Page T1.2 . 06 February 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Tools Department
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  • Animating Watercolor
  • Developing 3D Models from Photos

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    Animating Watercolor


    Hofstra continues: "We were hoping for the loose, approachable quality of freehand illustration, the power of real-time on-location video, and the accuracy, precision, and three-dimensional quality of the digital environment."

    Setting the Scene

    Kruvand began by creating a computer model from the architects' schematic drawings. He worked with the design team to decide on a sequence of "camera views" in which the model would appear in the final animation.

    Then, Kansas City artist Mike Cherepak created a series of watercolor illustrations of the site and of the proposed arena and stadium facades to fit those views.

    Cherepak created several "clip-art" pages of generic streetscape elements including plants, people, cars, and lampposts. He also painted textures such as grass, water, and asphalt in a variety of styles to be used as needed throughout the production. Anticipating all the parts they would need before they proceeded was critical to producing the project quickly and efficiently.

    Next, designers at Studio2a digitized all the watercolor sheets, isolating each element and saving it as a separate image. In Photoshop, they "cut out" each image from its background. This technique places a black-and-white mask on a separate digital layer to communicate to the rendering software, 3d Studio Max, what is foreground and what is background.

    This masking information enables 3d Studio Max to make the background transparent to while allowing the "lights" to trace the edges of the "cut-out" and cast an appropriate shadow on the ground.

    "It was a bit labor intensive" says Kruvand, "but in the end we wouldn't have been able to populate such a large area in such detail without all these illustrations."

    "Painting" the Model

    Next, Kruvand texture-mapped the watercolor facades and illustrations onto simple geometric objects in the computer model, most of which were boxes or flat planes.

    "We didn't try to hide the fact these were flat images on a planar model," he says. "The people are flat, the trees are flat, and the cars are flat. That was part of the look." The watercolor textures provided all the detail.

    The rest of the process was fairly conventional computer animation. Studio2a specified lighting, camera positions, and keyframes for eight short sequences. Producing the more than 2,000 frames required only a few hours of rendering time.

    They spliced the animation sequences together for the final three-minute production. They then added post-production effects to saturate the colors and filter the image to make it look even more like a painting. they also "animated the border" by softening the edges of the images and adding a pencil-line border on a simulated watercolor paper background.

    Developing this technique ended up saving the animator and the client both time and money. Including hand-rendered illustration meant a simple 3D model could be built very quickly but contain more detail than an ordinary shaded wireframe could.

    Kruvand believes that the key to the project's success was getting all the necessary players to buy into the concept of fusing these elements of art and technology. Fortunately, he notes, this was not difficult.

    "Even though everyone is excited about the technological advances that are propelling the architecture industry forward," he says, "I think there is also nostalgia for the days when buildings were realized in the beautiful artistry of hand-crafted illustrations."

    Even while remaining a proponent of innovation, Kruvand too longs for that artistry. "There's been such an explosion of computer graphics and animation in the last decade that I think in the next few years we'll start to see an appreciation for what was left behind. This project demonstrates a method to combine the past and the present to create an exciting new future."

    Alison Sailors is a freelance journalist who writes for publications nationwide and is director of marketing for Studio2a and DLR Group.



    ArchWeek Image

    Watercolor artist Mike Cherepak painted a "clip-art" collection of entourage and textures.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    Studio2a created a mask to make the software distinguish between foreground and background.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    The simple underlying geometric model.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    A wireframe image of the model with textures applied, before the backgrounds were masked out.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    A still from the final animation.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    Entourage for the animation was made up of individually painted objects.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    A still from the final animation.
    Image: Adam Kruvand

    ArchWeek Image

    A QuickTime movie demonstrating part of the animation that Studio2a created from watercolor elements.
    Image: Adam Kruvand


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