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National Survey and Engineering 3D Visualization Division Manger Jonathan Chapman cues up a virtual video of a multifamily housing development in Mukwonago. Chapman’s division started as a support service but in 2000 became a stand-alone department that h

People shopping for a new home have long followed the process of touring house after house, thinking of what rug would look good there, or how the couch would fit into the den.

But these days they can pop in a DVD, complete with soundtrack and narration, that virtually drives them through the neighborhood streets and walks them through a house before anything is even built.

The idea of using three-dimensional computer graphics to create realistic animations of developments started in retail, said Jonathan Chapman, manager of Brookfield-based National Survey and Engineering’s 3D Visualization Division. Chapman started using the technology in 1998 to create virtual representations of outdoor shopping malls. He created programs showing how visible a mall would be to people driving along the neighboring interstate, depending on the different elevations developers could create on the site.

“We’d model our local interstate,” he said. “We’d put our virtual camera in, driving down the interstate at 55 or 60 miles per hour and show what the mall would look like from a visibility standpoint.”

From retail to residential

The videos were a helpful selling point for the department stores that were considering a spot in the mall. In 2000, Chapman created a separate, self-sustaining division in National Survey & Engineering, a division of R.A. Smith & Associates in Brookfield, for visualization, and since then the three-person crew has worked mainly on residential projects.

The service ranges from $500 for a rendering of a proposed single-family house to up to $30,000 for a customized exterior and interior virtual walkthrough. The videos help market the housing to tenants and also show local planners what kind of project is being proposed. Chapman said that recently his department has gotten a lot of work creating renderings of homes for the Metropolitan Builders Association’s upcoming Home Builders Expo booths.

Mark Carstensen Construction and Development Companies Inc. commissioned National Survey to create a virtual indoor and outdoor tour of its Avian of Tuckaway condominium development in Franklin. Avian’s first real model apartment won’t be complete until spring 2005, but prospective homebuyers who visit the temporary office in the undeveloped development site can instead take a virtual tour.

‘A guided tour’

The video starts with a view from the passenger side of a virtual car driving through the neighborhood streets past the retention pond and Avian welcome sign, and ends with a camera floating into the front door of one of the duplexes and through a furnished unit’s kitchen, dining room and master bedroom. Meanwhile, a jazzy piano tune plays in the background and a narrator talks about the amenities of each room.

“It’s kind of like a guided tour,” Chapman said. “They wanted to start selling units as soon as possible, so we created this virtual model that not only walks you through the building’s exterior but also into the model unit.”

Chapman’s department is also wrapping up a contract for Lay-Z-Boy Furniture. The department created a virtual program giving shoppers a virtual image of a recliner, couch or end table that can be rotated and viewed from any angle with any available upholstery pattern. Once completed, Lay-Z-Boy is planning to build computer kiosks in its stores so shoppers can review thousands of pieces of furniture from one spot.

Sean Ryan can be reached at 414-276-0273, Ext. 107, or by email.

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