A 100-Year-Old Battle Brought Forward in Time with Vectorworks

2017/07/13

A monumental milestone was celebrated at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France this spring. On April 9, 2017, a large commemoration was held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Vimy Ridge battle at the memorial and attended by heads of state and British royalty. The battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War.

This battle is perhaps the most important military campaign for Canada, and is considered by historians to be their countries’ coming of age. Taking place on April 9-12, 1917, the battle was fought between the four divisions of the Canadian Corps against three divisions of the German Sixth Army, in which the Canadian Corps eventually overcame the German resistance.

You’re probably asking, so why the history lesson? Well, the Military Museum of Communications and Electronics, a civilian branch of the Canadian Army, contracted Vectorworks and Cinema 4D software user Paul Amirault, a virtual environment conceptual designer, to bring the strengths of both technologies for virtual environment creation. Paul’s company, Amirault 3D, is an animation firm that uses a seamless integration of 3D CAD and animation software. His work includes large-scale virtual environments, terrain modeling, CAD model integration/renders, and prototyping.

Examples of Paul’s work. Images courtesy of Amirault 3D.

Examples of Paul’s work that were modeled and rendered in Vectorworks. Images courtesy of Amirault 3D.

Also specializing in historical reconstruction, Amirault was tapped to rebuild five square miles of Vimy Ridge in a short movie. This short film is a synopsis of the planned attack during the 1917 battle and depicts elements that were part of the preparation and planning. A highly-detailed, 100-year-old color battle map, that accurately depicted both the British/Canadian trenches, the German trenches, and the topology, was key in the making of the short film.

A quick glimpse at the detailed color battle map, as seen in the short film from Amirault 3D.

A quick glimpse at the detailed color battle map, as seen in the short film from Amirault 3D.

Amirault has been using Vectorworks software since its first concept as MiniCAD, and using Cinema 4D for over 20 years. He utilized both for the Vimy Ridge film, in which he models primarily in Vectorworks and renders animations in Cinema 4D. Amirault used Vectorworks Designer to model almost everything in the movie, including the planes, tanks, and motorcycles, while the animations, including the troopers and trenching, were created in Cinema 4D. Amirault made sure to model all the animated equipment in the correct material that they were originally made from, such as wood, leather, and copper.

Amirault explained, “All programs have shortcomings, but I have found that Vectorworks’ versatility has given me an edge over my competitors. With respect to Vimy Ridge, being able to do all the work within the program was not only useful, but absolutely key to the project.”

The challenge Amirault faced with this video was creating the data that would be used in the Vectorworks digital terrain modeler, now known as the Create Site Model command. Plus, he was working with a high-resolution scan of a 100-year-old map in which roughly 20 percent of the topology lines were missing. This is where Vectorworks adaptability shined. Once he imported the map into its correct 3D space, he could work on it with 2D tools –first to rebuild missing lines. “This ability to work on a project in both 2D and 3D simultaneously has given me an edge with complex engineering projects,” says Amirault.

Amirault shared how accurately visualizing five-square-miles of terrain in 3D was also a challenge, especially when the terrain has been covered for 100 years. Adding to this problem, Vimy Ridge required several thousand 3D locus points that had to be inputted by hand. “Although a tedious process, Vectorworks’ flexible interface quickened this aspect,” says Amirault.

Once the 3D locus points were in place, the digital terrain modeler in Vectorworks came into play. “I had been working for three days to bring data back from 1917 to plug into the digital terrain modeler. It only took a few seconds, and there it was, Vimy Ridge terrain, something that history had forgotten for 100 years, brought forward in time by Vectorworks.”

Some of the battle elements displayed in the film are the reconnaissance aircraft (a manned military aircraft designed to carry out aerial investigation), cable wagons, dispatch riders on motorcycles, the simplicity of the Morse signal lamp, the field telephone, and “creeping barrage,” which kept a wall of exploding shells landing just ahead of the advancing Canadians.

Two animated soldiers using field telephone and Morse code.

Two animated soldiers using field telephone and Morse code.

Amirault claims that finishing this project would have been more complex if it were not for the unique relationship between Vectorworks and Cinema 4D. According to Amirault, the power to send the model directly to Cinema 4D for further modification with a simple menu command is an amazing leap forward from how the software operated only a few years ago.

All 3D programs are moving toward a more automated process of design, in which the application practically does the design for you. “This is the future,” says Amirault. “I believe that success in the future will still lay with understanding the underlying [old school] technology so that your design has a different feel than that of your competition.”

Experience the Vimy Ridge battle yourself by watching the historical, short film here.

This video was produced by the Military Communications and Electronics Museum. The historical director was David McCarey, animation by Amirault 3D – Kingston Ontario.

vimy poster

The poster advertising the Vimy Ridge short film.

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