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The Transformative Power of Advanced Rendering Technologies

Welcome to the inaugural issue of our new series, Visualizing Tomorrow, where we will dive deep into the innovative technologies that we use within our firm. In this first installment, we sat down with STG Design’s Design Technology team and explored the transformative power of advanced rendering and visualization technologies that are reshaping the industry.

Providing insights are Matthew Feaga, Director of Design Technology; Lukas Machaj, Visualization Specialist; and William Pellacani, Design Technology Specialist focusing on front-end concept design.

Jumping into it with the first question: In what ways can advanced rendering technologies such as VR and real-time rendering transform the design process and client engagement?

Lukas Machaj: Well, the more immersive the visualization at the early stage of design, the lower the chance of a disconnect between the client and the designer. 2D images can struggle to capture the full atmosphere of a space being designed. If the client can become immersed in the space virtually, it helps bridge the gap to what they actually want, which can drive the design in the right direction.

William Pellacani: Sometimes people have a hard time visualizing designs from drawings, and it could take a while to achieve understanding and buy-in. Now, with real-time rendering, we can show clients a model, walk around the space, and immediately get buy-in or approval to continue.

Can you discuss a project where the use of advanced rendering technology significantly influenced the project's design outcome or client decision-making process?

Matthew Feaga: I can think of several interior design projects where VR was extremely helpful. VR conveys scale better than any other virtual medium, and advances in VR-based software allow us to dynamically review options and make changes while collaborating, especially when it comes to material selections.

William: Fly-through animations have also won us projects before. The technology excited the client enough to choose us. And, obviously, the design was good too [laughs].

Lukas: For marketing purposes, we've used high-end 360 renderings to showcase spaces, especially for residential units. It's tough to get a good feel for a small space like a condo with just 2D still renderings. The 360 rendering allows potential tenants to go to a website and rotate around and zoom in on the space on a website, giving a better sense of the space without needing a VR headset or additional technology.

Matthew: 360 renderings are especially useful since not everyone likes VR headsets. Some people get self-conscious with a headset on, some get motion sickness, so it can be a challenge to implement. 360 rendering is probably one of the most flexible advanced visualization technologies out there just because you can imbed it pretty much wherever.

VR and AR were hot topics a few years ago and continue to advance, but it seems that AI is all anyone can talk about for the last year and a half. With the advancements in technologies such as AI, machine learning, and real-time rendering, how do you see the future of architectural visualization evolving?

Lukas: I think software will become more intuitive, reducing the learning curve for advanced rendering software. AI could assist with creating prompts for itself, making the software more user-friendly. However, for the later stages of visualization, where realism is crucial, AI might not replace the need for human input anytime soon.

Matthew: Yeah, AI struggles with exactness. It might be a while before AI can create one-button renderings of maximum quality without designer intervention to get the image exactly how we want it to look and feel. There's still a lot of nuance and customization required in renderings that AI struggles with right now. Eventually, I could see it really helping to pump up the photorealism of our renderings in a shorter amount of time with fewer computing resources. I see it more as augmentation rather than replacement of the renderer.

William: We need to know exactly what we want and how to describe it very clearly to a computer for AI to be useful, so communication of design intent is a big challenge for AI, as it requires concise and clear descriptions, which can be more difficult than people realize. The tech may get there someday, but ‘when’ is a big question.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, storytelling is a specifically human part of visualization. How do you approach incorporating storytelling elements into architectural renderings to create a more immersive and engaging experience for viewers?

Matthew: The story is often more important than the design itself. People tend to latch onto a story even more than the discrete elements of the image. It can be really difficult to achieve a good story in a computer-based medium, but it is extremely powerful when it’s done well.

William: Entourage plays a big role in storytelling for images. Placing good entourage purposefully adds scale and life to an image. For example, placing people in a community space as if they're having a conversation or engaging in activities can help sell the idea of the space to viewers. It can paint a picture of the design’s end-user and help inform the direction the design takes.

Lukas: I often study photography of similar spaces and replicating realistic details can make the space feel lived-in and active, enhancing the storytelling aspect.

Can you share examples where the use of unconventional perspectives or artistic styles in architectural renderings adds value to the design narrative or presentation?

Lukas: Rendering with the goal of realism at early design stages can actually hinder the design process. Realistic renderings can imply that a progress design is more final than it is, which can limit creativity while collaborating. Using illustrated entourage, scale figures, or filtering can convey that the design is still evolving and open to ideas and suggestions.

Matthew: We’ve also had success using non-photorealistic or highly stylized renderings to help create an emotional experience or tie into the client's marketing efforts. They can convey an idea or vibe that resonates with both our clients and their clients to help sell the idea and the end product. Luke recently did some pretty awesome ones that made an impact at a launch party.

How do you approach representing time and movement in architectural renderings, especially in dynamic environments or projects with evolving design concepts?

Matthew: The easy answer is that it’s pretty straightforward to represent a space dynamically through animations or walkthrough videos versus still renderings. We can very easily show changing time of day, people engaging in activities in the space, and shifts in perspective. This can be tough with still renderings. I’m sure we can all think of a few static renderings where the scene just looks off, and it does a major disservice to the project.

Lukas: It’s possible with still renderings, but it’s tough. In scenes like streetscapes, cars and people can be distracting if they aren't shown with a sense of motion, so we simulate motion blur and use settings to convey movement more accurately. Also, it’s really important that time of day and lighting matches the entourage and their activities. It doesn't take much before a scene starts to feel unnatural, so this part of our process can take a lot of effort to get right.

My last question for you all is a bonus question, what has been your favorite part about visualization or your favorite project to render thus far?

Lukas: My favorite part is the challenge of learning and improving with advanced and emerging software. Seeing the realism of our renderings compared to the completed building is extremely rewarding, especially in projects I pass by in Austin.

William: My favorite part is integrating rendering with the design process, allowing for real-time visualization and collaboration with clients. It's exciting to see how visualization can streamline and enhance the design process.

Matthew: I really enjoy seeing the end result of a good rendering and how it can make a design shine. A well-executed rendering can highlight the best aspects of a design and get people excited about the project. When we design and visualize a project and then get a big “[Heck] yeah!” from our internal team or the client, it’s a good feeling.

From enhancing client engagement to streamlining decision-making processes, these tools are revolutionizing the way we conceptualize and communicate design ideas. Stay tuned for more insightful conversations about how we’re using technology to push the boundaries of design.

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