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Red Books for the New Age

The New Image 610 Landscape Design System:

by Alan Burke, ASLA

This is a photo of a computer monitor. An the plant material, site furnishings and hardscapes have been temporarily placed over the photo shown below by means of video tape and a little imagineering.

New Dimensions in Design and Presentation

Imagine this: an articulate and innovative landscape architect is showing his expectant dients a view of their finished landscape design. He uses a novel system of his own design, overlaying color renditions of trees, shrubs and entries on a sketch of an unfinished site. Although his eclectic manner and innovative ideas are new and not quickly accepted by his peers, he perseveres and eventually gains recognition through his research and inventiveness. The worlds of landscape architecture and graphic design are forever changed because of his effort and contribution...

The year was 1785. The man was Humphery Repton, one of the leading landscape designers of the 18th century. His concept of overlaying transparent sketches of design work over drawings of an unfinished site drew wide acclaim. These bound volumes, or “Red Books” as they came to be known, were a novel, far reaching concept that helped Repton shape the history of landscape architecture.

If you could transpose Mr. Repton into the modern era, his 20th century, counterpart might be Garry Galpin of New Images Industries. His firm, specialists in the new technologies of computer/video imaging, is transforming the world of landscape architectural presentation with a new and unique concept: The New Image 610 Landscape Design System.

Step one is to video the raw site. From there it is up to you.

In a small office in Canoga Park, Garry Galpin researches a data base of hundreds of plant materials, taking notes for future reference on those botanicals he may be able to film and transfer from VHS tape to the computer in the upcoming weeks. The database library might have to wait. Garry is flying to Boston for a few days this week, then on to Atlanta and a few weeks later, Houston. This is the hectic technological world of New Images Industries, where the dimensions of landscape architectural design are being stretched and reshaped in the computer age.

In another room, John Halloran hacks away at a 3D skeleton image of some entry steps he has created using computer aided drafting program. He eyes the screen intently, rotating the image. “I think I’ll make these marble” he says, manipulating a small dialog box and pressing a button. The steps disappear momentarily and are slowly revealed, as if brushing your hand across the missing image of the steps, washing them in a rich italianate marble. The 3D CADD ‘Topaz’ system is one of the many ideas under study at New Image Industries Incorporated (NIII).

Garry sits in front of a small television monitor, studying the screen. As he moves a computer pen plotter on a small drawing tablet, information boxesappear on the monitor and disappear. An image of the undeveloped homesite is on the screen. Garry studies the image of the home for a minute to mentally assemble a preliminary landscape design concept.

You start with the basis site and a video camera

As he moves the pen across the board, a small cursor on the view monitor closely parallels the movements. An unsightly tree in front of the garage is manipulated with a few deft strikes to disappear from the screen. The background is quickly restored, simulating the look of the garage where the tree had been. More information boxes appear. Shrubs are chosen and placed around the foundation, forming informal rows along the side of the property. Trees are selected from a database, manipulated in size and positioned in the foreground. Lawn is pulled from a ‘menu’ of groundcovers to form the ground plans. A stone entry path, steps and pilisters are selected. A picket fence is pulled from the database and placed at the front property line. A few accent plants are added to soften the fence line. As a finishing touch, Garry adds a little more blue to the sky.

After taking a few seconds to save the image on disc, it is ready to print. Within a few short minutes, a fully developed design is ready to review. The final product is not an airbrush drawing or watercolor rendering, but a full color photographic image of the finished design idea.

The NIII system enables designers to quickly transform design concepts into reality. Because the image is essentially a photographic composite, clients can immediately see the concept and understand the overall design intent. Concepts can be revised in an instant,saved and studied again. When Garry began using the system in early 1988, he took it a step further, showing concept printouts to his landscape laborers as he reviewed the plan set with his foreman. “I would show this to all my employees. You can show this to people who can’t read a blueprint,” he says, as he brings a new site image onto the monitor to ‘play with’. “This speaks in every ones language.”

The Landscape Architect then selects any of a wide variety of site amenities and plant materials and puts them into place.

One aspect of the system is its use as an architectural ‘rendering’ tool. “Renderings are a frill, real frill, right now. This maybe takes half an hour. I can show well over ten concepts without even spending a day at this” Garry notes. You can change the hue of any object. If I didn’t like the color of a planter, say in gray, I could give it a pink tinge for a different look. If I took this floppy of the white house for example, and put it into one of the computers set for the beauty industry, we could select from around 32,000 color capability.”

How it Works

For a design tool to be successful, it must have versatility. The NIII 610 Landscape Design System is just that. The 610 opens up a broad range of conceptual possibilities to the designer. The basic system utilizes a VHS camcorder to record images for later use and a database that is provided with some existing design elements such as walks, walls, entries, decks, pools, and plant materials. With the attendent ‘Howtek’ scanner unit, anything photographed or drawn can be scanned and saved. Photos from magazines, rendered images, indeed whole design portfolios can be scanned and saved on disc. Once the scanned image is ‘isolated’ (essentially shaved of anything outside the the wanted image), it can be juxtaposed with another image to create a photo composite.

Captured video or photo “frames” of an undeveloped site can be selected and serve as a background for the design elements of trees and shrubs, not unlike pasting cutout pictures from a magazine onto another photograph. Unwanted elements in the original “site photo” can often be erased and the backgrounds restored using portions of the original picture. In addition, the design elements can be reversed, enlarged or reduced in size to give an illusion of depth. Colors can be changed and backgrounds diffused to further manipulate the overall look of the design.

“We supply a two day training session”, Garry notes. `The landscape and salon systems are very similar. You could probably learn the system in about two hours. Then it is memorizing the procedure and taking a little time to learn all the tricks of the illusion. Getting things in perspective takes a little bit of saavy.” Indeed, for all its technological complexity, the design system is presented to the user in a relatively simple format. The ‘dialog boxes’ that appear on the monitor screen give the operator step by step instructions that enable the designs to be manipulated quickly. Database lists can be added to and customized to fit the designers specific needs.

A Landscape Architect can not only show his clients what the project will look like but also they can see for themselves.

The system’s core is an IBM/AT compatible computer connected to an analog monitor. As part of the system package, a drawing tablet, camcorder and copystand are included with all the attendant software. Although the Landscape Design System sounds like a complicated assemblage of high-tech parts (which, for all intents, it is), all of the major components are housed within a small self-contained cabinet.

The Landscape Systems price tag might seem expensive, but the lengthy list of components can enable a landscape firm to expand with other software into complex word processing, database cost estimating, spreadsheet accounting, CADD and other advanced computer applications with the right software. The components list and prices are as follows:

  1. 610 Complete Landscape System: IBM/AT compatible 80MB hard disc, ‘Truevision’ graphics adapter, drawing tablet, VCR, RB analog monitor, Camcorder, Copy stand and Lanscape Design software: $16,935.00

    A printer will be needed if the 610 system is purchased as listed above. Printers are described below.

  2. 610 Starter System: Truevision’ graphics adapter, drawing tablet, memory board, and landscape design software: $7,500.00 The starter system is a lower cost alternative for those design offices that already have an IBM/AT compatible computer and color monitor. The memory board expands the AT from 640K to 80MB.
  3. 3D modeling software: $5,225.00
  4. Cadverter: $395.00
  5. TargaCad: $225.00
  6. Items 2,3 and 4 are all elements of the ‘Topaz’ 3D modeling system and need not be purchased as part of a start up package.

  7. ‘Targaplot’ large format color printer: $4,995.00
  8. The ‘Targaplot printer prints in a large 8 1/2” x 11” format. This format is most suitable for presentations.

  9. ‘Targaplot’ starter set (800 exposures): $425.00
  10. Essentially this is a box of paper and ink to use for exposures.

  11. Polariod film printer: $2,995.00
  12. This printer will only print 3” x 5” exposures

  13. Mobile cabinet unit (various colors): $695.00
  14. The cabinet is designed with casters and a pull out drawer for the pen and plotter board. Openings are recessed for a VCR and Monitor.

  15. ‘Howtek’ digital scanner and software: $8,195.00

Although the Howtek scanner is not required to run with the system, without it the designer will not be able to scan photographic or magazine images into the database. video images will still be able to be captured using the system without the ‘Howtek’ unit.

The 610 Landscape Design System is also available for lease at $415.00 a month or less. At the end of the 60 month lease, a buyout option is available. The system carries a full year warranty on parts and labor.

For most small landscape firms, the systems 17K price tag might seem prohibitive. At this type of comment, Garry smiles. He used to feel the same way. “Myself, l only had an eight man crew and made enough money to pay for the system. I had to borrow money to do it, but I managed to pay it all back. l paid cash for my Porsche, you know.”

Some buyers have attempted to utilize their office IBM compatible PC’s to save money and purchase the system piecemeal. Galpin cautions against this type of approach: “Our against this type of approach: “Our software is set up to run at high speeds”, he says, moving his cursor to bring up a database shrub list and select ‘Raphiolepis’. A muted green shrub with pink flowers appears on the screen. “You might run the system with (an IBM) PC, but it is going to run slower because of the speed at which the computer runs.” Garry no longer works with the older, slower system he originally purchased, preferring the faster 80 megabyte hard disc in the newer version IBM now being sold by NIII

A Bit of History

The 610 Landscape Design System dates from 1984, with the research and marketing of the successful NIII ‘hair salon’ system. At the time John Halloran, a successful physicist began researching the system. Later he was to team up with Bob Garavitch, a businessman who has worked for Revlon and other cosmetic firms, to finalize studies on the hair salon system to bring it to market. With the help of Matt Staker, an imaginative programmer, the imaging system became a reality.

Gary Galpin

In the salon system format, images of a womans face are transformed utilizing a database of hair and make-up styles. Galpin, then a landscape contractor in the San Jose area, saw the hair salon system and was curious about its potential for the landscape industry. Kirk Lamar, a successful hair stylist and one of the company founders, was appearing on the syndicated television series ‘The Home Show’ and doing rudementry redesign for a home with the system. After a friend saw the show and told him about it, Garry knew the system would work, given the right video ‘input’. Soon after, he sold his Macintosh and borrowed money to purchase a system. Garry has never looked back.

Like all landscape contractors at the time, he was at the whim of the market, selling his design ideas to clients through rough sketches and drafting plans. With what was then a ‘hair salon’ design system, Garry began to study a different approach. After starting a VHS database library of a variety of plant materials and some of his own finished designs, he went to work.

John Halloran

In those days Garry did site design for a developer in an upscale residential neighborhood. “I went to that neighborhood and I videotaped two houses on the corner. Then I made ‘video rendering’ on the computer of that house and put it on a videotape describing what (the design) was and put it on a four track recorder, because I am also a musician. I described it on one track and had some music on the other track that I “dumped” into it and made a little ‘mini-commercial’. I went out and recorded some of the landscaping I had done in that neighborhood, got ten VHS tapes from KMart, duplicated them and dropped them in eveybody’s mailbox. I got six phone calls from those ten tapes. Four asked for further work. One guy who had already contacted another designer called me the next day. He said “this guy can’t do what you can do. I like what you did by just ‘playing around’.” I had a limited database then. I probably wouldn’t have put a Gleditsia in his front yard picture, but I just happened to get one in the database that day from a job where I was doing some pruning.”

The response has been overwhelming at trade shows across the country. Landscape Architects, contractors and the simply curious crowd the NIII booth wherever it is displayed, asking for demonstrations of how the system works. Indeed New Images' growth itself has been impressive, growing from three individuals and an idea to a modern office and twenty-five employees. Plans are underway to market the 610 system in Australia, Italy and Japan. “We are averaging five to six system shipments to Europe a week,” Garry leans back from the computer and sighs, "we were totally unprepared for the response we’ve gotten. We are getting forty to fifty calls a day. We bought over one hundred promotional videos and as of last Friday they were all gone. Now we have shipped over three hundred and fifty videos.”

The late Humphery Repton might not be surprised at the response. He had the same kind of vision over two hundred years ago.

Alan Burke, ASLA, is a Principal with International Landscaping, Inc., a Design/ Build firm out of El Segundo, California. He contracted to do this article after meeting Garry Galpin at a trade show and researching the New Images system.


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February 17, 2020, 1:54 pm PDT

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