Ask the Architect

Can we get 3-D computer modeling?


Q. We’re looking for a designer who can draw on a computer and show us plans in three dimensions, like we see on TV. The designers show these pictures and even animate them, and that would really help us visualize, since neither of us can really picture how things are going to look. So far we’ve spoken to a few designers, and they say they don’t do that and that they can sketch by hand to illustrate ideas, but we’d like to see things from different angles by moving the picture, like a movie. Is it that complicated or specialized? Is there someone who does this?

A. Remember the beginning of early Disney cartoons, where a paint brush would sweep across an empty page and the page would become the opening scene of an animated story? I think that’s what you’re looking for, and yes, it is possible to get what you want — for a price.

I remember going over one particular contract with a new client, and when we got to the part about the additional cost to develop 3-D drawings and models, they looked at me quizzically and asked, “Don’t computers just do that?” I think the analogy I used at the time was to describe the recently released (at the time) animated movie “Pocahontas,” because I’d seen a documentary on the making of the film. Modeling just the figure of the star, the lovely Pocahontas, took sixth months. A company as large as Disney had the budget to pay a crew of hundreds to work long hours, daily, for months, to develop each character and each scene. Two years later, the film was ready.

Today we have a few choices in software, ranging from the type professionals use to the more sketch-type programs used to develop animation like you see on HGTV home-improvement shows. Professionals, such as architects and engineers, use more complicated programs because the amount of technical information our plans have to develop must meet many more requirements than just pictures to see what the building will look like. We have to analyze how the many components of a building will join, structure, insulate and interfere with one another so we can predict problems and solve them before the building gets built. Add to that the many code restrictions, pre-manufactured catalog components like doors and windows, mechanical systems, etc., and you’ll see that when we use a 3-D program with lots of prompts, it can take a considerable amount of time.

Time translates into cost, and many of our clients are most interested in time and money, because financing and cost delays add up to economic problems if scheduling is off. TV shows rarely mention the architect or engineer, or the time it took to develop those computer animations or construction plans. It takes time and money, so allow months to avoid disappointment.

© 2015 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.