Foodservice Equipment Reports

FER EXCLUSIVE: Virtual Edge

Imagine standing in your restaurant prototype before it’s even constructed. That’s the idea behind a new division at Chipman Design Architecture, a retail-/restaurant-focused architecture and interior-design firm in Des Plaines, Ill., outside of Chicago. The new division, Blue Marble 3D, uses high-end virtual-reality software to allow you to immerse yourself in your restaurant design without the high cost of a physical mockup. 

At the Blue Marble 3D studio—the only one like it in the world—staff has you wear lightweight 3D glasses and hold a controller similar to those used with gaming consoles like the Xbox 360. You then step inside a three-wall-and-floor Icube created by virtual-reality software-maker EON Reality, Irvine, Calif., and, with the push of a button, you are standing—virtually, of course—in your restaurant. The cube measures 9 sq. ft. and has four projectors: one above each wall inside the cube and a floor projector hidden behind the front wall projector. 

As you physically move through the space, walking forward and back, to the left or right, or looking up or down, the space will move with you on the screens just as it would in real life. But with a simple keystroke, you can adjust the finishes, position, physical dimensions, angles and more of everything you see in the space, from tables and chairs, windows, walls, counters, equipment, tiles, even lighting. You also can “break through” walls and floors to view and manipulate more technical features, such as plumbing, HVAC or electrical components. 

“As much as drawings and renderings help, virtually walking through the space before it’s built makes a huge difference; it allows you to understand your design and find issues before you begin construction,” says George Matos, principal of Blue Marble 3D. “It’s a fraction of the cost of building a physical mockup. Plus, you’re viewing the full interior vs. just a portion.” 

A Little History 

Chipman Design Architecture opened its doors nearly 35 years ago and since has built an impressive portfolio, including projects for leading chains, such as McDonald’s, Noodles & Company, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Buffalo Wild Wings. Matos spearheaded Blue Marble 3D’s creation to showcase the firm’s venture outside of traditional architecture. 

Another reason, Matos adds, was that one of the firm’s clients had asked him to investigate 3D immersive systems. 

He did extensive research and settled on EON Reality, which focused primarily on the gas, oil and aerospace industries. The two companies formed a strategic partnership: EON delivers 3D software while Blue Marble 3D helps EON understand the needs of and develop systems to support the architecture industry. 

“We work together to bring the 3D experience to companies,” Matos says. “There’s a lot of opportunity in this market, and we go out and meet with clients together.” The 3D lab has great application potential outside of foodservice, as well. For example, an ophthalmologist ordered a 3D rendering of a human eye—greatly enlarged—that surgical students can virtually take apart to see every inner working and tissue connection. Parts can be layered and isolated for intense study, like the network of capillaries delivering blood to the eye. Blue Marble 3D has talked with reps from the medical field, aerospace industry, manufacturing, hotel and lodging, city planning commissions and museums, just to name a few. 

How It Works 

Interested in a virtual-reality experience? The architects at Chipman Design can help create your restaurant prototype; they then team with Blue Marble 3D staff, who will import your design into the Icube system. You even can bring your finished design directly to the studio and have Blue Marble 3D staff work with you and your team. Once they make a model, you rent time in the Icube and take a tour of your design.

“We want to give clients the best experience possible when they walk through a space,” Matos says. “We talk with them beforehand and find out their goals. If they are testing a new prototype, they’ll most likely make a few visits to the studio as changes are made to the design.” 

If you arrive with your own design, studio staff prefers drawings in Revit because of its 3D capabilities. If you submit traditional 2D plans, they will convert them to 3D files for you. Once the fi les are ready, the team uses Autodesk’s 3ds Max computer-graphics program to export the drawings into the EON software for display in the Icube. 

“Whatever the client sees in the Icube is a direct representation of those original construction drawings,” Matos confirms. “If something doesn’t look right in the design, then either the drawings are incorrect or the client will have noticed something about those drawings, but it will be before the restaurant is even built.” 

Along with the Icube, Blue Marble 3D offers clients access to a few other virtual-reality devices. The EON Ibench Mobile comprises a zSpace stereoscopic 24-in. 3D tabletop screen with 3D tracking glasses that allow you to view, manipulate and change a 3D model or plan on a smaller model-size scale. Using a pen-based motion controller, you can pick up, move, turn, extract and alter any object in the 3D model on the screen as needed. For example, a restaurant model will enable you to move furniture, pipes, walls, windows, equipment and track and record the changes. 

The 3D Interactive Whiteboard from Da-Lite, Warsaw, Ind., is a large rear-projection 3D display with whiteboard markup (make notes, circle changes) and interactive features. “With a keyboard or controller, you can move a restaurant model around in any way—you can move it up, down, left, right or virtually fly through the scene. With the press of a button on a keyboard or controller, you can also swap out different furniture or move walls up or down.” 

Restaurants Benefit 

Chipman Design introduced Blue Marble 3D in April 2013; within six months, the team had created virtual experiences for several multiunit chains and independent restaurants. They designed a virtual restaurant interior with three different layouts for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A. The client was able to evaluate each design option as if they were standing in an actual restaurant. 

“They just loved it,” Matos says. “We kept going back and forth with colors and materials. They didn’t have a full-size mockup, so they relied heavily on the model in EON’s software.”

The team also created a virtual experience of a proposed kitchen for Chick-fil-A that showed how the space would look with windows and different exhaust-hood configurations. “It helped them get a feel for the space,” he says. 

Anthony Missano, Sbarro’s president of business development, also signed on with the studio. “We asked him to walk through the Icube for the first time,” Matos says. “It was toward the end of the design-development phase of the restaurant, and he came in, viewed the concept and immediately noticed several things that were not clearly visible on the drawings and renderings.”

Because Missano was able to physically coordinate all of the design components in the Icube, he made the following changes: 

• Lowered a queue wall. “It was originally a different height, and because he was viewing it virtually, he was able to get to eye-level and noticed that the wall was blocking the sightline to the bar area,” Matos says.

• Revised the height of the tile on the wall. “He saw the wall from various points throughout the restaurant in a way that he could not see on the renderings,” he adds. 

• Initiated discussions on the countertop material. “He brought this up after walking through the concept and correlating this material with the rest of the materials used in the space,” he says.

The Blue Marble 3D team also can address any concerns about retrofitting an existing building. It hires a third party to do a 3D laser scan of the space. A laser on a tripod throws laser points around capturing physical elements. Then the third party, or Blue Marble 3D, takes the 3D “point cloud” and traces over it to make a 3D virtual model on which to work. 

Nod To The Future 

Deborah Chipman, principal of Blue Marble 3D, believes virtual reality is the future of the architecture industry. “We still draw by hand early in the design-development phase, but architecture is changing, and Chipman Design has always embraced technology,” she says. “Going back to the mid-’80s when many architects were still resisting AutoCAD, Chipman Design developed an expertise that recognized its lasting importance. Blue Marble is visionary in terms of that technology and how it goes hand in hand with the practice of architecture.”

“When clients come to the studio, their jaws drop, and you can see their minds working on the many ways the technology can be used,” Matos says. He invites those who are interested to come in and experience the Icube and other devices as part of the studio’s open house, which will run through early 2014. To learn more, visit Blue Marble 3D’s website, bluemarble3d.com.

Related Articles

FER EXCLUSIVE: Young Lions

FER EXCLUSIVE: FER’s Best Of The Best

FER EXCLUSIVE: Honoring Excellence At A New Level

Related Events

07 Aug

FER 2019 President’s Preview E&S Market Forecast

01 Aug

FER President’s Preview E&S Market Forecast Webinar Series (August Dates TBD)

08 Feb

FER Industry Excellence Awards Gala

Orlando , FL