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Neoscape on the state of the Archviz Industry

By Pablo Hadis and Jason Addy

Introduction

CG architectural visualization is a recent innovation in the long history of architecture, which spans more than 9,000 years (according to some theorists). However, it has quickly become one of the most dynamic fields in computer graphics. Linked to the construction industry, the need for realistic project previews has resulted in (or stimulated the) development of a great number of related software, dedicated to tasks such as the creation of plants, grass, snow, parquet, roofs, terrain, urban environments, parametric models, skies, crowds, etc. It has also spawned a long list of related assets and information, including textures, models, materials, HDRI maps, tutorials, conferences, websites and more.

The progressive refinement and specialization of these tools is a testimony of the rapid evolution of the field, which presents the habit of segmenting reality into a dual interior/exterior classification, a trait inherited from one of architecture’s primary goals. The influence of architectural visualization in 3D computer graphics is so strong that it has affected the growth and development of render engines themselves, and brought a new wave of real-time incarnations aimed straight at Archviz projects. It is also, of course, having a significant influence on architectural practice, and through it, on our own environment.

In our quest to analyze the history and evolution of the CG Industry, we’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing the founders and chief creatives at Neoscape, a pioneering studio in the field of architectural visualization that has gained worldwide recognition. Neoscape was founded in 1995 (the same year as Blur Studio) and has grown and expanded steadily ever since, witnessing and participating in the evolution of the field.

Join us once again as we take a look at the past, present and future of the Archviz Industry. Enjoy!

Neoscape interviewees:

- Principal and Founding Partner, Rob MacLeod
- Principal and Founding Partner, Rod MacLeod
- Principal and Founding Partner, Nils Norgren
- Principal and Chief Creative Officer, Rodrigo Lopez
- Associate Principal and Director of Visualization, Carlos Cristerna

The Interview

Upper left, clockwise: Rob MacLeod, Nils Norgren, Carlos Cristerna and Rodrigo Lopez

Please tell us a bit about how Neoscape was born. What made you decide to leave Parsons Brinckerhoff and found Neoscape? How did you come up with the name?

In the early ’90s, the three of us were working for Parsons Brinckerhoff – I was based out of NYC, and Rod and Nils were both working out of the Denver office. Together, we started formulating a plan to start a visualization business that would bring us back into working on architecture and real estate development projects. We worked on a business plan for about a year before giving notice and launching Neoscape.

An interesting part of starting a business is coming up with just the right name. Neoscape was born around the Norgren family kitchen table, and Nils’ father Phil was instrumental in us choosing that moniker for our business.

How did you choose the location for Neoscape’s first office?

We actually started the business in Cambridge, MA with an office in Central Square. The location was chosen due to its proximity to many of the top architectural firms in the region, as well as to MIT and Harvard (where we hoped to gain access to a deep talent pool). After nine years in Cambridge, we relocated to South Boston. The move was predicated on us having outgrown our space and wanting to create a workspace that would not only allow for physical growth, but that would also reflect the changing nature of our business. Boston has been a great location for us in terms of growth and in attracting top talent.

What difficulties did you face when starting the company?

Hmm…where to begin? In hindsight, much of what we undertook and ultimately accomplished during the first few years was very difficult. Had we known just how hard, we may never have taken that crucial first step. But we were young, full of big ideas, and eager to create something lasting. One of the principles that helped us overcome some of these difficulties was creating an environment that allowed us to have fun at work. We knew there would be long hours; we knew there would be low pay; we knew there would be technology hurdles—but at the end of the day, we wanted to create a studio that had a unique culture and allowed us to grow a business by adding like-minded artists to the company.

Some of the biggest challenges revolved around us being a pioneer in the field of architectural visualization. Half the battle was educating our potential customers about the benefits of 3D visualization and animation.

Also, as a three-person company we often found ourselves in a vicious cycle of working extremely hard to win work, and then once the projects were landed, focusing all of our attention on executing them. This cycle gets old very quickly, but in those days it was absolutely necessary to build a client base. It was typical to work 100-hour weeks during the first couple of years.

A recent visualization project for an Upper East Side residential building, a few steps away from Central Park in New York City

When did you find yourselves needing to start expanding the team?

After the first year, we knew that there was way too much work for the three of us to handle alone. We had been hosting a user group as a way to network and meet local artists, and it was from that pool that we hired our first employee – an artist who still works for us. Early on, we were given an important piece of advice: always hire people who are better than you.This particular individual is perhaps the single most talented artist we’ve ever met. The most amazing imagination, knowledge of art history, and incredible hand skills. Our challenge was to help him transition his talents to a new set of digital tools. He ultimately helped elevate the artistry of our business. We also hired an office manager at that time to help manage all of the administration that comes with running a business.

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