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AIA: Autodesk introduces computational modeling tool Dynamo for its BIM workflow

In this AIA Show report we discuss in depth our knowledge of Autodesk’s new Dynamo technologies with Vasari

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Autodesk introduced an exciting scripting and visual programming interface application that they are building out on top of Revit and Vasari, in order to bring computational advanced modeling workflow capability into their BIM product pipelines. Unfortunately, this product is neither Web-interface driven or available at this time on Apple’s iOS and OS X platforms. It is exclusively Windows based.  [Editor’s note: we’ll talk a bit more about why we think that is at the end of this article.]

What is Dynamo

Matt Jezyk, Sr. Product Line Manager, AEC Conceptual Design Products, says that Dynamo is part of a new conceptual design ecosystem that consist, at least in phase one, of the advancement of Autodesk FormIt and Vasari with Dynamo. The former establishes the left end of a spectrum for conceptual design that focuses on ease-of-use, mobility and multiple platforms, domain agnostic (meaning you can work anywhere) and general 3d modeling. The latter with Dynamo is focused on robust 3d modeling, integrated analysis, higher user sophistication (ie: not necessarily easy to use) and larger project scope or budget goals.

01 - Dynamo is a new scripting and visual programming tool in alpha that will challenge Bentley's Generative Components in the marketplace. It brings computational design closer to the BIM tool stack.

01 – Dynamo is a new scripting and visual programming tool in alpha that will challenge Bentley’s Generative Components in the marketplace. It brings computational design closer to the BIM tool stack.

What Dynamo adds to Vasari at the end of that conceptual spectrum is visual programming and scripting capability, turning Vasari with Dynamo into a competitor of Bentley’s Generative Components (GC).

Matt Jezyk said that Autodesk sees a trend where the folks who are typically involved professionally with computational design tools have often been specialist in larger advanced firms with both the project scopes and budgets to support and warrant these advanced software tools, yet there is evidence that this type of work is becoming much more commonplace.

The computational design experts, Matt says, tend to be divided from the BIM professionals, often existing in specialist groups. Autodesk thinks it’s time to start breaking down some of those divides and Vasari with Dynamo is partly aimed at doing just that, bringing computational design closer to the BIM fold.

02 - Here is another screenshot from within Dynamo.

02 – Here is another screenshot from within Dynamo.

Back in 2008, Autodesk was able to woo Generative Components creator, Dr. Robert Aish, from Bentley to Autodesk. It has been over four years without any evidence that Autodesk would have a product to compete with either Bentley’s Generative Components or tools like Rhino with Grasshopper. Now the fruit of that switch is here–in alpha/beta stage.

Dynamo helps designers “design a process”, not just geometry. A node-based user-interface allows end users to create their own relationships, driving model variables that are meaningful to their particular building creation goals. This is where the tool implements analysis as these relationships can be very analytical and useful to engineering purposes.

With Dynamo you can extract information useful to a wide variety of purposes. For example you can extract the area of a particular wall and the total area of a particular window or curtain wall area within that wall to find window to wall ratios useful to other calculations important to energy analysis, for example.

Like Generative Components you can implement numerical data to affect change in a model’s forms. The spline that governs the main curvature of a stadium roof, for instance, can be manipulated iteratively and endlessly using sliders in a node-based interface. The function governing that spline curve can be tied into a relationship that governs shade percentages on stadium seats and an optimization calculation can occur.

Other Details

Dynamo supports Python natively for its scripting/programming capabilities but more importantly it uses Autodesk’s new DesignScript which was created by Dr. Robert Aish. Matt Jezyk said that DesignScript has some novel features and it’s more compact that Python. “What might take you 100 lines of code in Python or Javascript can be maybe accomplished in as little as 30 lines of code,” said Jezyk.

Models done in Dynamo are in the native Revit file format as Matt notes that Vasari shares the Revit file format. Currently the release is at version 0.5.2 as of 13 July 2013. You can download the latest version here if you have Vasari.

Architosh Analysis

It is really regretful that on the Mac side of the industry all the main computational modeling tools are Windows only. This includes Bentley’s Generative Components, Grasshopper with Rhino (though Rhino itself runs natively on the Mac) and now the Vasari with Dynamo combo. We obviously see a tremendous opening for not just these three players but for those close to execution of such a tool. A very likely candidate would be AutoDesSys’s formZ 7. It already has its own formZ Script Language (FSL) which can drive complex NURBS surfaces through a user-defineable formula. And one shouldn’t forget the amazing work being done by the Pylon technical folks, they once produced a formZ plugin set for sale.

And there are tools in the SketchUp universe that could challenge and offer choice for those on OS X. Of course seriously interested computational or numerically controlled parametric modeling geeks on OS X can investigate the application ParaCloud | GEM. Though currently, the website doesn’t take you further than the homepage.

Another possibility is that Graphisoft will create such a tool inside of ArchiCAD. It too has its own language for advanced modeling.

So What About Revit for Mac?

At the start we said we had something to say about Revit. A lot of people are beginning to wonder why Autodesk is so gun-ho on Apple and its iOS platform but has not done anything about developing Revit natively for Mac OS X. We too are baffled. We heard whispers directly from within the company that it was likely just around the corner. But that was several corners ago. So where is it?

Here is what we are thinking. We think Autodesk is working on Revit for the Cloud. Indeed, we think it will run entirely through a Web browser. You may be thinking “no way, can’t be done.” Well, we think that is not far off. Today we have WebGL (Web Graphics Library) which derives from OpenGL ES 2.0.

At AIA Denver we saw a new “labs oriented” beta application by Gehry Technology that was doing modeling through a browser using WebGL. And while the shapes were basic it was fast. It ran on Chrome on a MacBook Pro. WebGL and what is possible today and in the future is a topic we need to conquerer here at Architosh because we believe it is going to change the landscape of CAD and 3D in the next few years.

Here is a bit more to share at this time. Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and Autodesk AutoCAD 360 are ported applications to the cloud that run on local WebGL clients. When I asked the Gehry Technology folks what was doing the modeling calculation work, the cloud-based app or the local hardware, they said local hardware. That’s exactly how WebGL works. It accesses GPU acceleration capabilities on your local machine.

For those who are having Safari running, WebGL is disabled by default. You need to fix that before enjoying WebGL based apps. To learn more go here.