The art of being there

Squint/Opera creative director Nick Taylor and 3d artist Steven Tierney discuss how they create images filled with incident and atmosphere.

Your architectural stills and films are far removed from simply depicting buildings, what sort of creative goals do you set at the start of a job?

Nick Taylor (NT) - All of our projects start with a process to define a brief. This is a collaboration with the client and sometimes with other teams, but led by us at Squint. From this brief we develop a creative approach that will attract attention, make people curious, and draw them in to find out more. The notion of ‘depicting buildings’ sounds like pure architectural visualisation.

Steven Tierney (ST) - Having started out as a production company making documentary films, and often dealing with large-scale masterplan projects, Squint has always been more about communicating ideas, concepts, atmosphere, infrastructure and human activity than just portraying good looking buildings. We want to build up the scenarios so that people get a sense of exploring a place, being there.

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BankMed headquarters, Beirut, Lebanon; John Robertson Architects

How early in a project do you discuss with clients things like mood, weather, featured characters and other details?

ST - It is generally a good idea to get early buy in from the client on all aspects of the image being created. Just how early you can do this depends on the client, and some are better at understanding drafts than others.

NT - It is important that the proposed approach and style should be as clear as possible so that clients will understand and like it. You want to avoid taking something too far, only to find out you’ve gone in the wrong direction. It can be a bit of a ‘Catch 22’, but generally not an issue when working with clients where there is an established and trusting relationship.  

Your work often includes intriguing types of weather… is this something that fascinates you?

NT - There was a time, perhaps five years ago, when clients always wanted blue skies and happy families in their images. However, that now seems to have changed, or at least modified to embrace different types of mood. The business of architectural visualisation is generally optimistic, we are trying to sell an idea or a development and we want people to feel good about it. However, we know from experience that depicting different atmospheres and weathers - even rain - can help build up the levels of intrigue.

ST - Improvements in software, client sophistication and the growing talent and experience of artists have all contributed towards the creation of more varied and subtle approaches to depicting lighting and weather in images.

People talk about projects looking their best in the golden hour, do you agree?

NT - There are very good reasons why the so-called ‘golden’ hour has been so loved by artists and photographers. It is that moment in time when day moves to night or vice versa, when light is changing at its fastest and effects are at their most transient. The light takes on beautiful oranges and reds, clouds have much more colour variation and contrast, and cloud layers are affected by different qualities of light. Often convective clouds start clearing, shadows get longer and the balance of ambient light to sunlight becomes less harsh and more favourable to photography. Of course, other times of day are beautiful too, but you are more likely to get magic in the golden hours. 

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Stonehenge Visitor Centre

How do you create the balance between mood and detail?

ST - I don’t think these two things work against each other. Where there is generous time and budget and the image is going to be displayed in the right way, it is lovely to create an image that is both compositionally alluring for the first impression, but also rewardingly rich in detail for the viewer that journeys into the scene.

Five steps to the art of being there

  1. A great composition
  2. Interesting lighting and atmosphere
  3. Design and detail in the environment
  4. People to bring the place to life.

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The Mary Wollstonecraft Rock, part of a Squint/Opera break-out project.

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