Real or Fake?
When I don’t know the answer, it means I've done my job. I produce digitally-crafted images for clients. It sounds simple, but like any professional undertaking, it is never as easy as it seems. The real world is complicated, dirty, messy, chaotic, beautiful, intricate and everything in between. To capture all these qualities in an image requires the artistic ability to recognize them, filter them, and finally tailor them to convey a specific message.
At our firm, Alden Studios, we use filmmaking techniques and software to generate our images, as opposed to traditional architectural rendering software. These cinematic tools allow us greater control through the entire process to control the quality of our images and support a narrative.
The problem with the “architectural visualization” profession is that 99% of images being produced today are not impressionable because they fail to connect with consumers emotionally. We strive to ensure each of our images grabs your attention, keeps you lingering and, most importantly, makes you feel something.
In our current cultural climate, the line between what real and fake is dissolving. Odds are that on a daily basis you do not notice this, proving how successful this cultural infiltration has been. All aspects of society, social media, politics -- and even real estate development! -- are diluted with content that is not real. Whether this content is news stories that are fabricated (fake news!), or “someone” you befriend social media that turns out to be a bot, or images of buildings that do not yet exist. Lately, we must ask ourselves one key question when engaging with our society: what is real and what is fake?
How did we go from trusting our environment to second guessing everything? The answer is simple: the advancement of technology. Technology promises us a vision of a more interconnected world, a world that is kinder and filled with potential and opportunity for all sectors of society. It allows someone to develop a friendship with someone across the globe, allows news outlets to share stories with more people in remote places, and allows filmmakers and digital media creators to show us worlds we once could not come close to picturing.
How did we go from trusting our environment to having to second guess everything?
Personally, I love being in the business of creating "fake" imagery for many reasons that range from technical to moral. We love the constant challenge of pushing the boundaries of technology and trying to make the best images possible. Secondly, we pride ourselves on the service we give our clients. With our film-oriented mindset, we have a lot of control over the narrative, to tell the story as accurately as possible and to highlight what our client wants the public to focus on.
Like documentary film directors, we try to be as honest as possible about the facts, but there's a blurred line where technology gives us as an opportunity to imagine what great architecture can promise us. That is why the more convincing an image is, the more promising it is.
Recently, one of our NYC developer clients told us to dial back the quality of our renders to make them look more fake!
One could argue that the recent advancement of technology has done more damage than good. Technology has democratized the playing field and given EVERYONE more power. It does not discriminate between the good and nefarious objectives. It is just there, available for anyone to use. And they have…. People use technology to lie more, to show us things that are nonexistent, to impose their vision even if it means hurting others in the process. The world is foggier now more than ever and I argue that in this environment, only design can provide some clarity and integrity.
Designers, achieving this level of hyper-realism, creating digitally crafted imagery means we have to curate the narrative as well, and it is important to tell the story as effectively as possible. It brings a level of authenticity to digitally crafted images that takes it beyond the realm of something that is just fake. Curation and narrative, in addition to the quality of the image, give everything life and makes it "real."
To make you feel a certain way, Architects curate materials, space and light; fashion designers curate the cut, type and shape of fabric, film makers merge, edit, and compose scenes together; advertising firms curate looks and stories about a product. It’s all about the feeling.
Humorously, in the NYC real estate market, that feeling overrides quality on occasion. Recently, one of our NYC developer clients told us to dial back the quality of our renders, to make them look more fake, a request that was apparently as pragmatic as it was bizarre. He explained to me that the customer base is so used to seeing poor renders for new buildings that they have now been trained to think a bad rendering = brand new construction, whereas an image that looks real = outdated. And in NYC, no one wants to be outdated.
Designers have more agency than ever to take control of the technological impact on our culture, and drive the conversation. Technological advancement, with all its complications, leaves us a world that needs to be designed better.
Otherwise, we are stuck in a world where we are inundated with media and information and will not be able to make informed decisions that support our interests. Now if you think this is an easy task, I invite you to answer the question I posed at the top, which image below is real and which is fake