120: ‘Project Hillside’, with Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey

A conversation with Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey.

120: ‘Project Hillside’, with Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey

Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey of Neoscape join the podcast to talk about to talk about Project Hillside. You may not know this project from its “Hillside” name, but you probably have seen and heard of it before (perhaps more-so if you’re coming from an architectural background) as architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat, an architectural landmark which was built in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1967 for the World’s Fair… although what was built, it turns out, was only an amended version of the overall vision from Safdie’s master’s thesis project at the School of Architecture at McGill University.

Today, Project Hillside brings the entire vision to life, through an incredibly detailed and fully immersive digital architectural experience, which was a collaboration between the teams of people at Neoscape, Moshe Safdie Architects, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.

In this episode Matt, Ryan, and I talk about the thousands of hours, dozens of people, and the tools and tech it took to create the experience, as well as the new potentials for user experience and storytelling within immersive digital environments.

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120: ‘Project Hillside’, with Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey
Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey of Neoscape join the podcast to talk about to talk about Project Hillside. You may not know this project from its “Hillside” name,…

Episode transcript

120: ‘Project Hillside’, with Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey


Evan Troxel: [00:00:00] welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have conversations with guests from the architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology. 

In this episode, I welcome Ryan Cohen and Matt Clarey of Neoscape.

Ryan oversees, Neoscape's New York studio as managing director. 

Using his background in architecture, he developed concepts and directs award-winning films, pitches, unique concepts for films that differentiate clients' projects and then organizes and details how those films develop. 

Ryan works closely with other partners and principals on the strategic direction of the company. 

Matt is an art director who oversees Neoscape 3d production team in New York city. His expertise is in film, creativity, lighting, and camera animation. Matt works with a team of digital artists to make sure that illustrations and films communicate visually while also working closely with the creative directors and clients to brainstorm and [00:01:00] translate the concepts, messages, and ideas into successful images and motion pictures. 

Ryan and Matt have joined me today to talk about Project Hillside. You may not know this project from its hillside name, but you probably have seen and heard of it before, perhaps more. So if you're coming from an architectural background, As architect, Moshe Safdie's Habitat and architectural landmark, which was built in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1967 for the world's fair. 

Although, what was built, it turns out was only an amended version of the overall vision from Safdie's master's thesis project at the school of architecture at McGill university. Today project hillside brings the entire vision to life through an incredibly detailed and fully immersive architectural experience, which was a collaboration between the teams of people at Neoscape, Moshe Safdie architects, and epic games. Unreal engine. 

And this episode, Matt Ryan and I talk about the thousands of [00:02:00] hours, dozens of people and the tools and tech. It took to create the experience as well as new potentials for user experience and storytelling within the immersive environment. 

Project hillside has received positive feedback from lots of stakeholders, including Safdie himself, and is available for download so that you can experience it as well. This was a fun one. So now I bring you Ryan Cohen. And Matt 

Evan Troxel: Matt, Ryan thanks for joining me today. Excited to have you here.

Ryan: for having us.

Evan Troxel: So I'm very excited to talk about Project Hillside. You guys are both at Neoscape and you teamed up with Epic and Moshe Safdie Architects to bring this project to life. I would love if you would introduce the project. You guys get to pick who goes first. You can virtually arm wrestle here. tell us about the project and, and just like the inception of it, how did this thing even come [00:03:00] to be?

as an architect myself, this, this project, a piece of it exists, right? A piece of it was built you can explain it better than I can, because I know of the project, I know of Safdie's work, but we've never seen this before, so, so jump into it. Tell us where this came from.

Ryan: yeah, certainly. So it's been, it's been pretty, uh, it's been a pretty interesting kind of dynamic of how the, uh, inception of it. So basically, Carlos Cristerna from, uh, epic Games, uh, is a long time architectural visualization artist. Uh, and so he's basically tasked at Epic to kind of bring their, their, their gaming engine, specifically the, uh, unreal 5.0, now 5.2, uh, software platform the architectural visualization and A&E space.

So, traditionally it's more for gaming

Evan Troxel: Sure.

Ryan: feature film. so he, it, it's on him to kind of try and bring it to life, uh, in, [00:04:00] in, in kind of our space. So he wanted to do that with a, a, a case study and instead of just kind of doing it on his own or coming up with a fictitious project to kinda show the capabilities of the software, he's like, why don't we work with a, you know, a recognized name in the architectural visualization space.

We've worked together before for many years. Um, so, uh, working with Neoscape and then using an actual. Um, we also have a, a long-term, 20 plus years relationship with, with Safdie Architects, uh, doing a lot of their, um, you know, kind of competition work and other development work. Um, so we wanted to kind of bring us the three of us together to showcase how, again, how this software could, could work within the a and e and architectural visualization space. Um, concurrently Safdie had just kind of released the book, of all of his Unbuilt projects.

So we thought it'd be really exciting to kind of, you know, showcase a project that was unbuilt, um, [00:05:00] and as kind of a tool, not just to show what the tool could do, but also almost as like an informational education piece on, an important piece of architecture in the architectural world. So Habitat 67, uh, is a, you know, worldly recognized architectural

Evan Troxel: Totally iconic.

Ryan: uh, 1967.

Evan Troxel: Right,

Ryan: And everybody kinda is aware of it, but they don't know, like you mentioned, nobody knows the real story of what it was

Evan Troxel: right,

Ryan: supposed to

Evan Troxel: right.

Ryan: So we wanted to kind of, uh, to kind of showcase the, the, the entire thing in its entity.

So that's kind of how, uh, it, it, it originally came to be. 

Evan Troxel: I I want to ask if you guys, you guys are storytellers. You typically like script all this, you storyboard things out. You tell a visual story. You take people from point A to point B to C to D, but, but a game engine lets people do whatever they want. Obviously one of the assets to this whole thing is you let people download the thing and look around and you've got [00:06:00] exteriors.

You've got interiors. And I want to talk about all of. How that all came to be. But as storytellers, what do you guys think about, and, and I'm sure you have unreal experience previously, but as, as a storytelling device and just like letting people explore, that's a two very different things, right? Or how do you see that?

I'm, I'm curious just to hear how you as visualization experts think about, because as an architect, it, there is a, a key that unlocks something in somebody's brain when they get to drive, right? As a client, if you give something to a client and it like a real time environment and they get to look wherever they want, that's very different than like some prescriptive views that we shoot, that we render of our projects.

Um, and so I'm just wondering how you guys kind of see all that as, you know, this is what you do all the time is storytelling. So where, where'd this, where does that take you? 

Matt: obviously they're two different kind of almost, but, um, [00:07:00] what we found part of our sort of the ask for this for us was to produce a film, uh, for it. And we found that the game engine and the real time environment made the sort of decision making process of what story to tell lot easier because you can see. Lighting, you can see

Evan Troxel: Mm

Matt: movement

Evan Troxel: mm

Matt: time and say, Hey, is this a good shot? Is this a bad shot? You know, um, yes it is.

Evan Troxel: Okay.

Matt: Uh, you know, giving somebody the power to walk through, uh, and give them their own sort of control of the environment is definitely it. It's liberating for them, but you can also kind of script out where they go when they do that.

And sort of similar to like an open world video

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Right. Well, let's get back to kind of how this,

Matt: in this

Evan Troxel: what it took 

Matt: parameters. You can't really go

Evan Troxel: I watched that [00:08:00] intro video,

Matt: You

Evan Troxel: it was very well done on,

Matt: a

Evan Troxel: on and it kind of talked about

Matt: you know,

Evan Troxel: went into this with.

Matt: story and narrative

Evan Troxel: Scanning and drones, and then obviously like pulling the design outta the archives and you know, digitizing that and

Matt: um,

Evan Troxel: modeling

Matt: done

Evan Troxel: of this to the site, stuff.

And maybe you guys can talk about that. We'll, we'll get to tools later, but just like what we're talking about, a huge amount of data, right? You guys did a ton of photogrammetry, lidar scanning of the entire existing environment, and then you had to plug in this unbuilt [00:09:00] design into that, which also had to be modeled.

And again, kind of coming at this from an architectural designer point of view, we do this on every single project we have to build the context model, we have to build our model. We have to stitch all that together. It's an ungodly amount of work. That kind of thing is getting easier. There's data sets out there that exist of really dumb volumetric buildings and things like that.

But this is way more detailed than any of that You guys took this way to the next level. So talk about all the different pieces of the puzzle that had to come together to form the the final model.

Ryan: One is it's not, we just, we didn't have to just digitize the archives cuz you know, this kind of died on the vine a little bit. Like they, you know, Safdie presented a concept and there were some drawings, but it, then it was left at that. So we, the Safdie team had to actually design a lot of pieces

Evan Troxel: Oh 

Ryan: we could get all those details in, in certain areas.

So it wasn't just,


Evan Troxel: so he had like these really loose conceptual drawings that, you know, cuz it was just a concept. [00:10:00] Right. But now you're saying they actually had to take it to a way higher level of detail to actually make the design work at some level. Mm,

Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. Like all those plazas, how, like the, you know, the, the architecture meets with the, the, the landscaping and those kind of like, reflective pools. A lot of that had to be, so the Safdie team was, was designing again, in a similar fashion that we would, uh, do on a, on a project that's being, you know, conceived

Evan Troxel: mm-hmm.

Ryan: Um, so that was just an interesting point. But, but, um, as far as the. Putting all the pieces together. I think that that was part of the case study. You know, it's, it's certainly a different model than what we're used to, where we're, you know, charging per rendering or charging for a 92nd film. Um, and then figuring it out.

In this case, we're, we're basically building that data set, um, using the, the Unreal Engine to kind of, then once you have that set, then you could do whatever you want with it. You could have an interactive experience, you could create as many renderings as you want. Um, you could create a film, [00:11:00] you can create any type of film. So it's just, now we're, we're looking at how this kind of paradigm shift in, in the way we think about all the, all that content creation. So now we're, we're basing on building the asset and then, you know, producing the content. outside of that,

Evan Troxel: Yeah. So what are those different building blocks that you guys kind of orchestrated to make sure that this all happened? You've, you've got context, you've got the building models, like there's tons of stuff in there,

Ryan: Yeah, and we broke it down, you know, from the, the context, uh, you know, we basically built the whole city of Montreal Um, and then, so there was the context, there's obviously the architecture, there's the landscaping, um, there's the, in we, the interior unit, we used, uh, Moshe Safdie actually has had a unit, there.

So we wanted to kind of use his unit based on, you know, 1960s kind of the, the, not the current conditions, but, but [00:12:00] 1960s kind of approach. Uh, and then also all the, then the dynamics of, you know, like the, the weather conditions, um, the, you know, the, the geese and other, the, the, the kind of human elements of things.

So all those kind of. Things happened, um, in a, in a parallel paths, uh, 

Matt: There was also, um,

we would, we had to build a lot of furniture and detail. Stuff for it. Like it was, it wasn't very, it, it wasn't like we could kind of go on Epic's website or, or

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: or

Evan Troxel: Wow.

Matt: We

Evan Troxel: And, and it sounds like with the tool set I, I am, I assume, cuz I know Jason, he's on the show before and I used to work with him that you guys are mostly, are you mostly 3D s shop Do you mostly do your work that or is it all the place?

Matt: and

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: you know, Unreal's, Nan, I and so forth, like we, we still had to kind of do a bunch of optimization work on that stuff. So, um, there was a lot that came together.

Evan Troxel: [00:13:00] tool, the, been a max in over 

Ryan: they they're, delivering the models in Rhino and then we're

Matt: do.

Ryan: cleaning them up and optimizing uh, in Max and then bringing them into,

Matt: you know,

Evan Troxel: Okay. Okay.

Matt: um,

Evan Troxel: So this, this whole idea like what Unreal is capable of, I want you

from, from Safdie's side of things, are they coming to you with rhino models? What are they building? They're the, okay, so they are, I see nodding going on. Yeah. you talked

Ryan: Yeah, they're, yeah, them into,

Evan Troxel: Interesting. of, guys to kind of tell that story because I assume you have a lot of unreal experience previous to this. This is not your first [00:14:00] rodeo when it comes to Unreal. At least it doesn't appear to be. So give us kind of an idea.

you, you said Nan night, you know, I know a big push with Unreal five and now at 5.2 is just this incredible level of detail that you can achieve in, in the package because it can handle so much geometry, but you guys are using it day to day on, on this project. What is that? What is that really?

Like? What is it capable of? Give people an idea of what, what can be done with 

Matt: Well, yeah, I mean, you can, can ingest so many polys, right? It, it, you can have just very dense meshes that it will, you know, just chew through. Um, and so we, we did make use of that for make great use of

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: this project.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Cool.

Matt: for sure.

Ryan: just on the kind of

Matt: unreal.

Ryan: picture level, not on the, kind of.

Matt: of

Ryan: Engine itself. 

Matt: really

Ryan: Matt actually touched on this earlier a, an art direction standpoint. Like, it just, it, it, there's of efficiencies in using [00:15:00] Unreal in this process than what we're traditionally So if can imagine the film we created,

Matt: it was

Ryan: was all

to add to that and more the, But from like a, lot used to.

you know, really done in Unreal. So we're, we're art directing in real time. So, you know, if we, we need a, an early morning shot, we would, you know, as a creative director, I would talk to Matt as an art director of what the vision is. He would work with his team, come up with some cameras with no lighting, and we'd like, okay, we like the composition. Uh, then we would send it to the render farm. would get it back and say like, oh, the lighting isn't right. You know, so we have to go send it back to the render farm. And then

Evan Troxel: Mm.

Ryan: it in. Then we get the shot. We like, we send it to an editor, he puts it in the edit. We [00:16:00] then look at it and like, we, so there's just like a. a long chain of like events that, that just go back and forth and really inefficient. So now with the way we created this film, everything was done in one program. So we're, you know, Carlos at Epic and I and Matt were like art directing in real time saying, look at this shot, let's tweak the camera here. It's already, you know, it's already pre-lit. We think the, you know, the lighting should come from the cloud cover should be a little bit more cloud cover. We need a little bit more rain or less rain. It's all done in real time, so we can make decisions the moment.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: also that the, the editing timeline is also in there.

So we can literally just kind of look at the edit and say, you know what? This shot, we need to tweak a little bit. We pause the edit, it's in a live camera, we tweak it, and then it's, it's all set. So it really makes efficiencies from a production standpoint and our art direction standpoint. And then, uh, on the, the client side of things or the user side, we, you know, we now have all these tools that are dependent on what the, the need is.

So a film. [00:17:00] Again, it is prescribed, uh, but it has an emotional side to it as a music track. And it could be used in a, a website or something for someone to understand, um, what the project is overall. But then there's an interactive component. It's also there that might be in a marketing center that someone can kind of walk through.

So they're, all those tools, all those products are coming outta the same program. So it just allows, again, a lot of efficiencies on both the backend and on the, uh, on the 

Matt: And yeah, just to one other thing, um, that helped us out was the, uh, the data Smith importing plugin that we, we used. Um, which, you know, you can, you can take models in from Revit or Rhino or, uh, SketchUp, um, so forth. Uh, we used it for Max, um, but it basically allows you to bring in sort of everything that you need, as a scene, uh, including things like cameras and lights. Um, we basically, how we set up, [00:18:00] uh, the cameras and so forth in

Evan Troxel: I think about the architects was, there you, you said that you had involvement from Epic.

Matt: Um,

Evan Troxel: there somebody from Safdie also at the table when you guys are talking about the art direction

Matt: it's

Evan Troxel: the, the cinematography and the angles and things like that to,

Matt: choice

Evan Troxel: because they

Matt: import

Evan Troxel: are so intimate with the project, are they

Matt: So,

Evan Troxel: having a voice in that conversation?

Matt: that we made great use of,

Evan Troxel: and how there was, was sitting 

Ryan: we shared things with them at certain milestones and so forth to get buy-in and so forth. But on like the, in the weeds on like looking at cameras in the program, they were [00:19:00] kinda less involved

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: in that, um, than, than they might be in a, uh, you know, in, in a, in a newer development.

Evan Troxel: Right in a project that they're actively working on. Okay, so th this whole, this whole storytelling mood setting thing, I think is, is really interesting because what we've talked about on this show before, when it comes to real time rendering, is that it, it's not, it's no longer like this post process.

It's not this thing that comes after the design or maybe at different milestones during the de design. Now it is a decision making tool in the design process. That's what is so different about real time rendering versus what I, you know, conventional or traditional rendering. So, sounds like exactly the same for you guys.

Like there's, if you can walk around in a fully lit, full environment, you've got rain coming down, you've got, you know, bloom on the highlights and you've got geese flying in the background, and it, it's pretty incredibly different than what we've all kind of grown [00:20:00] up. Thinking about what render it, the rendering process was actually like, tell tell us about, about that because it, it seems like that to me is the biggest message for people who use these tools is that it actually helps the design progress.

It actually helps the story progress. It's no longer very linear process. It's really embedded throughout now.

Ryan: Yeah, part of that is a little scary, like in, in inside conversations with the, you know, uh, like Jar Lubin at Soft Architects, who's, who's really kinda spearheading a lot of this, like, is, uh, is scary cuz you know, in, in historically an architect is kind of presenting a concept of an idea. on, it's not, you know, they're not starting with construction

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: it's

Evan Troxel: not baked

Ryan: a schematic design

Evan Troxel: Right.

Ryan: gets developed. Uh, but nowadays, particularly in the, in the world,

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Ryan: the, the client is looking for more and more information. So they, they have to figure out [00:21:00] more and more of the details earlier on. And then, so now with real time where you can kind of, not really, you can go anywhere even, it just, it compounds that where there's no, there's kind of a breakdown in the trust of just like, Hey, the architects are the experts, a cool idea and this is how the kind of the, the, the, the design concept works and then we're gonna kind of figure it out. Um, now they have to figure out all that stuff early on cuz everyone's seeing everything. So it's, it's a little bit of just a, a shift in information. You know, I just think even on the consumer side of, you know, e-commerce and so forth, everyone is just much more educated on everything these days, is all that information is out there.

So that's now. Coming to fruition in the kind of design world as well, where the expectation of the individual learning on their own is just, uh, that much more heightened.

Matt: One other thing, um, I could add to that it wasn't on Hillside cuz this, this wasn't being an active, built project, but we have used [00:22:00] Unreal in other projects to figure things like design problems out that

Evan Troxel: Yeah, 

Ryan: I 

think Matt's 

Matt: that

Ryan: The Museum of Natural in So very, it's a studio 

Matt: know,

Ryan: very complicated,

Matt: going

Ryan: organic kind of

Matt: something that you don't want it to

Ryan: So

Matt: in

Ryan: the,

Matt: you

Ryan: yeah, the, kind of construction,

Matt: things

Ryan: um, kind uh,

Matt: using

Ryan: management 

Matt: So,

Ryan: really different teams kind of,

Matt: a

Ryan: um, how it all work, all the systems work together.

Evan Troxel: I 

Ryan: what mentioned is the, uh,

Evan Troxel: effects

Ryan: History, the new Wing New York. it's gang design, the, of, of that, tool like this helps the figure out how they,

Evan Troxel: Yeah. This whole idea [00:23:00] of kind of pre-vis, right, like the, the visual industry has been doing this forever, right? , it's like, and, and it, it traditionally low poly, you know, shaded render, fong render, whatever back in the day of just blocking it all out and figuring this thing out, and then adding, adding, adding detail more and more and more.

But now you're saying like, it's really, the expectation is that that detail is there. As early as possible. And I think that's, that is super interesting, right? Because design actually is a linear process. It has like feedback loops all through it. So it, it's not completely linear, but it does, like this step has to happen before that step.

what we're about, and I think this is kind of a byproduct of building information modeling in general, which is like, it asks you to make decisions earlier and architects don't necess, they're not trained to think like that. And the software is kind of forcing people to [00:24:00] do that. And you're, it's even more supercharged as soon as it looks real, right?

That's, I think that is the hardest thing for people to get around still mentally, but also process workflow wise, which is. Because there's so many times where an architect is working on a model and they're three steps ahead of what they're actually presenting to the client because they have thought ahead, but they don't want to get the conversation going in a different direction yet.

They don't want someone to focus on the colors, the materials, like that. They want 'em to focus on space, and so they might turn off textures, they might turn off a lot of things before they show it to a client, but, but the expectation of a consumer, a client is really, I. Way higher than that.

Right? They want renderings the whole time. They want, they do, you have updated renderings with something that haunted us as architects, right? Because it was so difficult previously to produce renderings, and now it's not difficult to produce renderings, but we're still [00:25:00] maybe not at the point at which they expect to see detail worked out.

It's, it's, it is like full of little catch 20 twos throughout this process. How did you guys navigate that? I mean, here you don't, you don't, it's different than a built project. And you have, you're working with architects, they understand you're working with your own team who really understands that. So maybe you didn't have to deal with this as much, but you do it on a daily basis with a lot of other clients.

Right? I, I would assume that this is something that you're kind of figuring out as you go. And I, if you have any tips in this, in this section, I, I'm sure architects would love to hear them of how you deal with this. Expect like setting ex uh, appropriate expectations throughout this process.

Ryan: Yeah, 

you wanna take a. 

Matt: I can just say it's a huge problem, you know, like Um, it, it becomes about, you know, just expectations really in real time with, with your clients and, um, maybe explaining, you know, hey, sometimes a rendering, [00:26:00] a fully real rendering is gonna do more harm than good at a certain stage of the, of the pro of the process.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Matt: um, you're right, it is a, it is a kind of

Evan Troxel: Right,

Ryan: I think, I think there's two. the, yeah, the detail.

Matt: about it. It's almost

Ryan: Of, of what the consumer, the client is I mean, we've already seen that from, you know, watercolor, conceptual

Matt: you

Ryan: art

Matt: earlier

Ryan: rendering, which are paint the,

Matt: it,

Ryan: the, the picture of, of,

Matt: nice

Ryan: you know, what to now photorealistic renderings of people scrutinizing

Matt: to go

Ryan: light fixtures, 

Evan Troxel: right.

Ryan: you know, auditorium.

gone we've

One is seeing. So shift artist renderings, it is and like a [00:27:00] 

Evan Troxel: Right.

Ryan: so we've already already kind of moved into that direction. This is kind of just the next level of that. So now you can kind of look, kind of see everything. So it's already been kind of that shift. Um, but I think some of the, the benefits of it are again, like just understanding things that you might not have been focused on before.

And that doesn't even have to be an architectural thing. That could be a master planning kind of conversation or how things fit into, within the context of, you know, instead of set. Coming up with a perfect one, your hero shot view of one moment in time of, you know, the sunniest day in, you know, in June of a project, you know, on a, on a blue sky day.

Like, how does it react in the rain? How does, like, how is it gonna react if we're, you know, on, you know, somewhere else in, you know, you're approaching it from somewhere else in Montreal or something like that. You know, it's like you get to just understand things, um, that could help beyond the architecture could help with, uh, access or, you know, kind of, [00:28:00] um, know, just other problems beyond just the, the, the design itself that you can now, you can now, uh, look but 

Matt: even 

Ryan: also to show that, Like we literally typically when we have this it would be 

Matt: can move geometry 

Ryan: one day you know of the day have an early morning light 

Matt: be 

Ryan: midday light and kind of evening but it's 

Matt: summer 

Ryan: usually a Yeah.

Evan Troxel: I'm 

Ryan: was 

Evan Troxel: Bec.

Ryan: the rea which one of the goals of our, of the, the film concept was, Not only to push the, the envelope of, of what the tool would Unreal could do, a film like an arc It might light, on perfect summer day.

So we wanted to see the arc of the year so that we can kind of like,

look at that, look at how lighting changes, look at how weather conditions and atmosphere changes. So every single shot in the film has a, I think there's [00:29:00] 50 or 60 shots have a different atmospheric kind of, uh, climate scenario. So I think that's, that, that was one of the goals of the film is to show that you can look at any condition

Evan Troxel: Yeah, I, that's fascinating. I, I was laughing earlier because you were talking about the one hero shot, and now it's just all hero shots, right? , like the whole thing is a hero And so it's like, careful what you ask for because like, do, do we want to use this as a tool to its full potential? Yes. And as soon as the client sees that, the expectation is there, right?

And, and so then it's like from then on, now it's like we can do anything. We can do anything any time. It's, this is the everything everywhere. All at once kind of a thing, right? It and so, The tool is obviously super capable and you talk about the different kinds of environments and, and so I want to kind of talk about this now from a storytelling angle.

You guys, you, you just kind of laid it out there that you wanted to tell the story of [00:30:00] the Four Seasons, right? The, a whole year as you're kind of walking around this project and you're used to, or we are all used to kind of controlling and creating this one perfect mood, but the whole idea of mood and environment in rendering is always been so important to Kit.

I mean, to sell an image, number one, but also just to really give people a feeling of what it's like to be in space. Looking at a two dimensional image that's changed now with something like this where you can actually go through it and experience it in a more full way. You talk about kind of how that has shifted your approach as storytellers.

Is that. I mean, I, I would think that this has gotta be a pretty incredible, uh, I mean, it's an incredible set of tools, but it also just, it kind of opens the door for you to be way more creative in the way you tell stories through visualization.

Ryan: it, it is still a tool. I think there's. still an art to it [00:31:00] and like a, you know, of what the story is and what the goals are of it, and then using it as a tool that's, you know, more efficient and kind of opens up opportunities

Evan Troxel: I,

Ryan: kind of create different things.

But there's still, there still has to be some sort of creative direction, um, initially to kind of, to, to kind of get you started.

Evan Troxel: I would think that there's, like, there's so many options and, uh, Like somebody who's just getting into this wants to throw everything at it. Like, let's put rain in there, let's put butterflies in there, let's put leaves in there. Let, but then you, you guys are, you obviously have kind of this real sensitivity to all of the, what those pieces add or subtract from the experience.

So is it, is it more of a process of like, it just has to be very, you have to be very careful about what you decide to put in the scenes versus 

Matt: yeah, it's almost

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: process, uh, where it can get to that point where, you know, you have to, [00:32:00] you have so much potential of what you can do that you have to choose the right, the right, you have to make the right decisions to create the correct immersive environment. Right, because that's what you're doing.

You're like, You're not only looking at a still

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Matt: 2D image of a hero shot in the rain, you're actually in the rain now, and you can walk around and hear it potentially. So I think the question is, you know, and it's gotta be made

Ryan: Yeah. Which, basically back to what I said like it's we're set and then

Matt: the

Ryan: you rendering a or, or whatever, an interactive kind of experience with it.

Matt: day

Ryan: So one things 

Matt: or 

Ryan: excited about is now 

Matt: you

Ryan: the, the full all those weather conditions

Matt: it

Ryan: is to the public.

Matt: craft

Ryan: I wanna see what other people

Matt: than

Ryan: concept and, and kind based

which goes earlier is that [00:33:00] creating a data can create a film of the that we're really, personally I'm really that this is released to model we worked with, with released to, So can of come up with on, on a film that they might want to create with it or rendering, you know,

Evan Troxel: Mm

Ryan: it, now it's just out there and then, you know, The artistry can I, it basically is removing the, the roadblocks of artistry,

you will. So it's, it's really now you can, you can kind of, whatever you want to do, you can kind of, you can do it within the tool.

Evan Troxel: I, I wonder how Safdie's office thinks about that. It's like, you've got this perfect thing. It is exactly the vision that was there. You know, it's the elaboration of the original vision that it makes it complete. now somebody's gonna make it into this PO post-apocalyptic Godzilla walking through it.

[00:34:00] You know, kind of that's what my son would do. I guarantee you that's exactly what he would do with it. Uh, so it, it, it is kind of inter, you know, it's kind of scary at the same time of like, what are gonna do with this thing

Ryan: Well that was a hu I mean, to be honest, that was a huge, uh, discussion between Epic and Softy on that, you know, is this gonna be brought into Fortnite where kids can blow it up and stuff. Like, there was, there was a lot of, Discussions about that. And that's why it's for education purposes. You know, it's still out in the public, but it's for education purpose.

So there are limitations on what you can do with it to, to, to keep respect of, of something that's, is, is due the respect. But at the same time, I think from a Safdie's perspective, they're really excited about it an educational standpoint. I know Jar again mentioned he's using it, he teaches at the GSD and he uses it as a, instead of a textbook to show like, hey, how housing could work, you know, and like, so it becomes a tool not just for marketing, but also for an educational, um, standpoint as well.

Evan Troxel: Yeah, I'm interested in what, what the hard parts were. [00:35:00] So you guys make it look easy because you're professionals, right? And so, I think this is something that, you know, every architect out there who does design work fully understands that there's like this, there are the pretty pictures at the end. There is the final building at the end, but oh man, what a process to actually get through.

It takes years. It's toil of sweat and like all this. What were the hard parts about this? Was there anything that really stands out that made it just, you know, you're glad you're glad that part's over.

Ryan: I mean, I think it was, I mean, it's a huge, it was, it was a, it was a challenge. I mean, I think the whole thing was we were, we were building things, but at the same time we were, we were collaborating with Epic on developing the tools

Evan Troxel: Mm.

Ryan: and, you know, for them to, to, to understand how it will be released so the architectural visualization world can use it, you know, day, you know, in their daily kind of, uh, needs. So I think that was challenging, but also exciting. At the same time, [00:36:00] we're, we're literally creating tools. On the fly to support what we wanted, uh, to achieve. Um, so that was one. And then just, yeah, just the detail every shot, for every scenario, every climate and stuff. I think just that level of detail was just maybe not so much hard, is just kind of time consuming and, and, and sort of, uh, scrutinized.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Matt, you were smiling there. What, what , what? What? Like, dug. Dug its thorns into you

Ryan: Yeah,

Evan Troxel: process.

Ryan: he's.

Evan Troxel: Yeah,

Matt: yeah, I mean, It, it's just a massive project. There were a lot of stakeholders. Um, and the biggest, the hardest thing was just creating the detail necessary to run at the right frame rates. You know, like, cuz you, there's just a lot that goes into that. obviously there's a lot of tools within Unreal that help you out with that, but it, it is still a lot of work.

So, um, and you know, as Ryan [00:37:00] mentioned, we had the, we had the benefit of

Evan Troxel: yeah, yeah.

Matt: and,

Evan Troxel: A lot of manual 

Ryan: are there like, we're,

Matt: scratch

Ryan: like, 

Matt: but from 

Ryan: has its own we, it's like we're just

Matt: out

Ryan: replicating

Matt: But,

Ryan: the you know, a a thousand times, like each one was individually.

Matt: of it.


Ryan: Stylized and So it's, it's just

Matt: modeled,

Ryan: lot of,

Matt: painted,

Ryan: data.

Matt: so

Evan Troxel: work there still 

Ryan: mean, how many units So didn't wanna just like, replicate every, every unit

Evan Troxel: and

Ryan: so we, you know, not

Evan Troxel: for

Ryan: terrace, designed and so forth.


Evan Troxel: Yeah, I mean that

not just copy paste, it's not just like some cloning [00:38:00] modifier or whatever there with all these of the same unit, it it, there is a lot of kind of bespoke design happening I can see how an architect would definitely appreciate that sure. And it shows in the final result.

talking about tool making tools as you went along and, and working with Epic to like create something outta nothing. Right. To solve a problem. I think architects are getting more and more used to creating tools that automate certain pieces of their process.

But I mean, can you talk about that, the necessity to do that? Because there are still a lot of architects who only buy the off the shelf software, right? They're only working with the tools that they have. And so just kind of talk about the agency that, that guy that gives you, I'm sure that this is just like, this is just how we do it, but a lot of architects don't think about it like that at all.

Right? They only use the software that they're given [00:39:00] basically, or that they buy off the shelf. So are there any examples of, of the kinds of tools that you're talking about that really made your life easier on this project or, or maybe even more generally? Not even specifically on this project.

Matt: Yeah, uh, one specific one was the street, um, how the street works in, uh, In the experience. There's of sort of the sh there's a shaders on shaders in, in there

Evan Troxel: hmm.

Matt: are kind of smart and I think like put say water near the, um, or, uh, things like that, that, that were kind of like helped build those and also make them interactive so that you could change the weathering, uh, on the fly as a user. Um, it's things like that, the, in the blueprinting process that, um, I think, you know, it makes unreal obviously for us, like so

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Matt: powerful [00:40:00] and efficient. Um, and I'm sure that kind of

Evan Troxel: Yeah. You said Blueprint and I just want to point out that's the name of the scripting

Matt: it's not what

Evan Troxel: part of Unreal. Right. Just to

Matt: do, but

Evan Troxel: clear up any,

Matt: it,

Evan Troxel: anything there. Yeah.

Matt: uh,

be pretty,

Evan Troxel: the, tool making thing

Matt: writing,

Evan Troxel: and just the willingness from Unreal side

Matt: of

Evan Troxel: to

Matt: and

Evan Troxel: help develop their software along you on this case study project

Matt: a lot of things

Evan Troxel: is,

Matt: It wouldn't have

Evan Troxel: is that just par course


Matt: right. Yeah. you, yep. Yep. Yeah.

Evan Troxel: Cool. the, the with for the Do you guys feel like nowadays with, with companies who are, [00:41:00] are pushing, maybe, maybe it's because they're pushing into this new market, but is this something that they're very willing to do

with people who are using their tools?

Ryan: I mean, I don't, I don't think we use it. I, I, I think they do offer some, like consulting and so forth as, as services. we don't typically, uh, do that. We obviously have been in the business a long time. So we have relationships.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Right.

Ryan: with people at Chaos Group and Nvidia and other things that we can kind of spitball, but, and like a project, you know, project by Project base, we don't typically use that for this. It was more because we were creating the tool for the whole industry, like you were

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: that's one of the reasons they wanted to use an actual visualization studio, uh, that being epic, um, to, to kind of make sure they're, they're developing the tools that we would, you know, want and use. So this way they're, they are on the, off the shelf, off the shelf kind of, uh, platform that architects, uh, could use.[00:42:00] 

Evan Troxel: Yeah. I, I want to just maybe start wrapping up and talk about the feedback that you guys have received from releasing this project out into the wild. What's, what's that been like? What have you heard? What have you seen?

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, from, from, I mean, it's been pretty positive. It's been pretty exciting. I think a lot of people from, from, from different vantage points, one from Safdie himself who's been, you know, very excited. You know, he's been, you know, it's a, it's a, it's one of his initial projects that he started his entire career.

Evan Troxel: He was like or he did this, right? It was, was, it's been a while.

Ryan: unbelievable

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: Um, but he even said if he had this tool when he was presenting to the, you know, to Montreal, whatever, that they probably would've approved

Evan Troxel: They would,

Ryan: to build

Evan Troxel: they would've done thing. Yeah.

Ryan: that like kind of emotion

Evan Troxel: right?

Ryan: nostalgic kind of, uh, component.

But in the industry it's been, it's been very positive as, as far as just the, the level of quality. That now Unreal [00:43:00] has, you know, I think everyone in the industry has used Unreal in certain regards, and it's been there, we've, but, but it's never really kind of matched up to the other quality of some of the other

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Ryan: platforms we use.

So now, people are excited to kind of see that. So it's been just a, a ton of positive, uh, feedback from, from all different areas, in the industry.

Evan Troxel: How much more work was it? I mean, maybe you guys could just give us an idea of what it actually took to do. Like, how big is this team? How long did it kind of take? I mean, not, not anything specific, but give an idea of the undertaking that actually went into this, because I, it has to be a lot different than what traditional rendering services are like, because you gotta build everything, right?

And you're talking about all the 360 degrees of environment, you're talking about, uh, actual environmental factors like rain and, and all that adds up. Right? But, but give people an idea of like what it actually takes to do [00:44:00] something like this.

Ryan: Yeah, and I think the important thing to note this, this took a tremendous amount of time, thousands of hours with dozens of people.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: and one of the reasons is we were developing things for. You know, we, we were really pushing

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: really going above and beyond. But, but if we were thinking about it, if this was like a, a, a project where Montreal hired us to kind of build this and so forth in Unreal, um, you know, in a, in a more of a traditional fashion, we don't really think it's that much different than we would do in traditional

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Ryan: Cuz again, there's so many more efficiencies the data set is built. So if, you know, you know, it might be an expensive upfront cost and, and take a lot of work, but now, know, the client gets hundred renderings instead of 10,

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Right.

Ryan: as many films as they want. So there, so it's, it's just a different

Evan Troxel: Totally.

Ryan: it is a lot of work. It was a, a big team, but if we were doing this in 3D Studio Max and Vray, it would also [00:45:00] be a huge team. Uh, and building all those details. So, um,

Evan Troxel: This is, the scope of bigger than a normal project for sure. I just, I'm kind of, I was just interested to see what it actually took, because again, like thinking about the client, the final client and the, they have no understanding of all of what it takes to put in n n nor should they, right.

But they're used to kind of just buying the final output and not seeing under the hood of all of this stuff that's gone creating this. And I think now that's, to me, one of the most interesting things is you can have a client sit down next to you and you can be art directing with them at the table and you can be allowing them to drive throughout the process.

And it kind of sh totally shifts that conversation. So that. They just don't have that super high expectation at the end, but they actually see what's going on. And that, including them in that process, is a big advantage, I think, for that, that people maybe aren't exploring [00:46:00] fully because this is a paradigm shift in how to do the work.

Ryan: Yeah, I don't know an answer specifically as far, it's, it was a lot of work.

Evan Troxel: yeah,

Ryan: we worked on this for close to a year and a half, you know, not everybody full-time on it, obviously, but like, there were, you know, thousands of hours put

Evan Troxel: yeah.

Ryan: put into this.

I was just gonna say another byproduct, which is is if you can imagine this is like, they were trying to approve this, you know, using this tool and there are a lot of stakeholders that have, you know, if you just plop this down into, into an existing context of a city and with a couple renderings, and it's a huge kind of, uh, monolithic project, it could, it, it could scare a lot of people, um, but by allowing them to then, Interact with it and explore it on their own.

It kind of just takes some of that fear out of it so that people can kind of understand a little bit more as well. So it's not just the educational purposes or the design purposes, but [00:47:00] just, just the everyday kind of, you know, uh, local person that might be, you know, impacted by this. They can kind of also understand things, what, what's important to them.

So it's, I think there's value, there's, there's a additional value, uh, beyond just kind of creating, um, you know, renderings or, or film and so forth.

Evan Troxel: Matt, you got something there? Do you 

Matt: Um, yeah, I mean, I was just, I think just to drill down on an example for that, it's just, you know, so many projects get hung up at like the public. It's like, what is this gonna look like from my house? Is this gonna ruin my view? And with a tool like this, when you have the entire data set, you can show them, Hey, this is gonna be fine, and it can pass. Um, you know, all those public hearing processes

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: uh, that much more easily. So there is a lot of work to, of course Hillside was thousands of hours. Um, [00:48:00] one of the reasons, one of the big reasons it was thousands of hours is because it's a public facing model that, so every single thing about it had to be like perfect. Um, if we were to do this for some other, uh, like a different, a different, you know, uh, for a different client or different

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Matt: uh, it doesn't, you know, it doesn't, I don't think these things have to take as long as they did. Um, there are so many tools that Epic is built, like one of the, one of them uh, the real time kind of lighting system, uh, in, in Unreal really all of the time out of lighting.

Like you can set up

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Matt: anything you want, um, very quickly. So, Uh, you know, as Ryan said, it's, it's probably the same amount of time that it would take to do a traditional sort of viz film that we do. But

at the

Evan Troxel: traditionally

Matt: you

Evan Troxel: renderings are used for an approval process, right? And [00:49:00] up 

Matt: that

Evan Troxel: in an internal memo. They might show up on job site sign someday.

Matt: investment.

Evan Troxel: Um, they don't have totally public facing. They used

Matt: everybody's pretty excited

Evan Troxel: get to the next phase of the project,

Matt: once you have a

Evan Troxel: and this is completely different than that.

Uh, so

Matt: beautiful

Evan Troxel: you brought that up Yeah. They might show a but like you said, to be were glad because that this is there, there is a different context to this and it, it does make a difference when you're kind of talking about it. And, and I think one of the interesting things that you brought up, Ryan, was this, this idea of, you know, If [00:50:00] this was a thing that they could have used to help tell the story of what Habitat 67 and all of its full glory would've been like, it, it does, like you can't just give the, give the model to anybody and just say, here it is, it's done, and, and answers all your, it does not speak for itself.

Right. It still requires the element of the creative direction of the story to introduce it to people so that the conversation can get to the point where you can start to address the various concerns that different people are gonna have depending on where they live or how it affects them personally, right.

In their building that they go, because I could see, you could, you could see like this giant thing from this is like from Star Wars, right? When they fly over Corson or whatever, and it's like there's this. The whole planet is city. And like, that's scary, right? There's this giant thing that's just plopped down into Montreal.

I could see people freaking out about that. And it's tall, it's [00:51:00] big, it's massive.

Ryan: Okay.

Evan Troxel: it, but at the same time, like if you approach it as a storyteller, you can totally control that situation, uh, in a much more nuanced way to really tell the story about it and put people at ease. Take that fear away. Um, like that's just something as a, again, as a designer, you learn over time is like, you learn how to get people's toes dipped into the water before you shove them in, right?

like that. This is process. This is the storytelling Is part of the process a really important part of the process to get, you know, the traditional kind of approval thing happening, but. Uh, it, it is an, an important point to make and, and that still matters and that, uh, to me is still like this very human element to this very digital intensive, you know, process.

Ryan: Yeah. And, and this is, it's a, it's a, it's a great point cuz even in this, case, you know, Moha [00:52:00] softy in his head knew it was gonna be open and these like great plaza and the scale of it, even though on in an elevation it looks huge and monolithic. But now that like, you know, and that scares people. But now if you're in there and you're looking around and you see it's mostly. You know, light coming in and it's open and it's, and it's, but so there's, it is a scalable for the human condition, um, which might, you might not get that from a rendering or, or from a, from an elevation. So

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Ryan: just allows people to, to learn from it.

Evan Troxel: Yep. Well, is there anything that we haven't talked about with this project that you guys think would be worth mentioning? Uh, I, I'm sure that I haven't touched on all of it, but if there's anything else, I would love for you to offer it up and, and talk about it. If not, that's fine too.

Ryan: I think from my perspective, I think we touched on, again, everything from internal processes to tool sets to storytelling to the, the, the technical side of

Evan Troxel: Yeah. 


Ryan: you did a good job covering [00:53:00] the whole project

Matt: yeah, maybe the one thing I'd just add is the potential for the user interface. of

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Matt: with Unreal cuz you can, you know, it is an immersive environment and people can walk around at their own and, and choose where to go, but you can kind of direct them with information, uh,

Evan Troxel: That, that's, I I you brought that up because the I whole idea of.

Matt: And

Evan Troxel: Like

Matt: uh, I

Evan Troxel: I said earlier, the wor the model doesn't necessarily speak for itself, but add elements, a layer of information

Matt: you

Evan Troxel: this help guide to do something. And I think that is one of the real

Matt: day,

Evan Troxel: benefits of this fully immersive thing.

think about it from that perspective,

Matt: on

Evan Troxel: you don't just

Matt: tool in

Evan Troxel: sit somebody down in front of a model and walk away, but you've kind of thought it through love that you can to somebody [00:54:00] If you actually to guide them and, and you can basically create virtual tour guides per se, you know? And, and, and that really does help people kind of understand the project a little bit better if you're not sitting right there next to them while they're going through it big off? This is a,

Ryan: time,

Matt: a

Evan Troxel: a long 

Matt: kind of storytelling, right? It's,

Ryan: it was, to see it released. I think it's, it is to see,

Matt: uh,

Ryan: the and, and, and the

Matt: in,

Ryan: everyone's, you 

Matt: But

Ryan: getting a taste of it. So 

Evan Troxel: right,

Matt: you know,

Evan Troxel: yeah,

Well, final question here is, how good does it feel to be done with this ? Is this a one.

Ryan: it was, uh, [00:55:00] exciting been really,

exciting recognition know,

uh, that's been really, to see, I think from the artist side of things, you know, we, we, we never got to the snow season, you know, which is something, you know, we wanted to get to and, uh,

Evan Troxel: Mm.

Ryan: or some other kind of human elements that from, from the career direction of front that we for whatever reason didn't get there.

So, um, there's always that kind of phase two where like, what we could have done like more of. but that's in any, I think art that people that are in the weeds on things always can always see kind of the next step. but it's definitely really a relief to kind of get it out there and have other people kind of experience it the way we've been looking at it for a year and a half plus.

Evan Troxel: and 

Matt: it 

Evan Troxel: and there's there's a quite there's a few of them now they're [00:56:00] they're really funny totally see this being the 

Matt: and um, generally 

Evan Troxel: new kind of style films Great. Have you guys seen the, there's, there's a YouTube channel out there where they take assets and, you know, stylized assets from various old films and they turn 'em into Wes Anderson. I, if Wes Anderson had. Had directed them. So there's like Star Wars 

and I could of short on YouTube where I could see like, what, what does this look like in Blade Runner? What does this in the Star Wars universe? Like, people can take this and make their own stories out of it. And, and you know what, if this was, you know, it, it could be, it could be really fun to watch that kind of a thing.

Ryan: Yeah. I'm really, I'm really excited to see what other people. up with

Evan Troxel: That's cool. Well, you guys, thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. [00:57:00] And I wanna point people into the call to action here, I think is to download this, right? You can tell everybody what they're actually downloading, cuz it's, it's a big download. But, but what can they do with it?

Ryan: Matt,

Matt: you can, well, you download the model and you can open it up and walk around in on.

Evan Troxel: What the like kind system go. Go for it. ahead, Ryan.

Matt: get that, all of that functionality.

Ryan: I was just then all the, you the, the presets and so forth are in there of, of each

Matt: of move around,

Ryan: lighting

Matt: uh,

Ryan: scenario and so

Evan Troxel: cool.

Matt: uh,

Ryan: anything

want and, and add rain or more rain or less rain or clouds or sun. Or

Evan Troxel: That's cool.

Ryan: you can really, you have into everything that we,

Matt: the film,

Ryan: created.

know, the forth, so you 

Evan Troxel: Oh 

Matt: in

Evan Troxel: and[00:58:00] 

Ryan: access uh, 

Evan Troxel: What would you say the kind of system requirements are for getting in a model like this? On a, laptop or a desktop.

Matt: I'd 

Evan Troxel: somebody to be disappointed. They, they, I I could see

Matt: wanna say

Evan Troxel: kind of pretty decent

Matt: need

Evan Troxel: requirements just like, download it and to get a, a good out of it download it

and try it If not, you do the website version stream version.

Matt: think there are

Evan Troxel: That you can access through the browser, which is really cool too.


Matt: can

Evan Troxel: um, I, I wanna, I'll a link in the show notes so everybody go

Matt: me get

Evan Troxel: to that

Matt: cuz

Evan Troxel: and,

Matt: wanna

Evan Troxel: uh,

Matt: say

Evan Troxel: download it. And again, thank you guys Yeah, no worries. I, I just don't want can, to, performance is such a huge model. But like you said, there is the


put can so much for taking the time to have this conversation. It, it's very cool to see this happening, uh, out there in a EEC space, uh, combined with your visualization expertise and with the tools that Epic is making.

It, it's this kind of perfect case study to show what's possible. And I know you guys push the limits and not everybody is at the level you are, but really gives people an idea. I think once they see what's possible, then it unlocks the next level in their brain to say, oh yeah, maybe we can try that too, or, or whatever.

So that to me is very exciting in the world of architectural visualization.

Ryan: for, thanks for having us. This has 

Matt: Yeah. Thanks so much, Evan. 

Evan Troxel: you. 

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