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Monday, March 30, 2015

From Revit to Lumion - THE ULTIMATE REVIEW

I first gave Lumion a try back in 2012 when they released Lumion 2.2 free for students.  To be honest, I was extremely disappointed.  The process of getting a Revit model into the program, applying materials, and making something that looked presentable was far from seamless.  Well, what a difference three years can make!

To be completely honest, the only reason I started using Lumion again was due to the fact that the company I now work for invested in it a few months before I started working for them. Essentially, they said, "well, we bought it... can you use it?".  Reluctant at first, I took it as an opportunity to not only see the progress Lumion did (or didn't) make but to see if I can produce visualizations comparable to what can be done within Revit itself.  

As of today I have been using Lumion (Pro Version 5.3 for three months and I am hooked!  Not only is the work flow between Revit and Lumion very simple but the quality of the visualizations I have been able to create are fantastic (images and videos).

In this post I will break down my process of using Revit and Lumion in tandem to create renderings and animations just like the ones above...

Before we jump into a video tutorial that walks you through the process of creating images and videos in Lumion with a Revit model I wanted to break down the pros and cons (or "benefits and what could be changed").

Benefits of Lumion (Pros)

Fun and Easy

If you have followed this blog over the years you know where I stand on real-time visualization.  In fact, I have been talking about it for over 3 years!  I spent many of my high school years either playing videos games or trying to make them.  Who would have predicted that becoming an architect would let me create games for a living?!

I say that in jest but the truth of the matter is this Lumion is fun!  It feels kind of like playing The Sims with the "kaching" code on.

Lumion is also extremely easy to use.  If you have ever played a first person shooter then you are all set.  Very few buttons are hidden and the interface is simple.  **Once you get kicking in the software be sure to checkout these Lumion Keyboard shortcuts to really speed up your work flow...


The benefits of using a gaming style engine is that rendering is basically already complete.  There is an entire science behind video games and how they can produce such incredible graphics with very little computing resources (compared to software like Revit).

If you have a computer built to run extremely well using Revit you already have a setup to scream on Lumion.  The only improvement you can make is ditching that stupid expensive workstation graphics card for a little less stupid expensive gaming card. The two computers I am using Lumion on are as follows:

Custom Desktop (a few years old): Intel i7 Quad Core 3.0GHZ, 32GB DDR3 RAM, solid state hard drive, and a 3 year old 1GB ATI graphics card.

Workstation Laptop:  Intel i7 Quad Core 2.9GHZ, 32GB RAM, Solid State hard drive, and nVidia K5100M (8GB) graphics card.

Desktop #2: Intel i7 4.0GHZ, 32 GB RAM, Solid State, nVidia GTX670 (4GB)

Here is a comparison of real-time versus rendered time of each machine:

Test Rendering - Raw Image
Test Rendering - Processed
Rendered Image Shown Above  (Everything Max @ 7680x4320):
** Lower is better**

- Desktop: 5 Minutes 14 Seconds
- Workstation: 3 Minutes 15 Seconds
- Desktop #2: 1 Minute 19 Seconds

Real-time Movement (Everything on MAX): 
**Higher is better**

- Desktop: 8 Frames Per Second
- Workstation: 22 Frames Per Second
- Desktop #2: 36 Frames Per Second

Context & Entourage

One thing we can all agree on is that Revit is bad at landscape design.  The topography tool is clunky and out-dated (the new "Site Tools" doesn't help either) and the RPC plants are just not good enough for realistic imagery.  For example, RPC trees will never look like this.

The amount of time I spend in Photoshop adding trees, cars, people, and similar items to my renderings during post processing is unhealthy.  So, I figured I would give the content in Lumion a chance.  To my surprise, you can create context extremely quickly.  Not only can it be placed quickly but it looks really good!

Here is an example from an office project with Lumion's people, plants, and cars:

(Click to enlarge...)

Not bad, right?  Yes, there was some post-processing but I didn't have to cut out a single tree, car, or person... Woohoo!

Click here to see the entire library of content that comes with Lumion Pro (they add items with every update, too!)

Oh yeah, and the grass looks awesome!  Try and do this just using Revit...
Example of Lumion Plants and Grass.
(The web looking structure was created in Revit)

Example of Lumion Plants and Grass.
(The web looking structure was created in Revit)


See the materials in the images above?  Some of those are Lumion standards and others a custom textures I imported.  The default materials in Lumion have dramatically improved and look very good.  They are extremely simple to use and have more advanced settings if you are into that...

Here is a look at the new material dialogue:

Lumion Material Editor

Many game engines and real-time visualization program have complex and scary material editors.  This one is very simple to use and is not so intimidating.  Want to customize it?  The top box (green) is the texture map and the bottom box (purple) is the bump map (or "relief").

Just remember to always click the "check" mark when finished editing materials.  Otherwise you will cancel it out (like pressing escape when editing a wall in Revit, brutal!).

Connection to Revit

One of the bonus items in BIM After Dark - Volume 1 is an eBook where I illustrate how to take a Revit model and import it into CryEngine 3 (here is an example of the sample project).  Well, if you have seen that eBook you would know the process is far from seamless.  Unfortunately, that is the case with most external visualization tools...  And it WAS for Lumion back in the day...

Well, Lumion now has a free add-in for Revit that makes the link between Revit and Lumion extremely easy and fast.  The process is similar to exporting a Revit model into Navisworks.  Simply export, import, and tweak materials.  If you change the model, simply export and override the file.  Lumion has a simple "refresh" button.

Refresh model button in Lumion 5.3
You won't have to re-apply or modify any of your materials either!

Click here to download the Revit add-in...

Render Elements (Channels)

This is a little pro-tip for those of you render nerds out there.  I have complained many times about how Revit does not allow you to render out different channels (z-depth, alpha, render material IDs, reflection, refraction, etc...).  Rendering out these channels enhances post production immensely.

Lumion gives you the ability to export the following rendering channels:

Normal Rendering



Material ID



There is "SpecularReflection Map" but this scene did not contain any specular reflections.

Click here to see a video tutorial on how to export the maps above...

Floating License

When you purchase Lumion Pro you will receive a License Key and an Activation code.  The software creators made it easy on those of us with many different computers.  You can install Lumion on as many of your machines as you would like but you cannot run it concurrently.  If you are like me and have two laptops and a desktop this is very beneficial!

Although this is in the Pros category the downfall of a networked floating license is you CANNOT use Lumion if you are not connected to the internet... (Pro and a Con I guess?)

What Could be Changed (Cons)

No software package is ever perfect and this would not be a fair review if I didn't mention some of the little things that could really take Lumion to the next level.  The following are a couple of features that could be tweaked to improve a user's experience.

Rendering Image Options and Process

The aforementioned test between my desktop and laptop illustrated the speed at which high resolution renderings can be created using Lumion.  Although, there are a few caveats.

When you want to create a rendering over 1920x1080 your exported file options are limited.  By limited, I mean they disappear.  Above 1920x1080 you can only export to a Bitmap (.bmp) file.  Bitmap is not my favorite image file type for the simple reason that it is HUGE.  The typical "poster size" rendering is a massive 126 MB!  This creates incredibly large Photoshop files as well.  I would like the ability to chose at least a few other file types at higher resolutions (at least PNG and TIFF?)

Another annoyance when rendering is you must keep Lumion running and cannot click out of the program.  No minimizing or using other programs.  Clicking off of Lumion pauses the rendering until you click back in.  Of course, I would trade off 6 minute renderings for the inability to use the computer during each rendering but it can be frustrating if you are exporting an image set (10 renderings at 6 minutes is an hour of not using your computer!).

Click here for a series of tutorials about rendering still images in Lumion...

Maximum Layer Threshold 

Lumion gives users the ability to place objects on visibility layers. For most architectural visualizations the maximum of 20 visibility layers is plenty.  I have been using Lumion to create construction logistics and phasing visualizations.  For these types of visualizations the ability to turn on and off elements to show phases is AWESOME.  But, I am limited to 20...

Lumion developers, can I have a couple more layers?!  Thanks! :)

When it comes to layers here is a quick run-down from Lumion...

Limited "Undo" Functionality

This one can hurt.  Only specific tools and functions have an "Undo" button.  There is no "CTRL > Z" for many of the tools.  As you can imagine, this can be quite frustrating when spending a good amount of time placing objects, molding terrain, or tweaking materials and you want to go backwards...

It looks like this has been a wish list item for four years!  There must be some hard-coded reason why it has not been implemented... Hopefully we will see it in the next update/version!  Maybe this post will help prompt a reaction?  ;)

Tutorial - From Revit to Lumion in 15 Minutes

The following video demonstrates how simple, fast, and effective using Lumion and Revit can be at creating high quality image and videos of your designs.  

Click the image above to view the video...

The Process:

Here is a quick run down of the process shown in the video above...

In Revit:

Create Revit Model.
Apply Materials in Revit.
Set up Revit View.
Export to Lumion.

In Lumion

Start Lumion.
Select starting scene.
Import Revit model.
Add or Modify Materials.
Create Context and Entourage.
Set up Camera views.
Apply Effects.
Render video or image.
**Post Process Images and/or videos...

** I want to stress how important Post-Processing is with any image or video presentations... For example, here is a before and after of the images created with Lumion and Revit...

Before Post - Production
After Post Production

Notice how much more detail the post-produced image has?  Notice how much better the overall feel of the rendering and mood of the scene are?  If you are interested in learning my techniques for rendering and post-production check out BIM After Dark - Volume 1.  There is an entire section dedicated to the topic! For more examples of what post-processing can do for your images check out my free eBook as well...

Example Video from Tutorial:

Here is the final video I created from the project used in this article... (Turn your speakers on!)...  For a gauge on how fast this can be done it took me about 2 hours to create what you see below from the moment I exported the Revit model to Lumion.

Additionally, here are some of the stills created for the same project using Lumion and Revit (click the images to enlarge them):

Additional Links and Resources

Customer Interviews



Over 200 video tutorials!  Awesome resource and must have bookmarked for anyone using Lumion...

Developments of Lumion over the past 18 months leading up to Lumion 5.3

Note:  All of building images above were designed and developed by my team and I at studio.bad architects.  A Connecticut based practice where we create simple, modern, residential and commercial architecture.  All rights reserved...