Harris Kalinka

Imagery + Animation Golf + Architecture

Thursday 22nd September 2016

Creating dirty images

Why do most architectural visualisations look unrealistic, even when they’re perfectly precise? And could the images for your next project benefit from a little dirt?

A couple of months ago I was at a lecture given by an architect who happened to show a CGI as part of his presentation. As an aside to what he was really there to talk about, he mentioned how CGIs never look like the buildings once they are built. He said that if you visit the building, or even see a photograph, it’s never quite the same, that there’s more depth and character. I’m not going to argue with him because he’s right. At the same time architects in general, have to accept some of the blame. Let me tell you why.

Perfection isn’t reality

The reason the building has more depth and character, when you see it in a photograph or in front of your eyes, is because it’s dirty. Not just dirty, but aged, worn and far from perfect, having been exposed to the elements and used by people. This is what gives it some character and makes it feel human and more real.

When we create a 3d model of a building, the walls are perfectly straight, the floors are perfectly flat and the materials are pristine. We’ve often tried to add some irregularities to the 3d model, but our efforts are almost always in vain. We’ll send the architects the CGI and without fail we’ll get a reply asking us to make everything look as if it is brand new.

So we end up with a CGI that is often too perfect.

Flawless images make people question

The architect of course wants their building to look its best, as if it’s just been unwrapped – which is understandable. So when they get the opportunity to review the CGI they pick up on all the little imperfections that catch their eye. Unfortunately it’s these little things that combine to create an image with character.

The human eye is used to seeing the imperfect world around us, so as soon as we see a CGI that is without the imperfections our eyes tell us something is up. You might not be able to put your finger on why the CGI does not look real, but there’s a good chance it’s because it’s missing these imperfections.

I had an interesting conversation with a developer who was of the same opinion as the aforementioned architect. The big difference was, this developer realised why CGIs don’t work and suggested two possible solutions. The first is you don’t even try and create CGIs that look real, you deliberately go in the opposite direction and choose a more conceptual or stylistic path. Alternatively, you create images with atmosphere; he gave me an example of a recent project he had worked on – a live music venue in London. In the CGIs, he was hoping to see posters peeling off the wall, teenagers with wrist bands, empty bottles of beer, people jumping up and down and a dark and moody atmosphere – just like you would see in real life.

Could dirt and a few real people make all the difference?

But it’s not just the lack of imperfections that give CGIs away. Almost without fail we are asked to add impossibly beautiful people, as if they’ve just stepped out of a magazine. What if we create an image that includes average looking people, just like those who will be using the building when it’s built? Along with some dirt it might just give the image some character and stop it looking like just another CGI.

Interested in some dirty CGIs?