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Imagina: The Maturation of Architectural Visualization

Imagina, a longstanding computer graphics conference in Europe, has transformed itself in 2009 to cater more toward the industrial and building industries, with the prior media and entertainment scope being served by one of several sub-conference tracks.

I was one of the lucky presenters at Imagina 09.

written by Eric Hanson of LA-based xRez Studio

Imagina, a longstanding computer graphics conference in Europe, has transformed itself in 2009 to cater more toward the industrial and building industries, with the prior media and entertainment scope being served by one of several sub-conference tracks. The tracks in 2009 include Architecture & Urbanism, Driving Simulation, Landscape and Territory, and Media and Entertainment. Addressing this shift, the Media and Entertainment track included speakers and panels intended to address commonalities and differences between architectural visualization and feature film visual effects work.

Held in idyllic Monaco, the one-day Media and Entertainment event consisted of two sessions, the first entitled "What Lessons can be Learned from the Technical Know-How of VFX-Heavy Blockbusters?”. Moderators included Mireille Frenette and Benoit Guerville of Wide Cinema, who also skillfully organized the event. Speakers included myself, and Christophe Courgeau, Hughes Namur, and Jean Rabasse of Mikros Image in Paris.

I began the day with a talk entitled “Parallels and Intersection in Visualization and Cinema”. As a VFX designer specializing in digital environments and backgrounds, I had an earlier career as an architect and early pioneer of architectural visualization before transitioning into visual effects 15 years ago. My talk began looking back at his origins in visualization, and then examining his various projects in visual effects, with lessons learned as a common thread. Films examined included “The Fifth Element”, “Atlantis”, “Fantasia 2000”, “Cast Away”, and “The Day After Tomorrow”. I then illustrated my current techniques utilizing panoramic and gigapixel photography on special-venue films such as “Magnificent Desolation” and “On Great White Wings”.

Relating technique and issues common to visualization and visual effects, I then discussed analysis of current architectural animation. With successful, cutting-edge examples from viz studios Tronic, Squint/Opera, and March, the issue was raised of the importance of narrative in the work. Common architectural visualization work consists of rendering simplistic walk-throughs and fly-overs of projected designs, with little utilization on cinematic tradition and vocabularies. The use of narrative as a means to strengthen the work while creating empathy and emotion was discussed. Matthew Knox's collegiate architectural design studios, utilizing cinematic narrative to investigate and communicate architectural design, were shown as a beacon and waypoint for the field. The importance of intentional abstraction over photorealism was stressed, as the current reliance on global illumination rendering has created a homogenization of the visualization field. Lastly, films from Wim Wenders were raised to illustrate the masterful use of creating psychological space from physical space.

Next, three key creatives from Mikros Image showed breakdowns from the upcoming film “Faubourg 36” from French director Christophe Barratier. Mikros' work involved an ambitious use of digital set extensions and backgrounds for the film, re-creating Paris in 1936. Cinema SFX supervisor Hughes Namur began by taking the audience through the steps of technical production, from early pre-vis to finished composites. Next, renowned production designer Jean Rabasse (Cirque Du Soliel, City of Lost Children), spoke of the need to extend the production designer's role in digital visual effects workflows, indicating a longer involvement is necessary than before. Keeping the effects workflow loose and malleable was another issue raised by Rabasse, which allows a minimum of re-work and ongoing flexibility to a director's creative changes.

Lead matte painter Christophe Courgeau next illustrated the range of techniques employed for the film, from modeling rough 3d set layouts from set construction drawings, to final texturing and lighting concerns. Revising and refining final camera framing and movement was also discussed. The lecture from Mikros was a rich overall view into an architectural set building process for the audience comprised of those in the visualization field who may not have seen the nuance and finesse of a feature film effects process before.

Moderator Benoit Guerville leads the discussion on budgets.

A panel discussion ensued next with moderator Benoit Guerville, raising issues of budget efficiencies, use of new technologies, and commonalities with visualization waged to Hanson and the Mikros Image team.

The afternoon session was entitled “Visualization and Storytelling”, and consisted of two presentations, one from General Manager of The Picture Production Company Fraser Bensted on film trailer production issues, and one from Benoit Guerville, Director of Wide Cinema, and Alexis Guery of Kreaction, on a narratively-driven marketing film for a real-estate project.

Fraser Bensted's presentation entitled “Film Trailer Editing Know-How Applied to Visualization Films”, showed the range of editing and communication issues when presenting feature film projects and how the lessons can apply to architectural visualization films. He stressed the difference for trailers produced for film buyers versus film audiences, and showed how the use of narration, show cards, and editing can sell production value, performances, and story. Showing versions of Ridley Scott's “American Gangster”, and Dolph Lundgren's “Command Performance”, Bensted ended his talk by showing the well known guerrilla re-edit of Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining” transformed into the character comedy “Shining”. One interesting aspect of the talk was having it Bensted presenting over a video feed of Skype, due to inclement weather in England at the time. Perhaps shades of things to come in future conferences?

Alexis Guery of Kreaction talks about his architectural visualization work.

The last session of the day was from Benoit Guerville, Director of Wide Cinema, and Alexis Guery of Kreaction, who partnered to produce a promotional film for a real estate project in France. Eschewing traditional architectural visualization fly-throughs in favor of judicious, limited reveals and contextual city shots, the team talked about the strength of doing more with less, both monetarily and creatively. With little time to produce the film, the team found the constraints actually strengthened the piece narratively and emotionally.

With the main objective of illustrating a buyer's lifestyle and well-being over architectural detailing, the film created a sense of place missing from traditional architectural visualizations. Use of image-based camera projection, color grading, diffusion, and careful sound design and score all contributed to a successful outcome that belies it's budget well.

The Media day closed with a keynote from Nvidia's Stephane Quentin.

The day's events closed w/ a keynote from Nvidia's Stephane Quentin, who illustrated current and future directions for the prominent graphics hardware manufacturer, among them real-time physics, stereo viewing, cloth simulation, and After Effects and Premiere acceleration.

Overall, the event no doubt served to broaden the minds of architectural visualization artists present, and question and comments form the audience reflected that. The visualization field has become a prominent player in the use of computer animation, and the mission of this session to glean technique off it's visual effects breathern will serve to help mature the field.