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Picture Perfect : Partners Use ForeSite to Create Photo-Like Architectural Drawings


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Every picture tells a story, but some say more than others.

At least Gary Headrick and Brent Chase think so.

The two men--one an illustrator, the other an architect--have formed a company that specializes in high-tech pictures of architectural drawings. The company renders buildings and landscapes so real, it's hard to believe the compositions aren't photographs.

"We're creating somebody else's version of reality, something they could not possibly show with blueprints or a watercolor rendering," said Chase, 27, an architect.

Using a three-dimensional design and drafting software program, the two men place a computer-generated building model in a photograph of the site, blending in special realistic touches such as pictures of the sky, jacaranda trees, cars and people. Some details are painted in.

The process, which they call ForeSite, allows the public, developers and city councils to see what projects will look like well before groundbreaking. The renderings cost about $2,000 each and can be finished in about 10 days.

With new home and office construction virtually at a standstill in Orange County, it's been difficult starting a new real estate-related business. But because their renderings help get projects cleared, they said, the tougher economic climate may be giving them a boost.

"It's getting harder to get projects through a city council in Southern California," Chase said. "People want to take time and really look at the direction their city is growing. That's where our renderings come in. We can really show what it will look like."

Last year, the city of San Clemente was considering a new single-family housing development of about 217 homes in an environmentally sensitive hillside ridge area. There was so much debate about the project the developer hired Headrick Chase & Associates. The renderings proved convincing.

"They clearly showed the city council what the project would look like now and what it would look like in five years," said Bob Goldin, deputy city planner for San Clemente. "As a result, the decision-makers had a high degree of comfort in approving the project."

Headrick and Chase hope that one day, their realistic renderings will be used instead of complex blueprints or artsy watercolor renderings of buildings.

"Renderings are extremely important in our business, particularly in the early phases because a lot of clients just don't understand architectural drawings," said Ronald J. Holecek, president of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, a Newport Beach architecture firm.

"All architects have the capacity to produce three-dimensional renderings in-house, but maybe not as sophisticated as this company," he said.

A photograph is what Headrick Chase aims for. The company adds such minute details, like a reflection of clouds and sky in the window of a Spanish-style home, that a viewer would have a hard time believing the house isn't there yet.

"These are the convincing little tricks which make the whole thing work," said Headrick, 40, who has been an illustrator for 13 years.

"Our end product is much different than a computer model," he said.

The two men, who have been friends for several years, started their company in 1992 with a $45,000 computer investment. They expect their revenue this year to reach about $150,000.

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