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Monday, June 16, 2014, 6:50 am

Santa Rosa company brings 3-D video game tech to courtroom

Maraizon was pioneer in 3-D video simulation

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    SANTA ROSA — A Santa Rosa firm that helped pioneer the use of 3-D video game technology for interactive architectural simulations has found new growth in the courtroom, using the same approach to help juries visualize the elements of a legal case, according to company principal John Leo.

    The evolving approach for Maraizon International (707-591-9610, maraizon.com) comes as more companies enter the architectural simulation space, along with a recession-induced slowdown in the kind of high-profile construction projects that had once fueled a majority of the company’s business.

    “Lawyers are not very visual people by and large, but juries are,” he said.

    A Maraizon International simulation for courtroom use depicts the collision of two vehicles (screenshot from Maraizon video on YouTube)

    It was nearly 15 years ago that Maraizon was presenting noninteractive, 3-D simulations of downtown Santa Rosa before the Santa Rosa City Council, a model that could show the impact of various project proposals. The company took that approach to the next level in 2005, using development tools from a widely available first-person-perspective computer game to construct a model where users could move freely through the simulation and observe renderings from various angles.

    The five-person company soon outgrew that graphics framework — known as an “engine” — and implemented an in-house engine in early 2008. The Maraizon-developed system was key for a 36-square-mile simulation of a proposed reservoir in the Sacramento foothills, a rendering that included more than 2 million trees.

    “We needed a really robust engine,” Mr. Leo said. “We had to write it ourselves.”

    Maraizon has completed visualizations for projects throughout the United States, with North Bay projects that include the expansion of the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport and others.

    A Maraizon International animation depicts elements of the expansion of the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport. (screenshot from a Maraizon video on YouTube)

    The company also offers interactive and noninteractive animation for fundraising and project description, including work for San Rafael’s Dominican University of California.

    Yet the recent economic slowdown has meant less demand for simulating large-scale construction projects, with 2011 marking the last such project — a rendering of downtown Sebastopol showing a proposed pharmacy, Mr. Leo said.

    New entrants have increased competition — San Rafael’s Autodesk (Nasdaq: ADSK), for example, announced last week that it had acquired Swedish game engine maker Bitsquid AB in part to grow its own offerings in interactive 3-D simulations.

    “It has become more mainstream,” Mr. Leo said.

    While details are forthcoming regarding the implementation of the Bitsquid technology with Autodesk’s existing graphic rendering products, the move would allow the company to keep more customers under their umbrella for various services. Maraizon has in the past utilized Autodesk and other data in helping to render its simulations.

    Maraizon is seeing approximately one-third of the demand seen before the recession, and has since moved to a contract-based approach for enlisting talent in various projects, Mr. Leo said. Yet demand the legal realm, both for interactive and for non-interactive animations, is a growing area for the company.

    Maraizon continues to aggressively market its architectural simulation services, he said.

    “As we see a ramp up in building and a return to a construction-based economy — and, dare I say it, controversy — these game engine visualizations may become mandatory,” he said.

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