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Michael J. Brown, founder of Renderhaus - Premium Architectural Visualizations, powers his creative business back to where it started.

by John Vondrak

Micheal J. Brown, Founder of Renderhaus

“You know what? I was blessed,” says illustrator and Detroit, MI native Michael J. Brown, founder of Renderhaus, producers of premium architectural visualizations. “As a black kid growing up in Detroit, I had a high school opportunity to intern in the summer at Albert Kahn Associates, a very prominent architecture firm in the city.”

Very prominent indeed. Founded in 1895, world renowned Albert Kahn Associates is the creative force behind Ford Motor Company complexes and multiple historic buildings on the University of Michigan campus, as well as classic and innovative design throughout the Motor City, the state of Michigan, and the world. While interning at the firm, Brown was given a firsthand look at what architects do day in and day out, and that experience shaped his career path.

“It set my mind thinking,” he recalls. “I do like architecture and I definitely want to go into it, but I'm not certain I want to be stuck drawing construction details of stairs, expansion joints, and specifications forever.”

Brown’s statement makes perfect sense because throughout our conversation, it not only sounds as though I’m listening to an architect, but at equal times, a designer, artist, or filmmaker.

 “I was always artistic,” said Brown. “I had taken art class in high school which translated into architectural illustration once I entered the architecture curriculum at the University of Detroit.” He opted to stick with the major, earning his undergraduate degree, followed by his master’s. All the while, Brown believed he could parlay his education and talent toward a career in architectural design and/or illustration. “I didn't want to be a registered architect,” he says. “I wanted to do 3D visualization.”

Brown went on to do work for various Detroit area architectural firms, albeit with architectural illustration as his side hustle.  Throughout his college design courses, Brown rendered by hand with charcoals, prism colored pencils, markers, and (his favorite), airbrush. It wasn't until after graduation that he went digital with 3ds Max.  He started Renderhaus in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he took the company full-time.


Renderhaus’ clientele has always consisted primarily of architects requiring premium visuals for clients. Brown also does occasional work for real estate developers and landscaping engineers. The vast Renderhaus portfolio includes stunning visualizations for retail, residential, hospitality, medical, industrial, education, houses of worship, entertainment, sports venues, parks and recreation, and historic restoration.

Okemos by Renderhaus

Brown says about 95% of client requests are for static 3D renderings, while 5% are animations or virtual reality. With regard to animation, Brown says the landscape is has changed from what it was when he began. Traditional, point-of-view virtual walkthroughs are gradually being usurped by a new cinematic style of animation which offers the look and feel of a well-directed short film or high-end commercial.

“It builds a storyline by focusing on smaller items and showing their contextual relationship to the overall space, “he says. “For instance, if we're creating an animation of a master suite, cinematic animation may begin with a close up of an arm chair in the seating area of that suite, then pan away or dolly out from it to reveal a larger view of the room.” Enhanced by soundtracks and voiceovers, Brown says these animations are incredibly effective at pulling clients further into the space and evoking emotion.



“My clients provide two dimensional blueprints,” Brown says. “They've already created the construction documents (floor plans, elevations and details), but at that stage, it’s just black and white. They supply a list of specifications in terms of what the finishes will be: floor coverings, wall colors, light fixtures, etc. all of which I build in 3dsMax.”

Heroes Alliance by Renderhaus

The projects Renderhaus is offered typically begin as AutoCAD files, occasional SketchUp files, and Revit. “AutoCAD had always been the defacto norm in the architecture industry,” says Brown, “but with the move toward BIM modeling, I’m seeing more Revit. I am able to work with it (he used to be a Revit instructor), but typically I'll break it down into a two dimensional floor plan, because even though I can bring the Revit files into 3ds Max, all of that BIM information comes along with it. I can end up with over 10,000 objects being imported, so when it goes into 3ds Max, it can be very cumbersome to deal with.”

In Brown’s workflow, he prefers to create walls, windows, et. al., natively in 3ds Max because, as he notes, “the software just seems to work with those things better. I can do Boolean operations more easily with 3ds Max, however, there are times when I do take a client's Revit model and just pull it into 3ds Max and add materials simply because it's such a large project and it would take me too long to recreate everything in Max.” Brown also relies on Photoshop for post production and works exclusively with the V-Ray render engine.

Back to BOXX

In 2004, Brown purchased his first BOXX, a 3DBOXX S5.2i, which is now long since out of production. It served him admirably, though, and upon its departure, Brown had his heart set on another BOXX. There was only one problem—the price tag.  “I've always been the type where I want the latest and greatest,” Brown laughs, “but of course, the latest and greatest costs a lot. The configured system I was looking at was $12,000 and that was 15 years ago! I knew BOXX was on point, but I just couldn’t afford it at that time.”

Instead, he opted for a similar spec, custom-built, local system: dual Intel® Xeon® processors at 3.3 GHz with a 1000 watt power supply. The workstation lasted many years, with Brown observing that the system only used 16GB of the 24GB of RAM installed. He wasn’t concerned though, since his rendering work never required more than the 16GB threshold. However, a recent influx of larger projects caused his system to crash since it tried to access more than 16GB. “So I went on YouTube and tried to find some tutorials on how to get the computer to recognize the rest of that RAM,” he laughs, “which ended up bricking my system by sending it into a perpetual blue-screen/reboot loop that wouldn’t even allow me to boot into safe mode.”

Maserati show concept and BOXX APEXX S3

Fortunately, it was right at the end of the year and Brown had completed the last of his projects. Unfortunately, he had new projects arriving shortly. “I have never built a PC,” he admits. “I paid someone else to do it. I'm pretty good with things and there are a lot of YouTube tutorials that tell you how easy it is.  I'll risk a thousand dollars building a PC that’s only used for browsing the internet, but not on a workstation, not for my business.”

In addition, time was a critical factor. Brown knew who to call. “I had a BOXX before,” he says, “and I know their systems are purpose-built for what I need. I could have bought a system off the shelf somewhere that would definitely be faster than what I had previously, but I wouldn’t know if it was optimized for what I do.”

Five years prior, when his custom-built system had reached the ten year mark, Brown spoke to BOXX performance specialist Rich Petit, but decided not to pull the trigger. Now five years later (and in dire need of a new system) Brown called 877.877.BOXX and was connected to…Rich Petit.  “It’s great that he was still there,” Brown laughs. “I'm just glad that he stayed at BOXX long enough to take my order!”

The powerhouse APEXX S3 Intel® Core™ i9 14th gen system Petit helped Brown configure for 3ds Max, AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp, V-Ray, and Adobe Photoshop has been a game changer, dramatically accelerating Renderhaus workflows.


The Renderhaus BOXX APEXX S3

  • Intel i9-14900K (14th gen) at 6.1GHz
  • 64GB DDR5-5600 MHz (2 - 32GB DIMMS)
  • 1.0TB SSD NVMe/PCIe 4.0 M.2 Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 12GB (3 Slot)
  • Microsoft Windows 11 Professional Edition 64-Bit High End


The BOXX Difference

“Compared to the system it replaced, it's pretty much night and day,” says Brown. “Initial boot time has been cut by two thirds. Time to launch 3ds Max has been cut in half or less. Other programs open in an instant, and even within 3ds Max, the biggest difference I see is that my navigation within large high polygon count scenes is virtually seamless. With my old system, something as simple as switching from one viewport to another could take up to five or six seconds. That may not sound like much, but it's huge. It all adds up.  Before, saving large files could take up to 90 seconds, maybe even two minutes. It was just ridiculous. With the new BOXX, that time is cut down to five seconds.”

When the conversation turned to rendering, Brown had even more benchmarks to share. “I typically render scenes at about 4,000 pixels wide,” Brown says. “A scene I just rendered would have taken about two hours at 4000 pixels on my old system. Since I knew this APEXX S3 was so much faster and efficient, I ran it at 8,000 pixels wide and it still took only two hours.”


Apexx S3 Exploded view


Brown attributes much of APEXX S3’s performance to BOXX innovative integration of only enterprise class components like SSDs and state-of-the-art liquid cooling.  “My old dual processor system just bellowed out heat when I started rendering,” he recalls. “I actually ruined a graphics card due to overheating, but with liquid and air cooling, the new BOXX runs a lot cooler.”

As our interesting and enlightening conversation on Renderhaus winds down, I ask Brown, who went from a BOXX, to a custom-build, and back to BOXX, what the future holds in terms of being a BOXXer again.

“I see myself staying with BOXX for as long as I continue producing 3D architectural visualizations,” he says.  “It’s because of the industry-specific, total package builds that BOXX provides for professionals like me who know exactly what they need to get done, but don't necessarily know what components their computers need to get it done.  You guys are invaluable.”