After a very busy first quarter, I finally had time to make some much-needed new marketing materials. This had me spending too much of the last month looking for the latest on rendering point clouds for images and animations. I found a lot of articles and postings circa 2012-2014, but not much in the last twelve months. It made curious about a few things: Am I the only one still making animations of point clouds? Am I the only one that doesn’t have this figured out already?! Are we using meshes for visualization instead, due to the sudden ubiquity of UAVs?
Spending 50 hours on rendering over the last 30 days, I’ve had a bit too much time to consider things. I offer the following so that others may not have to spend their time repeating my mistakes—in hopes that they may pay it back by offering some other insights in the comments!
- Autodesk 3DS changes – I can safely say that 90% of my time in 3DS has been spent trying to render point clouds and CAD/Revit models. Its learning curve is legendary, and I only dive in when I have days to devote to it. This time around, I hit an additional hurdle as Mental Ray, the preferred renderer for point cloud data, is no longer available. NVidia quit developing it and Autodesk purchased an alternate rendering engine called “Arnold” that is now considered the de facto renderer for point clouds. Since Arnold is newly acquired, there’s precious little documentation (even less of it related to point clouds) and a grand total of one tutorial on Lynda.com. I was able to get a few pics rendered, but large data sets locked up or crashed 3DS every time. The few stills looked good but I simply don’t have the time to keep going without additional documentation or spending time with someone that has it down. V-ray is still an option but it does require a separate license as a plug-in.
Even if I had the time, I’m not sure it’s a worthy investment. The wholesale changes in the ReCap team at Autodesk, along with the rendering engine changes, and the advancement of UAV collected meshes, have me wondering if I’m chasing a dying solution.
- Stagnant solutions – There are a few standbys that I pulled out to get the job done. Leica Geosystems Cyclone, Autodesk Navisworks, and Cloud Compare all have rendering engines that are very simple to use. However, they are remarkably unchanged from their initial releases years ago. Cyclone still renders frames before giving the cloud time to fully load, and Navisworks offers very little in the way of good looking clouds unless they are RGB colored (texture mapped) from images. Navisworks is the most advanced due to the ability to nest animated objects within an animation but it still lacks some of the basic functionality needed to render good animations. Namely, all of these fail to have an editable timeline to correct less than desirable movements that are often auto-generated between keyframes. This makes for a LOT of trial and error to maintain a constant speed of movement and focal point with one’s camera.