The ArchVIZ BIZ by Norm Li – Introduction

In 2001, I decided to quit architecture school in order to pursue a career in Architectural Visualization. Along the way, I’ve gained a fair bit of insight into managing a business – more specifically, an Architectural Visualization business. I’ve also come to realise that by sharing our experiences, we can all benefit, myself included.

Whether you are an owner, employee, or freelancer, I hope that you will find a thing or two in this series that can help you at some point in your career.

After working at several architecture firms, I had tired of the daily grind associated with life as a student architect : long hours, low pay, difficult working conditions – you know, the industry standard!

Within a year, I found myself running my own studio.

Ever since it’s been an amazing journey from a desk in my mom’s basement to a team of 36 and growing! Along the way, I’ve gained a fair bit of insight into managing a business – more specifically, running an Architectural Visualization business.

I encourage you all to share your experiences in the hope that we can create a stronger community and an easier path for those come after us.

Starting with the End in Mind

If there is one singular regret of my last 15 years, it’s that I didn’t start paying attention to the operational side of my business sooner.


But, I would also say, even if I had wanted to focus on it, there were very few resources available that were specific to the industry of Architectural Visualization. It’s only been in the last 3 years that I personally have come to focus on the operational side of my studio. As they say, I’m finally working “on” the business, as opposed to “in” the business.

We practice in a field that is unique in its challenges and opportunities. So in an effort to shed more light on the topic, I’ve decided to write a series of articles covering the key areas that have been the foundation for the studio that is Norm Li today.

The series will cover what I consider the 5 essential competencies for any Architectural Visualization firm to master : Art, Technology, Culture, Finance, and Client Management.


Part 1 – Starting A Studio : The Art

Art is obviously the first and foremost competency an Arch Viz firm needs to master. This is a bit misleading since it’s not actually possible to master the art of Arch Viz.

At our studio, we live by the motto “always better”. Especially when it comes to art, there is always a higher level you can get to.

Also, when I say art, I mean art!

Too often in our industry, artists are in a never-ending pursuit of perfect photorealism. However, the most successful visualizations are more than just photo real representations of a proposed project. The best ones are those that tell a story and draw the viewer in. This is accomplished in a multitude of ways. I will share some of our techniques for achieving a balance between art and realism.

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Part 2 – Starting A Studio : The Technology

Technology is another obvious competency. It is the backbone for all that we do.

Similar to art, it’s never truly possible to master this facet of the business. Technology is ever evolving and it is imperative to stay on top of all the latest advances. This can be quite costly, but done properly, it can help give you a real competitive edge.



Part 3 – Growing A Studio : Culture

Every artist needs to master art and technology. They apply to freelancers the same as they do for large firms. But once you decide to make the move from being a one-person operation to a team (even if you are just a team of two!), setting the cultural tone is essential.

A team’s culture is one of the main tools for attracting and retaining talent. It will also have a strong influence on your ability to attract clients. Your culture will be unique to your team, and by defining it clearly, you will be broadcasting to the world what you stand for. Those who share similar values will naturally be attracted to you, so be careful to make sure you are sending out the right message.


Part 4 – Growing A Studio : Finance

It’s easy to manage the finances for a shop of one. After you pay for your start up costs (mainly a computer, software licenses, rent and electricity), every dollar is gravy.

You eat what you kill.

Even teams up to about 3 artists are a breeze. But once you get larger than that, it’s critical to be on top of your finances. There are a lot of tools available to help get you over the hurdle of setting up a team of multiple artists. And even more critical is the attention you pay to your overall financial outlook. I will share with you some of our processes for staying on top of the numbers game.


Part 5 – Growing A Studio : Client Management

For me, the most daunting aspects of running an ArchVIZ studio is client management.

Unlike objective fields like book keeping where 1+1=2, ArchVIZ is an art where there are an unlimited number of possible “right” answers. And as the owner of the firm, I feel a constant need to keep my clients happy, no matter the cost.

If you don’t handle your clients properly, projects can become never ending nightmares that will cripple you artistically and financially.

After suffering through this exact situation for many years, we’ve managed to pull together some of the best practices from around the industry and have applied them to our client relationships. It has made life easier for both our team and our clients. They get better renderings, and our team gets to go home at a normal hour and spend their weekends somewhere other than the office (most of the time).


Before we Dive In

Maybe you will find some comfort in knowing that we all are facing similar issues. And to be clear, my goal here is not to preach from a pulpit. I think that sharing our experiences is the best way to learn from the lessons of the past.

In our studio, when someone is asked to lead a class on a skill or technique which they have mastered, they often find they get a great deal of learning just from preparing the lesson.

As you read each part, I encourage you to share your stories and best practices in the comments section. I also welcome you to challenge my articles if you don’t agree with their content. As much as I want to give back to our industry, there is still much for everyone to learn, myself included, and being exposed to differing opinions is instrumental to our continued growth and success!

See you, starting tomorrow, on Ronen’s main blog where the Art and Technology parts will be published and then back here on the job board with Culture, Finance and Client Management.

Norm Li.

The ArchVIZ BIZ by Norm Li - Introdution
Part 1 - Starting a Studio : Art
Part 2 - Starting a Studio : Technology
Part 3 - Growing a Studio : Culture
Part 4 - Growing a Studio : Finance

Part 5 - Growing a Studio : Client Management


22 thoughts on “The ArchVIZ BIZ by Norm Li – Introduction

  1. Stefan Vittori on Reply

    I received your news letter today, thanks for inviting me to read the article.

    At first I was very excited that I might be able to hear what other arch viz business owners write about their experience running an arch viz firm. I started Tangram 3DS 12 years ago and know how important it is to share business ideas and startup pains with experienced business owners.

    Unfortunately, there is no value for me in this article or for someone who is planning to start his/her own arch viz business. Norm you are just telling us how happy you are that you moved from architecture to your own successful arch viz studio and how smart you were to start your own firm. But for someone who wants to start his/her own business, you don’t explain anything more in detail nor did you give helpful suggestions to a potential startup.

    Will you cover all the startup pain subjects in more detail, in your next articles, Norm?

  2. Norm Li on Reply

    Stefan – wait for the whole series – I cover many topics in great detail … they all relate to exactly what steps you should take to start up a business or for those already in the business how you might strengthen your existing business

  3. Ronen Bekerman on Reply

    Hi Stefan,

    You’ll be happy to know that there are 5 articles coming this week, each one dedicated to one of the five competencies as described by Norm. The above is the introduction to the series setting the foundation before we dive in…

    I would also add that the biggest premise of this series would be the followups and added insight by other studio owners such as yourself and I look forward to learn what you think of this once we roll the other parts out 😉

    First one tomorrow about the Art in ArchVIZ

    1. Stefan Vittori on Reply

      Thanks, Ronen. I am always happy to share what I have learned over the 25 years in the arch viz business. But most interesting and important for me is and always was to listen to other business owners, also outside the arch viz community.

  4. babusuresh on Reply

    Hi Stefan,

    As an 3d artist am still learning new things from your sites.This site is very much usefull for me aswell as other artists around the world.
    Thanks a lot for inviting me to read the article.

    1. Stefan Vittori on Reply

      Hi, babusuresh
      This is Ronen’s web site and forum not mine but I agree. I am very happy and thankful thatwe have today people like Ronen, cg architect and other organizations . When I started ( 25 years ago), there were no such user groups or forums and it was very hard to get any information or to share knowledge and experiences or even view other artists work..thank god that changed with people like Jeff Mottle, Ronen and all the other artists and 3d viz enthusiasts with educating us and bringing us together.

  5. sacha-deb on Reply

    Hi all

    This has gotten me sitting on the edge of my seat as new information is a great way to expand my current knowledge and grow.
    I am a Junior artist and still have a lot to learn so bring them on.

  6. Sam Conlogue on Reply

    Thanks Norm and Ronen for getting this series of articles going! I agree with Norm that everyone benefits when we share our experiences, techniques, challenges, etc. As someone who started and maintained my own little visualization studio for 14 years with no real access to or understanding of how others approached the business, especially early on, I love to see studio owners step up and share! At this point in our journey we’ve sold the business to a longtime client just last year, so now I’m experiencing the operational side from inside a much larger entity which has been fascinating! Hiring, planning a new much larger space, render farm etc. are all very exciting but challenging steps we’re taking as we move forward. Really interested to see where you go with the articles. Thanks!

  7. John Pilcher on Reply

    I look forward to the future installments in this series. It’s also of interest to me being a fellow Canadian.

  8. Norm on Reply

    I love that there seems to be a great interest in this topic! My main goal is to spark debate and conversation within our community … Only then will we ALL be able to find the answers to our common problems … I encourage you all to head over to part 1 on ronen’s main page and share your views on the artistic process!

  9. Giovanne de Souza on Reply

    I fit the part where it says: “I decided to quit architecture school.” But as I near the end of the course, I decided to complete (missing only one year). But I intend to follow with ArchViz after course completion, and Ronen’s blog, and somehow these posts made by Norm Li, made me believe that I will follow the correct path. Several times throughout the day caught me reading news regarding new technologies, arts … well, many of the aspects mentioned in the text. I thank all of the community, for doing an amazing job with this blog!

  10. Oleg Chelombitko on Reply

    Bookmarked this article series some time ago. Finally I found time to read it through. Looking forward to new insights. I’m in charge of sales and marketing in our company. Tere surely must be lots of interesting stuff ahead. So far I notice lots of familiar thoughts and approaches.


  11. Denny on Reply

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