I have worked in the architectural visualisation industry for over eight years and attended more client meetings than I can remember. Many clients are clear from the outset about the imagery they require yet a common theme is apparent throughout the industry — do we as visualisation experts take enough time to explore their needs thoroughly? By asking them the right questions at an initial consultation, we can ensure that the collaboration between client and visualiser delivers great products that meet their objectives, offer significant return on investment and ultimately exceed their expectations.
Architectural visualisation asks us to tackle the ‘visual’ elements first and it is from here that briefings and initial enquiries are directed. A client may start with a statement such as, “I would like to have a fly-through animation that starts here and flys here, here and here, before finishing in a night shot here”. In many cases it is the expectation of the client that this is all the information needed to deliver what is simply a visual medium that communicates what a finished design will look like on completion. This face value brief is the starting point from which we need to step in and start educating.
It is my job to demonstrate to the client this unique opportunity to engage, persuade and entertain the target audience while drawing an emotive response that will benefit both the client and the commissioner — this is where and why we dig deeper for detail.
What is architectural visualisation?
It is a form of marketing — and a very powerful one at that. There are the obvious examples of this such as producing CGIs for a brochure or website to convince a potential investor that this is the scheme in which they should spend their money. However there are lots of other less obvious examples too, such as the creation of concept images by an architect to persuade a developer that they have come up with the perfect design. With every project there is always a target audience that needs to be persuaded or convince of something, or in other words ‘marketed’ to.
As any good marketer will tell you, marketing’s most powerful tool is storytelling, not spinning a yarn but telling authentic stories about a product or service that you believe in. So what are the right questions to ask yourself or your client to help start defining the story? Here are a few initial key questions to get started:
Who are the audience and stakeholders?
This is your time to assist in the specifics. The audience demographic, their income, their age, are they a family member or individual. The better picture you can create, the more effective your marketing will be.
What are we trying to convince our audience of?
Often there is a chain of events before the main objective so by consulting with a client in more detail you can delve down through the chain and pull out all the key audiences and what we are trying to convince them to do.
What is the back story behind the design?
It is crucial to learn about the subject that you are visualising. Why has the building been designed in the way it has? What themes run through it? What challenges had to be overcome during the design process?
With the answers to a few key questions you can start to build up a very quick picture of why the images, animation or interactive presentation has been commissioned and what story they need to tell. This leads us to production and the ‘doing’ part of the process. Here are a couple of examples of projects happening in our studio at the moment.
1. A collection of luxury apartments (currently under construction) in an exclusive area.
Audience: local residents sensitive to the noise and disruption the construction work may make.
Objective: to produce media which demonstrates the measures taken to minimise disruption and to ultimately remind them of the visual benefit to the neighbourhood once the scheme reaches completion.
We start with a series of illustrative aerial CGIs that depict the site at various levels of completion. To accompany these is a two-minute animation that shows the entire two-year construction programme in fast forward. The aerial views we select gives the perfect perspective to see the surrounding street network and the traffic management measures implemented to minimise disruption.
2. Another collection of luxury apartments but this time an opportunity to produce visuals with a completely different set of objectives and audience.
Audience: wealthy with expensive taste, likely to want their own specific interior design.
Objective: to sell the apartments off plan, so everything produced must be utterly convincing and compelling.
Our response to the brief is a series of carefully crafted photoreal CGIs, accurately depicting the vision of a top interior designer. We create bespoke modelled digital furniture and props because assets from our model library do not suit the latest trends. Bespoke lighting is highlighted by including rooms depicted during the evening. The evening lighting means we can include city views of the exclusive location out of the windows, which we create by compositing in photography that we shot ourselves, to ensure we captured the optimum beautiful ‘blue hour’.
Our viewpoints recreate the high end architectural photography found in expensive publications and we ensure our client is offered a good selection of wireframe image composition studies to select the final views. This process also pleasingly results in the commissioning of an additional view, as they are so taken with the possibilities. Easily our best interior images to date.
3. A competitive bid where an architect and developer design team are bidding for the design and build of a secondary school.
Audience: a wide spectrum of stakeholders including governors, parents and teachers each with their own priorities but with a common passion for the education and welfare of the pupils.
Objective: very clear — win the bid.
All material produced must be engaging and focus on the uniqueness of the team’s bid as well as making a potential complex internal and external design easy to understand and visualise. We created an animation that focuses on the students’ experience, which includes viewpoints from varying heights allowing us to see the design through the eyes of the young people.
We prioritised our efforts on depicting the key areas as convincing and lively environments and cutting down on awkward disorientating flythrough cameras down corridors and less important areas.
We included fun motion graphic and 3D animations that were styled to fit with the rest of the design bid presentation materials. These brought otherwise dull 2D plans to life and communicate fundamentals of the design such as area usages and people flows. Supporting these were a series of CGIs populated with young people of all age groups and ethnicities to tell an authentic and consistent story.
I hope I have gone some way to showcasing architectural visualisation as a powerful marketing tool, useful way beyond the simple process of visualising spaces not yet realised.
If you find yourself creating or commissioning architectural visualisation, I urge you to delve deeper into the project’s background before making assumptions about the required visual outputs. Asking the right questions is vital and focusing on the objectives and audience is a great starting point. Write the answers to these questions down, share them with the team and make the end goals transparent to all. Create yourself a more detailed list of questions that will give a full view of a project and form a comprehensive brief for the stories that need to be told.
Developing briefs in this way is nothing new, creative agencies have been ensuring that briefs are detailed and well defined for decades. It is important to remember that good architectural visualisation is a creative service, not a commodity and well-executed projects will offer powerful results that will engage your audience and move you both towards common goals.
Martin Drake is art director at Preconstruct Bristol