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Use Autodesk 3ds Max to Create AR Visualizations for Civil Engineering

In just a few steps, you can view, interact with, and share your Infraworks models in immersive augmented reality (AR) apps using Autodesk 3ds Max animations and Torch AR

This fast, flexible workflow is perfect for BIM/CIM managers who need to communicate and review traffic simulations, construction sequencing, or even storm event planning—to name a few.

Traffic control engineers and VDC managers work with complex systems that have little room for error. By visualizing Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) designs against real-world settings and variables with augmented reality; civil engineers can garner greater precision in their designs, faster review cycles, and better-informed stakeholders.

While rendering solutions like Infraworks can create dynamic 3D traffic simulations in your BIM, CIM 3D models, these experiences are often stuck or siloed within their respective app ecosystems. Alternatively, sharing your designs in AR with Torch hosted Viewer Links or Web AR allows you to distribute immersive designs widely, to nearly anyone with a modern smartphone.

Follow along with your designs

Join me in this exercise and create an AR experience using your own AEC models. Download Torch AR for iOS to get started.

We’ll walk through a process for animating traffic simulations in 3ds Max for use in immersive augmented reality experiences. First, I’ll show you how to approximate Infraworks traffic simulations with Autodesk 3ds Max animations. 

Then we’ll export those designs as FBX files to become the centerpiece of an augmented reality viewer using Torch AR. With our model uploaded in Torch, we can quickly position the construction designs on a conference room table for group review, or at-scale on the job site for  a one-to-one comparison. 

No matter where you are, or who your audience is, Torch makes it easy to share complex engineering plans as immersive, interactive AR apps that drive better communication and get results. 

Watch the video for all the details.

1. Review & export AEC designs from InfraWorks

While Infraworks provides a robust traffic simulation and analysis tool, this information is locked within the Infraworks ecosystem, which isn’t always the best solution for viewing and sharing with decision-makers.

By moving these design files to 3ds Max, we can prepare them for use in mobile AR and then review the creative in easy to build, highly customizable AR experience. 

Once you have mapped out the traffic simulations in your designs, use the Export 3D Model command to create a consolidated 3D model in FBX format.

The Infraworks traffic simulation tool is fantastic for viewing mobility patterns, by creating similar animations for AR, we can give these designs greater reach and application.

2. Animate traffic simulations in 3ds Max

Import your FBX model into 3ds Max and place it in your view. Click the Time Configuration icon in the lower portion of the screen to set up your animation parameters. Then, select Auto Key so that your intended animation will automatically update accordingly. 

By using a combination of adjustments to both theTimeline slidebar and the actual placement of your components at each frame, you can very easily generate a simple animation within your scene.

3. Export from 3ds Max to FBX—bake the animation

Once you are satisfied with how your animation is being displayed within your AEC design, you are now ready to export your model from 3ds Max to FBX format. 

Important: During the export process, be sure to check the box within the Bake Animation section and adjust the time scale as necessary

4. Use the Dropbox integration to upload FBX to Torch

You can place your exported FBX model into an attached Dropbox folder for easy uploading and real-time asset updating in Torch projects. Using the Torch Dropbox integration gives you a fast, direct path for custom assets. For non-FBX files, be sure to zip the model and its related files beforehand..

Configure a new Torch project, scroll to your Dropbox storage, select your FBX model, and then drag-and-drop into your scene. 

Note: While Torch supports several ways to import your files like Sketchfab, iOS browse, or the photo roll, the Dropbox integration is my recommendation for large AEC files. 

6. Arrange your presentation in space

Once your model is in Torch, you can position and arrange the assets in real space, all through your mobile device’s camera. From here, there are many object properties, interactions (simple animations), and other tools you can use to design and fill out your model viewing AR app.

With Torch, you can create multiple scenes to display both static and animated versions of your AEC design models. You can also add some additional features, like 2D images, GIFs, or title cards with links out to related information or maybe your website.

See your work in augmented reality, today

There are so many powerful applications for how augmented reality technology can leverage our AEC design models for better communication and more efficient engineering workflows. Compared to other solutions I’ve tried, Torch is the fastest, most flexible way for BIM/CIM specialists to see their designs in AR today. 

Please join me as I venture into the world of augmented reality for AEC, establishing practical use cases, and exploring the best practices for activating your designs with AR technologies. If you have any suggestions or comments on future topics or new features you’d like to see, feel free to reach out to me at stevewalz@hotmail.com! Or find me in the crowds at AU2019.

You can get started with Torch AR for free and upgrade to Torch Publish plans when you're ready to share your immersive designs with Web AR.


About the Author:

Stephen Walz has been in the AEC Industry since early 2003. He has taken on many roles in his career, from drafting & designing, CAD and model management, and Implementing company-wide BIM/CIM standards, procedures, and workflows.