Visual diary and observations by David Hollywood about art, architecture, theatre, design and popular culture.​

Virtual 3d

I have been creating virtual 3d environments for a few years now. In a way these are other kinds of "theatre" and theatre, for me, has always been about creating other worlds. 

Sketchup, Second Life, 3ds Max and Revit are now all within my purview. Blender is on the sidelines and even further off would be Unity and opensim. These are all tools for creating models in digital "space".

I won't dwell on the technical frustrations that one experiences jumping from one application to another, where the same keystroke has a totally different purpose in each application. At times it can feel like speaking several languages within the one sentence and I cant wait for the day when the best of each software is brought under the one banner and is totally intuitive to manipulate. Is there another Steve Jobs out there, waiting in the wings? Long pause...

I would, however, like to put forward my view on the merits of these tools as I see them at this point in time. I still have some way to go with Autodesk's 3ds Max and Revit but I believe I have enough experience now to make a reasonable comparison.

Modelling in three dimensions

Boyhood home of Johnny Cash - model for Arkansas State University in Second Life

Boyhood home of Johnny Cash - model for Arkansas State University in Second Life

If you are the modeller you gain wonderful insight into how something was conceived and put together because you are basically putting the build together from scratch, every square inch.

As the viewer, experiencing a walk-through devised by a modelmaker, you can miss much, unless there are sufficient “signposts” to direct your attention.

Qick study in Sketchup

Here is an example of what I mean: a Sketchup model (very sketchy) of the Entenza House (Case Study No.9) by Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames.

Entenza house for blog.png

Okay. What can you tell me? Box, punctuated by windows and doors, modern, probably 1950s...

The wonderful thing about Sketchup is you can build rough models very fast and people can get a sense of what something might be like.

Here is a Sketchup model of my proposal for the conversion of the old Katoomba Library. It was very useful to have this tool for community consultations.

In 3ds Max, the render can be much more sophisticated. You would see the subtle play of light and shade on virtual materials, there would be reflections on shiny objects and the coarseness of rough surfaces would be apparent, but the experience of a walk through is still several steps removed from actually being there. It takes the art of a moviemaker to bring a walkthrough to sufficient promience in your mind's eye that you feel like you have been there.

Here is a great example of the kind of moviemaking that serves virtual architecture well. This format works effectively when you want to convey structure, but I still have little idea of what it feels like to live in Fallingwater

What do you mean "It's not real?"

To this day, I still find the immersive experience in Second Life provides the closest to a sense of place that you can experience in a virtual model. You have the sense of “being there”.

Okay, it's a game, and that's what games set out to do - get you involved.

So, why do u have that sense of “being there”?

You enter the realm via an avatar, a stand-in for you. The more you have invested in the identity your avatar – how they look, move and respond to their surroundings – the more your physical body feels connected to the representation. Hence the sense of immersion.

This is nothing new. Human beings have been observing each other for thousands of years and identifying with others. Empathy. Some of us are good at that. So, a character in a novel, a figure in a painting, an actor in a movie can sometimes move us in extraordinary ways.... We are used to identification.

How do I demonstrate this experience of immersion in a blog? I can't.

I could show u my avatar inhabiting a virtual space but you would not be impressed. I know this because I have made several failed attempts to show friends and relatives work that I have created in virtual space. 

I can say that, in a virtual world like Second Life, it is possible to “inhabit” virtual space, to have a sense of sitting in a womb chair, washing the dishers, watering the plants and more. The avatar becomes embedded in a "place narrative". I can also say that my understanding of a build and the lives of the real people that may have lived in it, can be much stronger in an immersive 3D environment. There can be an emotional connection.

Immersion is a good thing - maybe on the proviso that when you re-surface from any other worldy experience you bring back some kind of useful insight.

Here's one of my early attempts at machinima. The promise of Tomorrowland...

If we only knew what will happen next, would we want to go there?