Communicating design at Imagina

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From February 7th-9th the annual Imagina event will be showcasing the latest in 3D visualisation and simulation.

The raison d’etre for Imagina 2012 is to present pioneering initiatives, encourage participants to share their experiences and help users to transfer their skills to those who want to develop them.

One of the standout speakers at the conference will be Jules Coke, managing director and a founder of London-based media production studio Squint/Opera.

The usual fairground fodder was given a shot of adrenaline in this hyper-realistic image of Coney Island by Squint/Opera

Having set up the company nearly 10 years ago with three others straight out of university, Squint/Opera has a unique view of the use of 3D technology as a medium with which to showcase the built environment through 3D visualisation.

Having began as a company making documentary films that looked at architecture from the end users’ point of view, Squint/Opera moved into 2D animation and eventually adopted 3D tools to create visualisation projects as diverse as the new London Olympic Stadium, to whole cities as far afield as Vietnam.

“We started doing 3D visualisation, and since then we have been mixing all three elements — live footage, 2D animation and 3D animation,” said Mr Coke. “Although three of us, and most of the people in the studio, have architectural training, we did not really come from a 3D technical background in the sense that a lot of visualisation emerged much more from that side. We came from documentary techniques, and later on advertising techniques.

“Our idea was always two-fold, to take the techniques that are used in entertainment — TV and documentary — and apply them to the built environment, and also to escape from the jargon and talk about architecture in a way that someone else would find interesting and can understand.”

With Imagina proving a melting pot of different industries working with similar media, Mr Coke is interested to see what part visualisation, which he sees as an extension of the communications industry, is playing in both architecture and urbanisation around Europe and the rest of the world.


The event has a nice free-for-all approach. The idea that communications can form part of an urban design strategy is quite an interesting one.

“It is always interesting to see different sorts of agencies and people coming together as the world of 3D is so diverse,” said Mr Coke. “It would be easy for us to stay on ‘our turf’ as communications, but there are all sorts of different people using 3D in different ways.

Speakers’ corner

Every year Imagina presents a slightly different programme. Here is our guide to who will be leading the way with the best architectural and urbaisation talks at the event.

Jules Coke

The co-founder and managing director of Squint Opera will be comparing a wide range of rendering styles that have been introduced since the advent of 3D images, and assessing the way in which they are received and interpreted by their target audience. What types of graphics will we see and use most over the next few years?

Daniel C. White

Vice President at RTKL, the firm that has designed some of the world’s foremost architectural spaces, Mr White’s talk will explore how digital, 2D, 3D and BIM innovations of all kinds are used to accomplish day-to-day tasks using examples from RTKL’s works around the globe.

Ralf Levedag

Architect and projects manager at Cabinet Wilmotte & Associs. Mr Levedag will discuss the future Stade de Nice, which saw its design move into new technological grounds with the inclusion of sustainable development and energy saving.

Benoit Frederique

In his role as product manager for Bentley Systems,Mr Frederique will be taking part in the Virtual Cities conference, comparing complex problems faced by towns and cities that wish to move towards specially developed and long-lasting digital mock-ups based on reliable geo-spatial data, and which professional software packages could benefit according to local needs and the services involved.

Dominique Lancrenon

Tackling the issue of using 3D cartography to better fight urban sprawl, Mr Lancrenon, president of the European council of spatial planners, will be chairing a conference to assess the role of 3D in local coherence planningand the use of virtual mock-ups in redeveloping urban centres.

“The event has a nice free-for-all approach. The idea that communications can form part of an urban design strategy is quite an interesting one.”

At the time of our interview Mr Coke is still mulling over the ideas he wants to cover in his presentation, including the role that visualisation plays in a modern project, and how its role is growing even more significant.

Mr Coke is also interested in how the built environment has to change because of population: “Particularly in larger scale master-planning,” he said. “It shouldn’t be something that happens totally behind closed doors.”

“The internet and media and how people like to consume stuff — information, content, video and moving image — is becoming something that is much more expected of everything, what might have been expressed in print before will now increasingly be expressed in moving image combined with print and still imagery.”

Elsewhere, there is the question of how quickly visualisation is growing, and how much freedom it provides. “Software is getting cheaper and faster. You can do more with it and we are only right at the start of that process in lots of different ways. For example, techniques: the gap between things that they are doing in feature films and things that you can do yourself in a bedroom, the ‘lag’ is getting shorter and shorter.

“At the moment it is still specialised, particularly at the higher end — we find it very difficult to explain even to the clients who are working on large-scale projects what we are actually doing.

“Even people in the film industry are a bit confused as well, it is moving so fast.”

With Squint/Opera having such an identifiable style to its work it seems likely that Mr Coke will also cover the wide range of rendering styles that have been introduced since the advent of 3D imagery, and the way in which they are received and interpreted by their target audience.

Mr Coke is certain that different artistic styles for projects, such as hyperrealism, realism, dream-like and cartoon-like approaches, could help and encourage an audience to understand a project, rather than a straight photorealistic approach.

“A lot of companies still view it in that way; that it is all about the most faithful reproduction of environmental conditions and materiality, all of these things. It is such a good subject: how you mimic nature using a computer, but the way we come to it is from much more of a communications point of view, thinking about what it is you want to say, as opposed to purely saying ‘look at this model’.

“You want to say why the model is how it is and not just what it is, and this is where all the differences in techniques and artistic license becomes relevant.”

It now seems key that a little artistic flair in a project, especially with the adoption of commercial and documentary styling, go a long way in providing a winning start for the planning, acceptance and even desirability of a building or area.

With the mixture of architects, engineers and artists that make up the visitors to Imagina, new and exciting ideas and possibly even ventures are sure to be sparked.

Imagina runs from the 7th-9th February, 2012, at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco.


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