Blink Image were happy to attend this years BFX Festival in Bournemouth. I managed to get to the Family Weekend which was pretty amazing. It was a case of sensory overload (in a good sense!) with ancient home computers running some of the first ever computer games (some of which I remember it has to be said), workshops to learn robot programming, courses on sketching and Z-Brush 3D modelling, real-time green screen demonstrations…there were also a selection of Storm Troopers and even Darth Vader wandering around for impromptu selfie shots!
We had a blast.
Blink Image professional film
Blink Image are involved in the full gamut of architectural visualisation. Although we started as a pure image creation company some 18 years ago (!), we now work with architects, property developers and interior designers on verified views, photography, animation, VR, panoramic imagery and architectural film.
By offering the entire suite of suite of services – together with our experience and backgrounds in Architecture – we are involved with projects from conception (pre-planning), planning and marketing. If the development doesn’t yet exist, we will use our 3D modelling and rendering skills to create beautiful artworks that describe the nuances that are special to the scheme. If the project is already complete and ready to be occupied, we will create a short film to explain the project – it’s context and its spaces – to potential tenants and purchasers.
Often, our approach is a hybrid of all of these techniques that combines 3D, photography and film in a presentation to stimulate the senses and leave a lasting memory with your audience.
Blink Image VR Lab
Blink Image now have a VR lab to demonstrate the potential of Virtual Reality in architectural visualisation. Focusing primarily in the HTC Vive, we also make full use of Oculus Rift (CV1) and Gear VR. The reason – at this stage – for the main focus on the Vive is the use of motion controllers to help navigation, and the fact that the user is able to physically walk around the virtual space.
Our VR Lab is a dedicated room that will allow architects, designers, developers and other key interested parties to test out their designs, experiencing their concepts at 1:1 scale. The VR experience will help both designer and client understand their projects in a whole new way – a way that plans, elevations and even CGIs alone cannot deliver.
If you are interested to know more about our VR Lab, or have a project that you feel could benefit from this experience (either by giving your project a ‘wow’ factor or helping a client understand a proposal more clearly), please get in touch. Our system is portable so it can be used in your own space, but our dedicated lab means it is ready to be used at all times.
Microsculptures at The Natural History Museum
Part of the Blink Image team took a couple of hours away from the office yesterday to visit a new exhibition at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
The exhibition was comprised of some astounding macro photography of insects from within the museum’s own collection. The photographer, Levon Biss, has spent countless man hours painstakingly shooting many hundreds of photographs of each insect before re-building them into one complete image of immense magnification.
Now, one of the problems with any sort of macro-photography, is that you have an extremely limited depth of field. The ‘sharp zone’ is razor thin. Biss used a rail mounted rig that allowed him to take many, many (many!) photographs of each portion of the insect at varying distances, so he had a sharp capture at each depth. He then used various software tools – and a huge amount of skill – to reconstruct a completely sharp photograph. Each image took around 3 weeks to create.
Biss comes from a background of portrait photography. Lighting is a crucial element of photography (and CGI), particularly when shooting portraits. He cleverly transferred these same skills to lighting the insects. The difference in this case, however, was that each part of the insect (the eyes, the wings etc) behaved differently to the lighting. To bring out the best of all the parts, Biss used different techniques for each part to help bring out the detail of the insect.
The printouts are immense. It is an amazing experience to stand so close to the works of art and wonder how/why these insects have evolved the way they have.
There is certainly a great deal that our artists can learn from this exhibition and apply to architectural visualisation: the importance of detail; the ways that we can harness lighting to bring out the characteristics of architecture; the clarity of presentation and composition.
It is a beautiful exhibition and well worth a visit if you get the opportunity.
Červená Fox Photo Shoot (& the potential of fashion photography within CG imagery)
Below are some behind the scenes photos for a fashion shoot I was involved in yesterday with photographer Stephen Musselwhite and model Červená Fox. The shoot took place in a photogenically delapidated 18th century house in Spitalfields and various atmospheric locations around Brick Lane.
Architecture has always been an essential and powerful component of fashion photography so it is curious how little that amazing synergy is utilised the other way round when it comes to architectural imagery. Blink Image are actively engaged in changing that. The creative possibilities are endless and have the potential to add levels of meaning to our clients’ images way beyond the purely architectural.
VRscans – the future of texture creation?
One of the presentations Blink Image were very keen to see at yesterday’s Develop 3D Live conference was the Chaosgroup unveiling of their latest innovation, VRscans.
Tucked away in a dark corner of the Warwick Arts Centre, a small team from Chaosgroup opened their talk by showing two slides, side-by-side on their projection screen. The two images were of a small cylinder shaped piece of leather (a bit like a section from the steering wheel of a car). They simply asked: “Which one of these is a photograph and which is CG?”.
Confident of my own abilities to detect the fake, I shouted out: “Well…it’s the one on the right…surely!”.
Needless to say, I was wrong.
Chaosgroup showed sample after sample of comparisons between real world materials (largely leathers, chromes and other metals) and their VRscan alternatives. Each time it was almost impossible to see the difference. The VRscan system involves taking around 2000 individual ‘photographs’ of a sample from different angles and under different lighting conditions which takes just a few minutes. Once complete, clever software combines and blends the images to create a unique BRDF (bidirectional reflectance distribution function) for that sample to create a ‘physically correct’ material file that can be used in VRay with the appropriate VRscans plugin. Simply selecting this file and applying it to an object (once modelling, lighting,UV-mapping and scaling etc are sorted out of course!) will achieve beautiful, photorealistic results at render time.
Blink Image spend a huge amount of time painstakingly creating detailed materials for their images, particularly for interiors where designers have devoted their efforts on specifying just the right kind of material to achieve the desired look and feel. It is a complex process that involves lots (and lots!) of test rendering and tweeking to get things just right. Potentially, VRscans could save a whole heap of time in getting to the same – or arguably better – result.
We will certainly be keeping our eyes on how VRscans develops.
Develop 3D Live
A team from Blink Image (Oxford) peeled themselves away from the studio yesterday to attend the 2016 Develop 3D Live conference at the Warwick Arts Centre.
There were a wide range of topics covered throughout the day, from advanced robotics to to the implementation of VR and a final – somewhat dry – debate on file ownership in the cloud and the pros and cons of subscription and perpetual software licenses! Of particular note were a talk by Martin Enthed from IKEA, Philip Norman of Ross Robotics and Solomon Rogers of Rewind.
The IKEA talk largely revolved around their move to fully CG images in all online pages and printed catalogues. We had always been aware that a lot of what we have seen in IKEA literature has been computer generated – the quality of which has always been superb. However, what we were not aware of was the shear volume of images and detailed 3D models that IKEA were generating day by day. The processes and systems they have put in place to help them deal with this throughput were fascinating in their own right. It was particularly interesting – and somewhat relieving – to hear that many of the issues they face are the exact same hurdles that Blink Image have been overcoming throughout our history…just on a slightly different scale!
Philip Norman talked about his thought processes that combine art, engineering, illustration, literature, product design, architecture and advanced robotics. At first, this may seem an unusual collection to be linked, but the way Philip’s mind works made clear connections between them all, and more besides. He discussed breaking things down to the fundamentals, just as poetry conveys ideas of emotion and description in a reduced, concise format that adds to the power of idea itself. Learning from nature itself (the patterns of seeds crammed into a sunflower head, or the form and structure of a cockroach) can lead to purer design that functions in an optimal way. Fascinating stuff!
The Rewind presentation is something that I would like to pause, rewind and play again! A whirlwind tour of the VR-related projects this talented company have worked on, and highlighting the idea that VR/AR is here to stay – a sentiment that Blink Image wholeheartedly agree with.
Filming near the RIBA
It was a beautiful early Spring day for filming yesterday near the RIBA on Great Portland Street. We are filming a project we had the pleasure of creating marketing CGIs for some years ago. Now complete, the development needs a ‘teaser trailer’ to help with international marketing for those clients who don’t live or work in the area.
It was a strange case of deja vu having modelled the building in intimate detail from architects’ drawings.
Comparing the old with the new
Every single project we undertake allows our talented team of artists to push boundaries and try out new techniques to deliver ever better results. ‘Better’ can, of course, have different meanings. It can relate to the quality of the work – how photorealistic it is – or the time it takes to create – the sooner we can create the image, the sooner it can be marketed!
I happened upon an old animation of ours that we created way back in 2002. The project was a development called Tally Ho and was in a moderately highrise development in a suburb of London.
Here’s a still from the animation:-
At the time, this animation was pushing quite a few boundaries. It was before the days of integrated global illumination (that software like VRay or Corona give us nowadays). Blurry, soft reflections and shadows were also difficult to achieve. The speed of the computers we were using limited the amount of ray-tracing we could consider using. If I recall correctly, I think we used Lightscape to generate and ‘bake’ the lighting model on these animations: a software product that has long gone (though I still have it sat on a shelf somewhere here in our studio, purely for nostalgic reasons!). It was also well before the days of drone photography. We were regularly perched on top of a cherry-picker taking photos on 35mm film ready to be scanned, stitched and edited back in the office!
Now, take a look at a recent still from an architectural film we have been working on:-
This image is just over 10 years on. Soft lighting. Blurry shadows. A richness and subtlety to the textures. A huge amount of model detail in all the elements of the scene. The software (and hardware) has certainly helped us get to these sorts of levels. But, if I’m honest, render times are probably similar, and the amount of effort is still similar. This is mainly because we push and push and push to get everything we possibly can out of the computer.
Now that we are pushing into real-time rendering and virtual reality, imagine what we will be producing in another 5 or 10 years!