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Designing in every dimension

ASGVIS - Steve Ruark
ASGVIS - Steve Ruark

What do you get when you put 11 young, creative minds into an open space with no cubicles or offices? At ASGVIS you get a relaxed group of people, according to marketing manager Kim Trompeter. But that's only one side of the coin. The group has the freedom to let their creative juices flow, but that doesn't mean they don't work hard. In fact, since branching out from Baltimore-based architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross just over a year ago, the group has become a global business.

Just a few months ago, the ASGVIS team launched a new product, V-Ray for SketchUp, MAC users have been anxiously awaiting because it's the first time the software will be available on that platform. The product is a rendering plug-in for Google's SketchUp program that, simply put, generates computer pictures.

"It's like taking a picture of something inside of the computer," says lead programmer Joe Bacigalupa. "Architects or people in the design industry who want to make a product used to have to make an actual prototype or mock-up of it and make a big model, but now you can do quick models and mock-ups digitally and take different pictures of it as simply as pressing the render button."

You can also use the software to add effects like fogged glass or make surfaces look reflective with just a few mouse clicks. "It's pretty powerful stuff," he says.

Global from the start

This isn't the first plug-in release from ASGVIS but it is the first one offered both for PC and for MAC users. Their first product, V-Ray for Rhino, works with another modeling application for designers. "One of the pretty unique things about our company is that from day one out of the gate when our company was born we were a global business," says CEO Corey Rubadue.

"Our first software sale was in Scandinavia and that was pretty eye opening for us. Part of our goal in moving forward is to let the local marketplace know what is going on and what we're all about. We've touched a lot of projects in Baltimore, but for the most part we've been under the radar." Some of those projects include renderings for Silo Point Residences, the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, Thames Street Wharf, Johns Hopkins campus, the National Aquarium, and Westport Development.

In addition to software development, ASGVIS also trains clients' employees on the software, and the company will complete client projects with their software for companies that don't want to use it themselves. "We can sell you the software and you can do it yourself, we can teach you how to do it better, kind of the 'teach a man to fish' mentality, or if it's not your core business or not in the best interest of your business, we can do it for you," says Rubadue.

They also reach out to their software users online -- 30,000 plus people who visit their forums either -- to discuss their products, ask for help, or share their successes or failures. "We're talking to a large volume of users," says Rubadue. "It's a large community that is managed and nurtured and has grown by what started out as two people at the company."

Fast and nimble

Although their success has largely been through proactive planning coupled with the entrepreneurial spirit, they've also had to adapt and be reactive, as well. "We had a parent call us before Christmas in 2008 and say, 'I want to buy your software for my teenager for Christmas. He's a high school student.' We sold the software to them, but before that our market was architects and designers," says Rubadue.

He also says that the early estimates of how many users might work with their software were increased exponentially when Google acquired the company that originally owned SketchUp. "After that company was acquired by Google the volume of users for that application is something we never would have expected to see."

The ASGVIS team credits their ability to react quickly to things in part to the open atmosphere in the office. "People walk around to get coffee and they'll see something on your screen and come over and ask what you're working on and start a conversation about that project. The open environment really helps with the creative process," says Yavuz Goncu, ASGVIS's creative director.

"We've found that 99 percent of our work day should be done in the open so why bother with an office. It helps everyone feel involved," adds ASGVIS's business manager Len Sullivan. "It's also a reminder that the guys running this company are on the same level as everyone else with the same desk and the same phone."

Youth Culture

At just 38, Sullivan is actually the oldest person at the company, which he says has an impact on how work gets done. "It's equally exciting and frightening in the sense that it's a bunch of young people out there on our own trying to do something interesting and unique. Everyone has to step up to challenges. Thankfully, we have a great group of people who are ambitious and bring an entrepreneurial aspect to the things that they do."

For some of their staff, it's been an opportunity to be at a certain level in their career that others their age might only dream about. "I pretty much started working here straight out of school and it was very humbling that people all over the world were using a product developed by me and my coworkers. It's a cool feeling," says Bacigalupa. "We're all pretty young and energetic and probably approach things in a different way because of that."

Now that the development work for v-Ray for Sketchup is done, Bacigalupa says the next project he sees on the horizon is an updated version of v-Ray for Rhino with all the updates they developed for the Sketchup plug-in. "Or we might do some different versions of our products for people who only need certain features, like a light version that could be offered at a reduced cost," he says. "Nothing is concrete yet, but we also have our eye on a couple of other applications that v-Ray could be used with."

Whatever it may be, Rubadue says the process of continuous improvement is not just with each new version of their software. His small but mighty group plans to continue to reach out to their customers whether they're halfway around the world or in their own backyard. "Probably 80 percent of our business is international, but bridging the gap between Baltimore and Norway is literally turning on your computer and my computer turned on and having a conversation," he says. "We have a knack for caring a lot for our customers. Are we successful at it 100 percent of the time, probably not. But that's part of becoming more successful, realizing your successes and where you can do even better."

A graduate of both Towson University and University of Baltimore, Nicole Jovel lived in the Baltimore area for nine years. She writes for both corporate clients and local and regional publications.

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1. ASGVIS' company office in Baltimore. Photo by Steve Ruark
2. Corey Rubadue, CEO of ASGVIS, a 3-D animation and rendering company. Photo by Steve Ruark
3. A V-Ray for SketchUp rendered by Adam Warner
4. A rendering by the ASGVIS Advanced Visual Studio
5. A V-Ray for Rhino rendering by Dave Schultze
6. A V-Ray for SketchUp rendering by Dirk de Jongh
7. Corey Rubadue, CEO of ASGVIS, a 3-D animation and rendering company. Photo by Steve Ruark

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