CGI is seen as being able to make the impossible, possible.
Unfortunately some things are still impossible to create whilst still maintaining a level of reality - which has to exist when it comes to architecture/property marketing. As the guys behind the (CG) cameras, you can guarantee that one thought always crosses our minds – “Please don’t pick a wide-angle view”.
When creating exterior shots it is fairly acceptable to use a wide-angle lens, as in reality you would have to on a real-life camera to try and capture a whole building in one shot. Quite often this can lead to a dynamic shot which most clients will appreciate, however, many artists I have worked with over the years would still rather not use such extreme perspectives and show the building over 2 or 3 images rather than one super stretched, unnatural image. The obvious downfall of this is the extra cost/time implications.
With interiors, it is a touchy subject. Quite often you feel like you’re being asked to show all four walls of a room and around the corner into the hallway, in one single shot. This generally leads to what most people will view as an unpleasant image to look at - no matter how hard you've worked on materials and lighting. At the outset of a project we should be asking ;
Are you selling square footage or are you selling a lifestyle choice?
If it is the former, then okay, we will always try and find the best way to show off the space as a whole. But if it’s the latter, which I'm sure most developers would want to imply, then maybe we should take some inspiration from lifestyle/set photography. After all, this is what most artists and clients will reference when creating an interiors mood board.
I always go a little too far and render off some super close-up ‘cameos’ or ‘vignettes’ of specific furniture or finishes. Many artists I know do the same, it usually leads to the most photo-real images and it is always a challenge to get a material looking perfect on close inspection. You could say it is a little egotistical - it’s more about appeasing yourself as an artist rather than what the client would probably like but there should be a middle ground that pleases both.
Generally our images are used in brochures alongside 2D floor-plans which will give the potential buyer a clear view of the shape, size and layout of the property. With this in mind, shouldn't we focus a little more on selling the lifestyle and what you’re buying into rather than just the space itself? Even when the images are used on the hoardings around sites whilst they are under construction, you need to capture people’s attention with something beautiful rather than something that could have been copied and pasted from Rightmove.
Set photography can be very contrived but it also makes people fall in love with products, finishes, furniture and the ‘look’. Spending time styling a CGI in this way could really make the difference between a great render and a great image. A render can be technically amazing - perfect materials, lighting, and clean to the artists eye but this doesn't make it a great image
I regularly trawl through on-line blogs and stylists web pages looking for inspiration for visualisation. I always find images that make me fall in love with the space and finishes, but like many wide angle shots, these aren't necessarily honest images either. The example below shows a beautiful interior set, but it has been set up specifically to be shot like this so you have no idea how big the rooms are. It could be a pokey, one bedroom flat for all we know (for arguments sake) - and as this is a stylists shot, it won’t have a floor-plan next to it either. It still makes me want to live there though.
So where is the middle ground?
I think it’s a fine balance of set design per image, focal length and aspect ratio. I'm not going to worry about lighting and materials in this case, just the ‘camera’ itself and the composition (light and shadow can often make a composition but let’s forget that for now).
We will often render out view after view to give the client as many composition choices as they need. This will usually mean laying furniture out in a generic manner and moving the camera around the space to find a view that ticks as many boxes as possible. The furniture does get moved around a touch to enhance the view a little more, but what if we tried this process the other way around?
When you know what is going to be in the scene, why not pick out one main architectural feature and render views with different furniture/prop layouts rather than drastically different camera positions? I think adding that little extra effort into the 'staging' of the image can really improve the overall output. You can build a scene, create a narrative and have a little interactivity just by positioning certain pieces of furniture in the view. I always used to worry about removing pieces of furniture from scenes for specific shots, thinking this wasn't a realistic approach when actually, this is exactly what a photographer would do if he or she were shooting a location house. So maybe this isn't something we should worry about too much.
Landscape or portrait?
The majority of the time we create landscape views to fill a landscape brochure but more often than not, a portrait composition can be just as pleasing to the eye, if not better. Two portrait shots can fill the same space as a landscape. As mentioned previously, there are cost and time implications but it also allows you to show off different areas of interest in much more detail. A portrait shot can also reduce the need for a wide-angle lens - you won't need to see the whole ceiling and floor so you can zoom in have a much less confusing view of your chosen area of interest.
I'm not saying we should always try to replace landscape views with two portrait views, you can always create beautiful landscape compositions.
Making the most of your investment
So much work goes into creating the scenes we are tasked with building - producing one shot from this doesn't maximise both the studio and client's investment in the project. Real value comes from a braver decision to explore the space in a more concentrated manner. The strongest connections to a place or space come from showing the finer details that may be lost when viewed from a distance.
I just think we shouldn't try too hard to see everything in one shot, be a little more creative with the dressing of images and not limit ourselves to only one format or one image.