New Mexico Architect Dennis Holloway Uses CINEMA 4D to Reconstruct Ancient Indian Ruins
by Meleah Maynard
Architect Dennis Holloway has been fascinated by Native American architecture since he was a kid growing up in Michigan. But it wasn’t until 1990, when he moved to New Mexico, that his passion for the subject really began to take shape. All around him, the desert landscape offered up ruins of stone and adobe buildings constructed out of mud and dirt by ancient Pueblo Indians beginning, many archaeologists say, around 1200 BC.
Holloway studied these ruins, which were often little more than rubble and collapsing walls, in his spare time and soon realized that using MAXON’s CINEMA 4D, he could create 3D reconstructions of these long-lost places, enabling people to better see and understand how these ancient structures were built and used by their inhabitants. “In graduate school we studied the writing of the philosopher John Ruskin and he said that anytime architects delve into the past, they revive the memory of a culture,” Holloway says. “I like to think that’s what I’m doing with this work.”
Architect Dennis Holloway used drawings and architectural data to help him create this 3D model of New Mexico’s Pueblo Bonito, using MAXON’s CINEMA 4D.
Holloway, who is known for designing structures that fit seamlessly with the Southwestern landscape, was introduced to CINEMA 4D in 2001 by fellow architect and friend Ron Davis. Having heard positive things about the software, Davis thought it would be a great tool for the two of them to try. From the start, Holloway was amazed at how quickly and easily he was able to create dynamic designs that helped clients better visualize what a building would look like. “CINEMA 4D is a wonderful, expansive tool,” he says. “I’m good at sketching, but I don’t even have to have a pencil in my office anymore. I can imagine what I want to do and go directly into CINEMA 4D to make it and then translate it back into construction drawings using Vectorworks.” See an animation of one of Holloway’s 3D residential designs here: (http://dennisrhollowayarchitect.com/Patt.html)
Holloway used C4D to create the fog that obscures part of the landscape in this model of Colorado’s Chimney Rock Pueblo, adding a bit of mystery to a site that includes structures presumed to have been built between 950 and 1100 AD.
One of the first ancient places Holloway reconstructed in 3D was Pueblo Bonito. Built in stages, many believe, between 935 and 1260 AD, the five-story structure is one of the largest and most notable ruins in northern New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. As always, he began the design process by gathering archaeological data on everything from the number of stories the building was thought to have, to elevations and floor plans. Check out Holloway’s Pueblo Bonito models at: (http://dennisrhollowayarchitect.com/PuebloBonito.html)
Stephen H. Lekson’s book “The Architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico,” is one of the best sources of information on these types of ruins, Holloway says. By scanning drawings from Lekson’s book, he often has enough detailed information to begin building his models. Most of the walls in Holloway’s model of Pueblo Bonito were created using the spline tool for tracing wall shapes and then using an Extrude NURBS object set to the believed height of each room. “The learning curve on CINEMA 4D has been amazing,” Holloway explains. “I built Pueblo Bonito in a month in my free time and now, knowing what I know, I could build it in one day.”
It took Holloway only a few hours to build his model of Una Vida Great House, located in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. “Learning to imagine something first and then model it feels good for my mental health, like learning a language,” he explains.
After importing a drawing into Vectorworks, Holloway creates a scaled plan by inputting specifics such as 1 inch equals 30 feet and outlining the whole thing to come up with the dimensions that bound the topography: for example, 300 feet by 600 feet. Holloway then makes a screenshot of the plan. Once the scaled plan is brought into C4D, he traces and extrudes different parts of the building. When creating the topography mesh, he often utilizes C4D’s layers system to organize complex structures.
When working on a model of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo, the site of a large Puebloan village in southwestern Colorado, Holloway created the complex topography where two canyons converge by building his model in stratified layers rather than a smooth mesh. A tree, imported from OnyxTree BROADLEAF, was used “to bring some scale and realism” to the scene, Holloway says, adding that he often uses Photoshop to combine photographs of ruins with his 3D models in ways that help put the entire scene in context.
Using C4D and Photoshop, Holloway was able to combine his model of Una Vida Great House with a photo of the site, to show how the structure would have looked in the surrounding landscape.
The model of the Yellow Jacket Pueblo was just one of several projects Holloway has done for Colorado’s Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. The Center also asked him to work on a reconstruction of Castle Rock Pueblo, a prehistoric village near Cortez, Colorado, that was inhabited for 30 years and suddenly abandoned in 1285 AD. See an animation of the Castle Rock reconstruction here: (http://dennisrhollowayarchitect.com/Movies/CastleRock/CastleRockAnimation.html)
Holloway’s 3D model of Yellow Jacket Pueblo in southwestern Colorado is one of several reconstructions he has done for the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
While the Center was able to provide him with measured excavation plans for the Castle Rock project, including wall heights, as well as a topography map, they had no data on the structure’s central column of rock. Using C4D and elevation photos of rocks from several angles, Holloway was able to create scaled rocks that he used as backgrounds to sculpt outcroppings that looked convincing. Samples from photographs were texture-mapped onto the rocks and boulders and a shot of the one wall still standing on the site was texture mapped onto the other walls to help enhance the realistic look.
To give his model of Mesa Verde’s Mug House Cliff Dwelling a realistic look, Holloway texture mapped photos of nearby cliffs and the masonry ruins onto the caves and walls of the structure.
Now that word about Holloway’s work seems to be spreading, more archeologists and architects have begun to contact him, giving him hope that what has long been a beloved hobby may soon become a tool for developing a deeper understanding of an ancient people. “I believe there is so much to be learned from studying these structures, I’m glad people are starting to take an interest in this work,” he says.
Measured excavation plans and a topography map were used to create this 3D reconstruction of Colorado’s prehistoric village, Castle Rock Pueblo.
Some of his models will be included in an exhibition on ancient New Mexico, which opens in November, at the state’s Hubbard Museum of the American West. Though he is still exploring various ways his reconstructions can be used, Holloway has so far created over 100 3D models of ruins and is considering turning them into a book. He is also thinking about approaching the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to talk about his work. “I know a lot of people don’t know about how 3D can help our understanding of these structures now, but I think it will eventually give a huge boost to what the public knows about ancient Indian architecture in the United States,” he says.
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com
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