An Architectural Perspectivist Goes Digital
A typical illustration process in traditional media involves making a black-and-white pencil drawing, photographing and printing it, and rendering the print with colored pencil. This is very time consuming.
It is also difficult to make changes. If a client wants a color of a lighter value than was originally rendered, the black and white version has to be redone and the whole rendering recolored.
Improving the Process through Technology
Digital media enable Frank to create a drawing that can evolve throughout the entire design process, to quickly produce alternative studies, and to incorporate changes as needed.
When the architect wants the illustration to have warm colors and the developer prefers cool, it is possible to do both versions in digital media without preparing new illustrations as would be required with traditional media.
What carries through to the digital work from traditional media is an understanding of value and color. Frank used to spend hours doing color studies and experimenting with color composition. Digital media enables him to still do this but in a much shorter time.
The Battery Park City Project in New York is a good example of this approach. The architectural illustrations document the drawing and design process. The perspectives were initially commissioned as part of a competition submission by Gary Edward Handel & Associates.
The project is a mixed-use tower to house the Skyscraper Museum, a public restaurant, condominium units, furnished apartments, and a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, the tower has views of Battery Park, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. The perspective shows the tower facade overlooking the water.
Frank did two illustrations for the competition. The perspectives document how color and the use of brick changed after the initial submission to the competition. After the architects addressed concerns that the original proposal did not have enough brick, the Handel design was selected as the winning project.
A year later, Millennium Partners, the developers for the project, commissioned a marketing illustration which incorporates additional design changes. The tower is currently under construction.
One Step at a Time
The hardware used to create these illustrations includes: a Power Macintosh 9500/200MHz, with 432 megabytes of RAM, and a 9 gigabyte RAID array. Output is to an Epson 9000 with a Fiery RIP using pigmented inks printed on archival watercolor paper. Frank uses form-Z, Illustrator, and Photoshop software.
Sometimes the client provides the wireframe model. Typically, however, Frank receives a DWG file of plans and elevations to use as a base. To begin the process, he extrudes the 2D drawings in form-Z to create solids in a 3D wireframe model. He then chooses three to five perspective views and prints them for review.
He saves the chosen wireframe perspective as an Illustrator file, opens it in Illustrator, and cleans it up by removing duplicate lines. He prints the Illustrator drawing at 11" x 17" (A3) or smaller.
Frank then traces over the wireframe perspective in pencil on vellum to create a freehand look. With the Battery Park project, the background buildings were hand drawn. For projects that require a sketch quality, he does all of the line work in pencil.
Frank then scans the pencil-on-vellum drawing into Photoshop using the grayscale setting at 600 dpi. This is the base drawing for the rendered perspective.
He starts with the project building and creates a separate layer for each material in Photoshop. This enables him to quickly experiment with various color and lighting schemes.
The initial step is to create flat colors of each material. He then works out the value scheme by adding gradations of color and texture. Frank rarely uses filters because he wants to avoid a canned "computer look."
On separate layers, he uses various blend modes and opacity levels in the tool and layer settings to apply additional colors that create a translucent effect. The approach is similar to painting with thin washes of oil or watercolor.
The input device plays a role as well. Frank starts with a mouse for the initial color application, then uses a stylus for adding color blends and painting the entourage (plants, people, water). For sketch projects he uses only the stylus.
Each of the three perspectives shows a different stage in design. It would be very time consuming to do these alternative studies in traditional media. In digital media, Frank incorporates the design changes in the form-Z model to produce an accurate underlay to trace over. Then in pencil, he draws the area to be changed using the original line drawing as an underlay. He scans the drawing with the changes into Photoshop and places it on a separate layer.
Then he erases the old area on the original drawing. The combination of the two layers is a new seamless line drawing. Because each surface and each material is on its own layer, the necessary color and material changes can be made with great ease.
In Search of New Techniques
Before adopting the computer, Frank did pencil illustrations. He is currently experimenting with combining manual value drawings and digital color. An example is the Four Seasons Project by the Handel office. This illustration received an Award of Excellence from the American Society of Architectural Perspectivists in October 2000.
The initial steps are identical to those described above. Frank creates a 3D wireframe view as the base drawing in form-Z and Illustrator. However, instead of rendering the values as color in Photoshop, he does it freehand as a grayscale charcoal sketch. Only the color is added digitally as an atmospheric wash.
Although the two techniques use a similar process, the result and intent are very different. The line/digital process is effective for presentation images to communicate design and context more clearly. The sketch/digital approach is great for conceptual design images to convey atmosphere and the poetry of architecture.
A life drawing class exercise at RISD taught Frank that trying new things brings a freshness to one's work. The exercise involved using a tree branch dipped in ink as a drawing tool. As a result, he views the computer as a very expensive tree branch. It allows him to do what he has always been doing with traditional media—just faster both in creating a finished product and in experimentation.
Darlene A. Brady is a registered architect and contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. She is author of the forthcoming book Architectonic Color: Its Virtual And Physical Reality.