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Thu 15 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Building a vision

A concept design, vivid in an architect's mind, can only be partly expressed through descriptions, sketches and drawings. ARCHITECT's Lauren Hills explores how 3D visualisation technology allows architects to communicate their designs to clients and consultants.

A concept design, vivid in an architect's mind, can only be partly expressed through descriptions, sketches and drawings. ARCHITECT's Lauren Hills explores how 3D visualisation technology allows architects to communicate their designs to clients and consultants.

While a sketch is the first spark that sets a concept design alight, and the technical drawing will refine the idea and provide the exact specifications of the space, it is the 3D virtual rendering that can offer viewers a multi-layered, tactile experience of the final form.

Spaces within the building; different textures; material selection; interior architecture; façades; lighting; and the way the building will inhabit a particular space can all be communicated with visualisation technology. Ultimately, it is the digital reflection that is responsible for creating a dynamic reflection of what a building will become.

It is similar to a person buying a Big Mac from McDonald’s: He knows it is not going to look as good or as big as the picture, but he still buys, eats and enjoys the hamburger.

Architects & developers' vision

3D visualisation has become a vital tool for both architects and developers to communicate a project to clients and investors. For architects, 3D rendering of their projects will see designs come to life in brilliant colour on the page.

Three dimensional renderings highlight the detail of the structure, the façade and the architectural design. For the developer, the visualisation of a project is aimed at the end-user, wooing potential buyers through a virtual representation of the final form.

"The way I see it, [3D visualisation] is a tool for the architect, developer or owner of the project to communicate their development," says Nicolas Minuchin, the CEO of the New York-based architectural rendering firm Acusourcing LLC.

"Sometimes it is to communicate a bold design, in other cases, it's a presale tool, whether it is for developers to start selling their properties, for the owner to present the project to urban authorities and gain construction approval or for the investor to raise money," Minuchin continues.

For an architect, 3D visualisations are usually static representations that can clearly showcase the details of architectural intent.

Developers, on the other hand, use visualisations as marketing tools for fundraising and pre-sale opportunities-often choosing animation and film-like visualisations, which provide potential end-users with an emotional rather than analytical response to the architect's design.

"3-D visualisation of architecture, or anything for that matter, is the trade of showing the makers, users and investors what an idea will look, feel and be like," says Rabih Haddad, CEO of the Kingdom of Bahrain-based 3D visualisation company BlackSmith Studios.

"The developers are usually more interested in film-like animations designed to sell units, while architects are more inclined to ask for animations that show the architectural features of a building," adds Haddad. Creative freedom

While the experts in the field of visualisation say that the software available on the market does enable graphic artists the freedom to create project renderings as they desire, it is only through intelligently combining a number of different programmes that the ideal result can be achieved.

"We believe that the tools are there, however, what usually happens is that we end up choosing a number of different software programmes, at each stage of the production process, to achieve the final result," says Minuchin.

"For architectural modelling we use AutoCAD, for rendering we use 3D Studio Max, for postproduction we use Photoshop and for illustrations we use Illustrator and Photoshop... We use approximately eight to ten different types of software and add-ons to create 3D visualisations," he continues.

BlackSmith Studios follows a "pipeline" as Haddad explains it, which is an eleven step process that begins with the gathering of information, brainstorming and storyboarding; goes on to texturing, lighting, animating and rendering; and ends with editing and the final output.

Minuchin describes how Acusource LLC goes through intermediary steps and the numerous programmes mentioned to move "From 2D architectural plans and elevations to a 3D model, to the application of textures and colours to the surfaces of the model, and then to the generation of a 3D presentation."

While visualisation software is being upgraded all the time-ultimately requiring less time and effort, yet resulting in final renderings that are more realistic- Minuchin emphasises that 3D software still has a long way to go.

"We are still years ahead of having intuitive modelling tools that will allow the artist to fully express his or her artistic skills instead of needing to adapt it to modelling techniques and the way the software works," he explains.

Realism vs. attractive rendering

The 3D rendering of a building often looks gleaming and statuesque; vibrant in colour and airbrushed in complexion. One cannot help but be impressed by the image, but he/she also cannot help but wonder whether the physical form could ever possibly live up to the digital image.

As the representation of a concept and a reflection of how the building should look when built, visualisations need to be both attractive and realistic, which is often a tricky combination.

Asked whether physical buildings could ever achieve the level of detail found in 3D visualisations, Haddad's answer is simple, but descriptive: "The quick answer is no.However, we do not see it as a problem, so long as the viewer is not confused into thinking that the animation is 100% accurate."

"It is similar to a person buying a Big Mac from McDonald's: He knows it is not going to look as good or as big as the picture, but he will still buy, eat and enjoy the hamburger," Haddad continues.

While architects and developers predominantly ask for photo-real renderings, there is a fine line between realism and attractiveness that needs to be carefully gauged by the graphic artist.

Minuchin admits that while in some cases the actual buildings lack some of the beauty of the renderings, there is a focus on creating a realistic 3D visualisation from step one of the design.

"We have had cases in which a developer specifically asked us to incorporate a photograph of the real view through the living room of the condos he was building, merely because he didn't want any future complaints from the owners," Minuchin says.

An architect's inspiration

A 3D visualisation can be seen as the link between the architect's initial sketch and the physical building, and as such, it is fitting that the architect is fully involved in the rendering process. It is important for the 3D designer to understand not only the building itself but also the concept behind it.

"Although our client is often the developer, we coordinate completely with the architects. It is important to know not only what the architect designed, but also why they designed it in such a way. We then transform his/her vision into an active environment full of light, people and motion," says Haddad.

For the most effective visualisations, the process between the architect and the digital designer needs to be as interactive as possible and should include a significant amount of brainstorming and discussion.

"It is very important to have these feedback sessions to ensure that the client is satisfied with what is being produced. That said, [Acusourcing] has a diverse team of architects, 3D artists and photographers that work on our projects, to ensure that the architecture, the visualizations and the lighting and composition of the images are optimal," says Minuchin.

3D Visualisation vs. physical models

With 3D visualisation increasingly used throughout the industry as a means to communicate an architect's vision, ARCHITECT asks Rabih Haddad of BlackSmith Studios and Nicolas Minuchin of Acusourcing LLC whether 3D visualisation has led to a decrease of model building.

Haddad: "Not at all! We have a sister company dedicated to model building, and it is a thriving business in this region. We design fully integrated solutions with the animation matching the model and vice versa. True, in North America and Europe model making has been delining quite rapidly, but in the Middle East, where people are more traditional in the sense that they still like to touch and feel a creation, it is an essential part of a real-estate developers marketing portfolio."

Minuchin: "Digital renderings and animations have come a long way, and in many cases displaced the building of physical models. The rendering provide a faster, cheaper and easier solution for the visualisation. We have in many cases produces digital 3D models that the client has used for design purposes, meeting with the clients and asking ‘OK, what happens if we raise the ceiling and move these columns?' Then we could check this instantantly and make design decisions on the fly."

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