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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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The New Mac Pro: The Good, the Bad, and the Not So Ugly

AF: I want to insert something here since we are talking about performance and speed. So you must be aware of the new Mac Pro. So what do you think about that…being a Mac oriented 3D pro?

SB: I have always had enormous faith in Apple, especially when Steve Jobs was there. They would come out with stuff that at first didn’t make sense but it eventually did and won over the industry–just like when they threw away serial ports and moved to USB.

Now I love the design of the new Mac Pro, I like the look of it–it’s beautiful. I love the processor…but us 3D guys need power–lots of it! And the new Mac Pro only has one CPU socket and 3D is very CPU intensive.

AF: Right but the new Mac Pro does have a 12 core option. But you can only get one of those, no 24 core machines yet!

SB: But the frequency on the 12 core is just 2.4 GHz. And that’s a problem in editing functions. When you want to move 3D geometry around or move a group of objects it’s just using one core (single-threaded).

AFR: So are you saying that for the bulk of 3D work that doesn’t involve the rendering function stuff, like creating and editing, those functions are highly single core frequency oriented, rather than multi-threaded and multi-core oriented? So higher frequencies are preferable?

12 - EWSE montage of night view....

11 – EWSE montage of night view….

SB: I’m saying you want both. I prefer two 8-core CPUs at 3.4 GHz, which gives more cores and more responsiveness.

For editing and little tasks single core performance is key. When you start doing heavy calculations you will max out every single core of the system. Now I mentioned earlier that I have two systems at my desk for work. A Mac and a PC. I prefer the Mac because OS X is superior to Windows on just about every level. It’s a UNIX system with an amazing user interface and it’s far easier to manage and use. So with CINEMA 4D and Team Render I can arrange a setup where I use a PC as my “after burner” machine but do all my work on my Mac.

So I’m probably going to build a new machine using 16-core Opteron processors, and a quad socket motherboard so I have a 64-core monster. That will be the fastest, “gruntiest” afterburner render machine that money can build. But it will be slow for editing, because those cores only run at 2.4 GHz.

AF: That sounds quite amazing.

12 - EWSE exterior shot at marina edge.

12 – EWSE exterior shot at marina edge.

SB: Well, your ultimate system has lots of cores but all the cores are running fast. There is no point in having lots of cores if they are only running at about half the speed. So, I guess on one level I’m disappointed in the new Mac Pro. It’s only one socket. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a really good socket, it’s a great CPU. But it only has one. If the new Mac Pro had two sockets I would gladly pay for it.

The second thing that really worries me is the spagetti. You are going to have so many wires coming out of the back side of this beautiful machine that aesthetically wants to live on its own. You want to see it as this beautiful object but you can’t with tons of wires and boxes behind it.

And I also need to have a lot of hard drives and in the new Mac Pro you are limited on the storage side as well. You can’t load four hard drives into it like the old Mac Pro. Now, if I didn’t need so much data, and my workstation here has about 9 terabytes of data, than the storage issue wouldn’t be such a big thing. Or if I still had a studio of 20 people and we were all on a gigabit network working off a fast server, than maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But that is not the case for me. Now I would love for Apple to once again prove me wrong but we will have to wait and see.

True 3D Trees and 64-bit

AF: I understand all your trees and entourage are true 3D. Can you explain?

SB: In a nutshell all our plants and trees are full 3D models, not imagery. Everything we do has zero touch-ups. I hate adding fake things in the final images, especially with the way my clients change things all the time. Anyway, I need to take you back to the beginning. When we were all in the 32-bit days nearly all of my peers were having trouble doing the true 3D nature work that I was doing. But they were all on Windows. But I was on the Mac. So remember the 32-bit days and the 4 GB limit? Well, the difference was that for Apple it was 4 GB per application, but on Windows it was 4 GB overall. So I had Macs with excess of 4 GB and I would assign a full 4 GB to the entire CINEMA 4D application and it gave me this wonderful advantage. I got really good at modeling very efficient but very realistic 3D trees and plants as well.

AF: Going back that far you must have an amazing parts library, right?

SB: It’s monstrous. And it’s true I have an amazing library now. And then Apple came out with OS X, which in my opinion–under the hood–is leaps and bounds ahead of anything on Windows. And I’m saying that as someone who uses both, as I’ve mentioned before, every day. OS X actually gave me real true 64-bit performance and smoothness which translated into me being able to do bigger and bigger stuff. And I do some very big 3D models. I mean monstrous.

So what I do really taxes my machines the results are worth it and my clients really appreciate the difference.

AFR: Thanks for talking to Architosh about your work. This has been a really interesting discussion and I am sure readers will appreciate the spartan nature of your approach. Best of luck with your future endeavors. 

SB: Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.

Closing Notes

To learn more about Steve Bell and Archiform 3D visit their website here.

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