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Firm Profile: Archiform 3D — Challenging China with Integral Design

We continue our Firm Profile series with Archiform 3D founder and president, Steve Bell. Archiform 3D is a leading global provider of advanced architectural visualization and design services operating globally. The company does amazing work and they do it all with a spartan pipeline consisting of ArchiCAD and CINEMA 4D. This is a big interview but chalk full of interesting business craft and insightful details–the kind of information Architosh is known for pulling out in stories like this. So sit back, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy the story.

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Competing with China – How To Do It Right

AFR: Ah, I sense a nerve there about China…

SB: Of course nobody on this side of the world can compete with China. So we came back towards architecture, design and getting deeply involved within the projects again. Now people are coming to us where they don’t have the architect yet, they haven’t hired their design professionals, they kinda have no idea or are looking for ideas…and I’ll take it and I’ll start running with it.

AFR: So did you just say people are coming to you prior to the architect being onboard?

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SB: Yes, certain clients of ours come prior to that and they need something done that they can take to the financier to get projects moving. There is often a phase where the project is too undeveloped to make a commitment to an architect and our clients just need quick ideas thrown together, brought to life and assessed. Then they will go to an architect after the investors have come onboard or they know what direction they want to head in.

AFR: Hmm…that’s an interesting discovery. 

SB: I develop many of the initial ideas and when the architect comes onboard I will send my ideas to the architect and the architect will keep developing it and we continue to work in tandem like that. In today’s real estate development market that is normal. You do what the market demands and adapt to it.

AFR: Can you talk more about the impact of the financial crash in this latest economic cycle and how it affected the world of 3D for you?

SB: Sure. Well, as I said earlier people started coming to me for 3D, and I was met with great success for years. Then the market started changing worldwide–in two very big ways. Number one: pre-sales. The world of financing changed of course with the global recession and when that happened that made the demand for 3D within pre-sales go through the roof.

AF: Can you explain ‘pre-sales’ because I want to make sure readers, and myself, understand what you refer to? 

02 - Castle Bar Cove...view of exterior.

02 – Castle Bar Cove…exterior view off the balcony.

03 - Castle Bar Cove interior view.

03 – Castle Bar Cove interior unit view.

SB: People sell a building before they even commence building it now.

Back in the old days financing was different, money was more easily attainable for doing a complete development. The developer was doing much more guess work back then with product, but the market was also more forgiving…nowadays pre-sales and constant product development is where it is at. And it is going to stay that way for a long time.

So when property development people saw 3D–especially high quality 3D–they were all over it like a rash.  My real niche is animations, because most people just offer renderings. And I do the whole building, not just two faces of it. And the landscaping is all 3D–not 2D image props of plants and trees. And I have the big render farm. So if they want another minute or two of footage, they don’t have to wait a couple more days, they can have it quite easily within a few hours.

But you and I both know that the developer doesn’t just need a quick rendering. They need more services than that. If it is one of those types of cheap developers or builders, they can go find those types of services in China. It will come back screwed up a few times but in the end he has got his rendering for a few hundred bucks. And he thinks he’s happy.

04 - Exterior image of the pool area Porsche Tower project.

04 – Exterior image of the pool area at the Porsche Tower project.

AF: So how has Archiform 3D adapted to that given your background in architecture and Bianca’s interior design expertise?

SB: It’s simple, we offer complete solutions. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have plans. It doesn’t matter if you are half way done…or you don’t have the colors or the furniture picked out yet. And that instantly gets their attention. And that is something that the Chinese just can’t do.

People come to us and ask, “how much per second?” And I say, “I don’t know.” And they ask, “well what do I get?” And I say, “you get exactly what you need–and more. If you need 20 renderings, you’ve got 20 renderings. If you learn you need five minutes of footage, then you get five minutes. You are paying us to do a complete job. You are paying us to get it right. It’s a fixed fee. That’s it!

quote_2_bell

And the more I got into that the more the big clients started to come in. If you look at our website it isn’t about 3D renderings, how fast we can do them or any monthly special–its about solutions. That’s how we differentiate from what you get in China. We use our backgrounds in architecture and interiors to solve problems that are relevant to today’s global development market–not just do renderings.

Living in the Bahamas

AFR:  So you started in Australia and gained an international clientele during the golden years of market expansion but along the way you ended up in the Bahamas. How did that come about and why?

SB: Well, I got a job working for CBS for a certain famous golf tournament that I’m not allowed to mention by name.

AFR: Okay, so I saw the animations with the golf balls and the dynamics involved…quite cool. I take it you didn’t do the terrain of the course though.

SB: No we did! Absolutely. We did the whole thing. We actually did that in ArchiCAD believe it or not. And then we put that into CINEMA 4D. I flew over the course in the helicopter and did my own ground textures. They got me this wonderful fire-fighting helicopter that could just freeze in the sky. We chose this time where they cleared out all the golf members for maintenance and then we gathered the pictures we needed.

0x - A sample render image from the CBS Golf project work.

05 – A sample render image from the CBS Golf project work. The entire terrain was created in GRAPHISOFT ArchiCAD while the rendering, animation and motion dynamics used in the renderings were done in CINEMA 4D.

AFR: I take it you used the motion dynamics features in CINEMA 4D to make the animations with the golf balls landing on the green work?

SB: Yes, exactly.

AFR: That was quite a unique project for you…

SB: Yes, that was a bit different. It was around that time that I decided to get out of Australia. I decided that I just liked the way Americans do business and wanted to be closer to the United States. It’s very backward in Australia on the business side of things when you compare to the ease of doing business in the USA.

AFR: So tell me about being in the Bahamas. What’s your setup like?

SB: I have shared office space in Miami for meetings and I reside here in the Bahamas. These days I kick between the two depending on who needs to meet. Bianca, who often travels with me, is a USA-based interior designer–so between the architecture and the interior design backgrounds we can pretty much turn any wild idea into a presentation quickly.

AFR: So where is everyone based?

SB: Today I am quite accustomed to living out of a suitcase. I could be in the Bahamas, United States, Middle East and Europe all within a month and entirely at the whim of my clients. The Miami office is mostly my render farm and that shared office. I have an ArchiCAD contractor to help with overload and she is in Serbia. And I have a similar person for CINEMA 4D who is in Macedonia. We are spread out all over the place but these days it absolutely doesn’t matter.

AFR: So how do you all work?

SB: Bianca helps me with design. She’s beautiful, talented and accomplished and we work well together. You can see her working with me on the HGTV episode in our portfolio. For the remote team, once I have my ideas down I can send them what I need and I can get my ArchiCAD model back in a few days and I can continue the work. I can just jump in and make my changes.

05 - Steve works alongside Bianca XX...who is an interior designer who rounds out Archiform 3D's capabilities in the area of interior design.

06 – Steve Bell works alongside Bianca Miller…who is a USA-based interior designer who rounds out Archiform 3D’s capabilities in the area of interior design. View of hotel dinning for a Four Seasons project in Kuwait.

AF: So tell me about your clients..where are they? What percentage of your work in Florida in particular?

SB: I would say only about 2 percent of my work is in Florida. The big reason I have the space in Miami is not because of clients there but because I have the render farm, which I built myself. I have a yacht that I take over and I’m there in the office in about 4 hours or so. I can’t do that with New York. I love the Bahamas, have a great lifestyle here but I’m also close to Miami which gives me access to civilization!

AFR: That’s a nice way to get to work!

SB: Those are the days when it’s fun to be me.

next page: The Porsche Tower Project

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