Employing the same stereoscopic RealD technology that debuted in the epic film "Avatar," Tronic has produced a five-minute long architectural film of Diller Scofidio + Renfro's soaring interior spaces for the proposed UN Studios Middle East Media Complex, in Abu Dhabi.
Rather than simply show off DSR's majestic interior spaces, Tronic played off the site's theme of high-end media creation to depict people in the act of creating content throughout the massive, multi-building production facility. "From the beginning, middle and end we show different ways media can be created at this complex," said Jessi Seppi, a Tronic founding partner (with Vivian Rosenthal) and creative director.
A key reason Tronic accepted the project was the opportunity it provided to explore the capabilities of RealD stereoscopic production. "In our studio we set up a RealD system, complete with a developer's kit, which included a 3D Studio Max plug-in to convert one camera into two camera views so we could experiment with depth of field parameters," noted Seppi. "This helped us to determine how much the foreground should project before the screen (ground) and how far behind the screen imagery should appear in focus to best effect.
Seppi's team found that continuous architectural surfaces presented a challenge because 3D favors objects in the round that are not clipped by the screen's edge. "Even with this limitation there are amazing differences when viewing buildings in 3D," Seppi realized. "We found they work best when presented behind the screen so we refrained from allowing many objects to pop, which hinders the suspension of disbelief."
Tronic experimented in RealD as scenes were developed. "First we would try an Anaglyph preview and throw on 3D glasses to appropriate a look and determine if there was too much depth. We felt our way through it."
"Then we did render tests and previews, which we viewed on the developer's kit 70-inch DLP screen, whose software runs left and right channels together for active display glasses," added Seppi. "Finally, we rented a studio, brought in the RealD projector and mocked up the exhibition environment where the finished film will be shown using the passive system for audience viewing at Cityscape Abu-Dhabi 2010.
From Sound Stage to Soaring Atria
The film opens on a tight shot of a helicopter struggling against a torrential storm as the camera pulls backs to reveal a huge sound stage where a television drama is in production. "One of my favorite moments, and something unique to this complex, are its many mall-like atrium spaces that course through the center of the buildings," said Tronic's Seppi. "The juxtaposition of the sound stage adjacent to this opulent, elegant mall aesthetic is really interesting and I like to think that one day visitors will walk the halls and look into these huge elephant- ear doors to see productions in progress."
While Tronic produces only the rare architectural film, Columbia University architecture graduates Seppi and Rosenthal were admirers of DSR's often experimental work and see similarities in their own approach to the creative process. "DSR contacted us after seeing our 56 Leonard Street (NYC) project for Herzog de Meuron. "When we first met, DSR was in the early schematic stage of creating the interior architectural designs of the public spaces in this multi-building media production center," said Seppi. "To connect the various production spaces, DSR devised an Arabic inspired honeycomb patterned screen, which functions as a visual divide and as a handrail setting off floors from the atria below."
From Spiral to Beta Hive
Leaving the sound stage behind, the viewer floats along a hallway passing a food and beverage station, high-end retail spaces, and creative installations to arrive at the spiral, a circulating ramp hung with a huge video screen where people participate in interactive programming.
Passing this atrium, we traverse a corridor into another - the "beta hive," a hanging, honeycombed construction (a scaled-up version of the "liner" that envelopes each public area). Here we find a group of students playing on an interactive table on which holographic maps of the complex pop up.
"We devised the map technique because the complex is huge and we wanted to keep the film to three minutes (the finished edit is closer to six)," noted Seppi. "We needed a technique to speed the viewer's movement through the vast spaces while maintaining a continuous camera path without accelerating the camera to the point of losing the poetry of the space."
Into the Hologram to the Digital Void
As the students pull up a 3D model of the complex on the interactive table, the camera moves into the hologram at 1:1 scale, taking the viewer through the holographic image and across a main street that divides key buildings of the complex. "This saved a minute or more in transit to the next atrium -the digital void - whose glass projective floor is activated by cel phone data as people step upon it (not seen in the short version).
Continuing along, the camera pans through a giant skylight to reveal one of many towers, then peers down as we progress through another hallway following the connective latticework into another atrium featuring DSR's interior designs. Here we encounter a gallery of seated people looking into the screen of the digital void. We pass through the liner into yet another atrium where escalators provide a view of a video wall and more hive-spaces, which house offices and editing suites.
With a fade to black - we arrive outside the Media Plaza where DSR has designed a mechanical cloud system comprised of mechanized panels that shade the plaza. Palm trees, each programmed to respond to people's movements, move around the plaza on mechanized platforms.
Finally, the camera soars up to reveal the massive scope of the complex unfolding before us. Over its rooftops we glimpse vast tower spaces, the atrium system below, and rooftop gardens. Finally we float over the tower facades, each a programmable lighting network (shown in the long- form), as the sun sets along the Corniche waterfront. Flying ever upwards, key buildings are called out and we close as we began pulling out of the screen to reveal an edit suite with an editor at work in this new world of television production.