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AIA: Talking BonZai 3D with Chris Yessios, creator of form.Z

Industry innovator Chris Yessios talks about its new BonZai 3D program and how it will challenge SketchUp and become an on-ramp to one of the industry’s mightiest modelers — form.Z

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At this year’s AIA I had the chance to sit down with Chris Yessios, form.Z’s creator and one of the most esteemed software developers in the 3D world. I asked him why BonZai 3D came about and he was completely candid in saying that before @Last Software came out with SketchUp — a runaway hit in the software world that soon found itself acquired by Google — many others, including his team of programmers at auto-des-sys, recognized the need for a “sketch-oriented” modeling program and conceptualized how to make it.

However, for years those concepts never got realized and SketchUp arrived on the market first, to tap a huge untapped thirst for such a program. Now things are different and Chris Yessios is clear in his determination to put out a better, more capable and much more robust “easy-to-use” modeler than what exist in the market today.

“We had the ideas,” says Yessios. “Actually I admire them [SketchUp's programmers]…they delivered an innovative interface” to the market in the form of an easy to master sketch-oriented modeler.

When I asked Chris if his competitor’s real hallmark innovation is the Push/Pull feature he didn’t think so. “We’ve had something like Push/Pull in form.Z for years and years,” said Yessios. “It’s just there are extra steps before you push or pull.”

Industrial Strength and Ease

“The difference with BonZai 3D is the robustness of the model,” said Yessios. BonZai 3D’s model structure is as robust as the legendary form.Z. With the new easy-to-use modeler you don’t get pseudo-NURBS but rather the real thing, with real solids and powerful Booleans.

BonZai 3D has a Push/Pull tool as well with some extra power behind it that you don’t see in the competition — at least not yet. But the company needs to continue to simplify and refine their interface. Right now BonZai 3D is still in beta form and Chris Yessios made certain I understood that it would get better — much better — before final release. The AIA Expo was a good place for getting feedback from architects who are both new and existing participants to the world of architectural modeling.

BonZai 3D has some good stats to go along with that easy interface auto-des-sys, Inc. is set on mastering. For starters it is 100% file compatible with form.Z, yet there is a major revision to its internal data structure that is superior to form.Z that will eventually affect future versions of that program. Users can take form.Z model data to BonZai and vice versa — which will hopefully be more common.

Somewhere to Grow To (The On Ramp)

For those who start off with modeling in programs meant solely for ease-of-use and sketch-oriented modeling they often run into a growth problem professionally. What happens when they outgrow the program? What happens when that easy program can’t do the more advanced stuff?

When I asked Chris Yessios if BonZai 3D was a perfect “on ramp” to form.Z he said, “that’s one way of looking at it.” BonZai 3D has a similar look and feel but it different. It is meant to be less complicated. Yet auto-des-sys, Inc. would like to see both programs grow to reflect each other such that BonZai 3D users could grow up to be form.Z power users. But this will be a work in progress as the company innovates with user interface design in BonZai 3D. Chris noted that some things that work out very well in BonZai 3D will eventually carry over to future versions of form.Z.

BonZai 3D

Starting from the top, BonZai 3D is a brand new Mac and Windows application based on the same code base as form.Z. It is 100% percent file compatible in both directions with form.Z. It features real-time Boolean operations, NURBS and what the company calls “Smart 3D” drawing. It also will have extensive file interoperability (over 30 export/import formats).

BonZai 3D will be both Google Earth and Google SketchUp file compatible as well as support Google’s 3D Warehouse.

Chris Yessios said BonZai 3D does not have integral rendering beyond OpenGL but does have advanced OpenGL support. The program has very nice “graphical” texture editing capabilities — as witnessed at the show — and it is very easy to adapt textures to various surfaces of a model.

As a program with only OpenGL rendering there is no multi-processing support — which form.Z has with its photo-realistic rendering capabilities. A preview of BonZai 3D indicated that there is some form of a “head’s up” display interface with a real-time dimension indicator under the cursor. This adds a level of accuracy capability.

Although this program is meant to be a “sketch-oriented” modeler (like SketchUp itself) it was discussed during our talk that very often such tools are now used as final modelers because that is what somebody knows and more importantly because they are fast and efficient tools for getting straightforward modeling work done. In that case, numerical input is key because the modeler knows in advance many dimensions fundamental to her design.

Learning BonZai 3D should be easy as the company is planning the application to have embedded QuickTime video tutorials in the application.

BonZai 3D is currently in a beta stage with a public beta planned for some point this summer, followed by an actual release. It’s final price point has not be determined but the goal with BonZai s3D will be to make it affordable for the beginner modeler and for students.

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