Design Visualization

Picturing the Possibilities

7 Apr, 2011 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

User Profile: Rendering powerhouse David Maloney gives architects and engineers a window on the future.

When Cadalyst issued its Call for Renderings last year, we received many impressive submissions from professionals like David Maloney, a preconstruction designer. We selected one of Maloney's renderings for publication in the Fall 2010 issue, but when he told us, "I crank out several of these a week," we knew we had to learn more about this man and his design and visualization work.

Cadalyst: Tell us about your background.

Maloney: I was born on a drafting board — and reborn in the computer. I went through all of high school, three years at the University of Milwaukee School of Architecture, and even several years in the working world without any CAD system. It was pencil and paper, ink on mylar, protractor, straightedge, and Leroy templates until the late '80s, when my employer made the transition to CAD with Intergraph's EMS (Engineering Modeling System) software. As an early adopter whose projects produced "eye-candy" graphics, we were a reference account for Intergraph and were handed top-of-the-line hardware and software. In addition to the modeling system, we also had a license to the ModelView rendering and animation package. That was my entry into 3D modeling and visualization.

I took to the software quickly, with the help of many people and numerous tutorials. By the mid-90s I transitioned from detailer and CAD manager to sales and marketing support as a designer doing full-time modeling and visualization of our designs. One of my images was even featured on the packaging for ModelView software.

I presented a paper at the 1995 Intergraph user group conference entitled, "The Image of Sales — The Use of Visualization Tools in Marketing." Intergraph was amazing software to learn, and I still consider EMS to be the top CAD package I've ever worked with. Those were the days when lighting and animation were controlled with text strings that had to be placed in certain locations and at particular lengths for the rendering software to interpret. It was quite a struggle to make scenes come alive, but the results made a difference between being awarded a project or not. The design tools became an important part of sales as well. Unfortunately the software only ran on the UNIX hybrid CLIX, which was tied to Intergraph hardware, so at some point I needed to make the next transition into a PC-based environment.

Maloney assisted with the redesign of the Brigade Metropolis in Bangalore, India.

In the late '90s, with Intergraph leaving the CAD/CAM industry, I took night classes at a local technical college to learn about Newtek's Lightwave. With the ease of use and the quality of the images, Lightwave surpassed my previous renderings, and the new tools quickly became second nature. Lightwave also became an invaluable design tool: The polygonal modeling makes revisions and model manipulation so much easier than a parametric model. Animation became an option on many more projects due to the speed and ease of the tools needed to create those scenes. In our industry, if a picture says a thousand words, then an animation speaks volumes.

After a brief stint in the dot-com haze of the late '90s in Los Angeles, working for a German software company developing 3D worlds and communities, I moved back to the Midwest and returned to support for the engineering and construction industry.

Describe your current role.
I'm presently the preconstruction designer for Novum Structures. We design, engineer, and fabricate architectural structures and enclosures. As the designer in the preliminary stage of each project, I work with the architects, contractors, and our engineers to develop cost-effective and unique solutions for each original design. Once the sales managers or engineers forward the design data, I begin my work to either create a 3D model and visualization of the design or to use the CAD tools to create geometry/wireframe for the structure. Some projects can be created in an hour, and others can take days — and several programs — to create due to the additional complexity of the form.

The tool kit I use is mainly Lightwave and Rhino. The NURBS modeling in Rhino allows me to create and manipulate the complex surfaces that architects are developing in their increasingly complicated building designs. The combination of NURBS modeling in Rhino and polygonal modeling in Lightwave, and the ease of working between the programs, give me the flexibility I need to create just about anything that can be imagined.

The majority of my work is design assist in the preliminary stages. Sometimes that means simply modeling a structure as designed by the architect and sized by the engineer to create a rendering to accompany our bid, but I'm increasingly more involved in the design of the structure. As the shapes and framing of the structures become more complex and are generated solely with the computer, the computer is becoming the only way to create a solution for the project. At Novum we have developed proprietary software and tools to take the designs from concept to completion, using the computer to generate the 3D model for visualizations as well as for the part drawings to take into fabrication.
How are you involved in the workflow?

I am brought in at the preliminary stages of a project. Sometimes they barely have names. The architect is looking to clad an area of a building, usually with transparent or translucent material, and they need to optimize the structure required to support the enclosure material but still maintain the look they have in mind.

Another of Maloney's renderings depicts part of Harrah's Casino Hotel Atlantic City, New Jersey, which opened in 2008.

The engineers become involved in design possibilities, and I work with them to develop solutions. Many times we will visualize two or three options for the architect to consider, and provide preliminary pricing for those options. The engineering data and renderings are then forwarded to the architect and contractor for their review.

Through sales-assist we aim to increase the chance of the project being awarded to our company. The visualizations also become an important part of design meetings as large-format prints or embedded in presentations for use by our sales team.

What is the impact of your work for Novum?

It is hard to assess the impact that the renderings have, because most project awards come down to price. The goal of the visualization is to assure the client that we understand the complexity of the project and will achieve the desired look. The visualizations are also used to determine materials and colors for a project. Want to see what your project looks like with fritted glass as opposed to clear? How about wood cladding on the framing? With today's tools, it's just a few clicks away.

What do you enjoy most (and least) about your work?

I really enjoy getting involved at the design optimization level, right down to the nuts and bolts. I want to use the modeling tools to make an installation go smoothly, or to design a connection that doesn't require an installer to break a few fingers putting it together. I've produced many system renderings as well as full project renderings. It's so easy to look at points, lines, and polygons and forget just what you are building. I try to remember that each point and line can represent thousands of pounds of steel and glass. This kind of thing comes more naturally to the engineers, because they hold much more responsibility for the legitimacy of the design than I do. Nothing ever falls down in my modeling packages — unless I tell it to.

Installation sequences are another task I really enjoy. I find the best way to do them is in reverse. I build the entire structure and find the installation equipment required (I have an extensive library), then use layering to plan the installation. I start with the complete building and move, rotate, or remove objects step by step to create a sequence that shows our understanding of the complete project. The project managers and installation crews find these very helpful in planning for crews and equipment, and in creating a realistic schedule for installation.
My least favorite? Revisions to installation sequences. That's a lot of equipment to move around.

What's your greatest rendering challenge?

Time. I have very quick deadlines with most projects, and achieving the level of photorealism that I would like is just not possible within the time constraints. Advanced layering of textures and realistic lighting can be time-consuming to set up, but are essential to a realistic scene. I'm fortunate that in the engineering and construction industry, photorealism is not as critical as in other industries, such as the film industry; instead, clarity of information (size of structure, connections and spacing of framing) is much more important.

Which projects stand out in your mind?

The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a recently completed project that I'm very proud of. We were given the challenge of developing a grid shell for a beautiful design, but the tools I had did not provide a workable solution for the very complicated surface. It took quite a bit of rethinking the form in order to develop a solution that worked for both the architects and the engineers. I hope Salvador will look kindly on the creation.

A rendering that I am particularly proud of is a set of glass stairs I designed for one of the Lightwave assignments. A rendering of the stairs won a 2003 Caddie Award (First Place Professional Industrial) and made it onto the cover of Cadalyst. The design was also referenced as an influence in the patent that Steve Jobs took out for the glass stairs in Apple stores.

What advice would you like to share with others?

Be fearless. Dig into the guts of your CAD package and find the tweaks that will make your work stand out from the others.

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