Using form•Z with Revit
|CAD Digest Article – By Michael Anonuevo, April 7, 2015 reprinted|
When I first started out as a drafting professional 20 years ago, one of the first 3D modeling software I came across was form•Z. Back then, it was one of the most powerful 3D modeling software around. I was mesmerized by the awesome 3D models it generated. At that time, the company I was working for had a form•Z license. However, their presentation drawings and renderings were still being generated by hand and with Photoshop. Nobody was using the form•Z software. As a hired 3D modeler specializing in DesignWorkshop,i I offered to learn form•Z on my own time during weekends. After two weekends of trying to learn it, I gave up! Besides the steep learning curve, the interface was counterintuitive, confusing and clunky. Creating simple geometries was time consuming, and modeling organic forms required several steps.
I was introduced to Revit in 2006 and never looked back as BIM has become the standard in the AEC industry. But as great as it is, Revit still lacks the tools required to produce organic shapes. And that is why architectural companies complement Revit with design tools such as form•Z, SketchUp, Rhino and 3ds Max. In 2010, Autodesk introduced the conceptual massing tools that allowed users to create conceptual organic massing shapes within Revit and then turn them into data-rich components such as walls, floors, roofs, etc. Unfortunately, the tools are not intuitive enough to replace the powerful and easy-to-use third party modeling software such as form•Z and SketchUp.
Last month, I stumbled upon the latest version of form•Z tutorials on YouTube. Impressed by what I saw, I decided to take another look at the program I had given up on years ago.
Creating a Simple Model and Importing It Into Revit
In the following video, see how I was able to create simple shapes in form•Z and import them into Revit.
Figure 1: Simple shapes created and modified in form•Z are imported into Revit
What is form•Z?
Let’s start by what form•Z is not. It should not be compared to Revit. Form•Z is a general-purpose solid and surface 3D modeling software with non-uniform rational B-splines (NURBS)ii and subdivisioniii features that creates complex forms, including architectural buildings as shown in figure 2.
|Figure 2: form•Z is a general-purpose modeler that creates 3D models from NURBS.|
Form•Z is a user-friendly design and sculpting tool used by architects, illustrators, industrial designers, interior designers, engineers, animators and set designers in the movie industry and other industries (figure 3).
|Figure 3: form•Z can create complex 3D shapes with a few clicks|
With form•Z, you have the ability to quickly generate complex 3D shapes with very few clicks. It includes real-time rendering and live sectioning; network and batch rendering; a drawing layout feature for generating construction documents from your model; full animation; and fabrication features that produce physical models of your design via CNC and 3D printing.
Revit, on the other hand, is BIM software used by architects, MEP engineers, designers and contractors (figure 4). It is an intelligent model-based program for planning, constructing and managing buildings and infrastructure. That said, I would not attempt to compare form•Z with Revit and other similar 3D modeling software in this review.
How I Evaluated form•Z
To write this article, I bookmarked and watched numerous form•Z tutorials on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/formz3D). I also watched demo clips of other 3D modeling software to find out how they differ from form•Z. I did some Internet research, focusing on matters that deal with form•Z and 3D modeling in general. To understand how the tools in form•Z work and behave, I had the latest 30-day trial version open while I was experimenting on how to create complex shapes (figure 5) or watched specific tutorials on YouTube.
|Figure 5: Some of the shapes that can be created by form•Z|
For some computer setup issues, I contacted AutoDesSys online tech support, which responded to all my inquiries on the same day or the following business day. Obviously, inherent to most 3D modeling programs are numerous tools with names that are unfamiliar to users. It would take hundreds of pages to describe them all here. Therefore, this evaluation will cover only form•Z’s important tools and software features to help Revit users (or even users of other BIM software such as ArchiCAD) make a decision if they want to include form•Z in their modeling arsenal.
The form•Z Modeling Environment
Modeling in form•Z is as easy as you can get. A lot of shapes start out from a simple cube. You pick a drawing tool such as the rectangle tool and draw a square or rectangle (figure 6).
In the Tool Options palette shown in figure 7, you have numerous options to create a simple 2D surface or pull an extrusion after the second click.
Form•Z has standard guides and grid snaps that help in modeling. You can model interactively by looking at the dimensions on the top bar or entering specific dimensions. Reference planes appear as you hover on top of any surface (figure 8), letting you know you can model on that surface.
In fact, even a whole armchair had its start as a lowly cube, as you can see on this video by AutoDesSys.
The first time form•Z is opened, the interface defaults into a somewhat simple interface that is not too intimidating (figure 9).
|Figure 9: The form•Z user interface|
The icons and placement of tools remind me of Revit before Autodesk adopted the Ribbon user interface. The tool icons are kind of large and seem out of proportion compared to the tools directly below the menu bar. However, form•Z is highly customizable. Custom tool palettes can be created, icons can be resized, and the general look can be transformed to suit the user’s taste and preference. I ended up adapting the look and color theme of the workspace shown on figure 10.
|Figure 10: form•Z interface, customized and ready to go|
The default view is the 3D model view. Alternatively, users can opt for the Multi View configuration as shown in figure 11.
|Figure 11: View switched to Multi View configuration|
At any time, the view can be switched to the regular top, bottom, right, left, back and front views. The modeling tools can be left as they are or customized. The tools palette on the right side of the screen can be repositioned. Specific tool palettes can be pulled out from the Palette Dock. They can also be collapsed or expanded (figure 12).
|Figure 12: Various tool palettes in form•Z|
The Modeling Tools
Of the different 3D modeling programs I’ve dealt with, form•Z has the most complete and robust tools for creating organic and complex shapes. Are you having a hard time figuring out what H-Parabld means and does? A look at the icons will suggest a shape (figure 13).
Here are a few more (figure 14).
|Figure 14: Specialty shapes in form•Z|
Say, for example, you want to know how to use the Stair tool without going to the online manual. The Action palette (top left, below the Menu bar), displays the name of the selected tool and the action required, as shown in figure 15.
|Figure 15: Action required for each tool is displayed using the Action palette|
On the right side of the screen, you’ll see the selected tool’s available options in the Tool Options palette (figure 16).
|Figure 16: Options for creating stairs|
The Tool Options palette is like the Properties Palette in Revit. However, all the other properties related to the selected tool are presented in a tabbed form as shown in figure 16. Thus, access to any of them is a one-click process.
For a complete list of form•Z features, click this link:
At this point, you now have an idea how form•Z works. To learn more about form•Z’s other capabilities, watch the video tutorial clips on their YouTube channel:
What I Like About form•Z
Form•Z just opened a new world for me — and, possibly, a new career! I know I still have a lot to learn, but as with any software, the only way to learn its full capabilities is to use it in actual projects. For now, following are some features I really liked that deserve mention.
- form•Z is cross platform (Mac OS and Windows compatible)
- 64-bit on the Macintosh
- Resizable modeling tool icons
- Creates a snap guide at cursor when the Ctrl key + space bar are pressed
- Components are created inside a project
- Live interactive section
- The Modeling Tools palette is slightly better than Ribbon interface (less cluttered and easily identifiable in terms of tool groupings; group names can be displayed as well as tool names)
- 3D printing capabilities
- Rendering with RenderZone plug-in
- Works with 3Dconnexion devices
- Reference planes that appear on any plane when the cursor hovers on top
- Includes architectural tools as shown in figure 17
|Figure 17: Specialty shapes available in form•Z|
- Ability to create construction drawings from generated models
- Customizable toolbars by drag and drop method using the Tool Manager
- Favorites panel containing assignable, frequently used tools that appear at the tip of the cursor when the space bar is pressed (figure 18)
|Figure 18: Frequently used tools appear near cursor|
- Animation and walkthrough tools
- Any tool can be assigned a keyboard shortcut
- Models can be exported in a variety of formats (figure 19)
- Models can be imported in a variety of formats (figure 20).
I could go on but I’ll leave it up to you to discover form•Z’s capabilities yourself. You can download a 30-day free trial at: http://www.formz.com/home/trialLanding.html .
The trial version is a full-featured license that will work for 30 days from the day it is launched. All the tools and features of the software are available for use and project files can be saved. However, these files can only be opened on the computer on which they were created.
Form•Z comes in three flavors: form•Z pro, form•Z jr, and form•Z free.
form•Z pro licenses: ( GST applicable in Australia )
- form•Z pro single user license A$1,344.00 ( Special Offer till April 30 2015 )
- RenderZone plug-in for form•Z pro A $533.00
- form•Z pro RenderZone bundle A$1,740.00
form•Z jr licenses: ( GST applicable in Australia )
- form•Z jr single user license A$668.00
- RenderZone plug-in for form•Z jr A $533.00
- form•Z jr RenderZone bundle A$1,195.00
form•Z Free: FREE
After using it for two weeks, I’m happy to say that form•Z has exceeded my expectations. Form•Z has naturally progressed into a very powerful modeling software since I saw it last, competing with the current giants such as 3ds Max and Rhino! It is faster and more powerful than the popular crop of modeling programs being used in conjunction with Revit.
If you are looking for a fast and easy-to-use 3D modeling program to complement Revit, I highly recommend form•Z. It will unleash the creativity in you! I now have a tool that I can use to model some specialty products I want to market and produce. Form•Z’s strength lies in its great interface and easy-to-use tools. Organic shapes are a breeze to model. It is a well thought out program that is useful for architects, designers, artists, etc. You only have to play around with it once and you’ll be convinced of its immense power.
|Michael Anonuevo got his Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from the Philippines, where he also obtained his license as an architect. He eventually migrated to the United States in 1981 and has since worked for various architectural firms using PowerCADD, AutoCAD and a 3D modeling software called DesignWorkshop. More…|
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