Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: If there’s roadwork forward, Kurt Stiles makes use of 3D modeling and extra to drive challenge

Kurt Stiles and his team at the Washington State Department of Transportation often take to the air to better illustrate the stories they’re telling on the ground. (Photo courtesy of Kurt Stiles)

If a new roadway or bridge or other infrastructure element in Washington state looks and drives exactly like you’d hoped it would, perhaps Kurt Stiles and his team at the Washington State Department of Transportation are to thank.

Stiles and the Visual Engineering Resource Group (VERG) are the visual media professionals who use a variety of tools, such as aerial photography, 3D modeling and animation, to communicate the stages of all types of projects.

Our latest Geek of the Week spent 10 years in the military before going to school for civil engineering. He was helping to raise three boys and working full time at WSDOT when he discovered the world of 3D modeling and visualization in 1998. Today he leads the group he helped develop at the agency in 2008.

“The tech for 3D modeling has grown tremendously. There is no excuse now — we have tremendous tools to visually communicate infrastructure change,” Stiles said. “Our productions can tell any story, to any audience and at any scale. Decision making processes have improved, saving time and money. All stakeholders and the public alike have a deeper understanding which translates to improved consent.”

Stiles points to a variety of projects which VERG has had a hand in, whether it’s photography work showing everything from highway overpasses to rest areas to ferry terminals, or drone footage of a mudslide. Video production and animation is especially useful to show renderings of completed projects, such as this video-game-like fly-by of Interstate-90 near Snoqualmie Pass:

Stiles is particularly proud of the team’s 3D modeling work for what’s called a diverging diamond interchange, a project being implemented for the first time in Washington, in Lacey.

“This retrofitted interchange will handle much more daily traffic volume and do so in a much safer way,” Stiles said. “Moreover, the new interchange will provide improved, safer pedestrian and bike travel, too — much better than what was there originally. This type of interchange design is very progressive and will be a hallmark project for other interchange retrofits to follow in Washington.”


Modeling cars and trucks on conventional roadways is all fine and good, but what is VERG going to do when we get the flying vehicles we’re all waiting for?

“That will be fun! I’m sure we can animate all sorts of flying objects,” Stiles said. ” But we will have to make sure there is a solid tax-structure to handle all those landing pads that are going to have to be built … everyone will want one! Perhaps a new tax on leather flying jackets and goggles? I’m sure that will work.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Kurt Stiles:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I built and lead a visual communication content development group that is centered in 3D computer modeling, video production and commercial photography. We provide strategic communication content for infrastructure decision makers. They use it so they can get understanding, consent, funding, etc. from their stakeholders and constituents when building civil projects.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Civil infrastructure change needs to be first and foremost communicated correctly so all parties understand what the change is and why it has to happen. Twentieth-century problems of the built-environment cannot be fixed with 20th century technology. By using 3D modeling and other tools, tremendous insight can be gained in a precognitive way. A future view can be displayed showing the pros and cons, decisions can be made quicker and with increased understanding. Time and money is saved while the project moves forward in an accelerated way.

Where do you find your inspiration? Watching an underdog, any underdog, work hard, work long and then beat the ass off some self-righteous, privileged SOB.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Blender. Open source software that you can make a living with. You can model anything the built environment needs. Remember to give back though with donations — keep Blender open source!

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is seen with Mount Rainier as a backdrop. (VERG Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? VERG works in an office like a lot of Geeks. We also have a lot of outside field work, too — video shoots, helicopter photography, flying drones, etc. It’s never dull in VERG.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Setting and managing production expectations. Lead the conversation with your clients based upon their spoken need and you’ll never go wrong.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine. I wanna go back so I can get it right the second time.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Run to the hills with the dough? No, I’d do it, but it’s gotta be MY startup.

I once waited in line for … A warm Coke in the Philippines, which I drank with fevered intent.

Your role models: Napoleon Bonaparte: “Capability is worthless without opportunity.”
Gen. George Patton: “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell outta the way”
Tony Robbins: “There are only two options: make progress or make solutions”

Greatest game in history: Chess.

Best gadget ever: They’re all great, but not without WD-40.

First computer: Compaq Portable.

Current phone: Android S7 or Motorola DynaTAC CellStar, I can’t remember which.

Favorite app: WAYZ.

Favorite cause: Dog rescues for any dog.

Most important technology of 2019: Gaming engines.

Most important technology of 2021: Gaming engines.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Just do it. Suck it up, stand for something and take the risk. Feel free to draw a line in the sand, just be able to defend it. Take ownership — no one else will and you’ll impress the hell out of people for it.

Website: Visual Engineering Resource Group

LinkedIn: Kurt Stiles

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