Where Datasmith goes next: fast, synchronized updates

September 27, 2021
One of the biggest headaches for people working in real-time visualization is managing data. It was this problem that we were trying to solve in 2017 when we originally released Datasmith.

Back then, Datasmith had a singular focus: to help artists and designers simplify the process of importing data into Unreal Engine. The idea was to help people outside of the game industry who wanted to use Unreal Engine for real-time rendering and visualizations—in industries like architecture, manufacturing, training, and others.

Comprising a collection of plugins, Datasmith initially supported about 20 key CAD and digital content creation sources. If you wanted to bring your model into Unreal Engine from 3ds Max,  SketchUp or Revit quickly and easily, now you could.

Four years later, Datasmith has grown up. Today, it’s about far more than simply getting your design files into the engine.

Limitless connections to Unreal Engine

When we set out to design the ideal real-time workflow with design data, we knew we had to deal with more than just bringing over source content at the highest fidelity. 

We also had to tackle two other fundamental issues that are often overlooked: one, bringing over the metadata properties associated with each object and two, ensuring that we have a non-destructive workflow that enables you to keep iterating on your design data and update the content in Unreal Engine without losing whatever changes you already made. 

These were core principles in our development and are critical to integrating real-time technology into a design process.

For Unreal Engine to be a truly limitless creation platform, it needs a doorway to all the other software packages that creators use. That doorway is Datasmith. Today, no other visualization technology supports as many design formats.

We’ve been continually adding to the list of Datasmith plugins to enable creators to bring in more and more file types. The aim is to create an ecosystem of plugins that offers the versatility to work on everything from open source worlds to digital twins to point clouds and beyond.
Bringing data into the engine is one thing, but doing it in a way that ensures the file looks the same in your DCC as it does in Unreal Engine is the hard part. That’s why we developed Visual Dataprep.

When Datasmith imports a scene into Unreal Engine, it tries to preserve the geometry, materials, and scene hierarchy that you created in your source application.
But when you build 3D models in specialized applications for purposes other than real-time rendering, those scenes are rarely prepared in a way that makes sense for a real-time rendering engine. 

This might include models created in applications like Rhino for the primary purpose of manufacturing or extruding physical parts, scenes created in Revit for the primary purpose of documenting a construction project, or scenes created with procedurally generated elements in Cinema 4D, for example.

Unreal Engine’s Visual Dataprep system enables you to easily automate data preparation workflows—even if you’re not a programmer. It’s a simplified visual tool that lets you create a “recipe” of filters and operators that you can save and reuse on other scenes or projects. 

These two functionalities—importing data and automating it’s preparation—have long formed the core of Datasmith, but the toolkit is now evolving into something even more powerful.

Datasmith Runtime

Today, you can import many CAD or BIM files directly into Unreal Engine using the Datasmith Importer. For any files that can’t be directly imported, there are special plugins that can be downloaded and installed—in applications like 3ds Max, Rhino, SketchUp and others, for example—which will export files with the .udatasmith extension.
This workflow enables you to use Datasmith files in the Unreal Editor when you're building an application or game. 

With the new Datasmith Runtime feature, as well as loading Datasmith files into the building environment of the Unreal Editor, you have the ability to load.udatasmith files and CAD files directly into your game or application as it runs.

For architecture and manufacturing visualizers, that means it’s now possible to build things like CAD viewers or other viewing applications that can import and load CAD and BIM files on the fly.

Datasmith Direct Link

Loading CAD and BIM files directly into your application at runtime is one thing, but what if the model you're working with is still undergoing changes? It would be really useful to see those changes instantly as the model is tweaked and updated. That’s where Datasmith Direct Link comes in.

Datasmith Direct Link is an addition to Datasmith Runtime. Today, we have Datasmith exporter plugins for 3ds Max, Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, and now in 4.27, SolidWorks. These plugins are downloaded and installed on the host applications, and enable users to export Datasmith files for those applications.

Inside the plugins, there is now a component called a Direct Link that connects an application made with Unreal Engine to the DCC and facilitates the transfer of data live as changes are made.

For 4.27, the plugins for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, and SolidWorks all have Datasmith Direct Link, and our plan is to roll it out across the full portfolio of Datasmith plugins. 

Architects and designers will be pleased to hear that as an Unreal Engine-powered application, Twinmotion is capable of connecting to Datasmith via its Direct Link functionality. 
This new way of direct linking to DCC applications has significant advantages compared to the current Direct Link plugin method that exists in Twinmotion today.

Not only is the performance of translating models significantly faster than the old method, the workflow is more flexible—you can link to multiple DCC sources, move objects in Twinmotion and maintain those local overrides, and more.

With the same pathway for direct linking now both in Unreal Engine and Twinmotion, users working between the two tools have a more consistent, simplified experience. What’s more, Datasmith opens out a whole new world of possibilities for Twinmotion users, with connections to additional third party applications like Formz, Bricsys, Vectorworks, Navisworks, 3ds Max, and more.
Ecohome by Jonathan Reeves Architect
The new Datasmith Direct Link feature enables you to open Twinmotion or your Unreal Engine application in a window, then simultaneously open a window for a program like Revit, and transfer data from Revit to your application without going through all the files. Just make the change in Revit, click a button, and you’ll instantly see that change update in your application.

In the future, we’ll make it even easier by removing the click—these updates will occur live, automatically in real time. An upcoming feature—AutoSync—will enable our Datasmith exporter plugins to send incremental design changes to a Datasmith Direct Link connection without user intervention. Initially, we plan to roll out this capability for SketchUp, Rhino, SolidWorks, and Archicad, but others are planned down the road. 

Datasmith Direct Link (and AutoSync) will enable you to connect your application with multiple data sources live at the same time. You could have Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, and others, all sending data in real time to the same instance of an application that you’ve built in Unreal Engine.

Architectural design and engineering firm Foster + Partners have already leveraged these new workflows to improve their Unreal Engine-powered tools.

"The Advanced Research and Development team at Foster + Partners constantly explores cutting-edge technology to enhance the design process,” says Francis Aish, Head of Applied Research and Development at Foster + Partners. “The ability to simultaneously analyse and visualize spatial experience is crucial to our collaborative design process. 

"High-fidelity visual representation is a key part of both analysis and its communication. We have developed several toolsets to instantaneously analyse design changes using real-time and ray-tracing technologies. We’re linking live design models with real-time 3D environments using Datasmith's run-time tools to extend our analytical, XR, and digital twin toolsets."

What’s in store for the future

These new features are the beginning of something truly transformative for Datasmith.  We envision a future where Datasmith goes beyond being a file format, and starts to enable live updates and the ability to have multiple connections simultaneously. 

Similarly, plans to put Datasmith functionality on the cloud—not only for sharing but also for crunching of data and optimizing—would enable powerful new workflows. 

Epic has an ethos of connecting tools and opening out workflows. We’re making it easy to not only bring in any type of data to Unreal Engine, but increasing the possibility of what you can do with that data, with things like our bridge between Twinmotion and Unreal Engine.
And while up to now the Datasmith Exporters have primarily been leveraged by those in the AEC industry, visualization specialists across the automotive, manufacturing, and film and TV industries have also begun using them to get in Unreal Engine.
ID4 model of courtesy of Volkswagen
What started out as a simple idea for bringing data into Unreal Engine has now evolved into something much bigger.

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