately, you could output an FBX file out of 3DSMAX at the end of step 7 and bring the color coded Ecotect geometry directly into Maya.
So why not move straight from Max/ Maya to Ecotect using obj or 3ds formats and skip Rhino/Grasshopper all-together? Why not export as a VRML directly from Ecotect and import that back into Max? We tried and both are possible, but they have limitations:
- There is no way of preserving mesh topology. Ecotect will have its way with imported mesh geometry, either creating triangles or joining faces. This results in an irregular distribution of measured data as each vertex in a mesh becomes a sensor point for Ecotect.
- VRML output from Ecotect produces a unique material per face and explodes each panel as a unique object. While this works for small projects, a typical office tower will generate a file that is too memory intensive, even on newer systems, to be useful.
The process outlined above is probably still too cumbersome to be used effectively in the preliminary design phase of a fast paced project. FBX export functionality out of Ecotect could greatly improve the workflow and allow users to skip past the last three steps. As it is now, this process makes more sense later in schematics when the massing of the project is being finalized and the surface is being developed. It is robust enough to handle large amounts of detail and can be used to accurately move geometry through analysis without affecting mesh typology. It also allows designers to work with analysis data directly in their native modeling application.
The grasshopper script we use to send data to Ecotect can be downloaded by right-clicking and choosing “save file as” on the link below.
CJ_ECO (you will need to change the file extension to GHX)
The gecko PDF help document referenced in the video can be downloaded here.