BIM Yacht Design | Showboats


by Louis Postel for Showboats International

Far from any shipyard, there’s a factory. And in that factory the light appears dim. Deep in its recesses there’s an old man. His future seems dim too. How long can he realistically expect to go on as an operator here? Super-computerized CNC machines like the one he’s on seem to run themselves. He examines a piece of crown molding destined for an entry from aft deck to saloon.  Sea serpents turn in mortal combat with a quartet of nymphs whose only defense seems to be streaming hair.

The old man checks a computer terminal; then returns to machine where he reinserts the molding for another go.  He doesn’t notice the appearance of the company’s CEO from out of shadows, or appears not to. The CEO is everything the old man is not: a young, high-energy, MIT-educated engineer.

“You know,” remarks the CEO to a group of visitors, “the sales departments for these machine companies always tell you:  ‘hey, these things are just plug and play, that’s all there is to it.’ But that’s not true at all – at least not for fine custom work on super yachts. You need a very special operator.  This man here actually knows what a carved molding’s supposed to look like, because he’s carved them himself hundreds, thousands of times. He was doing this by hand long before the Air Force ever invented computerized machines like these. There’s deep knowledge in those hands; it’s a knowledge that’s hard to find, even harder to replace.”

The challenge of combining this deep, artistic knowledge with high technology has never been more intense—or promising — as it is now. The potential for owners, designers and fabricators to collaborate and “co-create” in real time is huge.  With the advent of CNC platforms and other BIM (Building Information Modeling) systems, a sea change in M/Y interior design is at hand.


Because the BIM software predominantly used as an animation tool M/Y marketing purposes has become far more flexible and easier to use.  As such, it’s a marvelous design communication tool, connecting fabricators, designers and owners. The technology acts as an extension of the human hand possessing so much irreplaceable knowledge. Unlike a house squared off on its foundations, M/Y’s begin as aerodynamic sculptures winging through powerful currents: everything depends on the hull, the contours of the interiors perhaps most of all.

BIM’s make this complexity visible in 3-D and space/time animated 4-D. Owners can give feedback based on that vision. Changes made, the 3-D can be go back to 2-D for construction, the old man at his CNC machine. Owners can exchange ideas in real time, rather than through back and forth taking weeks. This development is especially useful to owners who refer to themselves as “spatially impaired,” unable to read blueprints, though they can read a financial model faster than you can say BIM.

Many designers say the technology frees them up in unprecedented ways as well.  When feedback from colleagues, the shipyard, the naval architect and the owner all comes in real time, it’s easier to innovate, and to create something unique.  Having collaborated to this extent, remaining engaged in the consequences of their innovations becomes far easier, as well.

The What Ifs of design have been tested before they’re actually spec’d. Waste has been eliminated, along with the heartbreak of something turning out not quite as expected (not to mention thousands in FedEx bills). One can deliberate on details safely in advance on the Net:  What If the nymphs on the crown molding were to “swim” into the galley?  Click. Click. And voila, you see it.

The ironic consequence of such questioning and collaboration will be that modeling as a sales tool will become far less important than it is today. Sales will be less important.  Because the owner and designer have collaborated so closely on the final result, there’s not much persuading left to do. The entire M/Y interior will have been “co-created.”

 Not everyone’s buying this view, of course. “As old school as it sounds,” says M/Y designer Patrick Bray of White Rock, British Columbia, “an interior mock up is a fantastic value. As much as 3-D looks great, it is hard to get a feel for size and sight lines. We have done interior mockups using cardboard and light plywood, along with printed images to show a client what exactly an interior will look like. The client can walk around in it and get a feel for the space, how it flows into other rooms, and what you can see and from where. For many it is much more valuable than a flashy smoke and mirrors presentation – and it doesn’t cost any more.”

Theodore Fotiadis of Berlin uses a software called Rhino 3-D on his M/Y interior designs. He likens it to modeling in clay. “It’s very much an artist’s tool. I can then render the design more exactly in another program called V-Ray for 3ds Max. The whole idea is that I invite clients to give me their dreams. The design has to reflect more than simply numbers and lines.  First, I design by hand before any computer work. My client and I create a base together, a module. It’s like baking; first we decide: What’s it going to be: a white layer cake or an apple pie? While the basic object never changes, the client can then go on to play with the design to the extent she or he wants: choose the colors, the textures. They can also use the internet to see in real time what I’m doing. They can suggest changes just as though they were in the studio with me: can we use faux crocodile here or not? Either way there are few surprises.”

Vripack’s seventy-three year old founder, Dick Boon has deep knowledge to spare. While his classmates were drawing stick figures, the young Dutchman was drawing four-masted barques in a wash of crimson sunset.  Later, he learned to sail in a vegetable boat. He learned to draw a hull with all its requisite dimensions: stability, displacement, reliability, speed, all the cross-curvature in a way that fits together like a work of work! It’s not for nothing ISS (International Superyacht Society) named Boon Person of the Year in 2011. His clients get the deep knowledge they expect from his inimitable pencil drawings, but now they also something else: 3-D renderings so precise it’s possible to see the direction of the floor boards, the style of the door knobs, everything but the smile in the faux crocodile.

Due south of Vripack’s Netherlands headquarters in Sneek, and you’ll come to an exchange listed company founded as Blue Fox in 1999 and now called Nedsense. Nedsense has been consistently on the cutting edge of high resolution graphics, but its new LOFT technology platform is an experience like no other.  It will be especially invaluable for refits. CEO Pieter Aarts explains: “LOFT starts with a photograph of your actual space that is to be transformed into a 3-D model.”  The M/Y designer, naval architect, owner, builder will all recognize what’s already there: the spiral staircase, the wet bar, crown molding with the writhing serpents tackling sea nymphs.  Unlike other BIMs on the market, LOFT requires no tedious drawing in of windows, doors, joinery, and other features. LOFT proceeds to automatically adopt lighting from the photo and apply it to the 3-D objects and fabrics selected for the space.  How, in other words, will the faux crocodile look with light streaming in starboard? LOFT, says AARTS, has that covered: “It dynamically renders the space, all its fabrics and furnishings, from its joinery to its knickknacks while navigating through and zooming in and out.” LOFT licenses can be lofty: between 40-80,000 Euros.


On the other hand, what’s 80,000 Euros with M/Y’s costing a million a foot? If a modeling platform such as LOFT can save those sea nymphs from having to be redone, the price is negligible.  The deep, artistic knowledge of craftsmen and of designers, the dreams of owners, synchronized through BIM technology may indeed be the unbeatable force of the future.