20 Beginner Tips for Architects Using Lumion Pro 9
Over the past 5 years, I’ve been eager to test and use Lumion to render all my architecture projects. I finally got my opportunity to test the latest Lumion Pro 9.5 and use the software for the first time. With less than 2 months of experience with the software, I’ve been able to get beautiful renders, both still images and video, in a fraction of the time than other rendering engines I’ve used in the past! It’s important to note that I’m using Lumion Pro, which offers an expansive library with all software features when compared with the basic Lumion package.
Although I’m still a novice at using Lumion, it’s been a very easy transition from all the other rendering engines I’ve used in the past. First, it’s an entirely different program where you import your model and begin to build the project within a different interface. To use the software, you navigate using a combination of the keyboard and mouse like many first person perspective computer games. Using the mouse, you can select various options like placing objects, building terrain, changing the weather, and modifying settings for renders. With every Lumion update, there are always additional material options, objects, and effects to apply to the model.
Here are renderings that I’ve been able to generate with less than 2 months of experience with the software. Following the renderings are 20 beginner tips for architects using Lumion Pro 9.5 that I’ve put together based on my experience with the software!
1. Make sure you have the right computer build
When I first downloaded and ran Lumion on my workstation built for precision 3D modeling, I was taken by surprise when the computer compatibility test resulted in a red bar stating that Lumion would run very slow on my computer. This is an important point because most people working at architecture firms or using a computer built for popular BIM software such as Autodesk Revit and Vectorworks have graphics cards and CPU’s that are specifically designed for the intense modeling and complex conflict resolutions. One popular workstation that many architecture and engineering firms use is Dell’s Precision Workstation.
However, Lumion’s computer requirements are focused on components that are generally used in the world of gaming where graphics is of utmost importance. This means that the system requirements to run Lumion efficiently is based on a powerful graphics card that is made for linear processing. Without getting into too much detail, think of Lumion as a game that you’re playing where you literally fly through your 3D model and add materials, objects, components, cameras, effects, and so on.
Due to my lack of a computer built for gaming, Lumion was terribly slow on my workstation. Fortunately, my girlfriend purchased a gaming computer for her personal use and I was able to run Lumion on there. I was blown away at the speed that I was able to navigate, modify, and build within a large model in the software on a standard gaming laptop. There were rarely moments where the model would freeze while navigating and rendering images at high quality from start to finish took less than 2 minutes. I tested a 30 second video rendering using her laptop and it took about 3 hours from start to finish at 60 frames per second and high definition (HD).
With a gaming desktop or laptop, you can also run Lumion simultaneously with your modeling software using live sync. Using Revit as an example, when the model is ready to bring into Lumion, I would open the software and live sync it so that the Revit model is imported directly into Lumion. A separate screen will open where my Revit model will appear in Lumion. As I pan around in Revit, Lumion will do the same so I have the exact view in both software. Best of all, I can actually apply materials in Lumion and it’ll auto-update with the Revit model!
If you’re looking to purchase a gaming desktop or laptop, the laptop I used for Lumion is Dell’s G7 gaming laptop. It has a solid state drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (or better) graphics card, Intel I7-8750H (or better) CPU, and at least 16GB RAM. With a desktop or a little more money, you can also get a top tier graphics card, CPU, and 32GB or more RAM which would make Lumion run extremely smoothly and output renders in a quarter of the time. If I were to purchase a new computer built for modeling and rendering in Lumion, I would personally go with an Alienware desktop or laptop from Dell.
Lastly, I recommend checking on Lumion’s website for their recommended system specifications and their recommended computers. They’ve done a fantastic job compiling a list of different computers at different price points. I’ve had experience with the ones I listed above, which are also listed on Lumion’s top recommended desktops and laptops.
2. Get the Lumion plug-in for your modeling software
As I mentioned in the first point above, downloading and installing the Lumion plug-in for the modeling software you’re using will drastically increase the efficiently of your workflow. This is largely due to the way that imported models with within Lumion. Once a model is imported, it enters the software as one complete model, which means you can’t edit any individual components and modify them. All you can do is move the imported model and apply materials. Any changes to the model need to be done in the original software you used (i.e. Revit, SketchUp, ArchiCAD, etc.) and reimported to Lumion.
Now, imagine having to go back to your 3D model to move a door over 3’-0”, reimporting it to Lumion, finding another minor change, and repeating the process again. Personally, I’ve done this several times before using the livesync plug-in from Lumion and I spent a full day updating incorrectly applied materials, moving components, deleting elements, and so on. With livesync, you can make these changes and they’ll immediately update in the Lumion model where you can verify that it’s been done correctly.
The last thing I’ll mention about livesync is that it allows you to apply materials as you’re modeling in the other software. When these materials are applied in the Lumion model, you can still navigate, add, change, and modify components, refresh the livesync, and the materials that were applied in Lumion will still show within the program. I save a lot of time working between both programs because I could test different materials in Lumion while splitting surfaces and making slight modifications in the modeling software. It essentially allows the user to get an understanding of what the project will look like when it’s rendered while working between two programs.
3. Explore a sample project
One of the steps that I’ve always skipped when learning a new software was opening one of the sample projects and taking a few hours to explore. For Lumion, I highly recommend opening one of their projects and getting an understanding of how they put together the model. What materials are applied to the different surfaces? How did they choose to place trees around the site? How are the photographs and videos set up?
If it’s your first time using Lumion, look around the interface and get familiar with the various building tools. Most importantly, click on one of the object categories and the button that says “place object”. This will open a library where you can explore the different high quality models within Lumion. It’ll be important to know what your options are for adding entourage and details to your renderings.
Get familiar with the different components and materials provided by Lumion. Try placing some throughout the scene to see what they actually look like as well as how they work. For repeated objects like nature, try the multi-place tool where you can draw a line and place a determined amount of objects at random orientations, scales, and so forth.
Have fun messing up the sample model as you learn how to use the software!
4. Use the online tutorials provided by Lumion
Lumion has done a fantastic job at compiling free tutorials for anyone getting started with their software. When I was debating using the software, I went through several of the lessons in order for about an hour to get an understanding of what I should consider when working in Lumion. From something as simple as importing a model to adding objects and creating your renderings, their lessons and knowledge base is a good place to start learning the software.
Once you get acquainted with the basics, I found YouTube to be a very helpful place to continue learning about the software. There are tutorials both from Lumion and YouTubers teaching skills like using the livesync feature and adding special effects to renderings.
5. Import an old project into Lumion and see how it works
Before starting a new project in a modeling software like Revit or SketchUp, take an old project that you’ve already modeled and import it to Lumion using either the livesync or the export/import option. This will help you understand how you should start developing future models so that they’re easy to import and work with in Lumion.
For example, when I was testing a project in Lumion, the imported model was nowhere to be found. I knew I was placing it somewhere within the software, but I just couldn’t find it. After a few minutes of navigating, I found the imported model on the other side of the infinite world. It ended up there because the model was created in Revit about 500 feet from the point of origin. I had to go back to the Revit model, move everything so it was at 0,0,0 or move the survey point to the model, re-export, and import it to Lumion.
By importing an old project to Lumion, you’ll also be able to see what components are critical for the render and others that could be left out in the future. Personally, there are furnishings that I like more from my Revit model than the ones in Lumion. Then, there are objects in Lumion that I like more than the ones that are readily available online for Revit. I keep these in mind as I model so I can save time and file size.
6. Model and import the adjacent site context
When I started using Lumion, I learned about a modeling option in the software called Open Street Map, which auto-generates a site model using online data. This option allows you to find a specific location around the world, select the area, and have import to Lumion. The Open Street Map model includes buildings with random heights based on the specific location, water, roads, and so on. The downside to the import is that the materials of all the imported areas and components are locked. This means you can’t modify the materials of the buildings to look realistic. The roads are also not the right size and you can’t manipulate any of these elements.
When I was working on one of my projects, I mistakenly thought that the Open Street Map model could be manipulated and modified all within Lumion. I learned the hard way that I should have modeled the adjacent site context within Revit and imported it to Lumion. This would’ve allowed me to quickly apply materials to the surrounding context and have control over the way everything looked.
Ultimately, I would use Open Street Maps for site context in the conceptual design phases of a project. For projects where I’m looking for a more detailed rendering, I would rather model the surrounding context and apply materials in Lumion to make the final visualizations more realistic. Hopefully Lumion will update this feature and the imported site model will have materials applied!
7. Know what components to import and/or place in Lumion
As I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s important to have an understanding of all the different objects Lumion Pro offers as well as the quality of them. This doesn’t mean that you need to sit down with a pen and paper to make a list of your favorite ones. In fact, you could “favorite” specific objects that you love using and it’ll appear in its own tab. For beginners, you just need to know if you should be adding a model of a bed, sofa, or other component in Revit, Sketchup, or other software before importing to Lumion or if you love the one that Lumion offers. Personally, there are some objects in Lumion that are dated for my purposes such as an old desktop radio and home telephones. Then, there are thousands of beautifully modeled and detailed objects like nature, furniture, lights, and so on.
8. Get used to navigating with the keyboard and mouse
Once you import your project to Lumion and you’re ready to build the model for visualization purposes, the best way to become more efficient is to learn how to quickly navigate through the project. Navigating to the right perspectives will help you place objects easily in the right spots without having to constantly move them. It’ll also help you get to the areas of the model that you want to work on.
If you’ve ever played a first person perspective video game on a computer, the keyboard keys are very similar in Lumion. Your left hand basically focuses around the “Q, W, E, A, S, D” keys which are the different ways that you move. Your right hand is always on the mouse where you can right click to look around, left click to place/delete objects, and roll the mouse wheel to zoom in or out.
When you get the hang of navigating around the model and want to speed up your movement to quickly move to a faraway spot, you can hold the shift key to increase the speed. If you’re working with an imported site that takes up a lot of space in the model, you can hold shift and the space bar to increase your navigation speed even more.
Once you’re ready to setup scenes for rendering, you’ll have to navigate to the right perspectives for your specific views. Some architects might prefer to be very specific, which will take a lot of time to finesse a view with light taps of each movement key, while others might be more concerned with the big picture more than the 1 centimeter difference in perspective.
9. Manipulate and/or import materials in Lumion
When applying materials to your model in Lumion, there are lots of preconfigured materials that the software offers. These materials are extremely high quality and preset to render exactly as they should. However, there are times when we want our materials to be a slightly darker shade, a bit more reflective, or smaller repetitions.
For architects who are experienced with importing custom materials and textures, Lumion offers the option of creating custom settings with imported textures and images. If you’re rendering at this level, there’s very little I’ll share since it’s similar to other rendering software.
Architects who are looking to make slight modifications to Lumion’s library of materials are able to easily do so by applying the material that they’ve found in the library, going to the material options, and adjusting the various controls that are available. For example, a wood rainscreen that has a natural medium stained finish can be modified using the color option to be as light as natural finished wood or as dark as a flash charred wood finish.
10. Set simple materials in your modeling software
As I design and develop the BIM model of my project, I have a general idea of the materials being used throughout the project. These materials are generally used throughout the entire project so components like cabinetry will be the same type of wood or color of paint, the flooring is generally the same with the exception of spaces such as garages, and the components comprising the exterior façade.
Whenever I import a family into my BIM model, I go through its materials and determine whether there’s one already being used in the project that can be applied or not. For example, if cabinets will be an oak finish and there are wood window sills, it’ll most likely match the oak cabinets. Therefore, the same material is applied to both within the software.
This makes it easier to apply materials in the imported model in Lumion because the software recognizes surfaces by material type. If the same oak cabinet material is also applied to the wood window sill, then I can easily apply one Lumion material to one of these surfaces within the model and it’ll automatically apply it to every surface that has that matching type.
In certain circumstances, I would actually apply different materials to objects to create a diversity of finishes for the render. For example, when working with furniture, one might want the couches to have a different fabric than the side chairs. At glass guardrails, one might want a frosted glass in lieu of the clear windowpane glass. For a skyscraper full of glazing, the aesthetic might be a variety of shades of one color glazing to create a pattern.
Keep this in mind as you’re developing your 3D model to import to Lumion. Remember, you can always go back and update the model to reimport to Lumion, but it would be more efficient if there were less updates.
11. Apply materials to your imported model first
After I import any project to Lumion, I start by applying materials to the model and determining if anything was missed during the modeling process. I’ve learned through trial and error that it’s difficult to have to reimport a model into a massive Lumion file full of objects and entourage. When I can catch all the significant changes to the model early, the reimporting is faster. Applying materials at the beginning of the Lumion project also allows me to envision the types of objects and entourage to fill each space.
Personally, no matter how many projects I develop and import into Lumion, I always reimport it at least three times before I get everything exactly the way I intended. This is especially true when I’m working with imported families in my BIM model because some of them were created incorrectly where the actual materials in the family don’t correlate to the material selections within the project.
12. Check materials in your BIM families
(Those of you using other software like SketchUp can skip this tip)
Architects using BIM software like Revit and download their families from places like BIM Object or Revit City will sometimes run into an issue where the materials they’ve applied in their Revit project doesn’t show up correctly in Lumion. Sometimes the materials will show up as “default material” and several components share it.
A general rule of thumb for resolving this issue is to go into the BIM family and check the applied material. Sometimes, the person who created the family forgets to link the materials with the parameter that allows users to change the actual materials within the project in lieu of doing it in the family. Personally, I like having the option to change the materials within my projects because it’s more efficient. I’ll go into BIM families for components that don’t have a material option for their type and I’ll add a parameter that allows me to modify it within the project.
13. Setup and test camera settings/effects
Once the Lumion project has materials applied, site context (if applicable) is finalized, and entourage is placed, I start setting up each camera view for rendering the project. I usually have an idea of the different perspectives in the project that capture the essence of the design. Using this list as a starting point, I go to the camera mode and navigate to the first perspective that I had in mind. When I get to the area that I want to render, I slowly get the view into position using the keyboard and mouse.
After the general view is set, I hover over one of the icons along the bottom bar of Lumion and click the camera button to save the perspective. In the event that I shift the view by accident, I’ll click the photo that I’m working on to reset the view back to where it was saved. Hovering over the perspective, I use the features along the bottom of the viewport to set the height of the perspective, use the mouse wheel to adjust the view, and modify the camera lens to zoom in or out.
Then, the fun part begins. If I missed any entourage, I go back and add them within the model, return to the camera view, and start setting up the render. Using the preset settings, I select the type of render that I want to start with. For interior renderings, I start with “interior” and for exterior renderings, there are several options for the type of mood of the image. There’s a dusk option, a daytime option, and a realistic option. Each one has different settings and effects that automatically get applied to the perspective.
In most of my renderings, I adjust some of the preset features like the exposure, depth of field, hyper light, and sun location to set the scene exactly as I want it to be in the final render. Depending on the render and preset options, I’ll usually add several more effects by clicking the FX button. Some of my favorites include precipitation, skylight, shadows, and others.
If you’re starting to use Lumion for the first time, give each effect a try and see what it does by applying and adjusting it for your renders. Any effects that you modify and dislike can be reset to its original settings or removed from the image entirely.
14. Find your own style for creating videos
I’ve found that setting up and rendering videos of my projects has been a totally different experience than setting up a still image for rendering purposes. With a video, it’s important to keep in mind the path of travel for the camera, the speed, important details being captured, and the overall mood/atmosphere among many other aspects.
Setting up a camera path in Lumion is done by going to the video feature, taking a photo of the first view, moving the camera to the next view, taking another photo, and repeat. Each of these photos can be modified to change aspects like camera zoom, height, view, and so on. For example, one could take a photo of a perspective that they wanted to start the video with and the next photo could simply be zooming into a specific detail from the same perspective without moving the camera at all. This will result in a video where the camera literally zooms in or out of a still shot. With added features like wind, precipitation, sun, and others, the video can become more or less dynamic.
There are also special effects specifically made for rendering videos like smoother camera paths, wind, and others. Make sure you check out all these different camera effects and also look up tutorials on YouTube for setting up camera paths. It can be very tricky and it’s difficult to explain through text.
Personally, my style for videos is slow motion depth of field that focus on details, materials, and moods. My favorite is to be level with a surface, blur the foreground, and focus on details in the background while panning the camera slowly to one side or turning the corner of a building to reveal an amazing view of the architecture/details against the surrounding context.
15. Place people in the background and Photoshop real people in the foreground
Although the people entourage in Lumion is gradually getting better with each update, a majority of the people are not at a realistic quality for rendering. While we wait for Lumion’s team to get this specific group of entourage to a higher quality for architecture visualizations, we could use the ones that we have to develop each of our renderings.
For still images, I’ve found using the people in the background of my Lumion projects and Photoshopping high quality people in the foreground to work the best. The people in Lumion add scale and density to exterior and public space renderings. Adding people in the foreground and mid ground in Photoshop adds to the realistic aesthetic of the image.
When working with videos, I suggest going with the people that are already in Lumion because the software offers amazing features like moving vehicles, people, and elements. In a video, having the people in Lumion moving around while the camera is also in motion takes away the focus on the people and allows you to focus everyone on the architecture.
15. Increasing your model speed
If you’re working on a system that isn’t quite up to the suggested Platinum standard, but it’s capable of running your projects smoothly until lots of entourage and elements are added, there’s an easy way of increasing the speed of your model. Whenever I’m building a scene in Lumion, I generally go into the settings of the program and lower the view quality.
To do this, I click on “Settings” and lower the “Editor Quality” to 1 star and the “Editor Resolution” to 25%. If you’re working in imperial instead of metric, you can also change that setting here as well. By changing these settings, your view of the model in the project will become pixelated and blurry. This allows you to navigate with less glitches and moments where the model freezes. It’ll make the build mode of Lumion a lot more efficient by saving time and reducing software crashes due to system overload.
16. Save your model very often
I’d like to think that this tip is a no-brainer for most people, but even I often forget to save my projects on a regular basis. Whenever I start adding elements and seeing the Lumion model come together, I get lost in “the zone” and build as quickly as possible. Sometimes, I’ll go over an hour without saving my model.
While working on some recent projects, I spent about 50 minutes building my Lumion project by adding objects and setting materials. Then, I realized I had to modify some minor things in the BIM model and reimport it to Lumion. So, I simply refreshed the imported model when it was ready to update in Lumion. 10 minutes later, the model crashed and I wasn’t able to restore where I’d left off.
Don’t literally waste time by not saving often. Get in the habit of clicking the save button and overwriting the file every 10 to 15 minutes.
17. Develop conceptual projects in Lumion
Oftentimes, we think of rendering software for developing the final visualizations for projects and focus most of our attention on those images. If not, we generate conceptual renders like colorful volume diagrams showing design decisions made for the form of the architecture, massing models showing the final form of the project within the site, and others.
Some of the features offered by Lumion focus on these conceptual type of graphics, which are easy to generate and show to clients and/or the design team. One of the popular types of renderings for conceptual models in Lumion is the Styrofoam effect that renders everything in the scene as though it were made of Styrofoam. This mimics the physical massing models that we’re used to making in architecture school. Another popular conceptual rendering effect offered by Lumion is the sketch effect that makes the model look as if it were hand sketched.
There are other effects in Lumion like water color, manga, blueprint, and cartoon that you should explore when developing a conceptual rendering for your project! It takes the focus away from materials and places it on form, contextual relationships, and other design decisions that were made.
18. Focus on the project
As I continue learning how to use Lumion more effectively with each of my new projects, I often find myself adding objects to the model that are unnecessary. I do this because I get side tracked by how fun it is to work within the architecture that I’ve designed. From placing night stands and beds in a room that won’t be rendered to carefully placing books and glasses on a table that aren’t in the rendering perspective.
Each of these choices takes up precious time that could be used to add more detail to one specific camera perspective. Sometimes, the time that we spend on these less useful object placements makes us feel as though we need to include them in our renderings. If we’re not careful, we may lose sight of the architecture that we were trying to capture and instead, focus on the objects that we beautifully compiled in the model.
To avoid losing sight of the project, I find it helpful to make a list of all the different perspectives I want to have of the architecture, both interior and exterior, and to setup the perspectives once I’ve applied materials to the imported model. Working within these perspectives, I add entourage to create the mood and atmosphere that portrays the architecture how I envisioned it. If I’m rendering a video, I follow a similar process where I have a general idea of the scenes to render. I setup the video path and start adding entourage specific to those areas.
These simple steps help me keep my Lumion file sizes as small as possible while adding lots of details to the important perspectives showcasing the architecture as it should be seen. I also have some perspectives setup that are meant for exploring new render settings and effects in Lumion.
19. Explore every feature in Lumion
When I first opened Lumion, I was excited to import my project and build the model for rendering. At first, it took a very long time to get acquainted with all the different preconfigured objects, applying/modifying materials, and building the site context. After spending a lot of time getting each model to a point where it was ready to render, I used to, and still do, realize that there’s so many more options in Lumion to make the render even better.
There are so many features in the software and the best way to learn how to use them efficiently is to simply test every setting. As you explore the various features and effects, you’ll find the ones that work for your personal style. Eventually, you’ll be able to mix and match different rendering effects to create the best interior and exterior renders for your projects.
Although the amount of content and features offered by Lumion can be overwhelming, you’ll get to a point where you find your favorite ones and also save your settings as presets for future projects. When you get to this point, you’ll be able to speed up your process in Lumion by quickly importing preset options that you’ve created, modify some of the settings to make them work for the specific project, and render.
Just remember to have fun learning and creating in Lumion!
20. Share your work!
The last piece of advice that I have for everyone using Lumion to render their projects is to share it on social media and on the Lumion forums! This is something that I still struggle with and I often find myself not posting anything related to my projects. As designers, we all need to find the courage to share our work with the world and open ourselves up to criticism. It’s the best way to connect with people who are in the same community, love our work, and make friends along the way!
As I continue developing more projects, I’ll be sure to share it on my Instagram account. Be sure to follow me and share your work!
Through the use of Lumion 9.5 for my recent and final project on my 30x30 journey, Intergenerational co-housing and co-living, I was able to develop a beautiful array of interior and exterior renderings of the project. Setting up the model was fun and exciting because the software gave me the opportunity to manipulate the model and create a world around the architecture I designed. I was able to see everything I imagined come to life. In a way, the outcome was better than I had envisioned because I was able to add details through the expansive object library and tweak every effect to bring each rendering to life.
I hope these 20 tips helps you with using Lumion Pro and I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments sections below and I’ll be sure to get back to you and check out your work!
P.S.: I share lots of updates every week in my Friday Four Newsletter including my progress on projects and design process. For example, I recently shared renderings every week from my project in Lumion that showed the development of each rendering every week. If you’re interested in seeing progress updates and catching up with my projects every week, sign up for my Friday Four Newsletter! You can also reply to the newsletter with any comments or questions and I’ll do my best to respond.