Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Virtual Reality

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Virtual Reality

Article excerpt

If you have ever tried to sell a luxury condo using only a pale watercolor rendering or to lease 50,000 square feet of office with only a floor plan and a carpet swatch, you know the problem. How do you translate the potential of raw construction into an image of graceful living or vibrant productivity?

Rick Caruso faced such a problem. The Santa Monica, Calif, developer wanted to build a 200,000 square-foot community center in the upscale, Los Angeles-area township of Thousand Oaks. But he knew the last two companies that wanted to develop on the same site couldn't get their projects approved by the city council.

It was going to take more than a few slides to get this project off the drawing boards. Caruso decided to show the skeptical city fathers exactly what his project would look like if they could walk through it completed with everything in place-a virtual shopping trip.

The end result was a virtual reality tour of Caruso Affiliated Holding's Towne Center development. The fountains flowed with water, retail establishments displayed their wares, and cars pulled into the center lot.

"We basically created a virtual reality sense of what it would be like to have this project built, and it is amazingly realistic," says John Greer, president of La Jolla Group Interactive of San Diego, one of the creators of the presentation.

The virtual walk through not only won approval from the planning commission, but a standing ovation from the entire city council.

"Even the best architectural model can't tell the story like an animated tour projected on a large video screen with sound. You can really see the marble facade, the terra cotta pottery, the floral trellises exactly where the architects placed them. Everything was done within an inch of scale," notes Greer.

Caruso has since taken his virtual reality project and used it in a variety of other presentations: before lenders to secure construction loans and as a marketing tool to potential tenants. The project is now underway and is 100-percent preleased with such tenants as Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Bristol Farms, Mann 8 Theatre, and restaurants such as Chilis and Rosti.

"Prospective tenants say the 3D animation gives them the perspective to see what the project is going to look like," says Caruso. "They can get a better understanding of the physical layout of the project, how the parking flow works, for example.

Caruso is also considering replacing the mail directory with a version of the virtual presentation in an on-site kiosk. Most indoor malls use a "you-are-here" sign approach, but at the press of a button, the virtual reality walk through brings the viewer to the store being sought.

Making Dreams Realities

Due to time constraints, Caruso's presentation was put together in about 30 days, but it was fairly complicated, using technology that only became available in 1990. "This technology is not for the faint of heart," says Greer.

Architects supplied the animation team with computer designs and traditional blueprints, along with color samples of the facade. Using the sophisticated software programs Premier and AfterEffects, along with 3Dstudio by Autodesk, the team created their three-dimensional perspectives of the project.

Once the computer model was built, the computer could simulate sunsets, textures, and fountains turning on and off. All of this information was mastered to a laser disc to conveniently project the final product.

The project cost about $70,000 to produce, compared to about $50,000 for a top-end architectural model.

Although costs are somewhat higher, there are several advantages to 3D computer presentations, according to Dennis James, a production manager for Deerfield, Ill.-based Image Data, a company that does 3D modeling and renderings. "With 3D you don't have to create a mock-up. The user can see the object from any angle. …

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