Focus On: Mesh Modelling with Marshall Richards

Posted on November 1st, by Kathryn Kutchel in Our people, Projects, Survey.

My name is Marshall Richards, I’m a project surveyor at Taylors and I really enjoy doing basically any sort of representation of the real world in three dimensions, particularly the natural world, and the non-built world where there’s no sort of straight lines. So I have slotted into the 3D modelling and BIM team here.

What is mesh modelling?
Mesh models are one way to represent the natural surfaces, or really any surface. It’s a bunch of complex triangles which are quite an old way to represent the way the terrain changes but with modern methods those triangles can recalculate as you zoom in and define very complex surfaces very well. Essentially with triangles you can represent any three-dimensional shape. Point clouds are another way and mesh models can be made from point clouds.

How can this technology be applied to land development projects and how would it be different to just providing someone with an aerial photo?
All sorts of other satellite industries, other people that we’re associated with, are making these leaps into 3D. Aerial photos will always be a very valuable source of data, however, the mesh models also mean that you can visualise a building design in the space that it will be in when it’s created. For example, from an engineering point of view, it allows you to look at how water will flow over a site. All stages of a project can benefit from this data.

How are we currently using this at Taylors?
Yes absolutely, and we’re hoping to use it a whole lot more. We have used it for several projects to date, but we also often add value by using mesh data to create more traditional 3D CAD elements. So we can use it not just for presentation, but for simply an option to run a survey.

How will this technology benefit and shape future works, for Taylors and the wider industry as well?
So much of that is guided by how the software vendors and the developers move forward as well, but because it’s used now in so many different areas, people are starting to realise how they can apply it to their own methods of visualisation or survey. I’ve got no idea where it’s going to be in a year or two’s time but it’s only going to get bigger. Certainly, the file types are going to get faster and the integration with standard CAD software, modelling software, is going to get better and as that happens we’re going to be at the forefront of doing this sort of stuff because of the development we have achieved with it already.

So, with the world being so visual nowadays, images and videos everywhere, how much of a step in the right direction is this to capture client attention?
What’s fantastic about this is, it looks very much like the real world. It looks like the real world but it’s also survey accurate, it’s highly accurate information. In trying to represent the world accurately from a quantitative point of view, from a measurement point of view – because I’m a surveyor, I’m not an artist – the mesh models are getting better and better looking and so the visualisation is getting better as a result. It’s easy to create a world that looks pretty but isn’t accurate, and we need it to be survey accurate.

So by making it survey accurate…?
Yeah, it’s more beneficial for people like engineers and architects and planners because not only does it look great, but they know for instance that the cost of what they need to excavate there – which is incredibly expensive based on volume – is factual.

That alone is a significant technological advancement, but we’re also aiming to incorporate it into the VR world, so how would an immersive experience like that be better for current and future clients to understand, visualise and experience what their final projects look like?
We’re used to seeing the world around us in 3D and one of the real problems we always have working with 3D is generally it’s just put up on a 2D computer screen. So, you do all this work making something beautiful in 3D and then you show it off on a 2D interface and that’s just terribly unfortunate. In putting this into virtual reality we can see it in 3D the way that our eyes have evolved in order to see the world and you can relate to it. People can get an idea of what you’re talking about when you say, ‘you know there’s a problem, maybe if we move this building over here and change the design.’ What you gesture at, they can also see. It’s sort of the same also in the Vive [headset] because they’ll see it on the screen but at this stage there isn’t a way to get an immersive 3D experience for multiple people.

Right now, I’m happy that Taylors is riding the front of the wave for this sort of stuff. This is where everyone will be in a few years’ time and we’re just getting there faster.