An Outlook On the Future of Visualization: A Q&A with Scott DeWoody
Editorial Team in Augmented Reality, Creative Media, Virtual Reality

This rendering of a Mixed-Used/Retail Campus was created in 3ds Max with V-Ray.

Scott DeWoody, Gensler’s Creative Media Leader sat down with GenslerOn to talk about his background in art and animation, how this led to his work at Gensler and the increasingly important role that Virtual and Augmented reality are playing in the architecture and design fields. Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

Editorial Team (ET): Tell us a bit about your background. When did you first dive into computers and animation?

I’ve been drawing since I was very young. I loved to doodle cartoons and comic book characters when I was bored in grade-school, and as I got older this developed into my passion. When I was in the 6th grade, which was around 1997, one my favorite video games was released. It was love at first sight almost. I knew then that my passion for art would take me into computer animation. I had not seen that level of storytelling, art direction, or cinematography, in a video game before. And once I realized that it was possible to tell a compelling story through that medium, I pretty much knew I would be doing something like that when I got older. So once I got into high school, I picked up a few books on how to use 3ds Max, and taught myself how to model in 3D.

For college, I went to The Art Institute of Houston and got a bachelors of media arts and animation. I studied a wide variety of digital mediums from character animation, illustration, and graphic design, to film and motion graphics. And surprise, surprise, I ended up leaning towards a specialty in Illustration near the end of my degree.

ET: Did your field of study naturally lead to a career in architecture? How did you end up at Gensler?

Throughout my studies I really gravitated to the rendering process, learning how materials and lights worked, and the more technical aspects of the rendering engines. To this day these are big passions of mine and they have proven to be the key to unlocking the world of architectural visualization and field of architecture and design more broadly.

In general though, the great thing about art is that the fundamentals can transfer into just about anything. From there of course you need to learn the specifics of what you’re illustrating. But really, my field of study can lead right into architecture. With that said though, that is not exactly how it happened for me! Everyone at school was aiming to get into the video game or visual effects (VFX) industry, which is what a lot of the classes were geared towards. We had one class that I loved, which was akin to architectural visualization, but I was already about half way through my degree by that point. So when it came time to graduate, I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going.

In addition, Houston isn’t really known for its 3D Industry. There is a lot of work in medical and oil and gas so architecture was not even on my radar at the time. Right around the time of my graduation the stars aligned: I had a friend working at Gensler as a Visualization Artist and the firm was looking to expand their Visualization team. I interviewed and was offered a job the week before I graduated. And the crazy thing at the time was, I didn’t really know who Gensler was, or what kind of work they did. It was not until my first day at Gensler that I found out what I had signed up for!

ET: How have your role and responsibilities at Gensler developed during your tenure here?

My role has definitely evolved over the years, and every evolution has been a result of changing market and client demand. I started out as an Illustrator back in 2007, and worked on a lot of projects for a few of our oil and gas clients. Eventually I made my way out to our Las Vegas office in 2010 to manage the rendering process on two very large casinos.

I returned to Houston to oversee a core rendering team for the office. A few years later, I went to San Francisco for two months to work on new rendering technologies with NVIDIA in correlation with the design of their new headquarters – and ended up staying for two years! It was an amazing experience that set the stage for my current role, overseeing the firm’s rendering technology with the addition to VR, AR, and interactive media.

ET: Tell us about a typical day in the office.

There is no typical day! They vary depending on projects and client demands. While I was just a Visualization Artist, it felt a bit like I was running my own rendering company within Gensler. Our architects and designers were akin to my “clients,” and I could work with them in real-time, sorting out problems and making changes. With a smaller gap in communication and timing than we’d having outsourcing the rendering process, I was able to quickly produce images which can mean everything with a project, a contest, or a demanding client!

In my position now, I’m busy making sure our designers have the best possible technology in front of them. And with the speed of evolving technologies, this means I’m a pretty busy guy. I do everything from documenting workflows, video training, one on one project consulting, vendor/client relationships, and we’re even looking into setting up a global rendering farm in the cloud. Consistently providing our folks with the best possible technologies allows them to focus on the design and presentation of their ideas to the client.

ET: Has the evolving world of visualization technologies changed the way that the architects and designers at Gensler do their work?

The hurricane of advancements and innovations in rendering technologies has literally turned our world on its head. We are no longer confined to static images to tell our design stories. Think about it: There is a huge difference between looking at a 2D image or even an architectural model, and being able to immerse a client inside of a design. With the evolving visualization technologies available to us, not only can we create a beautiful rendering that showcases our design, we can help our clients fully experience their design before it is ever built. This opens a whole new world of story-telling capability for us.

ET: Where will rendering technologies be in the next ten years?

Rendering technologies are constantly evolving to meet the growing demand of both speed and realism. Lately though I’ve been seeing a shift toward usability, that is, simplifying the actual creation of a rendering. The days when an artist would spend hours tweaking lots of complex settings to get the best rendering are numbered, as more and more people are creating renderings. It is safe to say they are now a ubiquitous part of the design process and with that being able to design, pick a few materials, set a few lights, and hit render, is about as much workflow complexity as users will accept.

Interestingly, this return to simplicity puts an emphasis back on the basics of fine art, and allows me to focus more on core art principles that go into creating an image, versus all the technical settings that can go into it. Because in the end, the only thing the client wants is a beautiful image.

The simplified workflow theory was NVIDIA’s inspiration when developing Iray. They wanted rendering technology that acted more as a digital camera in a digital environment, which puts the focus squarely on the design and less on the detailed rendering process. Although there is still plenty of power and technical customization that can be done with it, especially when we start talking about the new MDL and LEP technologies that NVIDIA has developed. The flip side to all of this though, which I mentioned above, is that it greatly re-enforces the importance of those basic art principals that create a great image. And those are not easy to learn. So people who have an art background, like myself, definitely have an advantage. Even though the industry is moving to the point where anyone can create a rendering, the learned expertise of knowing composition, form, value, texture, lighting, and color theory is still invaluable.

ET: What's your best advice for anyone getting into the field?

My advice to anyone looking to get into this industry, or doing this kind of work, is to focus more on the core art principles. Rather than learning the software right off the bat, focusing more on these principles will separate you from everyone else generating images. And, as always, I always recommend a good background in photography. Because as we’ve seen with NVIDIA’s Iray, the lines between the real world and digital world are blurring.

Scott DeWoody is a visualization artist at Gensler, where he combines his affinity for art and technology as he explores the possibilities of architecture in the interactive space with gaming platforms, augmented reality, and virtual reality. A 3ds Max software, V-Ray for 3ds Max, and Adobe Photoshop super user, these applications allow Scott to focus on image quality and workflow - the top priorities in his work. Contact Scott at to talk all things visualization!
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