Harris Kalinka

Imagery + Animation Golf + Architecture

Tuesday 17th November 2015

Why are CGIs s**t?

With CGIs now an expected part of any architectural design project, the expectations of what they should be have definitely shifted. How can we make sure that we meet these expectations?

We think it’s time to get a little more human.

I’m always interested to know what’s being built in Brighton, so I found myself at a presentation, listening to a developer talk about his proposal for a mixed use scheme on a prominent site. A bit like Marmite, some loved the scheme and some hated it, but both reactions were more to do with the aesthetic of the architecture. I don’t think the lovers or the haters could argue with the underlying intention of the developer, which is to bring a positive change to an area that has been in decline for a number of years.

For me the most interesting part of the talk was the developer’s final four words. After showing some CGIs of the proposed scheme he said “Why are CGIs s**t?”

I have to say I agree with him, all too often CGIs of architectural projects are just that. Let me explain why I agree and how we can start to fix it.

An architectural image needs more than design

People are becoming desensitised to CGIs. There was a time when CGIs alone would give a proposed development its wow factor. But people are now so familiar with CGI in Hollywood films and countless other developments. They are the norm – just another box to tick if you’re submitting a planning application or presenting the scheme to the local community. There is nothing special about a CGI anymore, unless you undertake to give it something special.

A CGI is typically the first impression someone will have of a proposed development, so it’s really important to delight them in that first moment they see it. Once they’ve seen the CGI they will decide what they think and feel about the development. To change their mind from this point onwards is difficult.

Connecting people to designs

Too many CGIs are used solely to showcase the architecture, so the development is judged purely on the aesthetic, not what it’s trying to represent. The architecture is supposed to create community, but most CGIs don’t show this. The CGIs forget to show how the space is used, what the people who will be living, working and playing in the space will experience.

For a development like the one in Brighton – and so many others – which is all about local community, local businesses, local art projects and the local people, the CGIs should surely feel local. They didn’t.

CGIs could be used to show so much more, they could be used to create some emotional connection. People are more likely to feel a connection if the image relates to their own behaviour or experiences.

Admittedly, every development is different, but I think there are four things that could help us to create CGIs that are not s**t, and that people feel some emotional connection too.

1. Understand the audience

Even before we start work on the CGIs, it’s important to understand who will be living, working and playing in the space the architecture creates. The architect and developer will (I hope) already know this. So make sure the CGI company knows this too. Knowing what is important to these people should influence the CGIs that are created so that the people viewing them will be more receptive to the project.

For the CGIs for this particular development the in Brighton, everyone looks like they were taken from a stock library (very likely). And I can tell you there are some real characters in the local community! The people in these CGIs were too generic, and not at all like the people of Brighton – and I’m sure Brightonians won’t mind me saying so. This meant that there was no point of emotional connection for anyone viewing the CGIs.

2. Make it personal

You could take it one step further and make the people the focus of some of the CGIs and of how you communicate your development. You could involve real local people by taking photos of anyone willing to help you out. This is no more than a seed of an idea, but if you’re showing local people, the characters of the community, in your CGIs, then there must be some social media opportunities. If you need to drum up support for your development then who better to front your campaign than the people who might be living, working and playing in the development when it’s built?

3. Use close ups of the architecture

Showing close ups of people will also mean you’re showing close up of the architecture. This lets you show how people will use the space with the architecture becoming the backdrop instead of the focus of the image.

All too often CGIs show a full frame view or the entire building, often as an imposing structure that immediately dwarfs neighbouring buildings as well as people.

A close up view will also help to show the materials, letting people see the texture of brick, timber or stone. So much time goes into choosing the materials, but they’re often lost in the CGIs simply because the view is from so far away.
In the same way CGIs also show perfect people they also show perfect materials, so why not add a bit of dirt or wear and tear, make the project look like it will soon after its been built and exposed to the elements. Give it some character. Not only will it look more real, it will also help to blend in with the surroundings, which has to be a good thing if you want to get planning.
Of course you probably do need to show a view of the full building, but why not start with some close ups as a softer introduction before showing the full frame view?

4. Think beyond planning

I understand this approach isn’t going to work for every project, and it will also depend on what the CGIs are for. If the CGIs are for planning then the architect, planning consultant and the council planning department will no doubt request a particular view of the proposal and no amount of persuasion is going to change their minds. They like to see full frame views of the architecture, seeing the height of the building and how it is juxtaposed with the context.

But why not do both and create a complementary set of CGIs that show close ups, focusing on how the architecture is used? These can tell a story and give people a feeling for the project and what it will be like to be a part of it. It gives more than just an impression of how big and impressive (or not) the architecture is.

Make it human and you might just surprise everyone.

Now you’re probably asking why we haven’t got any CGIs that show what I have been talking about. The answer is that we will have. We’re currently working on a project for a very open minded developer ,so all I will say is “Watch this space”.