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REAL-TIME APPLICATIONS AT LIGHTSHAPE - FROM MANUAL TO AUTOMATED WORKFLOW

Any media company that wants to be a part of the digital industry must always keep up with the times. That's why we at LIGHTSHAPE are always looking for innovative additions to our workflow in order to deliver the best possible quality as quickly as possible - and at a fair price.

Nowadays, more and more companies rely on interactive applications to showcase their products. There is a good reason for this: Interactivity creates emotional bonds. Our customers therefore have high expectations of the detailed and lifelike presentation of their products - and rightly so!

Unfortunately, product presentation in high optical quality often goes hand in hand with an increased demand for computing power. However, not every end user has the latest high-end hardware at hand, but has a standard smartphone or tablet, for example. So how does the realistic product presentation come to the personal smart device?

Our workflow so far: Manual work

The answer to this question is simple yet complex: the data must shrink.

At LIGHTSHAPE, this is done through a process called "retopologization". This involves reworking and simplifying the surface of the virtual object. A possible workflow in this category can be found in our blog article "From CAD data to low poly models for interactive applications".

So-called "LODs" (Levels of Detail) are also used. These are more computationally efficient variants of an object, which are faded in when the object is far away. This saves computing time for the display of details that would not be visible anyway. Especially when many objects are visible at once, LODs ensure a smooth frame rate.

Retopologization as well as the generation of LODs is, if done manually, extremely time-consuming. In the latter case the object even has to be optimized several times.

For example, reducing the many technical components of a modern electric vehicle in such a way that they can be easily displayed on a mobile device or on the Web takes more than a month - and that with several graphic artists involved. After all, all the parts have to be thought out in detail and their surfaces redesigned, be it the gearwheels of the rear-axle transmission, cables of the charging device or connections of a voltage converter.

Comparison of several LOD versions of a Fiat

It is no wonder that such an undertaking involves high costs.

In addition, customer feedback can be difficult or impossible to implement during all this time. The later a change request comes up, the more work steps have to be iterated again. This creates a bottleneck which slows down the constructive and valuable exchange between service provider and customer.

Our new workflow: partial automation

In our constant search for future-oriented solutions, we are always dealing with the topic of automation. For us, however, it is clear that we want to continue to offer our customers the quality for which our name stands. Many automated workflows do not meet these requirements. Although they enable extremely timely implementation, unlike our employees, they cannot take into account the details our customers place particular emphasis on and the objects that are generally essential for the appearance of the product.

Since we cannot do without the speed of automatic solutions or the quality of human experience and assessment, we use partial automation. The software InstaLOD carries out our retopologizations by taking into account numerous detailed settings of our graphic designers and calculating the result intelligently. Thus, an appropriate solution can be found for each individual product.

Furthermore, the graphic designers have the possibility to intervene in the process at any time with programs like Maya or Substance Painter, which have been integrated into our workflow for a long time. They can prepare objects so that InstaLOD can better capture and process them, or they can make corrections to give the product the final touch.

Additional post-processing of the data in Maya

We pass on this high degree of control to our customers by implementing their wishes more precisely than would be possible with any fully automated solution. At the same time, the new workflow makes us so efficient that we can realize feedback immediately and thus work dynamically with our customers.

The result of our workflow of partial automation

A look into the future

If we look ahead, we see that the automation of workflows is far from reaching its limits. In an ideal future, we'll simply feed the product data, watch it travel through a scripted pipeline and get the high-quality result we need to deliver.

There is already a trend towards fully integrated systems. Increasingly large parts of the workflow are managed holistically to reduce the use of different programs, file formats and conventions. This will enable us to avoid compatibility problems in the future, manage data much more clearly and become faster and more efficient by eliminating intermediate steps. For example, InstaLOD is already designed to run through a complete workflow. The 3D suite Blender also follows a concept where the user does not have to leave the software for the different steps.

For companies such as LIGHTSHAPE, which attach great importance to individual customer requirements, communication between man and machine continues to be a decisive point. Similar to the design of colors and shapes or the unobtrusive conversion of image formats, we have to learn how an eye perceives the virtual object and where a reduction of details does not reduce the overall quality. Aesthetics are difficult to evaluate, and anything that cannot be recognized with artificial intelligence must be precisely communicated to it by graphic designers: What is important to the customer? In what context is the product shown? How is it interacted with? The more precisely and intuitively this exchange works, the more likely the result corresponds to our customers' ideas. And that is what we work towards. By skilfully combining progress and interactive multimedia, we at LIGHTSHAPE create a sustainable model to realize your project.

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