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Vectorworks Graphics Module—Act Two
In version 2015 Vectorworks’ VGM component—which stands for Vectorworks Graphics Module—was further improved. Introduced in Vectorworks 2014 last year, the VGM is the company’s proprietary OpenGL renderer. But as duly noted in its Vectorworks 2015 introduction, the updated VGM can also render in wireframe mode. Gone entirely is the old code which previously handled all such wireframe rendering.
“Because wireframe rendering is done in OpenGL we now have the depth sorting which tells us what is drawn in front or behind other things,” says Dr. Sarkar. (see the title graphic above) “In the previous versions there was no way to know which item was behind another. The VGM in version 2015 also powers new view transition animation so that users get a context-aware navigation from one saved view to another.
While the VGM was new last year version 2015 marks just act two in a three part play. “The new wireframe features are now powered by OpenGL, in addition to the planar graphics that we draw,” says Dr. Sarkar. “so in addition to some optimizations the VGM, in this release also received a lot of new plumbing work under the hood so that we could power these new features. And we are now just two years into a three year plan on the VGM.”
Readers might be wondering about the new 64-bit code base and if it affects the Vectorworks Graphics Module, but Sarkar noted that the 64-bit bus between the Vectorworks program and the core computer is already quite fast. Overall users should see “a 10-15 percent speed improvement” in almost all the areas of this release. But the biggest news not easily understood via the press literature is that on very large model scenes, with thousands of vertices overlapping each other, the new Vectorworks 2015 has up to six times (6x) performance improvements in navigating those large complicated 3D scenes.
Getting Behind the Curtain and In Front of It
What software programmers do may often seem like magic behind a curtain. Few end-users have any type of coding experience or skills in this area, even in this day-and-age. In Vectorworks 2015 there are several interesting stories about work done behind this curtain. One of them is that the animation features were entirely redone.
Apple’s QuickTime isn’t behind the animation time-line editor and fly-through features anymore. “We had to change to the native platform’s native movie features since QuickTime has been eliminated in the program,” notes Dr. Sarkar. “even the entire timeline editor—which was very old—was rewritten from scratch.” This means that on the Apple platform files are made in the .mov (MPEG4) file format while on Windows they are made in the .mov (MPEG4) file format on Windows 7/8 and .avi file format in Windows XP and Vista. This is something that some users may not be expecting but it doesn’t really impact the existing workflow for users regardless of platform they are on.
And speaking of curtains…a big new BIM feature for Vectorworks Architect 2015 is the new Curtain Wall Tool. This new tool may feature some unique capabilities not found in any rival BIM product. “What we are really proud of,” continues Dr. Sarkar, “is that you can do direct editing of the curtain wall design, dragging components around, including members on angles. We haven’t seen this in other products because other products are mostly dialog driven,” he adds. “And we are proud to say that everything behind it is Parasolid, all the frames and panels, all of it.”
Architects will be especially pleased at the interactive-abilities used to edit curtains walls. Users can simply select and drag curtain wall components around, and each member is fully editable in all dimensions. Additionally, as you drag you can use the head’s up display to precisely enter the dimensions you want.
And There’s More To This Story
And in other major nod to this program’s continuing ambitions to climb up the architectural BIM authoring tool ranks, Vectorworks Architect 2015 changes the way building “stories” are handled entirely. In previous versions Vectorworks design layers handled the leveling attributes of various stories. In other words, each story could have associated design layers set at a particular Z-level height in 3D space. As Dr. Biplab Sarkar explains, “if you had a ten story building and you needed six levels per story you ended up with 60 design layers—it would cause a ‘design layers’ explosion.” “Users really didn’t like that,” he added.
In the old system users were forced with the burden of extra layer management in order to have the individual level control they sought in the software. Now in the new level constraint system users have the ability to establish levels associated with a story. Furthermore, as Dr. Biplab further explained, “levels can be created without establishing any additional design layers” and “levels of different stories can now overlap…which helps with split-level designs.”
Dr. Sarkar explained that users have been asking for several key things like the improvements to the story system just mentioned. They also have been asking for things that may seem small to outsiders of the software, such as the ability to add a “description” field to the layer and class management system. This will allow CAD managers and principals the ability to convey information about classes and layers that aid users’ understanding of the proper use of such classes and layers in terms of office standards.
Nomad, Open Innovation and the VGM
Nemetschek Vectorworks took a more wait-and-see approach to iOS development than many of its chief rivals, but the company has continued to advance in this direction by adding 3D viewing of Vectorworks files in its newly updated Vectorworks Nomad app. Previously, only 2D output from Vectorworks files were viewable in Nomad.
Dr. Sarkar explained that his software programmers have an in-house innovation program where teams or individuals can pursue independent work. It was out of this program that a team came up with the challenge to port the newly written VGM (Vectorworks Graphics Model) technology to the Apple iOS platform. “The VGM was not written with OpenGL for embedded systems (OpenGL ES) in mind,” notes Dr. Sarkar, “so the module had to be adjusted for this new platform. Since the VGM plugin had a very modular design, Apple’s Xcode allowed for a fairly easy way to add this code for Nomad and adjust it for iOS.”
The result was the technology now enabling the 3D viewing and navigation inside the new Vectorworks Nomad. “This is rather amazing,” he adds “because the VGM rendering engine was never intended to be used outside of Vectorworks. Because of great software design, it reduced the dependencies on the internal workings of Vectorworks that allowed this to happen at all.”
Nemetschek Vectorworks is innovating also through its partnership and extended development team globally. The company has software offices in Bulgaria. The new Landmark product includes very good new roadway object modeling improvements that will ease the ability of designers to integrate and edit all manner of roadways into site models, including new options with curbs.
And speaking of site models, Dr. Sarkar told me that the triangulator behind the terrain modeling engine is not powered by Parasolid itself—like the rest of the 3D in Vectorworks—but rather on a library from a company based in India named Geometric Limited—which is a Siemens Partner. Siemens is the company, you may recall, that develops Parasolid the geometry modeling engine.
All of this brings me back to a key point about Vectorworks 2015—since around version 2009 the product engineering has greatly improved—partly because of the strategic direction the company has taken by first adopting the CAD industry’s leading Parasolid modeling kernel. Now the company stands at version 2015, capping off a half decade-long trail of software evolution that has laid the foundation for dramatic new features which this version has begun to unveil.
[Editor’s note: This article received several small edits and URL links since original publication. 1:24pm EDT, 15 Oct 2014]