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Looking at The Future of Vectorworks—CEO Dr. Sarkar Shares Insights

The future of major technologies and tools isn’t always clear. However, one can gain some key perspectives from the answers to critical questions by tech leadership. In this interview, Architosh asks Vectorworks’ CEO Dr. Sarkar questions that probe the future of Vectorworks.

Last year in the early summer we published our interview with Dr. Biplab Sarkar, CEO of Vectorworks, Inc. Our conversation was primarily a follow-up to their big annual user conference called the Vectorworks Design Summit; however, a second follow-up conversation was scheduled for the fall time frame where we engaged in a more forward-looking discussion about Vectorworks and the BIM industry.

What we have below is a candid discussion and set of insights about where Vectorworks may go in the near future, as we hit topics as diverse as working in the cloud—fully—to external renderers like V-ray to the challenges working with Revit data and a whole lot more.

The Interview—Future Talk

Dr. Sarkar, thanks for talking to me about some of the potential future directions with Vectorworks. I know just how much software companies like to keep private most of the best ideas they may have in the works for their users in the future. 

You are very welcome.

I want to start with Renderworks. This was a product that was always sold separately until this latest release, Vectorworks 2017. The term “Renderworks” is no longer a product, but a sub-brand and the engine behind this sub-brand technology is Cinema 4D. If you move to this idea that Renderworks is a set of features and not an engine, then can you also consider integrating other rendering engines in Vectorworks in the future?

Yes, there is some discussion [about other external renderers], but nothing has been decided yet. As you know, Cinema 4D already supports other rendering engines like V-ray and mental ray, but those are not yet exposed to us as a user of the library. That is something we have been discussing with MAXON.

And people use Arnold and V-ray with Cinema 4D, and so there is this interest in options for physically accurate engines versus biased rendering engines. 

Cinema 4D is very good at animation and still rendering. We’re extremely pleased with both of these capabilities. But in still rendering there are, of course, lots of other programs that are doing very well these days too.

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And speaking of animation. The architecture industry is at this moment where we see a real momentum building with real-time rendering products—tools like Lumion and Twinmotion, for example. How is the Vectorworks team thinking of this trend? 

Yes, this is a topic we have also been talking about internally. Lumion and Twinmotion and all these products are making us think about the future of rendering. So internally we are discussing this with our rendering experts here at Vectorworks and with the folks at MAXON. Furthermore, we are all discussing strategy and how we address this interest in the market.

MORE: More News of Twinmotion-Abvent Merger: Switching Heads of Development

Mainly, this is about real-time processing as well as animation—it doesn’t have to be total moving animation, it just needs to be “practical animation” like leaves on a tree, the water in the pool, and that sort of thing. So, I agree with you about this trend; it does make your scenes look so life-like. What I can tell you is we are thinking about this, but we don’t have a concrete strategy to share yet.

Vectorworks 2017 surprised many with its native Revit file import support. But there is a lot more to that story than just import—like how you got there. Can you share a bit more with me about this?

Sure. This was an effort by the Open Design Alliance (ODA), of which we belong. We, along with other member companies of ODA, have been bootstrapping this special project for creating the Revit libraries. Vectorworks 2017 was the first iteration of the Revit import tools coming out of the ODA.

06 - A huge new feature for BIM users is the Revit import functionality. Now consultant BIM models, like MEP, can drop into Vectorworks via Revit Import.

01 – A huge new feature for BIM users is the Revit import functionality. Now consultant BIM models, like MEP, can drop into Vectorworks via Revit Import.

[Editor’s note: Since this interview talk, the ODA has officially released and discussed its Revit compatibility SDK products for third-party developers.]

How good or perfect are the ODA libraries at bringing in accurate Revit data? And what about export to Revit format?

Many files are working perfectly while some have issues. This will improve dramatically over time as the ODA improves their libraries, which are known as Teigha BIM. Full compatibility is the goal with the ODA libraries but we are genuinely interested in expanding our [BIM] content via the Revit families, and so that is what was new in Vectorworks 2017.

Autodesk has already announced what looks like a possible future of Revit or future Autodesk BIM in Project Quantum. It will be compatible with Revit, they say, but will, of course, be based on fundamentally new technology—and fully cloud based. Do you foresee the Revit file format becoming a new type of DWG or even DXF for the BIM industry? And what effect could the ODA have on helping make that happen?

We do not see RVT (aka. .rvt) file format becoming a new type of DWG/DXF for the BIM industry. We think of RVT format as one of many formats that are prevalent in the BIM arena. And ODA’s Teigha Library is providing us with the technology to fulfill the RVT interoperability. However, we did integrate RVT support long after we added robust support for IFC in the BIM workflows.

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Overall, we believe and invest heavily in Open BIM, which is a universal approach to the collaborative design and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows.

And on to the cloud. Two Design Summits ago you showed Vectorworks running in the cloud via browser-based technology which I believe was from Frame. I’m not asking for your future plans on that but what is your feeling about Vectorworks running through the cloud on technology like Frame? 

We think there are potential needs and certainly there are use cases for this approach, for example, we visited one of the Vectorworks offices in Japan not too long ago, and they use Vectorworks Spotlight, but they had 50 or so students helping them do a show, but those students didn’t have their own version of Vectorworks. So anyway, they were asking to have Vectorworks in the cloud, running on a server somewhere, so they didn’t need a copy of the software but could distribute work on an as-needed basis.

So these customers of yours could benefit from having the ability for folks to come into the Vectorworks workflow and just make quick edits, here or there, or contribute in a team fashion, but not necessarily need to be long-term Vectorworks users?

That’s right. So, since the past spring, we have had a cloud-based beta group, and they have been giving us some interesting feedback. For example, where does a Vectorworks user’s preferences directory get stored when in a server, cloud-hosted environment? How do you store all your personal customizations—are they stored locally or in the cloud?

Right, so if stored on the server or in the cloud those items could be shared resources but if you choose local or even personal cloud options which vanish for other users within your organization, then shared resources becomes more challenging. That’s interesting.  

Exactly. We need to figure these things out—how to create user accounts on the server, so they have separate references and settings, for example, on company directories. Or, should we have sharable user folders so that each user can share their textures, hatches, and other items? So that is the mechanism we are working on right now. As we continue to talk with our customers who would find this technology useful, we are further developing solutions based on their feedback.