Simulation Overview with 3ds Max

Photo simulation is often a requirement and essential for stakeholders outside of engineering and architecture to understand the scope and scale of the projects they are participating in. They become more required by agencies as well. However, the steps to generate photo simulations are often shrouded in mystery. So, I'd like to provide an overview to demystify the process so users might further expand their capability and opportunity.

3ds Max's ability to integrate and translate data from various programs such as Revit, AutoCAD, Infraworks, GIS, and more make it a powerful tool for creating and presenting data necessary for reports, simulation, visualization, illustrations, and presentations helping to obtain project approvals or understanding. However, these require several skills to produce content that keeps costs minimal while creating accurate and professional results. Some of those I'll discuss in this article.

3ds Max supports various file formats commonly used in BIM and AEC workflows, such as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), DWG (AutoCAD drawing), and RVT (Revit project). That allows seamless integration with BIM platforms and facilitates collaboration between different disciplines. Its ability to integrate data and modeling capabilities gives us a powerful platform to work with existing content while also constructing our proposed projects in 3D.

3ds Max's ability to work with Infraworks makes it a powerful application for realistic simulation. With Infraworks, we can generate highly accurate and realistic surfaces from DEM files and Civil 3D, which is critical for visual simulations. We can import its surface by utilizing 3ds Max's ability to integrate Infraworks data. Todd Rogers produced a photo explaining the general process well here:

Then, for our simulation, we add a photo from a site into the background of our viewport (matching the photo resolution in our render settings). Using the Infraworks-generated surface and a virtual camera in 3ds max, we align the virtual camera to the photo based on the GPS location, camera height, and lens information stored in most modern camera photo files. Utilizing 3ds Max's lighting and rendering capability, we can match the exact location and time, even include national weather data, to simulate the light and shadow that matches our photo's location and information, helping the simulation to appear as realistic as possible. Photo data (available in the properties and generally default with most modern digital cameras) is essential. However, you can salvage your operation using various camera-matching techniques if you find yourself without that information. Here's one method and example by Youtuber Alex Twigg online:

Once the scene is set up and rendered, the final step is composite work in Photoshop. The operator will need to compare the proposed project's construction, camera location, and existing photo against the rendered project and utilize the power of Photoshop to remove or integrate them as necessary. Most often, this step requires adding a specific landscape as well. While there are many libraries of 3D landscapes online, sometimes it is necessary to clip out and merge content from photos concerning those as well. Operators can use various tricks to place objects in a scene correctly. Rendering out cylinders at the proper spacing and height allows operators to composite higher-detailed, more accurate trees into the Photoshop file matching the required space and size. Here's a video discussing some of the tools and techniques used in compositing:

The overall results of these processes depend on the operator's skill and experience (as does anything). However, with some effort and practice, users can efficiently and quickly produce high-quality results that add value to their projects, company, and stakeholders.

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