by: Simon Hill
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 5/25/2012
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Grand Designs is a UK TV programme about people designing and building their dream homes. This software allows you to construct detailed plans in 2D and then render them as 3D images complete with realistic textures and lighting. It has a steep learning curve but provides a useful visualisation.
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What is Grand Designs?
Grand Designs is a hugely popular television programme in the UK which follows people who are designing and building their own houses. From renovating a ruined castle to include a contemporary interior, to building a hobbit style house submerged in the earth, there are all sorts of fascinating construction projects going on. Usually something goes wrong and this is where the programme gets interesting. One of the most common reasons for trouble is lack of planning and so it is no surprise to find a Grand Designs 3D Home Designer Software product released.
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This software allows you to lay out a set of 2D plans and then view the construction as a 3D model. You build walls, place windows and doors, baths and worktops and furniture. You can even landscape the grounds and put a garden in. You can enter real measurements and print out plans which an architect would be able to use. When you are finished your dream home you can even place cameras and render a 3D movie of the house from various angles, inside and out, with texture effects and lighting. The cover shows a couple of photorealistic screenshots of amazing houses built using the software.
Getting started is simple enough, select a new project, stick four walls together and whack in a window. You have your first room. I’ve always enjoyed designing buildings; I used to sketch on paper when I was a youngster. I spent hours building complex houses for my Sims. When I eventually got a job as a game designer I would get lost in constructing 3D environments for first-person shooters. I have even tried out 3D modelling packages like Maya which are used to create the detailed models for games. With all of that experience I figured this software would be a breeze to use and I’d be creating stunning fantasy homes in no time. I was wrong.
Grand Design 3D Renovation and Interior is an impressively deep piece of software. As soon as the interface loads with rows of icons stretching off as far as the eye can see you know you are in for a learning experience. The range of features is astounding and even navigating through the choice of views and grid set ups was a lengthy process. There is a thick booklet provided which is handy and tutorial help can be accessed which I strongly advise you use. The problem is the software is anything but intuitive, every click changes the view slightly, it took a while to figure out how to render in 3D and even something as simple as rotating a corner bath so it fit correctly became a mammoth task that almost defeated me. In the end I had to rotate the entire house which doesn’t seem right. Patience is definitely required if you are to get the best out of this but if you can take your time it is obviously a precise and useful aid to design.
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After playing around for a while and managing to create what is admittedly a fairly ugly house I decided to try and make it water tight with a roof. As you can see the result was disaster. It was quite simply because I was on the wrong level when I selected it but this raises an important point. This software is a clever visualisation tool but it lacks fail safes, there is no stupidity help. It will let you put your roof on the ground floor even although it intersects with everything. It will let you place baths in the middle of external walls jutting out into the garden without so much as a peep. It has a real learning curve to it and slow and methodical planning is certainly the way to go until you get to grips. Luckily there is an undo button and you can go back as far as you like so mistakes can always be erased.
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In order to run this software you need Windows XP (SP2) or Vista and 1GB of free hard drive space. That is all it lists but I think you probably want a fast machine to use it with any speed. For example on my 2.4GHz dual core it still took a while to render the lighting effects even on a very simple building and it took even longer to save images out. If you want to create video footage or a set of images in 3D with textures and lighting then it will take forever on a slow machine.
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The package also includes a number of templates and these help enormously and can give a starting base to build on which takes some of the pain out of the process. There are also templates of some of the buildings you may remember from the television show. The more you use the software the easier it becomes. It is possible one of the reasons I found it awkward is actually because I have used other 3D packages before and so having learned them I had certain expectations about how this would work. Coming to it fresh you may find it easy to pick up. It certainly includes some great tools and there are 4,800 objects and 1,300 textures to choose from as well as a walkthrough facility in 3D once you are done. You can even export the 2D plans into a commercial architectural package if you decide to go ahead and build.
Grand Designs 3D Renovation and Interior is one of three packages, the middle one. There is a Self Build & Development package which contains even more objects and options and a Kitchen & Bathroom package which contains less. If you are at the planning stage and want to visualise how your project may eventually look then this software is for you. If you haven’t been put off by my rather appalling effort then you can pick up this package for £50 (around $70). Good luck.