An Interview by CGarchitect

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Stefan Vittori Interviewed by Jeff Mottle, Owner of CG Architect

CG Architect | February 26, 2007 | By Jeff Mottle

Originally posted on CG Architect:
Stefan Vittori, president and founder of Tangram 3DS, found his way into the 3d design world as an early adopter and student in Vienna. Here is his story:
CGA: How long have you been in this business?
Stefan Vittori: 15 years.
CGA: How have you enhanced the 3d community over time?
Stefan Vittori: To answer that, I would have to tell you my story. My hope continues to advance the state-of-the-art and be a generous contributor to our industry.
CGA: What inspired you to start a 3d design business?
Stefan Vittori: Back in Austria before there was 3d design software, I was watching TV one day and this wireframe of a building came on the news. I can’t even remember what the commentary was about, but I was very intrigued by how someone created this. It was early 3d animation, but only a very basic walk-through. If you saw it now, you would laugh, but back then, it was state-of-the-art. It was probably AutoCad 9. At the time, I was studying architecture at the Technical University of Vienna and marveled at how this technology could change everything.
CGA: How did you get started back in Austria? Did you have a mentor?
Stefan Vittori: Not at first, in fact I was one of the first people in my country to try anything like this before. As a student of architecture, I knew that there had to be technology out there to make my job easier. I did some research and ordered a copy of 3D Studio Max. That was it, software and an instruction manual and no one to talk to.
CGA: What kept you inspired to keep going in the 3d direction?
Stefan Vittori: Amazingly, I started my career in the field of social work and actually have a diploma in that field. The problem was, the more I used computers and worked in 3d, the more I realized that this is what I was meant to do. Being a pioneer in my country with this technology was very exciting. I knew that 3d software was going to revolutionize the architectural industry in particular. At about that time, someone in the U.S. started a user forum. This was the first time that I really felt connected to anyone else with the same dream that I had.
CGA: What was it like once you found like-minded people using 3d software?
Stefan Vittori: You have to imagine for a minute that at that time, there was no training DVD. In fact, DVDs didn’t even exist. In the early days, Kinetix posted a technical support forum, but that was it. There was no user “community”, just a bunch of users around the world that were experimenting. You asked about inspiration earlier. What got me really inspired was answering complicated questions that 3D Studio Max customers had over this forum from my home in Austria. I spent hours, up late at night, on week-ends, experimenting with 3D Studio Max, pushing it to its limits and then answering questions that others had. It dawned on me that this was my calling and that I loved working in 3d, it’s almost addictive.
CGA: How did you go from helping people over the forum to starting Tangram 3DS?
Stefan Vittori: Well, I took a few turns in the road and stops along the way before starting my own company. Early on, I found a mentor in Austria that had a vision for how architecture firms could integrate 3d design into their business model. My mentor was Hermann Schmidt, DI, and he brought me under his wing as the head of this 3D studio. He realized that using 3d would give him a competitive edge in the housing and commercial markets he was looking to dominate.
Then in an amazing twist of fate, Austria became part of the European Union and part of the EUs economic development strategy, grants became available to provide individuals with technical training to boost the commercial economy. I applied for a grant and was accepted. I used the funding to attend two weeks of training in New York City at one of the first 3D Studio master classes and obtained a certificate. We had ten people in the class from all over the world and none of them were interested in architectural visualization, so we spent the class learning character animation. I use those skills in my work today.
CGA: What made you stay the course with architectural visualization?
Stefan Vittori: I was lucky enough to have Michele Bousquet as my instructor for the master class, she was an early pioneer in animation, 3D motion, and characters. Because of my interest, she led me to Ted Boardman, another pioneer and expert. Ted was an independent consultant who provided master training and technical support for 3D Studio Max. He was very generous with his knowledge and provided users with resources for solving thorny problems. Ted and I spoke over these forums over the next three years, deep into the code, figuring out its newest features and limitations and providing feedback to the developers.
CGA: So how did you end up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire?
Stefan Vittori: That’s another funny story. I responded to a job posting at an architectural firm north of Boston that was looking for 3d expertise. So I took the job. About a year later I attended Autodesk University in Boston. Before the session started I was getting a cup of coffee and randomly struck up a conversation with a guy that reminded me of a rock star. He started speaking to me in German and we immediately hit it off. Turns out, it was Ted Boardman, the same guy I had been solving problems with virtually for the past three years! What was even funnier was that Ted also lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire within walking distance from my office. You can imagine the coffees we had from that point on to talk about the future of 3d visualization.
CGA: What happened after meeting Ted Boardman?
Stefan Vittori: I was still working for an architecture firm and was getting frustrated because I wasn’t using the depth of my skills and their business model didn’t lend itself to moving to 3d as a standard. I felt stuck working for an in-house group and knew deep down inside that this job was paying the bills, but wasn’t where I wanted to be. The other problem was that my services were the “icing on the cake” investment, but when the economy or their business slowed down, my work came to a halt.
The other common theme for me was that I was having coffee with the pioneer of the industry, Ted, and wanted to keep pace with the evolution of the technology. There was no way I was going to be able to keep up with the hypersonic speed of this industry working for a firm that wasn’t going to invest in the latest technology, tools and training to keep me on the leading edge. It wasn’t their fault, I was an expense rather than a revenue machine for them.
CGA: Sounds like you hit the virtual wall, so to speak.
Stefan Vittori: It just became abundantly clear that it was time to go out on my own. I was afraid, but at the same time realized that I had worked very hard on my skills and had the desire to be one of the best architectural visualization designers in the world. I continued to raise the bar for myself and knew that there must be international companies that wanted to invest in this type of service to win high-end business.
Something else interesting happened to me. Remember how I told you that I helped so many people in the early years on the user forums? Well,
people remembered my name and the help I gave them in those days. I had developed a reputation as someone who was helpful and knowledgeable. People remembered and they gave back to me what I had given to them.
I finally started my business, which by the way, is above one of the best local coffee houses in New Hampshire where Ted and I still meet to swap stories. This gave me the freedom to invest in the latest technology, proactively go after jobs around the world where I can add tremendous value, and continue to advance the state-of-the-art.
CGA: What do you think is driving the industry today?
Stefan Vittori: Unequivocally, the film industry. They have done more to challenge us and pull us forward than any other single influence. People can’t differentiate between special effects, animation and reality. A great example of this is the recent remake of the King Kong movie. You’ve got buildings from the 1950s in the background that are original, superimposed with a giant animated ape. It’s almost too convincing. The bar has been set high and the human eye is accustomed to perfection now.
CGA: With all of your experience with 3d, what direction are you taking your company and why?
Stefan Vittori: At Tangram 3DS, we specialize in architectural visualization. In fact, we have received two animago awards, organized by DIGITAL PRODUCTION magazine. These awards were validation for us that compared to other designers around the world for our interior visualization and interior 3d computer rendering capabilities, we are world-class. This is an important milestone for us because we were able to showcase our work to an international audience and to prospective clients. Just a few months ago, we were selected by Autodesk for their show reels demo, along with Sony and other big names. It felt great to get this type of industry recognition after so many years of hard work.
Getting back to our clients and what we’re focused on, our target is real estate developers, architects, and design firms that don’t want to develop the architectural visualization and animation specialty in-house. We can become an extension of their team by providing this service and often it’s seamless to the client they’re doing business with.
CGA: Can you give us an example of a cool project you’ve worked on recently?
Stefan Vittori: We were approached by a real estate developer that was contracted to build a new high end luxury property 200 miles north of New York City. The property is branded as “The Residences at the Westin” and carries the same amenities that a Westin Hotel would provide. The developer that selected us has built over 17 million square feet of real estate valued at $ 4 billion and they own 45 hotels world-wide.
What we loved about this project was that by creating the 3d visual for this new property we enabled the developer to communicate to the city of Providence, Rhode Island what was being planned. Our visuals were used to get approvals for construction, to “sell” units as the property is being built, and as the prominent branding for their web-site and in all of their advertising. We discovered that our visuals were also being used in public relations, the city’s economic development efforts are being applauded for attracting such world-class development. That’s the type of impact our work has. We develop the visuals that business people, prospective residents, and city officials can understand and enable developers to move forward on billion dollar construction projects. That’s what makes our job rewarding and that’s why we focus on our specialty, architecture. We’re also doing some fabulous residential designs for some beautiful homes being built in our community. The variety keeps our jobs fun and interesting.
CGA: What’s your vision of where the industry is going?
Stefan Vittori: In the future we’ll have real-time visualization using the game industry as the basis of architectural visualization. Like a video game, you’ll be able to virtually walk through a new hotel or property, look around, talk to virtual sales people, ask questions and visit a place before it’s actually built. Another advance will be the ability for several people to work on the same project, anywhere in the world, simultaneously, and interact with “clients” real-time, as they experience their virtual visit. I also think that we’ll borrow from the film industry and green screen real actors, have more film-studio set-ups, and develop scripted scenarios to help consumers better experience 3d. Wide screens and high def will also become standard and better display our work.
Right now, we’re doing work for another property developer for high rise towers in Dubai. You can image the expense of building one of these towers and typically the developer is looking for investors to fund the project. With architectural visualization, we can create an entire city if they want with retail shops with people shopping, restaurants with people eating and drinking, health clubs with people working out, swimming pools with people sunbathing, offices with business people meeting, and residences with people at their kitchen tables watching TV. Our ability to help the investor envision reality before a property is built, helps sell them on the concept, and if we do a good job, everyone wins.
CGA: Thank you Stefan, for your time and for sharing your story. Do you have any other thoughts for our readers?
Stefan Vittori: It’s been a real pleasure being able to reminisce about the early days of 3d and how we managed without the wealth of resources we have today. We are so lucky to have the tools, resources, and people willing to help each other, that it makes our jobs a pleasure. It’s this user community that inspires and challenges us today. Thank you again for taking the time to listen to my story and let us know if we can help.