A tour of 3D model fabrication company Archetype 3D

I had an opportunity this morning to meet with the team that runs Archetype 3D, a 3D architectural modeling company based in Louisville, Colorado.
What’s a 3D modeling company? Well, have you ever seen those incredibly intricate and detailed models of upcoming buildings or building complexes at sales offices? Or perhaps at City Hall? Or maybe you’ve seen a 10-foot three-dimensional terrain map of a National Park or similar? Those are all the kinds of things that Archetype 3D makes for clients, ranging from relatively simple jobs that are in the few hundred dollars to amazingly detailed work (like what I’ll show, below) that cost tens of thousands of dollars and is used to sell multi-million dollar works.
Archetype 3D describes itself thusly: “Since 1984, we have been building professional scale models in Colorado. We started making 3d architectural models for the ski industry and for residential developers within the state and have grown to include work building industrial design models, satellite / aerospace models, museum and display models along with courtroom models and graphics.”

vail ritz carlton 1

I’ll start with a photo of the model they were just wrapping up today, after six weeks of detailed fab and modeling work. It’s the proposed Ritz-Carlton hotel for the beautiful ski resort town of Vail, Colorado. Looks like the real thing, doesn’t it?
vail ritz carlton 2

In this picture you can see more that it’s a scale model. But look at the detail: even within the entrance carport you can see the doors from the architectural plans.
vail ritz carlton 3

In this one you can see shop manager Mike Johnson etch some fine details on one of the windows in the Ritz-Carlton model.
This model is approximately 6-foot by 5-foot, took six weeks to produce and costs $50,000. As I clarified, they do not tend to play frisbee on the fabrication floor. 🙂
ssi sun model

This is pretty interesting too and considerably smaller in scale: it’s a (theoretical) model of the Sun, being produced for the Space Science Institute. It cost about $1000 and will be part of a traveling exhibit shown in libraries around the United States.
sun model drawing

This is the illustration upon which they based the Sun model shown above. Quite impressive to go from a 2D drawing to a 3D model!
beaver creek model

This is a model used to sell a mixed-use facility in Beaver Creek, Colorado, another ski resort town. Once the models are used and the project sold, they often end up at Archetype3D rather than just being trashed, so the company has a nice wall of display models representing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of incredibly detailed work. (If you’ve been to Beaver Creek and can identify this building, please do leave a note telling us what’s in the structure now!)
So how do they make these incredibly detailed models?
topo machine

The first step is what they call their topo machine (topo for topographic). What you see is a device that lets them cut urethene foam in three dimensions to whatever shape is needed. The device works with urethene ranging from 3lb to 20lb density, and I imagine it’s quite noisy, though we didn’t see it actually in use (I also worry about the employees breathing the dust from this process, but imagine that they follow full OSHA regs in that regard).
3d printer

One of the most interesting machines to me was this behemoth: their 3D modeler. Yes, it actually creates highly detailed 3-dimensional models based on computer data fed to it. The raw material is a combination of plastic and wax and it’s created with the help of industrial lasers. On the earlier Ritz-Carlton model, this is how they created the incredibly intricate window railings, for example. No human would want to do that by hand for hundreds of windows!
paint collection

To create the nuances and appearance of reality, the Archetype 3D team also has quite an array of paints, as you can see. One of the other modelers told me that as best they can, they use the exact color swatches from the architects, for maximal realism. The exterior yellow on the Ritz-Carlton model, for example, is based on an exact color specified by the client.
Much of the paint work is done by spraying paints evenly on parts before they’re added to the model, but there’s also a lot of work done by hand. While we were there, an employee was adding touches of snow by hand, something that made me think of the character Slartibartfast, who, in the great Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “specialises in fjords, having won an award for Norway.”
archetype3d models

If you have any knowledge of HO train layouts and the people that work ceaselessly to make complex, rich and incredibly detailed models, that’s what this is like. In fact, as you can see in the above picture, they also utilize model elements from train hobbyists.
vail ritz carlton 4

And, finally, one more picture, showing the full Ritz-Carlton model and some humans for scale. Or was it Attack of the 50-foot Guys?
Anyway, many thanks to the team at Archetype 3D for both sharing what they do and helping me get all the facts right in this blog entry too.

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