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Monday, 18 December 2023 13:02

Charting Lumion's roadmap in 2024 and beyond

A year of transformation

2023 has been an exciting and transformative year for us at Lumion. It's been a time of significant growth and foundational changes, where we've restructured the technology that powers our software and expanded the depth of knowledge and talent within our team.

We sat down with our CEO, Thomas Soenderby, and our co-founder and Head of Research, Remko Jacobs, and asked them to reflect and share their thoughts on the year we’ve had and to discuss their shared vision for 2024 and beyond. Here's what they had to say.

To start us off, how would you sum up 2023 for Lumion?

Thomas: What a year! There’s been a lot of excitement, both here at Lumion and across the industry. The visualization landscape is evolving ever faster, becoming increasingly essential in the field of architecture. I think it would be fair to say that, a few years ago, 3D visualizations were considered somewhat of an occasional requirement but no longer. Now, they’re a constant expectation. And it’s incredibly pleasing to see how renders are playing a more prominent role across all stages of a project. Designers are finding new ways to incorporate visualization into almost every phase, using it to empower their communication and collaboration with teams and clients. This matches perfectly with our own sense of the value visualization can bring, so it's pleasing to see this taking hold.

Meanwhile, technology is rapidly expanding the boundaries of what's possible. Our goal is to empower architects to visualize their vision, and there's still so much more we can do. We began investing heavily in our organization in 2022, laying the groundwork for us to realize this ambition for the next decade. We took the important step to rebuild Lumion from the ground up, which was a major overhaul, but we had to do it. Lumion 2023 as such became a very important release for us, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. This year also marked a shift to a subscription model, which only reinforces our commitment to deliver continuous, rapid innovation.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to adapt to a new way of working, and I’ve been impressed with how the whole team has embraced this. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to bring to market this year.

Remko: Lumion 2023 was a massive project for us. It was not the same as our previous annual updates. We wanted to do things differently, adopt ray tracing, unify Lumion's lighting system, and modernize the entire render pipeline from the ground up. All of which required a completely new way of doing things, on a technical level. It was challenging, and a long project for us, but we were able to pull it off.

Thomas: We essentially performed open heart surgery on Lumion. But now its heart is stronger, more powerful, and the stage is set for us to build future enhancements in the way we intend to. All of that work in the background was important, vital even.

Remko: We knew where we needed to go, and wanted to go, both for the product and the company. And we had to take the time and effort to put things in place. It’s great that we have done that, now we’re in a much better place. We had to future-proof our technology so we can continue to innovate and improve.

How has that future-proofing taken shape and would a subscriber be able to recognize that?

Thomas: You can see it in action by tracking what we've been able to release this year. We are now able to add regular improvements to Lumion, as they become ready. And get them into the hands of users quickly. That’s a big plus.

We’ve released 4 very different and extensive updates in 2023, something which we could not have done previously. And we’ve added a lot of great content and features too.

Remko: We added more 800+ models and assets to the library this year. High detail nature. New characters, stylized models, things like that. The new cluster placement tool is a great addition, as are the custom camera paths and HDRI skies. Animations are so much easier now. The full PBR material workflow, there’s some really great features in Lumion 2023.

And ray tracing, of course. That was a big step up for us. We’re still pushing things further, in that regard, but it’s opened up a lot of possibilities for users and they really seem to be enjoying it.

Thomas: The pace of development is important for us. Customers want it, and they’ll come to expect it from us. In order to facilitate that, we had to take that time to put a stronger infrastructure in place, to cope with that demand. We’re much better prepared for having done that. Our team has a much better platform to build upon now.

Remko: And the team is bigger too, so we can take more on. Our family is much larger now.

Thomas: That’s right. We have scaled up over 40% this year. And that growth in terms of people is what will make it possible for us to deliver more frequently from now on. It’s hard to underestimate how much the company has changed and developed in the past year. And all for the good. It’s been quite a ride for us.

If the groundwork, as you suggest, was laid in 2023, how do you intend to build on that in the year ahead?

Thomas: I’m really pleased with how we’ve been able to strengthen different areas of the team in 2023. We’ve invested heavily in talent development and recruitment this year. Looking ahead, I’m personally excited to see how we can use this newly emboldened library of knowledge, skill, and resources to support and empower architects much more effectively through their design journeys. It’s exciting times!

We’ve put a lot of care and attention into our customer success department this year, in order to allow us to provide a greater range of onboarding, training and other services to our subscribers. These investments will help us to serve customers better, which is great news for us and for them.

There’s a lot of good things happening behind the scenes for the product too, but I’ll let Remko speak to those.

Remko: We’re pushing ourselves, constantly. As a product team, we’ve built out an extensive roadmap of features that we are investigating but we’re always looking for, and coming up with, new ideas for clever features and enhancements. It never stops.

Are there any areas of current development that you think would be interesting to share?

Remko: Quite a few, actually. Let’s talk about ray tracing first.

We introduced it into Lumion 2023 but that was just a starting point. We have a ways to go before we can say that it works across all the situations we would like it to, but we’re improving Lumion’s capabilities in this area all the time. For instance, one of the things that has been quite complex to tackle is the way that glass surfaces and objects react to light and each other, in terms of reflections, refractions and things like that.

Without getting too technical, if you were to place a glass bottle, or vase, on a window ledge, then a lot of things are going to happen with the way the light gets bent through and reflected by those surfaces. Making that look realistic with ray tracing is a challenge.

We’re currently running a range of tests on how glass, and colored glass are shown, including how colored shadows appear. Although they’re still in the early days of development, the tests are really promising.

Remko: Also, one of the toughest omissions from Lumion 2023, for us, was not being able to have ray traced trees and nature items. That pained us as Lumion has always been recommended for its library of nature items. But if you stop to think about all of the minutiae and details you need to take care of, to have a tree visualize correctly, you’d see how much of a challenge it is. We’ve got a team dedicated to ray traced trees! It’s been a sore point for us but it’s one that we’re looking to put right as soon as we can.

Part of the reason is that a tree has many different aspects. The materials on the tree branch and bark need to behave differently to the leaves, for example, which require a level of translucency that you have to get right.

Remko: So that’s another area that we’re testing thoroughly; translucent materials.

Not just for leaves, but think of things like curtains, blinds, paper walls. We’ve made some interesting tests where you can see, for example, when you have a spotlight behind a vertical blind, or curtain, that the material itself starts to become a kind of light source. It influences the level, and color of the light filtering into a room.

You can achieve some really nice visual effects with translucent materials, so we are diving much deeper into this direction.

Ray tracing requires a lot of horsepower to render, of course. How are you handling the technical requirements needed to run this technology?

Remko: That’s a race that’s always running. We want to keep at the forefront of the tech race, so to speak, and bring new and exciting features into Lumion, but we have to balance that with the performance levels of the hardware you need to run it efficiently.

Thomas: Ultimately, we want to get Lumion into as many hands as possible, and find ways to minimize the cost of entry. Lumion has always had a reputation for being fast and easy to use. We want to keep it that way.

Remko: We are constantly searching for ways to improve the performance of the software, as well as the experience for the user. Speed is important to us and our customers. I’m talking about the speed of rendering and also how fast it is to do certain things, to achieve certain things with Lumion. I can’t give too much away but there’s a lot of work ongoing to try and improve rendering times, particularly with heavy scenes and ray traced environments. And we’re trying to find ways to minimize the amount of memory required to process this too. It takes time to get this stuff right but we are making good progress.

Are there any other areas you'd like to highlight?

Remko: One of the things on my own personal wishlist is to improve the editor itself, and the look of the build mode.

Currently, what you see in the editor is quite different to the final result. You prepare everything in the software, click the render button and then Lumion does its magic in the background. The final renders look amazing, of course, but I want users to be able to see something that much more closely resembles the final render in the editor itself.

So reducing the amount of noise, for starters. Creating a kind of “what you see is what you get” working experience for the user. We’re running experiments with a few technologies to try and improve this and the initial results are promising.

We still have a way to go to get it where I want it to be but I’ve been really impressed with what our early tests are showing.

Thomas, you mentioned earlier that the visualization space is evolving fast.
Can you share some thoughts on how you see that evolution continuing, and perhaps discuss how you intend to drive that evolution with Lumion?

Thomas: Indeed, our space is incredibly dynamic and the speed of innovation across the industry is a fun thing to be a part of! As an example, we’re keenly exploring avenues of possibility in terms of how to integrate emerging, generative AI technologies into the architect’s workflow. We believe strongly that these tools have a lot of creative possibilities that architects can benefit from and we’re pushing to find ways we can incorporate some of these aspects into Lumion.

Remko: Our other strength here is the fact that we own our own technology stack, from end-to-end. We’re reliant only upon ourselves. That gives us unique abilities, I think, to shape the user experience. We can leverage data to bring the powers of AI, and any other creative tools we feel useful, into Lumion. We want to put all of these features in the hands of the architect and let them play and experiment with them. Let’s see what they can do with this stuff! I’m sure it’ll be exciting and mindblowing. Our own experimentations have been eye opening, that’s for certain. And, as always with Lumion, we will make them easy to use, fast to learn. We’ve always tried to make Lumion intuitive and fun to work with. That philosophy is still important to us. There should be no barrier to creativity.

Thomas: I’m excited to see how architects will start to collaborate with AI. I think it has true transformative potential, and we’re a part of that testing ground, I’m glad to say. I fully expect that architects will be able to uncover new ways to synthesize data and aesthetics and start to realize much more innovative and unique designs. The speed at which you can now create models and simulations is extraordinary, and I think it has the potential to really boost the capabilities of an architect and lead to more sustainable and efficient buildings.

To be true, there are challenges and limitations in place at the moment but I’m sure they will be overcome. And I also think that the benefits of what these technologies can bring to architectural design will far outweigh any potential drawbacks. For sure, we’ll have some fun trying to figure this out.

We fully embrace the notion of using new tech to push the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of architecture, and our dedication to this field ensures we are focused correctly. You can be certain that what developments we make will always have the architect front and center, and their needs in mind.

It sounds like there’s a lot to look forward to. Thanks for giving us a bit of a look behind the scenes.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to Lumion subscribers as we enter 2024?

Remko: Yes, I think it’s probably a good thing to mention that we’ve only briefly hinted at what’s to come. We’re pushing ourselves constantly and the ideas for Lumion keep on coming. What we’re working on is really exciting, I think. 2024 is going to be very interesting for us.

Thomas: For sure there’s a lot of exciting things to come from us in the year ahead. We want Lumion to be seen as an indispensable component of every architect’s workflow. We can provide value and support to them and their design teams across all stages of a design process. Lumion can act as a design tool, a communication tool, or a presentation and promotional tool as they require. We aim to reinforce that position as we move forward and I think you’ll be impressed by a lot of what we have coming down the line. So stay tuned, it promises to be another fun year ahead.

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