Today we buzz with Norm Li, the founder of NORM LI Architectural Graphics + Illustrations.

We checked our files and this is indeed the first time we’ve welcomed someone in the rendering business to the Buzz Talk hot seat. Norm leads a growing team of talented renderers from his office in the Annex. They’ve created renderings for a huge number of high profile residential, commercial and institutional developments including the Trump Tower, the Bell Lightbox Theatre and The Royal Conservatory.

It’s a fascinating industry and Norm is a great guide to the wonderful world of rendering. We buzz about his background in architecture, the success of his company and his days as a DJ in the Toronto club scene.


BuzzBuzzHome: Can you describe in a nutshell what you do here?

Norm Li: We draw pretty pictures *laughs*.

BBH: How about a slightly larger nutshell?

NL: We produce renderings for various forms of architecture. Not only do we do residential, we do commercial and institutional — a lot of hospitals, universities, stuff like that. But now with the market the way it is, we’ve been doing a lot of condos.

BBH: How did you get started in the industry?

NL: I kind of fell into it. I was going to school for architecture and started learning how to do 3D modeling and kind of kept going with it. I was at the right place at the right time. It was the beginning of the industry and I was in on the ground floor.

BBH: For people who don’t know anything about the rendering process, can you describe it in layman’s terms?

NL: What we’re producing are images for the marketing of the building. The architect will come to us with drawings and tell us what kind of feeling they want to evoke through the images. We get the drawings and build it up on the computer and then we render it. We make a pretty picture — add in people, trees, cars and all that kind of stuff to give it a bit of life. That’s it!

BBH: How much creative leeway do you get when creating a rendering?

NL: There’s a reason why it says artist’s impression. It’s marketing right? Basically, they’re trying to create an image and we have a lot of freedom with it.


Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto by Norm Li Architectural Graphics + Illustrations

NL: We’ve worked on quite a few. We worked on Bell Lightbox, The Royal Conservatory, The Gardiner Museum, The Trump Hotel. We’re currently working on Ten York. We’ve done roll-outs for McDonald’s. We’ve done work for St. Mike’s. There’s so many!

BBH: How many do you work on at one time?

NL: At any one time we’re usually working on 15 to 20 projects. There’s constantly stuff coming in and out. We have a whole range of clients. We have clients like Starbuck’s, who are a really small client because we’re just doing little stores. Then we have clients who we do giant masterplans for, like fields in the Middle East.

We also do stuff all over the world. We do stuff in Canada, the States, the Middle East. Recently we’ve been working on some interesting stuff in Qatar. There’s a lot of building going on there.

BBH: What’s your favourite part of the whole process?

NL: Generally speaking we’re involved in a lot of the front end. We’ve very integrated in the creative process. It’s more of a collaboration with the architect. We get involved very early and sometimes the architect hasn’t finished the building fully. Often times we’ll end up providing solutions for the architect. It’s also very fast paced. Projects don’t tend to last more than a couple weeks. It’s short, intense periods of creativity.

BBH: You started this company in your basement. Was the goal always to get up to this level?

NL: The goal never been anything really. It’s all been organic. We like to say that as long as we’re doing good work and collecting a good pay cheque for it then we’ll keep doing it. It’s not like there’s a five year business plan or anything. We’re growing because we’re in demand. I guess that says good things about us. We all enjoy what we do and we have a great work atmosphere. If we grow to be 100 people then I guess that says we’re doing good work.

BBH: Let’s talk more about you. As a child were you drawing all the time?

NL: It’s funny. As a kid, my grandmother always said you’re going to be an artist. I’d say that I didn’t want to be an artist because artists don’t make any money. I used to draw a lot though. I’d sketch all day long.

BBH: We’ve heard that you used to be a DJ in the Toronto club scene. Is that true?

NL: When I was in Waterloo in architecture school I was DJing when I got back to Toronto I continued to do it. I could have gone one way or the other because I was making enough money DJing that I could have quit everything else all together. But you can’t go too far as a DJ and there’s definitely an age limit.

BBH: Where did you DJ?

NL: Everywhere! Back in the early 2000s I was at Living Room, Guvernment, Tonic. I was at My Apartment in Mississauga and downtown. I did all the big places back then. Kids these days might not know the places I was DJing at though.

BBH: You’ve also been on TV. Tell us more about that.

NL: *laughs* Yeah my brother and I were on Dinner Party Wars on the Food Network. We didn’t really win and it was an acting gig more than anything since it’s edited in such a way to be entertaining. I enjoyed the episode. It’s not really what happened, but it came out pretty well.

Thanks for buzzing with us Norm! If you want to find out more about Norm and his team’s work, check out his blog and Facebook page.

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