A CAD Manager’s Story

Two important things happened in 1948; the first stored-program electronic digital computer successfully executed its first program, and I was born.

I was interested in drawing from a very early age. I would flatten paper sacks and draw comic strips on them on the kitchen floor. In school; art, science and math were my favorite subjects. I saved my allowance to buy a book on perspective drawing when I was in the fifth grade. When given the opportunity to take an art class in junior high school, I already knew most of what they were teaching. In high school I enrolled in a drafting class. This was before CAD. It was the age of triangles and t-squares. I loved it. I took 3 years of drafting in high school. The third year was architectural drafting. I graduated from Permian High School, in Odessa, Texas, in 1967.

I then attended the University of Texas, majoring in Architecture. After two years of study, I left school to support my new family and began a career as an architectural draftsman. I enjoyed doing construction drawings but found that I had a real talent for creating perspective renderings, both watercolor and pen & ink. I worked evenings and weekends one semester so I could take classes in Art at the University of Texas.

CAD (kd) acronym for computer-aided design

In 1973 I went to work in the property development department of Zale Corporation, where I worked for the next 9 years. In 1979 Zales got a CAD system. This was the first computer I had ever seen. It was a refrigerator sized “minicomputer”. It included 4 storage tube work stations which used thumb-wheels to move the crosshair across the screen, and a pool-table sized flat-bed plotter. This was one of only around 100 architectural instillations in the US. I could see the amazing potential for CAD and I decided at that time to dedicate my life’s work to the productive use of CAD in architecture. I worked the night shift so I could take a semester of computer science at the local junior collage. I learned everything I could about computers and programming. I soon became the CAD Manager. I supervised the CAD users and implemented standards and procedures. I also created custom programming for the system. One of the programs I wrote reduced the time required to draw a store from 40 hours to 9 hours.

In 1982 Intergraph introduced a new CAD system for architects. I went to work for them to demonstrate their software and provide training and technical support to end users.

In 1984 I left Intergraph to go to work for a smaller CAD company called Sigma Design. I felt that what architects needed was a less expensive CAD system that was dedicated specifically to architecture. Intergraph was having me demonstrate more of their other applications and less to architects. I am glad that I was exposed to these other fields (P&ID diagrams, printed circuit board design, numerical control machine operation, oil exploration, and others) but I wanted to stay with the architectural profession. Sigma Design only sold to architects and their software was written specifically for their needs.

At this time all CAD was sold as turn-key systems. You would buy the hardware, software, training and support all from a single vendor. And they were very expensive. A typical four station system sold for around $250,000.  In 1984 a program came along that changed all of that. It was Auto-CAD. This was the first CAD program that could run on the “Personal Computer” that IBM was selling. You could buy a CAD program that “provided 90% of the capabilities for 10% of the price”. All of the other CAD companies then scrambled to come up with a PC version of their software. A version of Intergraph’s software that ran on PCs became Bentley’s MicroStation. Sigma came out with a version of their software that ran on PCs, and they started selling it through dealers around the country instead of directly to architects. It ran on a PC version of the Unix operating system called Xenix. My role changed to one of providing dealers with software training and support.

In 1988 Sigma had a company wide layoff due to slow sales and I started providing independent CAD Consulting under the name CAD Directions. I was retained by NTS (a major real estate development and management company in Louisville Kentucky) for 9 months to plan and implement their CAD operation. I trained the operators to use the new CAD system, created 3D Model and fly-around presentations of new homes, procured hardware and software, provided NTS with the ability to do 2-D design, 3-D modeling and Video imaging, directed personnel in developing an as-built CAD database of their commercial properties, enabled their personnel to provide automated tenant fit-out cost estimates and create 3-D walk-throughs of their office designs, wrote custom software to provide HVAC, electrical, and inventory tracking information, established a set of standards and procedures with information on what to do, and how to do it, complete with documentation on all custom software, managed the CAD personnel on a day-to day basis and implemented work-flow procedures and revision-control. In short, I was their CAD Manager.

CADD (kd)  acronym for  computer-aided design and drafting

Sometime during the 1980’s to differentiate their software from the others, some CAD companies started spelling CAD with two D’s.  This was just a marketing strategy and didn’t indicate any real difference in the software. I always thought it to be a little pretentious.

In 1989 I accepted an offer to become the CAD Manager for AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) in Dallas, Texas. AAFES is a joint military activity that builds and runs the Post and Base Exchanges for the military. Working in their store planning department I was in control of training and supporting their CAD system operators. My official title was “CADD Analyst“. While working there, AAFES switched from ARRIS CAD to AutoCAD and an architectural add-on application that later became ADT (Architectural Desktop). AutoCAD grew to become the de-facto standard for use by architectural design firms nationwide.

I worked at AAFES until, in 1993, I was approached again by Sigma Design. They had recently sold their CAD system to Wal-Mart and needed me to oversee the instillation, train their personnel and provide whatever other services they might require to insure a successful implementation. Basically they needed me to be Wal-Mart’s CAD Manager while they got on their feet.

I worked with Wal-Mart and Sigma Design until, in 1994, the company had another company-wide layoff, this time due to bankruptcy. Again, I was working for myself as a CAD Consultant, and have been ever since.

Architectural CAD has changed a lot in the last 15 years, and so has my company. At first much of my work was supporting users with Sigma’s software. One architect, who bought Sigma software based on the strength of my demonstration, later purchased Sigma Design, Inc. out of bankruptcy and renamed the software ARRIS CAD. He contracted with me to help develop their training materials and give the first demonstration of their newly released software to their dealers. I also created the training videos that they included with that product.

My business slowly evolved to working less with ARRIS CAD and more with AutoCAD. After a while, I found that less of my time was spent doing training and support and more was spent creating production drawings. Then for a time I was mostly doing photorealistic renderings.

BIM (bm) acronym for building information modeling

A few years ago AutoCAD’s company, Autodesk, purchased the architectural software program Revit. Autodesk adopted the acronym BIM as a marketing term and it has caught on. It was intended to separate Revit from its competitors, but now practically all architectural CAD companies claim some BIM capability. Revit is so different from AutoCAD or ADT that many people that use Revit refer to it as BIM and to everything else as CAD. Although Revit isn’t the only, or even the first, BIM program, it has been the most successful. Like Sigma Design many years ago, Revit was designed for use by architects, and it shows. I am a real fan of this software and have been using it for about 5 years now. I have converted both commercial and residential projects from AutoCAD to Revit. I have also created Revit families for architectural building material manufacturers.

Architectural CAD has come a long way and no one knows what the future holds. It is a dynamic and exciting field and I intend to stay abreast of the technology as it evolves. I see it as a blend of art, math and science made possible by two things; an electronic digital computer, and a CAD Manager like me.

Ronny Hart, CAD Manager


3D Rendering Tips #1 – Colors and Layers

I do a lot of 3D computer generated architectural renderings. I’ll attempt to describe, in a series of posts, the process I use.

I will typically receive AutoCAD drawings from my client. I import these into Arris, or sometimes into Sketchup, and create my 3D model there. I then export this 3D model back into AutoCAD. I import this into 3D Studio Max where I apply materials and generate photo-realistic renderings. I sometimes then use Paranesi to insert people and tress, or modify the lighting. I will then typically open these into Photoshop where I add finishing touches before sending the finished rendering to my client. I will be posting a series of 3D Rendering Tips to try and explain this process. This is my first post on this subject.

I work in Arris to build my 3D models. However, most of what I do can be done in AutoCAD, or Sketchup, or almost any 3D CAD program. I will use AutoCAD terminology for all of these tips.

When I build a 3D architectural model the goal is to end up with an AutoCAD drawing that contains each different material or color on a separate layer. So one of the first things to do is start a list of what materials or colors will be used in the model and assign a color number to each of them. I try to keep the number of different colors used to a minimum. I don’t like to have more than about 16 different colors.

Tip: Keep this list handy, you will be referring to it often.

I work with two different drawings for the model. The first one I make is used for building and modifying the model. We will call this the master drawing. I work in this drawing 98% of the time. When finished, I save the master drawing with a different name and edit it to become the drawing I send to the client, or to import into Autodesk 3D Studio MAX. We will call this the final drawing. The reason for two different drawings has to do with colors and layers.


Tip: When working on a 3D model, use lots of layers.

This lets you work on small sections at a time and facilitates edits. Don’t try to use any layer standards, just add a layer whenever you start to work on another part of the building. For example, you should add a new layer to work on before you model the first window. Perhaps name it window1. The name of the layer doesn’t really matter.

Leave the default color for all layers set to white. Don’t use “layer color” for the colors you use to build your model. Explicitly select the color number for each thing you build from your list of color numbers you have assigned to the materials. For your window, you may have assigned color number 1 to window frames and color number 2 to glass. At this stage the actual color you use doesn’t really mater. I tend to use colors where I can easily distinguish one from the other. Red for brick, blue for glass, yellow for trim, etc.  Don’t hesitate to use as many different colors on one layer as you need. We will cover some tips for building the model later. Then the model is finished, save it with another name. This new drawing you make will be your final drawing.


I keep the master drawing around so it will be easer to make revisions later. What I do with this copy of the master drawing is turn it into the drawing with each color on its own layer.

First add one layer for each different color you have used in the model and name them according to what the color represents. For example you will normally have a roof layer, a glass layer, a brick layer, etc. Then select everything that is color number 1 and change the layer these entities are on to the layer you created for color 1 entities. You can use the FILTER command to select all entities that are of a particular color. Then you can use the CHPROP command and select “previous” to change them to the desired layer. Repeat this for each different color that you used. Then delete all of the original layers. You will then have a drawing that contains one layer, properly named, for each material. You will also have layer 0 because AutoCAD requires you to have a layer 0, with nothing on it. Now you can change all entities to color by layer, and change the default color for each layer to a color that looks a little more like the building colors.

This is a lot of work and very repetitive. You may want to write an AutoLISP program or two to make this last part go a little faster. Especially when you consider that this final drawing will be difficult to edit. You will want to return to the master drawing to make changes and then repeat these steps to make a new final drawing after each revision. But AutoLISP programming tips are beyond the scope of these 3D tips.

Having each material on its own layer makes applying materials in 3D Studio MAX go very smoothly. But more on that later.

Graphic software programs

I thought that I would start by listing some of the software that I use. Later I will be commenting on each of these, offering my opinions and tips I have discovered along the way. Here are most of the graphic programs I use:

  • AutoCAD
  • Revit Architecture
  • Autodesk 3D Studio Max
  • Sketchup
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Adobe Photoshop CE
  • Arris
  • Corel Painter
  • Irfanview
  • Piransei
  • Bricscad

There are others, but these are the main ones.