3-D fly-throughs are no fly-by-night at A/E firm

February 01, 2003 |

It's safe to say that architecture has embraced digital design technology. From the first time designers put down the pencil and started clicking the mouse to create 2-D CAD drawings, computers have revolutionized the design process.

Today, virtually all design firms provide digital visualizations of their designs, from 2-D CAD drawings to 3-D renderings. This technology can help firms work through difficult design areas more accurately and help clients visualize design concepts. Construction feasibility problems can also be identified and solved well before construction documents are completed.

Three-dimensional fly-through programs are the latest high-tech tool being utilized by design studios. Based on similar technology used to create many of the first-person video games your children might play, the programs are helping design firms to better visualize, express, and test their designs to clients.

Atlanta-based architecture firm Rosser International is one firm that is hot on 3-D fly-through technology. Its Digital Design Studio creates fly- and walk-through animations, as well as fully rendered photo-realistic images, panoramic model views, wire-frame spatial and detail study models, and even full video production.

Unlike most firms that farm out these services to third-party graphic designers, Rosser has invested heavily in equipment and training to provide these services to its clients in-house and in conjunction with its natural design process.

"[With outsourcing], there's too much time wasted teaching someone outside the firm to see your vision to utilize them early in the design process," says Kristi Patterson, director of Rosser's Digital Design Studio. "We have people that are experts in our design process working side by side with project teams to ensure that the end product is precisely what is intended."

Patterson says the studio provides virtually all digital design work utilized throughout the life of a project, from preliminary mass modeling, to wireframe design studies, to lighting and material studies, and finally to realistic spatial experiences with rendered images and animations.

"Developing the 3-D components on the same timeline as the design development and construction drawings gives the digital content much more value than just being a pretty picture," she says.

The four-person Digital Design Studio is comprised of some of Rosser's most proficient users of 2-D CAD that have also shown interest and initiative to move on into designing and drawing in 3-D.

"Their skills as architects aid them in visualizing 3-D space and allow an easy transformation from a mental image of such a space to a digital representation," says Patterson.

Flying through Pittsburgh

One of the design studio's more recent projects was the University of Pittsburgh's new 430,000-sq.-ft. Petersen Events Center. Fly-through animation was used by the university to achieve immediate recruiting and revenue advantage by marketing its new sports arena to potential athletic recruits, future suite holders, and key constituents. It was also used for a "Select Your Seat" campaign, which resulted in a near sell-out, adds Patterson.

The Studio uses Bentley's MicroStation for 3-D visualizations and modeling tools with a robust rendering engine for creating photorealistic images and animations. AutoDesk 3D Studio Viz and Adobe Photoshop are used as well.

All of the equipment is based on standard Windows-based workstations with dual Pentium processors for added speed. The main studio machine is a dual processor Dell workstation.

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