A few weeks ago I sat down in Boston with Autodesk’s Matt Jezyk, Sr. Product Line Manager for AEC Conceptual Design Products, to talk about Dynamo Studio, a product that was introduced at AIA Atlanta and a BEST of SHOW winner in the BIM category for that event, and based on the Dynamo open-source project Autodesk has been contributing to for a few years. Matt Jezyk is pretty excited to show me something the Autodesk crew promised to show me after we met in Atlanta.
So here’s the big news Autodesk has been dying to show off but didn’t at AIA. Dynamo runs on the Mac. That much they did hint at in Atlanta but it was just a strong hint and nothing else. Obviously, I was anxious to know the details.
“Initially Dynamo was designed essentially as a Revit plugin,” starts Matt Jezyk, “but in the last year or so we have been abstracting away the program down to its essentials and removing its dependency on Revit.”
Dynamo for those who are not aware, was originally created to allow a visual programming capability to Revit components through a drag and drop interface. It is similar in nature to the visual programming environment known as Grasshopper, which acts on objects in the 3D modeler Rhinoceros. (Rhino). In this way, Dynamo with Revit is akin to the “Grasshopper + Rhino” formulation very common in the market.
Longtime readers of Architosh will recall our coverage of the SmartGeometry Conference in Copenhagen back in 2011. At that time Bentley’s Generative Components (GC) technology was perhaps the dominant advanced parametric 3D modeling application with a visual, mathematical programmable environment. When 3D users today model complex forms, they don’t see the complex mathematics behind it. But with these new visual programming front-end tools users can actually now get exposed to the math and algorithms driving the 3D forms in such a way that they can understand things quite deeply and begin to establish variable relationships. In other words—begin a type of visual programming.
Where BIM Meets Generative Modeling
This is where the “Information” in BIM meets a new level of usefulness. It’s now possible to establish programmable 3D models which contain variables that are filled with a type of data that helps architects solve very particular problems and make better decisions. An example might be solar orientation data on a facade that consists of integrated sun screen devices. If such a facade was created on a curving building, for example, a formula could be comprised to optimize the exact size or position of facade screen elements such that an optimal amount of shading or sunlight hits the building for daylighting purposes. Since the sun’s rays are a constant angle at any time of day at a particular spot on Earth, and the building’s curving facade is a variable, the rest of the algorithm would solve for the adjustments necessary in the facade elements to assure that the same amount of daylight hits the building at every spot along its curving facade.
Today, designing for such a feat by any other means is nearly impossible. But not at all impossible for advanced parametric generative modeling programs like Dynamo which offer the user a visual-based programming and scripting environment.
Getting Over the Rub
So for several years now there have been two dominant tools in the AEC market that provide this type of functionality—Bentley’s Generative Components and the combination of Rhino with Grasshopper, both of the latter being proprietary software developed by Robert McNeel and Associates. And both of those tool chains have been Microsoft Windows exclusives.
Enter Dynamo. While Grasshopper was written back in 2007, Dynamo was unveiled in 2011—the same year Architosh was at its first and only SmartGeometry Conference. It too was crafted at a time when it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense for making it work on anything other than Microsoft Windows. Dynamo has consistently been growing since 2011, running on top of Revit and now in the new standalone product, Autodesk Dynamo Studio. But a lot has changed since 2011.
One of the biggest things that has changed is Autodesk’s aggressive moves towards developing applications for the mobile plus cloud era. This has led to some startling changes, starting to hit the MCAD market first but will eventually trickle into the AEC market. Matt’s group at Autodesk develops FormIt, a cross-platform 3D conceptual design tool as well as Dynamo. FormIt runs natively on mobile platforms and on the Web. Dynamo runs inside Revit and in a new standalone application called Autodesk Dynamo Studio.
“We have not shown this to anyone outside of Autodesk,” says Matt Jezyk. Architosh is the first and only publication to lay its eyes on the visuals that Jezyk is brings up on dual screens inside a conference room at the Westin in the Innovation District of Boston. The room is resplendent in NASA white and I kinda feel like I’m sitting at the bar inside a some space ship in the near future. “The web side has only been shown to a few advanced Autodesk customers,” he adds, “just for feedback purposes.”
De-coupling and Stripping to the Core—The Tech
Matt explains that what his team at Autodesk has done is start to peel back the code base to get to the core of the Dynamo engine. Shedding the user interface layer that is proprietary to Microsoft’s Windows platforms, the Dynamo team at Autodesk developed a Dynamo core library that can run just about anywhere.
Speaking of the future, I ask: “how far is this out, as a product?”
He answers that what I’m looking at right now is not planned for any specific release just yet. “This is more speculative and not something we are ready to release yet…it’s more directional.” Jezyk notes that this ability to take your Dynamo models and scripting work into the cloud and access it from a Mac, iOS or an Android device, what-have-you, will maybe be a future feature in Autodesk Dynamo Studio. He’s not sure yet where this ability will go. What’s important is that this ability exists and is being developed quickly.
Another interesting note that Matt Jezyk shared was that Dynamo is now not based on the Revit geometry modeling kernel but rather the engine behind Fusion and Inventor. This actually makes sense considering, in particular, that Autodesk Fusion 360 is quite possibly the company’s most forward-looking technology.
De-coupling for the Future
Matt Jezyk reminds me at the end of our talk that there are three core messages they are trying to get out right now about Autodesk Dynamo Studio. “The key thing that we are interested in talking about,” he says, “is that Dynamo is more than just Revit.” “We work with many structural engineers who are using sophisticated analysis tools,” he continues, “many of which are not our tools. SAP 2000 is really common. There is a plugin that Thorton Tomasetti wrote for SAP 2000 to Dynamo.” While Autodesk Dynamo Studio now can talk to more apps than ever before, the goal is that this will grow.
The second message concerns the Mac and is this: “This is not a product offering. This is a labs type of thing,” says Jezyk. “We are asking ourselves ‘how do we make cloud applications.'” He doesn’t mean Autodesk doesn’t know how yet—clearly they do. But rather they are pushing the envelop using new technologies, such as those announced recently by Microsoft.
All of this concerns the future on some level and this leads to the third key message they want to get across in this article with Architosh. “It’s not just a matter of taking advantage of the cloud,” Jezyk adds, “Autodesk is trying to be cognizant of the platforms that people are actually working on. People who work on Mac have a different experience than people who work on PC. So how do you bring all that together?”
This is where the conversation enters the deep tissue of the body of the problem. The core problem is how to build the types of tools that people are asking for. A way to prepare for, or anticipate, the type of tools that people will be asking for in years to come is to look at the “innovator” class users.
This means serving the needs of the Thorton Tomasetti’s of the world and the young people behind AEC hackathons all at the same time. In fact, those two worlds are not disconnected by people or tech but actually connected by both. Matt Jezyk says that their Dynamo community of users include people writing plugins that connect all kinds of tools, including Rhino, Navisworks and Adobe programs.
I ask him if MIT’s Processing can talk to Dynamo. He says no, not yet, but agrees with me that Processing is really quite cool. “People do things in processing with visuals and then bring them into Dynamo,” he recalls.
And this gets us deeper into the evolving story behind these types of tools—cross discipline collaboration. When industries and disciplines come together more it puts demands on opening up data silos, it puts demands in interoperability, and it offers new types of possible outcomes than the traditional ways various disciplines worked before.
“We are seeing that all of this is changing the way younger people can come into the field.” he adds. “So you are not relegated to doing toilet stall layouts when you enter the field out of college. People who have some technical skills can participate in design problems using new skills. And the beauty is if you do have these skills you’re not going to be relegated to being just the IT guy or the BIM guy. You can be truly involved in the design process.” —- Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA LEED AP, editor-in-chief.
[Edited: 18 Jun 2015. 1:22pm EDT]
[ Edited: 19 Jun 2015. 12:42pm EDT…added image.]