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The Pro's and Con's of Lumion

Written on 02-16-2016

Update: This article was written with regards to Lumion 5. It has since had several new releases with some satisfying upgrades.

The rendering software Lumion has been gaining traction in the architectural and design community. As of February 2016, Lumion reports that 61 of the top architectural firms use their software. That number has been growing. Not long ago they sent an email reporting that number as 50. Maybe you already use Lumion. Maybe you're looking for new or different software to render your architectural 3D models (such as 3D Max) and you're considering Lumion. I've been rendering our projects over at Think Architects for a few years now. Let me share some of my experiences.

example of a Lumion rendering
An example of a Lumion 5.0 rendering with filters

Let's talk about some benefits.

Lumion is strong in the following departments.

1. Easy to use.

With the basic interface, it plays more like a video game than what I might call 'industry software'. Other software like 3D Studio Max requires technical knowledge to use. People who know how to use 3D Studio have a powerful ability to create amazing things, but if you spent all your time learning drafting software like Revit, you don't want to spend additional time learning a whole new beast.

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2. Speed.

If you've rendered through V-Ray or Revit's native rendering, you know it can take a long time to produce an image. Those renderings typically are started Friday afternoon, just before you head home for the weekend. This can work against your interests if you have a deadline, or a client decides to drop in suddenly and unexpected. You can set up a scene in Lumion pretty fast, and it only takes seconds to produce, or update, a final image.

3. Out of the box.

The software comes with a variety of environmental objects, or 'clutter' to enhance your renderings. An extensive library of plants, cars and people are provided. The interior design objects come up wanting, but you can supplement your environment with models found at www.3dwarehouse.sketchup.com, or you can make your own.

4. Great presentation opportunities.

Have you ever shown your clients a CAD design and they are lost as to what the project will look like? I'm not entirely sure that the developers of Lumion intended for their software to be used this way but I like to 'fly' the client through the Lumion environment real time, instead of our Revit model. The client loves it and they get to see all angles of the project, even if I don't want them to.

5. Good support.

Lumion makes good attempts to give their customers support. If you contact them through their forum, they seem to make sure to address the issue. When I had issues updating a file, they took the time to review the hardware on my computer to make sure that it wasn't something outside of their software causing problems.

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6. Video Export.

Clients LOVE seeing videos of their projects and videos are very easy to set up. There are even audio objects you can add to the project to give it more flare. However, the native audio clips are pretty obscure sounds that I have not yet been able to find a use for. Not many computers in my office have speakers set up on them. The employees tend to put on their headphones and get lost in their work. It's a quiet place, this office.

The dark side of Lumion

1. Don't hope for hyper real renderings.

The renderings Lumion can produce are great, but if the client wants a hyper real image of the project to be, maybe the V-Ray plugin for Revit is the way to go. You can get 'real like' images that look good but still have a hint of video game to them. Lumion makes up for this with a collection of filters that can be added to give your renderings an artistic touch.

2. No Cntrl+Z.

This one drives me nuts. Later versions have added a very limited undo option. For the most part don't make any mistakes. On occasion I've had to reload my project to make up for a mistake that I wasn't able to undo.

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3.Poor interface.

Lumion is much easier to use than 3D Studio but the UI is awkward and childish. There is no ribbon at the top of the screen, such as every other software you probably use. Sometimes you have to click things more than once to get it to respond. Most of the buttons are big simple icons, similar to what you'd find on a Fisher Price toy.

4. Runs slow.

It's quick to render but slow to run. If you get greedy, which I have, you can keep building bigger and bigger environments that can really use up your RAM. I even recommend giving yourself extra time to install since it can take about 30-45 minutes.

5.Updates.

Lumion provides the occasional update but you have to install a whole new program, and then remove the old one. It doesn't update the current software. For example, if you don't remove old versions you can be stuck with (for example) 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 taking up your hard drive space.

6. Video Exports are too large.

The videos that are produced by Lumion are almost too large and bulky for the average computer to process. They often freeze up and show errors. Before I realized this, I sent videos to clients who complained, thinking I purposely edited the video to freeze and half render images. You know clients, always coming to kooky and crazy conclusions. However, I've found that I can overcome this by putting the video in a third party video editor, and export the video from there into a compressed and usable format.

example of a Lumion rendering
An example of a Lumion 5.0 rendering with filters
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The Revit Kid gives a similar review on his articles. He also enjoys using Lumion with his Revit models and rants about the gaming engine that Lumion uses. And he is also upset with the limited undo functionality.

Alternatives to Lumion

What if you aren't interested in Lumion? 3D Studio Max has a long historical standing as good software. I use to tinker in one of its early versions long before I even picked a major at school. You can achieve really great renderings of your Revit models using 3D Studio Max as long as you're willing to invest a little more time.

3D Max's strengths:

1. Revit lights render in 3D Studio Max.

They do not in Lumion. In Lumion you have to 'fly' close to the floor, look up and place lights on the ceiling where you assume they might be. They don't have any sort of real world alignment and they don't update when you update your Revit file.

2. Fairly easy learning curve

Easy relative to the complexity of the software. Most students will be introduced to the 3D environment through 3D Max. It can appear intimidating at first, but is easy to use once you get the hang of it.

3. Incorporated cameras.

If you have cameras set up in your Revit model, those can easily be imported into your 3D Max model.

3D Max's dark side:

1. Materials from Revit do not come over into 3D Max very well.

Editing them in 3D Max is a much more complicated process than editing materials in Lumion. This has been one of my greatest turn offs for using this method.

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2. Takes much more time.

It takes a lot longer to render an image in 3D Max. Sometimes it can take hours if you don't have the right computer. That is all fine and dandy if you live in a world where deadlines don't come faster than available working hours.

If these two options, Lumion and 3D Studio Max, are outside your interest there is a variety of software you can try to create architectural renderings. V-Ray plugin for 3D Max, Studio 3D, Artlanis, Twinmotion, Maya, Softimage, Houdini to name a few. Let me know which ones have worked for you?

example of a Lumion rendering
An example of a Lumion 5.0 rendering with filters

What about Modern Sample

And what does all this have to do with Modern Sample? Well, maybe not much but I really enjoy Lumion and I wanted to spend some time talking about it. One great asset that Modern Sample provides is, obviously, the material boards that you can piece together quickly and easily, or even the list of real existing materials that might be used on your project.

On several occasions I needed some information fast for both the client and the municipality in which the project resides. My work flow includes building the model in Revit than picking my materials in Modern Sample where I can export the information in seconds and print. Now that I know what my Sample Board looks like, I can either use similar materials in Lumion or grab the imagery directly from the material's expanded page on Modern Sample.

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