Creating high-end 3D visualisations of a development takes a range of expertise and incredible attention to detail.
A definitive moment comes in a 3D visualisation project when work is first presented to the various stakeholders – developer, architect, interior designer, landscape architect, sales and marketing.
For Costa Gabriel and Veronica Saunders, directors at Gabriel Saunders, a Fitzroy-based firm specialising in creating high-end 3D imagery and styling spaces, the work is about 60 percent complete by the time this ‘preliminary’ meeting occurs. With everything modelled and textured, that’s when the fun starts.
“The presentation is very much about getting everyone's opinion on board,” Saunders says. “There are so many conversations that come up at that meeting, about view lines, aesthetics and so on. Often the developer's personal aesthetic will be different from the buyer’s aesthetic, so you really have to flesh that out and ask where each comment is coming from.”
Approaching the process like this – with one big face-to-face meeting and no white cards – eliminates the endless back-and-forth emails with mark-ups and comments that can drag a project down. “Everyone comes for one hour and gets to talk about how the rug is completely out of fashion, or that their ex-girlfriend had that cup I hated, that they really want the hedge to be three metres wide and not show wheelchair access, but then someone says we need to show wheelchair access,” Gabriel says.
When a client needs to sell some apartments, the team goes back to first principles. “We may have to do a living room scene in the end, and that means we need to go back to understanding the target audience, the people that live in that area, and then develop the styling from there,” he says.
With Gabriel’s background in architecture, and Saunders’ in high-end interior design, they come to things from different points of view, but one thing they share is a respect for the other’s expertise, and that of the various specialists that work on a project.
Respect for disciplines
That is what separates the best visualisations from the rest, say Saunders and Gabriel. From an architect reading the plans and using the software, their approach is based on treating a project in ‘Rendertown’ just like a high-end shoot in the real world.
“The developers, architects, interior designers, landscape architects and photographers are very passionate about what they do,” Saunders says. “It doesn't matter if it’s 500 apartments or one house. Rather than one person doing everything, it’s important to recognise that, just like in high-end interior design where you have styled photoshoots and work with amazing photographers, this is exactly the same.”
Even though, technically, anything is possible in Rendertown, Gabriel says the best results come when it’s treated with a sense of reality. “Interior designers and stylists art direct every single project,” he says. “Professional photographers set up all the camera angles. We work with professional photographers that shoot for us in real-world projects, in interior design magazines and so forth.
“It’s about respecting the disciplines and all these people coming together with their expertise to create the image.”
Hearts and minds
This approach is a noticeable departure from the pervasive approach to architectural renders that attempt to communicate the hard facts of a building’s layout and location – as buyers become increasingly educated, they can read plans and imagine overall, blank layouts themselves. Photorealistic three-dimensional visuals convey high-end quality, and the aim is less about showing how a space looks and more about how it could feel.
“Our approach is one that drills down to understanding everyone’s position,” Saunders says. “There’s a big stakeholder group at the table – sales and marketing, the architect, the developer, the interior designers – but it’s about the buyer at the end of the day. We take their mentality on board to really understand what their journey throughout the space would be like. They’re buying a lifestyle, so our approach is more like lifestyle editorial photography than shots of the overall space. We’re not interested in doing renders, we’re interested in photorealism.”
Essentially, this means setting up camera angles within the virtual space – known as ‘vignettes’ or ‘cameos’ – that can capture moments in time. “They’re closer-up shots that give you an understanding of the space without showing you the whole space,” Gabriel says. “That’s very powerful. Someone can focus on the living area, for example, on the feeling of sitting on the couch, as opposed to seeing a big wide-angle camera shot, which is more typical in real estate – yes, you see the sense of space, but there’s an emotional disconnect.
“We want it to look like beautiful architectural photography, like really beautiful photographs that you might see published.”
Details, details, details
In Rendertown, where imagination can run wild, the practice insists on keeping a sense of reality. “We’re very big on honesty: everything is to scale, we have real lighting, we know a lot about fabric, glass and other textures,” says Saunders.
Even if a client just wants a rendering of the kitchen, the whole space is modelled. “We sort of have to anyway,” says Gabriel. “Then when we set up all the camera angles as requested, it may work, but if we experiment and look in other directions, we may get another really wonderful moment that no one had considered.
“That’s what's wonderful about it and why we love doing it. When you zoom in, you can see the detail in the fabric or the sculpture that we’ve modelled by hand in the studio. We haven’t just downloaded it from somewhere.”
As well as making the final shots even more powerful, an obsession with detail serves another, equally practical, purpose. “Detail wins the confidence of everyone involved,” Saunders says. “Interior designers work with us and, after seeing how we work, don’t just give us items from a library – they go to their treasure chest of all the things they love. And the architects have confidence that we’ll do material analysis. For example, we can show varying levels of patina on different materials. Then with the landscaping, how overgrown are the plants? Some people may think it’s nothing, but it means something to us.
“We also do the same for real-world photoshoots. Once a development is built, we can go in and do the styling in the same essence as the 3D visuals. This means the same essence can carry through from the 3D visuals into the marketing campaign, the display suite and in the photoshoot just before handover.”
This is why, Gabriel says, the preliminary meeting is such a vital step. “It’s one meeting where everyone’s voice is heard and considered, and then we consolidate,” he says. “The interior designer may have chosen something completely contradictory to the sales or branding vision – this all comes up at that moment, not at the end, because that’s when you know something’s wrong.
“But when a developer says the classic line, ‘Oh, that’s what my building looks like’, it defines this process. It’s a critical moment that’s much bigger than us and a lot of the people in the room.”