Autodesk Revit 2016
Autodesk Revit 2016 lets users navigate through their building models quickly by displaying only relevant model elements.

Many designers spend more time in front of their computers than they would prefer. Fortunately, updates to drafting and building modeling programs are helping reduce the number of hours spent behind the desk. Autodesk recently released the 2016 Building Design Suite, which includes AutoCAD, whose highlights ARCHITECT previously covered. This article highlights the features of two additional programs in the suite: Revit and 3ds Max. Though these releases are incremental to very mature products, they will help architects increase their productivity. Disclosure: I am a beta tester for Autodesk Revit.

Determining which features are truly new for Revit is challenging even after reading the list of new features. Maintenance Subscription customers with access to Revit 2015 R2, the mid-year release that shipped last September, may find most of the list familiar. But, overall, Revit 2016 is faster and more stable than ever before, and it does have a few new productivity enhancements. Here are my favorites:

Faster Startup
Oddly, speed is one feature not mentioned in the release's official documentation. Revit 2016 opens, refreshes, and saves files significantly quicker than previous versions.

See What You Want to See
With the program’s improved navigation in 3D space, Revit users will want to spend less time in plan view. To inspect a portion of a building model, they can choose the new Selection Box tool, which will take user-selected model elements and create a boundary section box in the default 3D view. This is accompanied by the fulfillment of a longstanding user request, which was added in 2015 R2: the ability to work in perspective. This capability simply gets better in this release. Panning, zooming, and orbiting no longer require a full regeneration of the model during navigation. The program’s fast refresh rate is an unexpected treat for the experienced user.

The simplicity of the Selection Box tool should also appeal to the casual user who wants to isolate a portion of the model for viewing or detailed modeling quickly. Experienced users may find the more powerful—and free—COINS Auto-Section Box Revit add-in better suited for their needs.

Reduced Picks and Clicks
The Place Rooms Automatically tool lets users place Revit rooms within all enclosed areas of a building model with a single click. Pro tip: Run this tool prior to submitting an energy analysis to the cloud. Energy Model creation accuracy continues to improve; however, users should still confirm that no glaring errors were made in the conversion process. Enabling Analysis Mode for building elements generates a 3D Energy Model view and two schedules aid in reviewing your work before running the analysis.

Autodesk introduced an optional rendering engine within the Revit environment to better communicate users' design intent. The new Autodesk Raytracer joins three other ways to render in Revit: Nvidia Mental Ray, A360 cloud rendering, and viewport rendering with the Ray Trace visual style. The latter needs further development before it becomes the go-to workflow—rendering with Raytracer on my machine took twice as long as Mental Ray using the same "best" settings. But the more natural depiction of sunlight may be worth the extra time. Autodesk likely built Raytracer to align better with its A360 cloud rendering service, ensuring consistent results from either.

Autodesk Revit 2016
Sean David Burke Nvidia Mental Ray is one of four rendering engines available in Revit 2016.

Autodesk Revit 2016
Sean David Burke Scene rendered in Nvidia Mental Ray.
Autodesk Revit 2016
Sean David Burke Scene rendered with Autodesk Raytracer.

The 3ds Max 2016 release has a better user interaction experience, rendering engine, tool customization, and interoperability than its predecessor. Below are other noteworthy updates:

Autodesk 3ds Max
Autodesk Architects should work in 3ds Max's design environment.

Improved Experience
The software now supports the multi-touch gestures orbit, pan, and zoom to give users a more natural interaction with scenes and models than with a standard mouse. This interactivity may be cause alone for upgrading your next workstation or laptop screen. Touch navigation can be enabled under Customize > Preferences > Interaction Mode. Touchscreen accessories from Wacom and some tablets, such as Microsoft Surface Pro, are compatible.

Upon launching 3ds Max for the first time, users can choose either the classic or design environment, based on their field of work. Architects should choose the design settings, as it will be more familiar to users of the now-defunct 3ds Max Design and arranges the workspace in a way that's conducive to architects, designers, and visualization professionals. (Until last year, 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design were two products. They're now combined into one.) The program’s tutorials are also much improved, and the design templates for different environments will help take the guesswork out of initial scene setup.

Simplified Scripting

Computational design, or scripting with a visual programming language, is trending at many architecture firms. For example, Grasshopper for Rhino and the open-source Dynamo for Autodesk Revit allow users to create parametric design tools to meet everyday workflow requirements as well as to address project-specific needs.

The new Max Creation Graph (MCG) tool found on the scripting menu in 3ds Max follows this paradigm. By giving users the option of combining just the parameter needs for a particular task in one place using a visual, node-based workflow, the MCG tool allows users to create custom geometry tools and modifiers. Graphs can be packaged and installed as native tools alongside the default tools so they will be available in future 3ds Max sessions. The tool also enables the non-programmer to create and share customizations with colleagues.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2016
Sean David Burke Max Creation Graph lets users create custom tools using a node-based workflow.
Autodesk Revit 2016
Sean David Burke Autodesk A360 members can use the cloud to render their models.
Autodesk 3ds Max 2016
Sean David Burke 3ds Max now has a new Physical Camera tool with the functionality of a real camera.

Streamlined Workflow

Similar to Revit and AutoCAD, 3ds Max now can render in the cloud using the A360 Cloud Rendering service if users subscribe to one of Autodesk’s plans. Choosing this option will prompt users to determine the desired image dimensions and quality. The service will then display the estimated completion time. Users can continue working while the remote A360 servers do the heavy lifting. When the rendering is complete, they will receive an email notification. Autodesk worked with Chaos Group, the makers of the popular rendering engine V-Ray, to develop a new Physical Camera tool in 3ds Max that has settings and terminology analogous to a physical camera, giving the user much more control than previously. Users who have used the V-Ray plug-in as their primary rendering engine can switch to the default Mental Ray to take advantage of the cloud rendering capability mentioned earlier.

Linking Revit's *.rvt​ files into 3ds Max is now significantly faster—reportedly as much as 10 times faster. Users can also import Trimble SketchUp 2015 files without having to save down to an earlier SketchUp version.

With Autodesk transitioning to new software delivery methods on Jan. 31, 2016, sales of new perpetual licenses for most standalone (non-suite) products will stop. The vendor has a public FAQ document to answer user questions. With the days of skipping the occasional annual software release to save money coming to a close​, customers will need to speak up about the value—or lack thereof—provided in new releases.

Autodesk Building Design Suite 2016 pricing options: $2,850 for Annual Subscription; $340 for Monthly Subscription; $6,825 for Perpetual License; $1,025 additional for a Maintenance Subscription. ​​