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AECOM graduate works on 3D visualization and virtual reality

AECOM graduate works on 3D visualization and virtual reality

 August 13, 2018

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"I work in Basingstoke, United Kingdom, in a team of 3D visualization and virtual reality (VR) specialists and I’ve been with our company for two years," says Amber Alexander, a graduate visualizer at AECOM.

"My role on the team is quite varied. One aspect of my job is to create 3D visualizations using modeling software such as Autodesk 3ds Max ― a computer graphics program. With this technology, I build 3D spaces, then texture them and render them as realistic still images or animated sequences. I can use simulations from CAD or Building Information Modeling data, or sometimes even hand sketches, as a starting point," explains Amber.

AECOM design virtual 3D projects

Amber's variety of work keeps her role interesting

"One day I can be working on a small landscape design, focusing on the shape of leaves or an individual model of a component. And then, on another day, I am working on a huge cityscape. It’s fun to transform a drawing into a virtual design and see the drawing come to life. Within a building’s external setting, we’ll complete research and put the actual surroundings in context so it is as if someone is seeing the result in real space. We use various sources, such as point-cloud data, information from satellite imagery, Bing maps, etc. in order to create these spaces," she comments.

"Another big part of my job is VR. I have a background in traditional architectural visualization as well as video game development. This gives me the confidence and experience to develop VR for our company. We use a real time render engine or “game engine” to develop interactive VR, which is similar to what is used to develop most video games these days. This allows us to move objects in 3D space and add code in order to get images to do what we want. In fact, we use the same engine that is behind the video game “Fortnight” which is very popular among younger generations right now," says Amber.

Educating colleagues and peers can be very exciting 

Amber had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam to represent AECOM and give a talk at the international immersive technology conference, VRX.

Having the chance to let hundreds of people know the exciting things AECOM is doing with VR was an amazing experience for Amber. She met many people in the field and saw how they also were developing VR technologies within the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

High-profile project collaboration

"I worked with a large team on a really interesting project with our company. I helped produce VR for the Serpentine Pavilion 2017 immersive project in London with my teammate, Carlos Lopes, Visualization and VR Manager. It was a fascinating project as a whole and I was blown away by the experience of all the people involved. I’m excited to work on the project again this year and see the design come to life before it is constructed," says Amber. "There are plans to have a “time travel” experience housed at the gallery where visitors can virtually visit each pavilion design over the last few years."

One of the first VR projects that Amber worked on was the Waterloo Station project, which is a redevelopment of the former international terminal for passenger trains. "Passengers were initially apprehensive about the planned changes and disruption to their commute due to the proposed capacity expansion works," explains Amber. "We were commissioned by our client, Network Rail, to produce a series of VR environments to let the passengers experience what the finished station would look like. Through our VR, they could see the changes, and it helped them anticipate how their commute was going to be improved. There were positive responses from commuters ― an overall success for my first project with the company."

AECOM waterloo

Bringing designs to life

AECOM's work is all about imagining what is possible. It’s one thing to look at a blueprint or a CAD file and another to see it in a photo-realistic sense. For example, if an architect wants to build a thousand-foot tower, then AECOM brings their design to life so they have a better idea of what it’s going to look like in relation to other objects surrounding it. AECOM can then make design changes if requested by the architect. "VR pushes this even further ― it takes over your senses to the point where you feel like you are there, moving within a space as if it was already constructed," explains Amber.

What inspires Amber?

Amber is inspired by the reactions to AECOM's work. "I have the opportunity to tour, giving demos to various offices and clients. It is really inspiring to see clients interact with our projects firsthand. I am also inspired by the teams I work with ― they have so much knowledge and dedication and it shows in their work. Our office is a very supportive environment and it inspires me to work harder," says Amber.

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