Bentley acquires e-on, CG for nature

Sep 14, 2015 | Hot Topics

Bentley Systems,just announced that it has acquired e-on software, a French company that makes computer graphics technology specifically for natural environments. Think Minions (which I loved) or How to Train Your Dragon (didn’t see), and you’re on the right track. That windswept palm tree? Probably not real — created with e-on’s PlantFactory and placed in an environment created with e-on’s VUE. E-On started out creating “digital nature”, the backdrops for movies and other creative pursuits.

Founder Nicholas Phelps said in the announcement that he’s recently seen that architects and engineers were looking for ways to “tell their story in a more compelling way. We responded to this by leveraging our expertise in visual effects to also create easy-to-use products such as LumenRT that bring quick, high-quality ‘movie production’ to the architectural and engineering market.” Mr. Phelps goes on to say that he is “thrilled to join Bentley Systems to explore and extend these avenues together. Bentley is a fantastic company that shares our passion for technological excellence. It will be a great home for e-on software to thrive in. We gain access to a highly qualified user base, substantial resources, and new distribution channels that will allow us to walk boldly into the future and produce ever more exciting and versatile natural environment simulation and integration products, putting Hollywood movie quality into the hands of engineers and artists alike, around the world!”

Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley sees the acquisition as furthering the company’s ambitions in reality modeling, since e-on enables “architects and engineers to capture existing conditions and provide context for proposed infrastructure designs [that] can now be enlivened with digital nature … With the ‘cinematic’ quality of LumenRT environments, every architect and engineer can envision and present his or her proposed design alternatives as they would be experienced in actual operation in nature.”

I didn’t see this coming, but it’s not hugely surprising, either. LumenRT has been available as a MicroStation plugin since at least 2012. Years ago, I saw a demo of LumenRT at a COFES and was impressed with its ability to render the natural world –think breezes rustling leaves on tree limbs– and how realistic that makes proposals. Especially today, when community stakeholders need to be able to see and almost feel how infrastructure projects will affect their neighborhood, this level of realism is essential. Bentley EVP Ray Bentley said in the press release that the combination of Acute3D, a recent acquisition that automatically generates 3D meshes from digital photographs, and LumenRT enables his customers to do what he calls “enlivened reality modeling”. I’m looking forward to learning exactly what he means by that, but I can imagine a virtual+real world, with a mesh of what’s there superimposed upon the proposed, complete with fully-grown trees and other natural elements.

Details of the transaction were not announced, except that e-on will operate as a Bentley subsidiary headed by Mr. Phelps.