Using Trainz for 3D presentations
By Al Barten
I practiced architecture for 20+ years before turning to tech writing. One of the core activities of architects is building scale models -- for study purposes and for presentations. Architects' models differ somewhat from model railroaders' models in that architects are primarily concerned with shapes and the spaces those shapes define, whereas railroad modelers are primarily concerned with recreating real life scenes. Naturally, any final rendition of an architectural model for a client would be more idealized than the brutal realism of many railroad models. At their core, however, both forms of models share something in common. They both represent three-dimensional objects.
Three-dimensional modeling offers us the ability to see things from all angles. For those who have difficulty imagining spatial configurations, three-dimensional modeling is a necessity for translating two-dimensional plans into tangible concepts.
About twenty years ago I had the opportunity to photograph at length some models being created at the firm I where I was working. These models were unusual in that they were not only used for study purposes, but also ended up as finished models. The models were made with numerous parts that could be removed and replaced with differently designed components. This gave me an excellent opportunity to place a camera inside these models, and in many instances at eye level. Even though the models were all white, the inclusion of scale people made from photographs of some of my fellow workers gave these models an uncanny believability.
Study/final model for an adaptive reuse project of an historical building.
I shot the pictures on 35 mm slide film, enabling us to give slide shows describing the project. Despite the flexibility of the models, I was never able to achieve the kind of walk-through I would have liked. The models, built to a scale of 1/4-inch to the foot, were the smallest size that would permit me to place a 35 mm camera on the "ground" of the model and shoot at an eye level of about six scale feet above the ground. Oftentimes space simply wouldn't permit camera placement in certain areas. Also, some areas were inaccessible for anything but shooting "blind." I had to take my chances in terms of what the final rendition showed.
I wondered in those days if the time would come when we could simulate these models. Well, the time has come, and I'm happy to report that Trainz is the tool, affordable to every architect and engineer, to make such simulations possible. Moreover, the virtual walk-throughs can be made in real time or be captured as slides or video clips. These captured slides and videos can be choreographed with music to provide stunning multimedia presentations.
One little item that puts this system over the top in terms of ease-of-use is the InvisiCAB recently released by Rich Blake (a.k.a., Slugsmasher). It's available at the Trainz Download Station (DLS). Look for KUID 86661:15710, 86661:53710, 86661:54710, and 86661:55710.
Before Rich released his InvisiCAB I had tried running a small diesel locomotive on track 20 feet below the ground. It worked in out-of-cab view, but I was amused to see the diesel exhaust rising up through the pavement. Rich's drivable Ford motor car, or an electric locomotive would have eliminated the exhaust, but not the running noises. None of my solutions would permit cab-view operation.
This article is an overview of what I've come up with in a short time of "playing" with the system. When you consider that specialized tools targeted for a professional group can be expected to cost in the thousands of dollars, the $50 price tag of Trainz is an exceptional bargain.
Using Trainz as a generic 3D modeling viewer requires a scene, a track, and a powered vehicle. Fortunately there's no requirement that the scene, track, or vehicle be railroad-related. Creating the scene involves placing objects, such as buildings and trees, and shaping and texturing the landscape as desired. Track can be created to look like a dirt road, a sidewalk, or anything you like. It can also be invisible. Such variations are already available at the DLS. A vehicle can be a locomotive, but it too can be created as something else, such an automobile, boat, or helicopter. In the case of Rich Blake's InvisiCAB, the vehicle is a 1-inch square platform, too small to be seen.
In the examples pictured here, I used building and landscape objects already available at the DLS. For serious presentations, it will most likely be necessary to build the custom objects needed using gmax, which comes with Trainz. This is a full-fledged, highly capable 3D modeling tool. You can learn to build basic architectural shapes in very short order. This alone is enough to easily create buildings for study purposes. Instructions for using gmax are beyond the scope of this article, but excellent tutorials can be found on the Web. For example, see Gary's Trainz Pages (http://www.bluefinmicro.com/~garyp/trainz/gmaxtutorials.htm).
Unless you're modeling a railroad, you probably will not want to use railroad track for your "track." Fortunately there are several invisible track and road objects available at the DLS. I used MAN6 Invisible Track (KUID 63290:38102). Place this as you would regular railroad track. It is made visible in Surveyor by a red line and the customary junction circles. I've found it is best to avoid switches, and to create the track in a continuous loop. This will help avoid pitfalls during presentation -- such as running off the end of the track and ending the "game," or having switch stands displaying (which happened on my first trial).
View of route and cab placement in Surveyor (TRS version).
Place the cab by selecting InvisiCAB from the rolling stock menu in Surveyor and placing the selected item on the track in the desired location. You will know it is in place by the red and green arrows, which indicate the cab's orientation (green is front, red is back).
The red and green arrows indicate the cab's orientation (green is front, red is back).
Real-time presentations are the easiest to manage and are probably the most flexible. You can control the progress of the cab, take time out if necessary to answer questions or back up, control the camera movement, and so forth. This kind of presentation is also more personal than the canned multimedia presentation, but can usually benefit from a dry run beforehand
Cab view permits 360-degree camera swiveling as well as tilting up and down. You can also zoom in and out. Zooming out produces a true wide-angle effect. When you tilt the camera, the vertical lines converge. Zooming in produces a true telephoto effect, as seen in the flattened perspective.
Wide-angle view exaggerates perspective. Apartment buildings are a recent release by Trainz Assistance Community (TAC) entitled Public Housing.
Telephoto view flattens perspective.
View from outside the cab permits freedom of movement.
Be sure to consider placing background sounds at key locations for some added ambiance. Sounds are placed via the Objects menu in Surveyor. When you get within a certain radius of the sound object, it will play. As you get closer, the sound will play louder.
A detailed description of how to go about creating multimedia shows is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I'll try to point you in the right direction.
The easiest multimedia presentation is the slide show. There is software available for displaying slides. In fact, you may already have it on your computer by default. Whatever you use, you will want to convert your screen shots to .jpg format. I do this with IrfanView, a free utility by Irfan Skiljan, which lets me convert large batches of images at one time. You can download it at http://www.irfanview.com.
You can capture video with the appropriate graphics card or with a program called FRAPS (http://www.fraps.com). You will need a PC with at least a 1 GHz CPU in order to capture using FRAPS.
You may also be able to capture video from your screen with a free utility called CamSound (http://www.camsound.com), which only requires a 400MHz CPU. My 733 MHz system was unable to support CamSound and Trainz at the same time.
You can incorporate music into your multimedia shows. Sound files are usually in the .wav or .mp3 format. It's always nice to have the music end in coordinated fashion with the slide show or video. To pull this off you will need to time things and use sound editing software. One popular editing program is Goldwave (http://www.goldwave.com).
Trainz has the potential for being a versatile, all-around 3D presentation tool. It comes with gmax -- a highly capable modeling tool for building objects -- and provides access to a growing library (i.e., the DLS) of objects and textures. Couple this with Rich Blake's InvisiCAB and you have an unbeatable combination for ease of use, flexibility, and low cost.
Article, screen shots, and photo ©2004 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.