Taking a First-of-Its-Kind CAD Driving Simulator for a Joy Ride

Do you like cars? Do you like rendering? How about some driving simulation?

If you’ve answered YES to any or all of those questions, then buckle up, because Visualize Professional in SOLIDWORKS 2019 has got an awesome new feature that you will want to learn about.

Figure 1

Yes gearheads, the latest release of Visualize Professional has a physics-based driving simulator, which you can control with an Xbox controller (or motion path) and create beautiful, photorealistic animations of your car simulation.

This new feature, which is the first of its kind in CAD, is aimed at automotive designers. It’s promising an easy workflow to assist designers with bringing their creations to virtual life, enabling designers to show how their designs will look in the physical world, before having to cut a single piece of metal (or sculpt a single lump of clay, as is the case in the automotive concept world).

In this article, we are going to show you the basics of how to get started with that very task! So, if photorealistic car animations are your thing, then read on.

Getting Started

First up, you’re going to want to start your Visualize Professional software.

Once it is loaded, you should click on the Sample Projects tab to see the sample models that are available to you. You can see how that screen looks in the Figure 2 below.

As this is a driving simulator, we are going to need a set of wheels, and luckily there is an example of some pure American muscle available for you to play with in the sample projects tab.

Go ahead and click the 1969Camaro.svpj icon to open it up.

Figure 2

After you have opened up the Camaro project, then you will be presented with the following screen. This is the main work area of Visualize Professional, and most of your work will be done from here.

Figure 3

Let’s familiarize ourselves with the work area and find out how to navigate before we move onto the simulation and rendering stuff.

Obviously the main area in the middle is your viewing area, where your 3D model is displayed. You can orbit, zoom, pan, and do all the other things that you are used to from the main SOLIDWORKS program. We are going to assume that you already know how to navigate the 3D space in SOLIDWORKS, so there is no need to belabour the point here.

At the very top of the screen, we have our Visualize options, such as File, Edit, View, Project, Tools and Help. This, naturally, is where we load and save our projects, access commands such as Undo, Copy, Paste, add windows to our viewscreen, and access tools such as Snapshot, Render, and Help.

As we want to be animating this thing eventually, we want to add the Timeline to our screen. So go ahead, click View, and then click Show Timeline from the drop-down menu.

The timeline will appear at the lower portion of the screen, as you can see below.

Figure 4

SOLIDWORKS users will recognize this type of timeline from the SOLIDWORKS animation and motion study features. It is a keyframe-based system, exactly the same as in SOLIDWORKS proper. We will look at the timeline in more detail later.

Now, cast your eyes to the top-right-hand side of the screen. You will see five icons on tabs, as you can see in the figure below.

Figure 5

These icons, from left to right, allow you to access the Models, Appearances, Scenes, Cameras, and File Libraries respectively. These icons are fairly self-explanatory, so we will look at them in more depth as we use them though the article.

First, let’s add a Scene. Click the Scene tab, and you’ll see a bunch of backgrounds appear in the right-hand panel.

Double-click the Route 66 icon in the Environment section, and you will see an HDR scene appear in the background, as seen below. You can see more about how to alter the scene and lighting over at this link.

Figure 6

Now that the scene is set, click the Models icon, and click the entry for 1969 Camaro beneath it to open up the model options panel, as you can see below. Now you can see four tabs visible. Go ahead and click the Physics tab, to show you the options for your simulation type in the drop-down menu.

Naturally, we wish to simulate driving a car, so go ahead and select Car from the Simulation Type menu.

Figure 7

Clicking on the Car Simulation Type will open up the Vehicle Setup driving simulation menus. At last!

This is where the fun begins.

As mentioned earlier, Visualize Professional features a physics-based engine, and can add mass, gravity, and motion to your simulations, and the 3D bodies in the simulation will respond to these physical parameters.

The best part of the Driving Simulation is that SOLIDWORKS have added actual vehicle dynamics to the software, so you don’t have to worry about the nightmare of coding vehicle behaviour yourself. Anyone who has worked in vehicle dynamics will know what a major chore that would be!

The result is an easy-to-use, intuitive GUI that bears more resemblance to a videogame (such as the Forza Motorsport series on Xbox) than it does to an actual simulator.

Actually, Forza Motorsport is way more complicated to use, when you really get into it.

Vehicle Setup Parameters

OK, so we have opened up the Physicstab, we have selected Car as our Simulation Type and we can now see the Vehicle Setup options. It’s quite a long panel, so we have cut it in half and displayed each half side-by-side, just for the sake of the article aesthetics.

Figure 8

As you can see in Figure 8 above, we have options to change the mass, acceleration, maximum torque, maximum RPM, drive wheels (FWD, RWD or AWD), brake wheels and steering wheels.

These default values are not befitting a 1969 Camaro, so we will change those values to something a little more accurate.

So we change the values to:

Mass: 1500kg

Acceleration: 1

Peak Torque: 610 Nm

Maximum RPM: 6000

Drive Wheels: Rear

Brake Wheels:Front

Steer Wheels: Front

The next section of the Vehicle Setup options shows the Advanced Properties. We will leave these as the default values for this article. Anyone with experience in vehicle dynamics knows how tweaking these values can have profound effects on the handling of the car…so we will leave well alone!

But just as a summary, these Advanced Properties will change the steering, shock absorber travel, wheel friction, camber angle, and all of those lovely complicated things that will dynamically affect the ride comfort, fuel consumption, and even stability of the vehicle (in real life). Feel free to play with these parameters for yourselves though.

Nearly Ready…

Right, then. Our car parameters have been defined. We just have a couple of little items to help define the simulation, and then we are ready to go.

Scroll back up to the top of the Vehicle Setup panel and locate the Driving Behaviour and Vehicle Wizard buttons.

Figure 9

Vehicle Wizard

The Vehicle Wizard allows you to define the moving parts of your vehicle for the animation and simulation. Here, you can assign parts of your model that will move, such as the wheels and callipers.

We can also set up the direction of travel of the vehicle, because we want it driving forward (+X direction) and not skidding sideward.

You can assign the parts manually, or you can use the automatic function. For the case of this article, we will just select Automatic Mode, and click Next.

You should now see the following image on your screen (Step 1). Go ahead and assign the direction of the vehicle, and click Next.

Figure 10

Now, you should see Step 2.

You can see in Figure 11 below that the software has assigned the wheel parts automatically. If you are happy with the setting, click Next to advance to Step 3.

Figure 11

The final step (Step 3) assigns the parts of your model as callipers.

Figure 12

Now your callipers are set, go and click onApply. Congratulations…your car now has wheels and callipers assigned, and the simulation will recognize those parts as such.

Driving Behaviour

The Driving Behaviour options let you determine how your car will be controlled in the simulation.

We can see four options here. These are:

Controller: This allows you to control with an Xbox controller or the WASD keys.

Turn: This will make the car turn in a circle (no input required)

Straight: Self explanatory

Path: This allows you to specify a path using waypoints in the Path Propertycontrols.

Before we explore these motion options, we will need to open the Simulation Manager. This is at the very bottom of the Vehicle Setup panel, as you can see back in Figure 8. Go ahead and click it, and you will see the following panel appear to the right of the timeline, as you can see below clearly in Figure 13:

Figure 13

If you select Turn orStraight in the Driving Behavior options, and click the PLAY icon in the Simulation Manager, you’ll see your car drive in a circle or straight line respectively. Easy enough, right?

If you want to use the Controller option, or the Path option, it’s a little different.

Go ahead and select Controller from the Driving Behaviour menu.

Controlling the Car Manually

OK, you’ve selected Controller. Now the car is ready for manual input. Now click the PLAY icon on Simulation Manager, and the car will accept your inputs.

Press your W key to go forward, the A key to steer left, D key to steer right, and the S key to reverse. The Q key will activate the brake, and E will activate the handbrake. Just like a video game.

Now, if you want to record the motion (which you definitely will, if you want to render it later), you will need to go onto the timeline, and drag the red bar to the time value that you want, depending on the required length of your animation. You can see in the image of the timeline below, we have dragged the red bar to the 5 second mark. So our simulation in this case will be 5 seconds long…this method is very similar to animating in SOLIDWORKS proper.

Figure 14

Next, you need to press the red RECORD icon in the Simulation Manager to record your inputs.

Go ahead and click the record button, and move your car around with the keyboard or your Xbox controller. When you have finished driving around, click the square STOP button in the Simulation Manager, and you will notice that your timeline has populated with yellow bars, representing the motion of your vehicle components, and their physical position with respect to time.

Figure 15

If you look at the left hand side of the timeline, you will notice another set of icons, similar to the Simulation Manager. You can see another PLAY button here. Go ahead and click that, and you’ll see the simulation played back in the main window.

Figure 16

The bars in the timeline represent the entirety of your simulation/animation.

Let’s go ahead and render it, to see what it looks like.

To access the render settings, you can either go to the menus at the top and select Tools > Render, or else you can go to the panel above the main viewscreen and select the little camera aperture icon, as seen below.

Figure 17

This will bring up the Output Tools menu. Output Tools will allow you to render still images, animations, perform Sun studies, or even put your model on a turntable, just like at a motor show!

In this case, we would like to test render the animation.

So, locate the Animation icon (indicated by the green arrow in the image below.

Now we can see two tabs…one for Animation Options and one for Render Options.

The Animation Options will let you set the file format for your rendered video (we selected MP4) as well as the output directory for your finished file.

The Render Options tab will let you set the quality of the rendered video.

When you are happy with the settings, go ahead and locate the Start Animation Render button at the bottom of the panel, and click it.

Depending on your hardware capabilities and the quality of render, this might take a while.

As we have only selected Preview quality, it doesn’t take long.

Figure 18

You can see our little test render in the video below.

So, those are the basics of manual control, the Simulation Manager, and rendering the animation using the Output Tools.Let’s take a look at using waypoints to create a motion path.

Creating a Path

Head back over to the physics panel on the right-hand side and select Driving Behaviour > Path.

You will see a new set of options (Path Properties) appear underneath, as you can see in Figure 19 below.

Figure 19

Click on Create New Path Point and you will see a white square with a number 1 above it in the main viewing area. Click it again, and you will see a second square appear, with a number 2 above it, as you can see in the image below. You can add as many as you like. When you click the PLAY button in the Simulation Manager, your car will follow the path.

Figure 20

If you wish to edit your path into something a little more curvy, then you can do so by clicking the Object Manipulation Tool in the tool bar just above the main viewing window, then clicking on a waypoint. You will see a transform axis tool appear on the selected object, and you can move it by dragging one of the colored axis handles, as shown below.

Figure 21

You can click the PLAY button on the Simulation Manager to check that your path is looking OK, and when you are ready to record the animation, simply press the RECORD button on the Simulation Manager. Just remember to hit STOP when the path course has been completed, or else it will keep recording in the timeline and you’ll end up with a really long video.

When you are happy with the animation, you can render it out as we did before.

You can see the results in the video below. We have increased the render quality in this video.

That’s All, Folks!

So, in this tutorial, you have learned how to start a project and how to navigate both the software interface and the 3D space with your model.

You now know how to start a simulation, and change the vehicle dynamic characteristics, as well as change the environment scene.

You can control your vehicle with both the keyboard/controller method, and using waypoints, and you also know how to render the video using the Output Tools menu.

Is there anything else? YES! We didn’t show you how to set up the cameras…but setting up cameras properly is beyond the scope of this article, and sadly that’s all we have the time and the space for. And besides, this is an engineering website, not film school! We can show you the basics, but composition and creativity is down to you!

Fortunately, Hawk Ridge Systems have made a video showing you the basics of setting up a camera, which you can see over at this link.

We have hopefully shown you the basics of setting up a simulation, and rendering it into a nice video. Go ahead and experiment yourselves and see what you can come up with.

That’s what we’ve been doing anyway. We had no idea how to use this feature until 2 days ago…

But if that proves anything, it demonstrates how easy it is to make videos for showing off your vehicular creations in the latest release of Visualize Professional.

So go forth and make some sweet videos. Feel free to share the links with us in the comments below.

We would love to see your results! It’s quite likely that you can teach us a thing or two as well!

Until next time…adieu!

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