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How Architectural Photographers Work

Shoot the Moon

By:Ernest Beck

For the past 30 years, architectural photographer Nick Merrick has logged thousands of miles capturing vivid images of houses, orchestra halls, museums, airports, corporate headquarters, and other types of structures. Whether it’s a small residential structure or the world’s tallest building—a recent project took him to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to shoot the half-mile-high Burj Khalifa—Merrick works to create photographs that have an elemental relationship to a building. A senior partner in the renowned Chicago architectural photography firm Hedrich Blessing Photographers, the 57-year-old Merrick spoke to for the second in a two-part series about architectural photography. He offers a few tips for aspiring architectural photographers—and insight into how photographers work best—for the clients who hire them.

Get acquainted.
First things first: If you’re a photographer, talk to the architects. You want the designers to tell you what the project is about, what was going through their minds when they designed it, and what their needs are for the pictures. Merrick asks architects to tell him about their earlier understanding of the building and how they solved design problems. He asks specifically for renderings and drawings: Like those studies, an architectural photograph will be used for marketing, publishing, competitions, and awards.

Take a stroll.
It’s best to walk around and through the building, to get a sense of it, to see where the sun hits and shadows play. “This helps to open myself to the building on an emotional and intellectual level,” Merrick explains. “There are visual decisions that come when you look at the building and respond.” Sometimes an architect or member of the design team will come along on a photo shoot, but not always. “One client loves to accompany me before anyone moves in, because he says it’s the only time he feels he really owns the space.”

Compose the shot.
Part of the assignment is solving technical problems such as finding the best vantage point to show mass and shape or the way to depict spatial depth and clarity. You have to see how light interacts with the project. As a rule, the bigger the building, the harder it is to find the right view. “For the Burj, the challenge was how to express a building of that size,” Merrick says. “We included 40-story skyscrapers, shooting from the 14th floor of a hotel.”

Provide a point of view.
A project’s environment may give cues about whether to go with a natural or staged look. If it’s a university campus with lots of students walking around, shoot first for a natural look. For interior shots that are not heavily peopled, the shot can be staged. “And if it is staged, let’s really do it,” Merrick says. “Let’s gather people together and let then interact.” You may need to bring in a crowd, and they’re more likely to come from the architect’s office than from a modeling agency. “They become part of the composition.”

Tweak a bit, when needed.
“Digital photography means we can change and clean things up, but keep manipulation to a bare minimum,” Merrick says. You can take a person who looks good in one shot and put him or her in the final shot. You can merge and mingle people, change color and contrast, and delete what doesn’t fit—such as an exit sign in an interior shot or a lamppost. “But use digital tools with a very light touch, so the photographs do not have a digitally rendered look.”

Charge by the day.
“We charge by the hour when we are actually making photographs,” says Merrick. For every three days of photography, there are three days of related tasks in the office associated with the shoot (for which he charges by the day). “In an eight-hour day, we can do four interior photographs and eight exterior photographs.” Some assignments take longer: The Burj shoot in Dubai, for example, lasted nine days, about twice the time it takes for most shoots. The time spent processing work in the studio should be included in the fee.

Make a pitch for history.
Architectural photography is invaluable. A photograph is the only representation of a building that most people will ever actually see. “The photograph is ultimately where the work lives,” Merrick says. “There are many buildings out there that we only know from the classic photographs of them.”

The Drawings of Richard Neutra
Masterful Renderings Reflect a Lifetime of Visual Ideas
Text by Thomas S. Hines

Richard Neutra, like many architects, had a great affinity for music. When asked late in his life which music he most identified with, which composers he would most want the users of his buildings to think of when they experienced his architecture, he replied without hesitation, “Schonberg and Bach.” In musical and poetic terms he was evoking an image of his own work—the tension of contrasts working together, old and new, classical and modern. But what fell between those two extremes also shaped Neutra profoundly—the bittersweet world of European romanticism, from Beethoven and Brahms to Wagner and Mahler. And it was the music and ethos of those Germanic giants that permeated his youthful milieu in turn of the century Vienna.

All three epochs—classical, romantic, modern—would come to be expressed in Neutra’s architecture, the first and third in the cool rationality of his machinelike designs, the second in the siting of his elegant structures amid the sensuous landscape of southern California. The contrasting, complementary moods informed his architectural and landscape drawings as well.

Some of the earliest works were pencil sketches from his wanderings in Italy as a student in 1913. The latest were pastels of Los Angeles houses from the early 1950s, by which time most of his firm’s graphic work was being done by younger associates, with occasional “touch up surgery” by Neutra himself. The most dramatic examples were detailed perspectives aimed at “hooking” potential clients and convincing them that whatever the obstacles, their buildings had to be realized. Neutra also lavished attention on drawings slated for publication, knowing that such presentations would enhance his reputation and perhaps lead to future commissions. In all their forms, the drawings framed and reflected the architect’s life and work.

He was born on April 8, 1892, in Vienna, the son of an industrial metallurgist whose Jewish ancestry had been tempered by several generations of agnostic secularism. Neutra’s older sister and brothers moved in sophisticated Viennese cultural circles, and through them he met Gustav Klimt, Arnold Schönberg and Sigmund Freud. Portraits and travel sketches from his student days through the darker years of World War I exhibit the Klimt and Schiele aesthetic. In his fantastical Portrait of a Horse (1915) and his series of architectural watercolors from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, he incorporated gold and silver paint in the Klimt manner. Pencil, charcoal and crayon landscapes from the teens and early 1920s show traces of both Klimt and Schiele, while several dark and brooding drawings from postwar Switzerland underscore the architect’s depressed, almost suicidal view of his life.

In prewar Vienna Neutra was greatly impressed with the Secessionist architecture of Otto Wagner, but a more direct impact was made by Adolf Loos, whose crusade against ornament turned his mind away from historic styles and formulas. During World War I Neutra served as an artillery officer in the Balkans, but he returned to Vienna during the war to graduate cum laude from the Technische Hochschule.

Interview with Animator Willi Waizenegger

By Adrien-Luc Sanders

About Animation Guide: Tell us a little about who you are. Who do you work for? What job do you do?
Willi: I do freelance 3D computer graphics and animation, with a whole lot of multimedia thrown in to round things out. Although I've worked for other people in the past, I'm primarily my own boss these days. Originally, when I started out, I had plans on doing the usual big-blockbuster animated features thing, but eventually found my own niche.

My stuff tends to be more down-to-earth, not as "artsy," creating animations and graphics for TV commercials, TV shows and other video productions, as well as visualization stuff, such as in the medical or architectural areas. A lot of my work ends up as elements in print and web design, too. As a freelancer, I found it limiting to make a freelance career out of just 3d animation, so I became an expert on all sorts of multimedia skills. Flash animation, web design, CD authoring, etc.--I find it extremely rewarding.

About Animation Guide: How long have you been working in the animation industry?
Willi: That's an interesting question. The movie, "Tron" is as far back as I can remember that I first considered getting involved with 3D. It just blew me away.

I first started actually dabbling with 3D in the early 90's with the release of 3D Studio, Version 2 (before it became 3D Studio Max). A friend of mine owned it and I got him sick and tired of me asking to borrow it.

But, it was actually in the Spring of 2000 that I got a "real" job as an animator, a month out of school, doing broadcast graphics. It just snow-balled from there.

About Animation Guide: Name a few of the projects you've worked on in the past.
Willi: Between my freelance work and my work for television production facilities, that's really hard to say. I know I can document over 900 television commercials, television shows and infomercials that I've done graphics for (3D or otherwise). I've also done print and web elements, as well as animations for corporate projects.

Besides animations, I've also created 3D virtual sets for television, such as one I did for a show called "Power Play." This show featured new and upcoming computer game releases, with the host interviewing game programmers and such. The show took place in space, in a space ship that looked very much like a game controller (of course), which I modeled and animated in 3D. The interview set was also done in 3D. Talent was shot in front of a green screen and chroma-keyed into the room that I had built.

I loved doing that show. It was heavily 3D graphics oriented and kept me really busy. It was filled with 3D rooms, animations, bumpers, elements, etc.

Another project I did was a 5-animation contract for a high-definition movie projector company for their company/product demo reel. These animations were transitions between segments in the demo and featured a roller coaster ride on top of movie film strips. It was all done in high-def, which is the first time I played with the format.

I could go on and on.

About Animation Guide: Do you have any future projects planned?
Willi: I have a bunch of things planned, mostly multimedia oriented, but I do have a large-scale (30-foot X 35-foot) 3D print graphics project in the works, for the educational department of a big utility company. I'm also trying to develop a web-based interactive 3D world as my own pet project.

About Animation Guide: What prompted you to move into a career in animation? How did you go about pursuing it?
Willi: Actually, I came by way of television. Behind-the-scenes stuff such as television production, master control, stuff like that. I loved doing the work, having spent almost twenty years doing it. But, it started running its course with me. I found myself in a rut. This was the late 1990's and by that time, I had fallen completely in love with 3D graphics.

My wife suggested I go back to school full time for 3D animation and we moved to South Florida (from New Jersey), where I attended art school. Being a bit older than the other students, I worked really hard to make myself stand out. At the time, I thought I needed to graduate with as much talent as if I had been in the industry all along, just to compete with everyone else. I probably tortured myself a bit too much, but I loved the subject and it worked for me. My wife was also earning the income for the two of us and I felt I owed it to her to succeed.

When I graduated, I thought I was getting out of the television racket, but a month later I got a job in...you guessed it...television. This time in broadcast graphics. I loved the job but in 2002, the lousy economy forced me to become a freelancer. The rest is history.

About Animation Guide: What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today? What's your alma mater?
Willi: I attended The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, which proved to be a great school. Besides learning the software, I learned all sorts of art skills, such as drawing, painting, composition, photography, etc. It was a great well-rounded education and I met some of the people I would network with for the rest of my career.

But, most of my learning was, and still is, from reading on my own. All of the magazines I subscribed to were computer graphics-oriented. I read, read, read, and then read some more on the subject.

I also made myself become a "student of life." I forced myself to see the little details in everything, such as how people move, or how that little stray strand of hair dances in a drafty room. The way light and shadow hits the world around us or notice what color water actually is.

About Animation Guide: What animation software packages do you prefer to use? What would you recommend to a beginner?
Willi: There are so many really great software packages out there that it's difficult to prefer one over the other. I'm partial to 3D Studio Max, mostly because I've spent so much time on it that it's become easy to me and I'm so busy that getting into another program's learning curve is not possible right now.

3D Studio Max has also matured into one fantastic tool that does so much really well. It's well suited for many different lines of work, such as television, visualization, movie, print...the list goes on and on. The best bang for the buck.

However, because most high-end packages require a big learning curve, if I had to start from scratch, I think I would examine the end result first and go from there. In other words, if you look closely, each package has its own "look" that you can pick out if you spend enough time around 3D. The look of the final render is what I'm talking about.

Then, spend some time reading about each choice. Actually pick up some manuals if you can, or spend some time sitting on the floor of book stores reading. You can sometimes get a feel for how well you mesh with a given package by doing that.

As for a 2D package, there's a lot to be said about Flash. I've used it for broadcast projects as well as for the internet.

About Animation Guide: Apples or oranges, tea or coffee: do you prefer traditional animation, or computer animation?
Willi: In the end, it's all about using the right tool for the job. When working on a deadline (which is always), you have to assess what will best get you the results you need. From time to time, it's a combination of both.

For my personal stuff, I usually gravitate towards computer animation. I love being able to save multiple versions, backtrack, try new things, and have time to do it all. I've done both, and enjoy both, but the nod goes to the keyboard.

Naturally, I'll plan things out with a pencil and paper first if I can.

About Animation Guide: Are you currently working on, or have you worked on in the past, any independent animation projects? Tell us more.
Willi: I did a little 3-minute 3D animation project called "Pee-Pee Stop" about a little alien traveling through space and having to make a bathroom stop at an intergalactic rest area, and not having an easy time of it.

About Animation Guide: Can you offer any advice to those interested in producing their own independent animations?
Willi: Take your time, be open to different options, and don't be afraid to bounce ideas off people you trust.

About Animation Guide: What about those just considering starting in animation? Any educational or career advice, memorable lessons, etc?
Willi: Read, learn, look around you, draw, imagine, play "what if," and most of all...live and notice the little things. After all, that's what you're trying to recreate. Even the untrained eye of the casual audience can sense when something's not right with movement, or the details are just not what they normally experience. It may not be anything they can put their finger on, but it may translate in them not liking the production for reasons they cannot explain. So, pay attention to the details if the schedule allows.

From a professional point of view, remember that it's not as easy to break into animation as some other professions (you can always fall back on digging ditches or flipping burgers). It really is an interesting way to make a living and there are a lot of new people trying to get in all the time. You have to really make up your mind that it's what you want to do and then work harder than you've ever worked to make yourself stand out. Keep the end goal in mind at all times.

Look out for animation or modeling work that may be slightly different than what you had in mind in the first place (unless working for Pixar really is the only thing you want to do). Trust me, animation is enjoyable no matter what the project is.

Try to track down a copy of "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation" by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. It's considered one of the bibles of 2d animation. I got a lot of mileage from my copy.

And last, but most important of all, keep in mind that it doesn't matter if you're the most talented artist in the entire school, or that you have the best equipment money can buy. You really are only as good as your reputation says you are. It sounds corny, but it boils down to making your client or boss look good to his/her client or boss. Period.

About Animation Guide: Do you ever appear at conferences? What animation events and conferences would you recommend?
Willi: Siggraph is the biggie in my book and a great place to network, which I'm a fan of doing.

About Animation Guide: Can we find you in print or on the web?
Willi: I have a lot of my work featured on my website (www.williw.com). Other than that, I've done a ton of web site and Flash creation, which is all over the internet.

Besides video, a lot of my 3D work is featured in brochures and posters, especially in trade shows where product demonstration comes into play.

About Animation Guide: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing for an (aspiring) animator to remember?
Willi: Persistence.

It's a challenging field to break into but it's not impossible. Persistence and patience will get you a job where even a much more talented, but impatient, artist will quit and get into selling real estate.

About Animation Guide: Tell us your best story about working in the animation industry. Willi: There is a well known condom manufacturer that approached a video production company I used to work for to do a small video project. The producer on this project had me create a small--I think it was about 5 seconds--animation that would then freeze and hold on the last frame.

This animation featured a condom, with eyes and a mouth, that went from a slightly slouched position, to a...er...stand-at-attention-stance (you get the picture). While this happened, "Condom Man," as I called him, would smile really wide, happy and proud.

Well, it probably doesn't take too much imagination to realize that"Condom Man" ended up on the cutting room floor.


What Is Rendering

''Where do architects and designers get their ideas?'' The answer, of course, is mainly from other architects and designers, so is it mere casuistry to distinguish between tradition and plagiarism?
Stephen Bayley

A building is akin to dogma; it is insolent, like dogma. Whether or no it is permanent, it claims permanence, like a dogma. People ask why we have no typical architecture of the modern world, like impressionism in painting. Surely it is obviously because we have not enough dogmas; we cannot bear to see anything in the sky that is solid and enduring, anything in the sky that does not change like the clouds of the sky.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
Frank Lloyd Wright

A modern, harmonic and lively architecture is the visible sign of an authentic democracy.
Walter Gropius

A structure becomes architectural, and not sculptural, when its elements no longer have their justification in nature.
Guillaume Apollinaire

Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts. Painting and sculpture are but images, are merely shadows cast by outward things on stone or canvas, having in themselves no separate existence. Architecture, existing in itself, and not in seeming a something it is not, surpasses them as substance shadow.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All architects want to live beyond their deaths.
Philip Johnson

All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

All fine architectural values are human vales, else not valuable.
Frank Lloyd Wright


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