Realtime Landscape Architect

I was hoping to find some free sprinkler design software to help plan out a sprinkler system I want to install but never seem to get around to. There doesn't seem to be anything out there. You would think at least one of the major lawn irrigation manufacturers out there would invest in putting one out and giving it away to help sell their products. Instead they have software that makes it easy for you to send them the details of your property so someone else can lay it out.

Along the way, I ran across Realtime Landscaping Architect. It's not free, but it is reasonably priced and they have a trial version available.

The samples caught my attention. The 2D plans looked hand drawn which I found to be very appealing. The screen shot you see on the right illustrates the sketched look in an example from the product info page.

Unfortunately, when I was playing around with the trial version at least, it doesn't draw the plan that way by default. Instead you get the regular rendered view that you see in most other consumer design programs.

I eventually figured it out. You need to check the box labeled "Custom appearance in each view" and then select the "Color Wash" that best fits.

There aren't many options, but I think that's because the trial software doesn't come with a full library of materials or plants. I would assume the full version has a lot more.

You can also change the default plant symbol to make it look more hand drawn. Right now, the default symbol is a generic green blob that doesn't represent the color of the actual plant. It would have been nice if it was better matched. Maybe that's just the trial though.

Since I'm only looking at the trial version, I don't think it's fair to pick on them about the deficiencies that might be due to not having a full version, so I'll just focus on the other positives I can see.

In addition to the nice 2D plans, the 3D rendering is very good. When you do a 'Walkthrough' the level of detail in the rendering is impressive. Unlike other programs that need to render a scene for a few minutes, you can walk around a rendered scene in real-time, which seems to be why they called it Realtime Landscape Architect.

If you've ever played a first person shooter, you'll find the controls to be similar, except you can't lean, crouch or blow things up. You can fire fish food into a pond, but not with enough intensity to do any damage. :) It's neat to see the koi swim up to the food when it lands on the water.

If you have a fairly recently computer with 3D video, it should run fast. You don't need a super modded gaming system. It doesn't take long to get started if you've used similar software. I was able to come up with the example I used on this post in a little over an hour, having never even heard of Realtime Landscape before.

View the video on the right to see what it would look like walking through this basic landscape. Realtime Landscape Architect makes it easy to create movies walking through your landscape. Just add a new real-time camera to the project, pick the points and that's it.

Err... well that's not quite it. The default camera position never seems to be good in most software with a 'Walkthrough' feature, so you have to fine tune where the camera is pointing for the points you selected. After you do that, it's pretty easy.

As I mentioned earlier, it doesn't look like the trial comes with a full library so there wasn't a big selection of plants to choose from. If I had to think of what plants I was choosing, other than basic shape, size and color, it would have taken longer to come up with something. I'm also not a landscape designer, so don't be too harsh about what I put next to what. :)

Where other programs seemed to go for photo realistic rendering that can take a long time to compute, Realtime Landscape seems focus on getting as much as possible as you walk around your design. They try to make it seem as real as possible, down to butterflies floating around, and bird tweets depending on the time of day you set to walk around your 3D landscape. With other software that might use a better photorealistic rendering algorithm (like Metropolis Light Transport or even just finer Ray Tracing) which can take hours for a single frame to render. At 15-30 frames per second, a simple walk-through video could take days to render. Realtime Landscape Architect does it quickly.

Water and fire is also rendered as well as some plants that are inserted as models instead of photo boards. There weren't many plants as models in the trial but I tested some. You can seem them moving in the wind. Fire looks like fire and water can move and pools can have waves.

When you add sprinklers to your project, you'll see their sprays as you walk around in 3D view. It doesn't help with your sprinkler design, but it looks cool. The nice thing is that you can see the sprays overlapping and get a better idea of your water coverage. It's not perfect because it assumes even precipitation along the whole path. You can see an example sprinkler head placement plan on the right.

Layout out sprinklers was pretty easy to get a hang of but the only option was the standard round heads. While you can adjust the angle and radius, not having special heads, like strip heads, made it difficult to plan out a complete irrigation system in the software. 3D Home Architect Home & Landscape Design Suite has more options in sprinkler patterns.

Here's another video showing some of the lighting, water and fire features. This time, the walk through was done at night. Hopefully, you'll be able to see it in the uploaded video.

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