✱ Things Just Became Easier

(Reprinted from my original article for AutoDesSys, found here, on May 4, 2010.)

It’s interesting how my history with AutoDesSys comes full circle. After I spent a few years away from Form•Z, they released a new application for designers called Bonzai3d. I jumped at the opportunity to beta test the application and hopefully help form it into a great app for architectural designers. After all of the years of experience I’ve had with Form•Z, both professionally and in teaching it, I knew exactly where Bonzai3d needed to go to become the go-to modeler that I and so many others needed. What was so unexpected was that AutoDesSys had already built the application that I had been needing for so many years.

My name is Evan Troxel. I am a designer and educator in the field of architecture. I specialize in public works projects that include k-12 schools, community college and university projects, as well as civic and other institutional projects in development at HMC Architects in Southern California. Additionally, I have been teaching the 3d design component for first and second year architecture undergraduates and first year graduate students at Cal Poly Pomona’s school of architecture for ten years. On top of that, I’m starting an online training school for architectural designers. Crazy, I know.

I started using Form•Z in 1994 when I was in college studying for a degree in architecture. That was on one of the first Power Mac’s (7100 if you remember those) and the software was in version 2. I have used it off and on since then, most recently when I was employed at a retail design and manufacturing shop where we designed everything down to the nuts and bolts of our projects. I was excited to hear that AutoDesSys was developing some competition for my then modeler-of-choice, SketchUp. I had always enjoyed Form•Z’s solid modeling tools and missed them dearly in my day-to-day workflow, but had become dependent on how easy SketchUp was to use. When I was invited to join in on the beta of Bonzai3d, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately installed it on my Mac’s and my work PC. It is so great that the program is exactly the same between both platforms. More on this point later.

The most important functions in Bonzai3d for me are the ability to quickly reshape objects and change their parameters. The fewer steps that these operations now take compared to Form•Z are what really sets the product apart from the old way AutoDesSys used to do things. Literally hundreds of clicks per day have been wiped out as a result of the streamlined workflow Bonzai3d (and the impending Form•Z v7) has brought to us digital designers and modelers. The unequalled geometry creation is so great to work with as those of you who work with SketchUp know - no more flipping backwards faces! Bonzai3d just makes such clean geometry.

At HMC, I use Bonzai3d as a conceptual design tool. It is very complementary to the other tools we have in our toolbox. It plays well with SketchUp and Revit, and transfers seamlessly to our visualization artists who use 3ds Max with VRay. I also use it with Artlantis Studio for process renderings along the way. One thing I have always appreciated about the tools from the team in Ohio are the numerous import/export options that make file translation painless. 

I recently worked on a design for an aeronautics training facility. This was the first project where I put Bonzai3d to the test. Simply put, the form-making tools were first class. Yes, there were limitations to a v1.0 product, but it blew me away. I was especially interested in getting to know the NURBS tools. The client was looking for a progressive, high tech building that would attract high caliber financial partners, faculty and students into a new facility that was going to be built to enhance their existing program.

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Aeronautics Training Facility entry element, modeled in Bonzai3d

I have been using Cinema4d for organic form modeling over the last few years. It has a mature set of tools that just work. What I was expecting to find in Bonzai3d was an immature set of tools for organic modeling - after all, it was a version 1 release. What I found was that it was very mature because it was building off Form•Z’s toolset from years of development. What a pleasant surprise!

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Aeronautics Training Facility, modeled in Bonzai3d

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Aeronautics Training Facility, modeled in Bonzai3d

I want to stress that these are tools in our toolbox - and if something doesn’t have a particular tool, I use another piece of software to fill that void. I do wish Bonzai3d had a set of subdivision surfacing tools. But I can live without them because the programs, especially Bonzai3d, talk to each other so well. I don’t need it to be something it’s not. Simply put, don't be afraid to use the best tool for the job. Bonzai3d does 90% of what I need from a conceptual design modeling program. For the other stuff, I can import it in from somewhere else.

I was immediately able to create NURBS lofts that were effortlessly reconstructed, edited, extended and modified. My design called for a wing-like structure to span the length of the building while undulating up and down depending on what was happening underneath the high-tech skin. After the skin was in place, it was a breeze to thicken it - something that would be impossible for some other modeling programs. Once it had the proper thickness, I was able to extract wires along the length of the roof and use derivatives to create structural elements easily. If I needed a structural element to get shorter, I could section it and eliminate the part I didn’t need. If I needed it to get longer, I used the extend tool to push it further.


Aeronautics Training Facility, modeled in Bonzai3d, rendered in Cinema4d

With an inexpensive alternative meant to compete with SketchUp, I was rivaling what others in the firm could do with Rhino, which is typically heralded as the modeler of choice for these types of forms. The best part? I don’t need to memorize all of the text commands! It’s all right there on the screen in a wonderful graphical interface. Since that project, our firm has moved forward with Bonzai3d as a design tool because of the features and benefits it has to offer, along with its gentle learning curve. 

My second life is teaching digital design to architecture students at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. For the past ten years, I have been involved teaching and developing the curriculum for first through fifth year undergrads as well as graduate students. I originally started out teaching Form•Z as a one-stop-shop but we’ve moved on to a broader scope where we teach many tools for the many different types of designs that come out of our studios. I teach graphics programs, web platforms, BIM modeling and documentation, and of course conceptual design tools.

Over the last few years SketchUp really took over the studios because of it’s price of admission. What I mean by that is that it’s easy to get invested. Students could learn it over a weekend if they really wanted to. The great thing about that is when Bonzai3d came along, they already knew how to use it without ever having touched it. I had the pleasure of showing them how to use the advanced tools because the foundation was already there. The upper division students are no longer hindered by the software to produce the designs that they come up with. They are now empowered to use the right tool for the job, which more often than not, is Bonzai3d. Where Bonzai3d really shines in the studio is that it allows for NURBS modeling, sweeps, revolves, stairs, and terrain generation - all of which are parametric so changes can be made after the forms have been conceptualized. This is so important for designers going through an iterative process.

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Kit of Parts, modeled in Bonzai3d, rendered in Cinema4d

Our first year students (both undergrad and graduate) now have the luxury of getting digital training as part of their design studio right away - something I never had. When I was in school, there were two of us (!) that took it upon ourselves to learn and use Form•Z for design studio. Now every student has a laptop and software to enable their creativity. They need a tool that is easy to pick up and use. Bonzai3d is one of those tools.  

I mentioned earlier how great it is that Bonzai3d is exactly the same on both the Mac and Windows platforms. This is especially true in a teaching environment - you never know what hardware/operating system a student is going to choose. With Bonzai3d, I am free to teach it from either platform and not have to worry about spending my time showing the differences in the interface or explaining why it isn’t available at all on one platform. Thank you AutoDesSys!

One project we do early on is called the “Kit of Parts.” The students are instructed to make up to four simple objects, and use the move/rotate/copy/multiply transformations to build a complex assembly of parts. Some really beautiful forms come out of this exercise. Usually the best examples use the simplest parts and just a few transformations. The tools in Bonzai3d make the process fun to work with. We mainly use components in this exercise because they allow us to modify the parts after the assembly is complete giving us the most flexibility in the overall design. Other tools that we focus on are Reshape, Offset Segment, Offset Outline, Unmesh, and the Boolean toolset. And of course, export to Adobe Illustrator is a windfall for generating line drawings for presentations.


Kit of Parts, modeled in Bonzai3d, rendered in Cinema4d

My latest venture in the world of digital modeling is to start sharing my experiences with it specifically relating to the field of architectural design. I will be releasing a series of training videos online. This will of course involve Bonzai3d since it is now a major part of my workflow. There are other tools too, of course, that are part of my daily workflow. All of these will be showcased on my new training site - getmethod.com. There will be short, five minute tips and how-to’s, and longer workflow videos that really get under the hood of the software.

Method. The method in which we create. The workflow that works for us. The tools that allow our creativity to be unleashed. That is what I want to help others with. To show you what works for me and how that can help you become a better designer. To enable you to communicate your most creative ideas using the digital tools that are in your toolbox. To open you up to more possibilities if you could use the other tools that are available. So often, we are limited by the tools we have. Hopefully Method will change that by opening the door to a new set of tools that haven’t perhaps been considered before.

Over the last year, Bonzai3d has changed the landscape of conceptual design tools in my field of architectural design. I always welcome another tool in my toolbox, but Bonzai3d is my go-to tool for the majority of my work. The tools it offers are so numerous and powerful that I hardly need to go to another to get my job done. When I need to do that, I can because it plays so well with the other tools that are out there. I’m looking forward to Form•Z 7 to see even more tools and how they will benefit from the new framework AutoDesSys has developed by introducing Bonzai3d. 

You can find me at the following places:

Evan Troxel


twitter: @etroxel



twitter: @methodtraining