NPOWER Software - Advanced Modeling Plugins for 3DSMAX and RHINO

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New York Architect and Production Designer, Kevin Cimini principal at March: nPower 3d digital artist interview.
 
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First of all, I want to congratulate you on the opening of your new design and consulting firm March (www.marchmade.com). The images on the March website are stunning. Could you give our readers a brief background on your architectural design and visualization education and carrier?

 
 

My design interests started young but my formal architectural education began in college. I attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and double majored in Architecture and Studio Art. After college, I worked in an architecture firm in San Francisco for several years before transitioning to New York City to attend architecture graduate school at Columbia University. The school’s staff and resources at that time were deeply invested in computational technologies and emerging software as they pushed to help pioneer a more digital approach to the practice of architecture. At Columbia, I was introduced to Joe Kosinski and Dean DiSimone and started working with them after graduation. Kosinski and DiSimone were the founding partners of KDLAB, a boutique studio that appropriated its architectural foundation to design across various forms of media. Joe and Dean split in 2004 to pursue personal aspirations and I went out on my own to continue to follow my architecture and digital design interests. During this time, I taught at Columbia and Pratt and worked back and forth between NY and LA as a freelance environment designer for the broadcast and interactive industries. In 2006, I joined up with Brandon Hicks and Chris Hoxie whose former firm, BHCH, had produced some of the most progressive architectural imaging to date. In collaboration, the three of us explored architecture’s growing relationships with CNC fabrication, 3D printing and building information modeling (BIM) as physical extensions to the digital processes and products we were already involved with. Chris left in 2007 to return to academia and is now teaching at Harvard’s GSD; Brandon and I continued with the work and the research as we built and branded the new company. With our web launch in November of last year, we officially introduced March.

 
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March seems like a brilliant collaborative effort. Can you give us some insight into your most exciting projects to date and what we can expect to see from March in the near future?

   
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Our most exciting projects undoubtedly revolve around the adoption of new technologies. We strive to make innovation integral to our creative work by devoting time toward R&D and always encouraging collaboration, especially with those outside of our discipline. On the Avra Verde project in Arizona with Rick Joy, we expanded our photographic repertoire by shooting on location, large format, extremely high dynamic range (HDR) images. The incorporation of image based lighting was deemed essential to the success of the product because it digitally provided us with the most direct atmospheric translation of this unique desert environment. Similarly, the FutureGen work we designed for the US Department of Energy utilized HDR lighting, but here it was attained through entirely different means. The sun, sky and topographic data were digitally created since the sites chosen were based on general climatic conditions and not specific geographic locations. To assist with light and terrain creation, we contacted VFX supervisor Rob Nederhorst whom I had met the year before while working on a CG / live-action commercial. Through the use of LIDAR data and Rob’s Terragen assistance, we were successfully able to develop both arid and non-arid landscapes complete with the light qualities generally associated with each. Beyond the technical improvements to our workflow, FutureGen was fulfilling because we were asked by the DOE to produce functional and aesthetic solutions for a building typology (near-zero emission power plants) that lacked a design precedent. The challenge was to address power’s negative infrastructural image and produce environmentally responsive, architectural propositions to better represent these state-of-the-art facilities. As for March’s current endeavors, we recently started work on an exclusive resort project with Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records and Palm Pictures) in Jamaica. Additionally, we have shifted some of our focus back toward production design and just completed a collection of digital sets on a commercial project.

   
 
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What are some of re-occurring design principles and philosophies that you find yourself expressing in your work?

   
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What interests and excites me about working between architecture and media is combining the physical and the immaterial in an attempt to create suspension of disbelief within our work. As both construction and imaging technologies continue to improve, the distinctions separating the real from the imagined become fewer and less distinguishable. New materials and digital fabrication are being engineered to construct in ways and with tolerances not previously possible; advanced rendering engines and compositing software are producing images that rival perception. Whether our work is built, rendered or a combination of the two, the products are becoming seemingly more and more the same. What is philosophically interesting is that through their convergence, the actual has acquired characteristics and nuances of the artificial and vice versa. As March continues to explore environment and image, I am interested in designing for this real / unreal tension as a way to suspend and challenge one’s experience with architecture and media.

   
 
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Can you share with us some of the most critical steps in your workflow that help you achieve such vivid and photo real visualizations?

   

From the imaging side, our efforts toward photo real always result in an articulated model and a project specific folder dedicated to material exploration. Architecture is experienced across scales and expressed through details; thus, it is common for us to be modeling 1/4 inch joints with 1/8 bevels while developing high resolution shaders layered with custom maps. Aside from an awareness of construction detailing and an understanding of material behavior, good lighting is essential. As referenced earlier, image based lighting has become our standard for direct and diffuse light as well as the use of photometrics for fixtures. V-Ray is our current renderer, we follow a linear workflow to correct for non-linear monitor display and we render through “physical cameras” to utilize exposure control. As the latter indicates, the closer the work gets to “reality”, the more beneficial our research and understanding of photography becomes. We utilize photographic techniques for backplate generation (tone mapping), lighting data calculation (HDR capture), composition and post production. Essentially, our photo real workflow is the cumulative processing of these separate elements into a convincing whole.

 
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I know many designers are starting to model conceptual architectural forms with tools like Power NURBS and Rhino. Do you see this as a growing trend and how do you think it is influencing today’s architects and designers?

   
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The tools at one’s disposal definitely affect the way one designs. Advanced 3D software has created the current trend toward organic architecture simply because it has allowed for more fluid form generation. In my opinion, the abilities to sculpt and script digital form have increased one’s representational capabilities but a good designer remains one who can self-edit; I value the abilities to see and think critically over the ability to compute. Students today exploit organic architecture’s seductive nature because software has made it accessible and many view it as being progressive. My favorite example of “conceptual architectural form” to date, however, is Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK Airport which was completed in 1962. Fluid form might be fashionable but is not new; advancements in CAD, materials, engineering and construction, however, have made it much more viable. 3D software’s major contribution is less about the grand formal gesture and more about customization at the detail level. Along these lines, the more advanced parametric applications have created intelligent models where related shapes, surfaces and solids can be manipulated though their built-in relationships. Where standardization once ruled, the components that constitute a building can now be designed and fabricated as one-offs. The combined use of modeling software and computer controlled milling has reengineered the science behind building design. As a result, the architect now has more control at the experiential level and can once again participate in the process as both designer and builder

 
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I know you just started using nPower Products but can you give some of our interested readers some of the reasons you’re using our products.

   
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I first started using Power Booleans as an addendum to the Max toolkit and was instantly amazed by its functionality. Not only did it provide a reliable fix to what is often a hit-or-miss operation, but the resolved meshes were cleaner and allowed for quad output. What I have always respected about nPower is the company’s mission to target these types of user needs and provide integrated software solutions. This point is reinforced by the company’s suite of translator applications. Since March’s work is often collaborative and usually falls somewhere between architecture, film/broadcast and fabrication/construction, we tend to work across industries so manageable data exchange is critical. Additionally, we experiment with numerous modeling programs and we aim to keep our current Max / V-Ray rendering pipeline consistent. Power NURBS is one of these applications I have explored and I am impressed by how extensive and powerful, yet intuitive, it is. Its combination surface + solids environment delivers unlimited flexibility and control making it both the perfect schematic design tool and the ideal precision modeler.

   
 
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What are the publications web, print etc...that inspire you and that you would recommend to others?

   
 

Domus, Detail, Metropolis, Architectural Record, Frame & Mark, Praxis and Seed are some publications I would recommend. I prefer having printed resources so I maintain a collection of design books and monographs at home and at work. Browsing bookstores is great for visual stimulation and for an entire day of inspirational “shopping” I highly recommend Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica and William Stout in San Francisco.

   
 
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Name: Kevin Cimini
Location: New York
Software: nPower
URL: marchmade.com
Contact 718.237.8965
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Npower Products
 
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Past nPower Artist of the Month
 
Carlos Fueyo's Page
 
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Julian Foster's Page
 
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Thom Schillinger's Page
 
 
 
 
 
Claw Hammer's Page
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Neil Blevins's Page
 
 
 
Jens Mondry's Page
 
 
 
 
Rudolph Lagarrigue's page
 
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