Artist Guide Overview

This topic provides an overview of the graphics pipeline and creation guidelines, as well as the preparation and optimization of graphic assets.

Graphics are an important part of the simulation. However, care must be taken to optimize and create graphics that are efficient and properly formed to provide a smooth and appealing simulation.

Planning is important to importing a graphical asset in the Vortex® Studio Editor. A well defined asset will allow the simulation to run at optimal efficiency with exceptional realism.

Vortex Studio Graphics Capabilities
The image generator module lets you visualize your simulation environment with realistic scenes for man-in-the-loop engineering and training. 
  • Hierarchical scene graph allowing nodes to be attached to each other and follow each other’s movements for kinematic articulated structure.
  • Supports instancing on similar models’ materials and geometries to improve the scalability.
  • Synchronized by the application framework and reads the information to render from the kinematics of Vortex Master Application.
  • Configure number of viewports and channels.
  • Runs multiple monitors on Windows 10 computers with recent hardware and drivers.
    • Multi-Monitor support includes Qt Display as well as 3D Display extensions
  • Directly import 3D graphic assets from FBX, DAE, OSG, IVE or FLT formats.
    • FBX Importer creates nodes for 3ds Max’s geometric transforms, if these are present o OBJ Importer is optimized to handle large models with many small triangle fans or strips
  • Directly export 3D graphic assets to FBX format and re-import them after modifications.
  • Load textures from PNG, JPEG, TGA, or DDS files, including compressed textures.
  • Export textures as DDS files and re-import them after modifications.
  • Control 3D graphic assets materials and visibility independently.
  • Render emission, occlusion, albedo, specular, gloss, and normal materials using GPU optimized shaders.
    • Allow layered textures and masks o Up to 16 textures and masks per graphic material o Up to 4 UV sets per graphic material
    • Enhance material’s texture quality using 16x Trilinear Anisotropic Filtering.
  • Support multiple levels of detail, each with its own geometry, material and maximum distance.
    • Existing levels of details can be imported from the 3dsMax exporter for OSG, OSGExp
    • Level of Detail feature is computed per-viewport o Debug visualization tool colorizes rendered Graphics Nodes according to the level of detail used for their rendering
  • Includes ambient, point, spot, and directional lights.
    • Up to 128 direct light source using Forward lighting rendering o Up to 16 casted shadows using Cascaded Shadow Map
  • Mathematics for lighting, blending and materials are done in linear space (Gamma Corrected).
  • Enable halos on light sources via a selection of built-in textures and effects.
    • Halo parameters are set individually for each light o Standalone halos are available as well
    • Halos can be directional or omni-directional for a haze-like effect
  • Control point of view using perspective, orthogonal, or look-through camera, or set a single viewpoint for use with multiple displays.
  • Generate dust, smoke, splash, or any other type of particle-based effects.
  • Create realistic outdoor environments with native integration of Sundog Silverlining to render skies for any time at any location (Skydome).
    • Environment light sources (Sun, Moon, Ambient)
    • Automated connections can be disabled for direct control and tuning of lighting
    • Change weather conditions (fog, rain, snow, etc.) at runtime.
    • Directly control their visual appearance including density, color, direction, fade, etc.
    • Define cloud cover above the scene, including appearance, density, thickness, altitude, and transparency
  • Add static background from images using cube mapping (Skybox).
  • Reflect Skybox or Skydome in graphic materials o Checkerboard available as default environment map for reflection in graphics gallery
  •  Create and position text anchored in 2D viewport or in 3D space. 
  • Add text and image overlays, and control their visibility per viewport.
  • Support synchronized multichannel rendering (with Activate or Engage licenses).
  • Render camera into Graphic Mesh and create monitor-like effect.
  • Create flat or curved mirrors and monitors.
    • Each mirror and monitor can be tuned and/or de-featured (omit shadows, omit reflections, Far Clip distance, LOD bias) for improved performances
  • Apply dynamic text to a texture or label for interactive billboard or container numbering.
    • Place labels in World space using the Transform Toolbar o Customize position, orientation, size, color, font and text content
    • Project textures on the surfaces of 3D models. 
    • Add surface detail at runtime to any model or terrain: logos, markings, dirt layers, mud splashes, individual signs, etc.
    • Place decals in World space using the Transform Toolbar o Decals can be used at the Scene or Mechanism levels
  • Leave marks or vehicle traces on the ground from any moving object.
    • Produce seamless traces on Terrain model from wheel, track or dragged object
  • Add post-processing effects to camera o Automatic exposure o Desaturate (Black & White) o Noise o High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) o Tone Mapping
  • Replace Vortex Studio Visualization module by any third-party IGs using built-in ICDs to retrieve all kinematic data.
  • Support for SpeedTree vegetation with a built-in library of ready to use common vegetation (additional vegetation available from SpeedTree).
    • Import ambient-occlusion per-vertex values from SpeedTree and add those to Vortex

Studio ambient-occlusion computations, for more volumetric-looking trees o Vegetation can react to wind

  • Use Vegetation Field procedural tool to define zones populated with user-selected vegetation assets, replacing the need to manually add individual items to a scene.
    • Define vegetation density, including vegetation-free zones o Randomize asset distribution over the area o Automatically instance objects and snap them to terrain topology o Use proper LOD for the objects in the field
      • Any graphics gallery object can be used to populate the vegetation field
  • Choose from several anti-aliasing methods, improving quality of visuals by smoothing out edges found in a scene and reducing motion flicker.
    • FXAA (Fast Approximation Anti-Aliasing): adds a lower quality anti-aliasing that uses fewer system resources
    • MSAA (Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing): the higher the number of samples, the higher the quality of the anti-aliasing and thus the cost to performance. Available sampling rates include 2x, 4x, 8x, and 16x.
    • SMAA (Sub pixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing): applies a high quality anti-aliasing to the scene, requiring more system resources than FXAA
    • SMAA S2x: combines SMAA with MSAA 4x
  • Enable Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) to approximate ambient occlusion on every object in the scene in real time.
    • Add visual volume by replicating the absence of light in corners and crevices o Available as an option in the Editor, and as an extension in the Player
    • Adjust and modify the overall colors of a scene with Color Grading. 
    • Apply filters to enhance mood without modifying models’ base textures o Apply color correction filters o Enables tone mapping using a selection of presets matching color ranges of monitors
  • Support virtual reality (VR) headsets as display devices. If you have a supported head-mounted display and its drivers properly installed, a simulation can be viewed through it.
    • Steam VR/OpenVR support o Supported HMD devices: HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Rift
  • Control parameterization and quality of shadows and other feature adaptations (Mirror, Monitor, and Ocean Reflections) in a Scene.
    • Automatically synchronize frame-skipping, distributing calculations of shadows, reflections, and displays
    • Features data consumption information displayed for performance optimization  Technical preview of Physics-Based Rendering (PBR) lighting model. 
    • Available in Graphics Materials for setting up photorealistic visuals
      • Considers “metalness” and roughness of surface materials in lighting calculations 
      • PBR lighting information can be automatically computed from SkyBox or SkyDome
      • A dedicated Light Probe can also be used to set the environment lighting information
      • Possible to have both specular- and PBR-based Graphics Materials in same scene
      • Note: this is not the final version of the feature. User feedback is welcome.

Creating a 3D Model

The workflow starts with the 3D model, whether it is created from scratch or purchased from another source (make sure the licensing allows your intended use).

Research the object being modeledUse blueprints, drawing, photographs, or CAD files to acquire data about the object.
It's especially important to understand how it moves or functions, so that all the required parts will be modeled for the mechanical engineers.
Possible sources of information:
  • Internet
  • Library
  • Client

Create a 3D modelModels can be created in your favorite software, but the default Digital Content Creator (DCC) for Vortex® Studio is 3ds Max.
Models can also be purchased, but they are rarely ready to use and will need to go through the same steps detailed below.
Vortex® Studio supports a number of formats, but .fbx is recommended.
Importing Models from 3ds Max
Clean 3D model hierarchyThe 3D model must be structured using Degrees of Freedom (DOF), or dummy objects in 3ds Max.
DOFs are added for moving parts: wheels, pivot points, pistons, etc.
Make sure to orient the model and its parts correctly, this will save a lot of work later.
Importing Models from 3ds Max
Unwrap 3D modelModel can be unwrapped in your favorite software, but the default DCC for Vortex® Studio is 3ds Max.
Vortex® Studio supports up to four UV sets per geometry.
Texture Creation
Create textures for the 3D modelBased on the unwraps, textures are created in your favorite software; the default DCC for Vortex® Studio is Photoshop.
Vortex® Studio supports a number of image formats, such as .jpg and .png; note that .tga 32-bit is recommended for the display of vegetation's alpha textures.
The following maps can be used on a model (masks are also supported for each channel):
  • Emissive
  • Occlusion
  • Albedo
  • Specular
  • Gloss
  • Normal
Use square textures in powers of 2, such as 256x256, 512x512, 1024x1024, 2048x2048, etc.
Make sure to use a pixel size proportional to the texture's intended use (far-away objects don't need a large, detailed texture).
Texture Creation
Export the 3D modelThe completed model is exported to a usable format using the 3ds Max exporter.
Since Vortex® Studio 2017a, the recommanded pipeline is to use .fbx format 3D models.
Export Settings

Importing the 3D Model in Vortex® Studio Editor

Vortex® Studio imports and stores the 3D model and all its components (materials, textures, etc.) into a single native file: the Graphics Gallery. This file is then sent to the mechanical engineers to build the simulation.

Launch Vortex® Studio EditorLocate the Vortex® Studio shortcut on your desktop and click on it.
You will find yourself on the Vortex® Studio Home page.

Create a new Graphics Gallery fileOn the Vortex® Studio Home page, click the Graphics Gallery shortcut to create a new blank file.
Rename and save your new file (*.vxgraphicgallery) in your preferred location and folder.
Working with Documents
Import the 3D modelFrom the Toolbox, double-click 3D Model and point it to the desired model file (.dae, .fbx, etc.).
The resulting Graphics Gallery will then contain:
  • A locked container displaying connections between the graphics nodes (these change only when modifying the node hierarchy in the Explorer panel)
  • A hierarchical list of graphic nodes (hierarchy can be changed by drag-and-dropping nodes in the Explorer panel)
  • A flat list of graphics geometries
  • A flat list of graphics materials
  • A flat list of textures
Importing Models to Build a Graphics Gallery
Clean the hierarchyIt's preferable to have graphic node names that clearly identify the corresponding mechanical component, such as Front_Left_Wheel, or Lower_Front_Suspension_Arm.
You should have properly located/oriented transforms, a logical overall hierarchy, and no empty nodes.
A number of tools are available (via right-click contextual menu) to perform this operation:
  • Remove Orphans: this removes unused materials and textures, making the model file smaller
  • Bake Graphics Node(s): set the transform back to 0,0,0
  • Merge Graphics Nodes: merge the selected nodes and their associated meshes (note: nodes must use the same Graphic Materials)
  • Set Transform to Center: set the transform at the center of the mesh
  • Set Graphics Node Transform: set the transform at the same coordinates as the reference node
  • Change Mesh Orientation: reverse the normal of the triangles
Child nodes move with their parent nodes, unless they are connected to a dynamic part.
Graphics Node
Import texturesNormally, textures are imported with their model. If they were created separately, you need to import them and insert them into the desired Graphic Materials.
From the Toolbox, double-click Texture and point it to the desired file (.jpg, .png).
Check the textures and adapt the UV as required (position, tiling, set, etc.).
Set up Graphic MaterialsOpen the Graphic Material and place each texture (or mask) in its proper channel. You can add layers with the + button.
Adjust values such as color, transparency, reflectivity, using the preview at the top of the Properties panel.
Check the Environment Reflection box and set a value if you want reflection from a SkyDome inside your material.
Graphics Materials
Clean up the Graphics GalleryPerform some house-keeping to give order to the Graphics Gallery; this will make it easier for other users to read.
  • Rename textures
  • Rename materials
  • Rename geometries
  • Group similar files into labeled folders (e.g., Textures)
Graphics Gallery
Verify the finished modelVerify the model with the Daylight feature, or by placing it in its intended environment (in a Vortex® Studio Scene file).
Adjust colors and parameters as needed until the desired look is obtained.
Graphics Gallery

Making Further Corrections to a 3D Model

Modify the 3D Model in Vortex® StudioUse the Graphics Gallery tools listed in "Clean the Hierarchy" above to perform this operation:
  • Remove Orphans
  • Bake Graphics Node(s)
  • Merge Graphics Nodes
  • Set Transform to Center
  • Set Graphics Node Transform
  • Change Mesh Orientation
Model Simplification Tools
Export the 3D model for use in the DCCIt's possible to export the content of a Graphics Gallery back to a 3D model (.fbx format only).
Once you've done the changes in 3ds Max, re-import the 3D model into the Graphics Gallery.
Graphics Gallery
Export textures for use in DCCIt's possible to export a texture (for optimization purposes, for example, or to fix an issue).
Once you've done the changes in Photoshop, re-import the texture into the Graphics Gallery.