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XR Voices

360° Previsualizations with Tim Smart

Today we interview Tim Smart, Senior Production Designer at InVision Communications. He shares his process for creating interactive 360° desktop previsualizations using Vectorworks and Unity.

Despite some common pain points, Smart points out solid pros for incorporating the latest 360° visualization technology into an events production workflow. You will even learn a few success strategies!

Lastly, Smart discusses the value in utilizing previsualizations as collaborative tools to unite the production team and encourage a new level of creative ideation.

Introducing Tim Smart

I’ve been in the industry for 27 years working in various capacities but all largely stemming from audio engineering and the recording industry back in the late eighties. I got into corporate communications and productions in the early 90’s and I’ve been here ever since working primarily in the capacity of technical director but have done environmental design and content creation as well. I’ve also worked in other roles as technical producer, producer, and in some cases more of an executive producer.

Why use 360° renderings?

At InVision Communications, we primarily import Vectorworks models into Unity, where we create interactive standalone build designs for 360° viewing on a desktop as opposed to VR apps. This means that I can get a lot more robust in the environment with lighting effects and visual effects that wouldn’t necessarily hold up very well in a VR environment, or look very well for that matter.

I think the biggest advantage of 360° desktop apps from my perspective is really aligning the vision and the increased speed of the approval process. An example goes back to the first previs that we had ever put in front of a client, a demo reveal animation for Cisco Collaboration Summit in 2014.

I was the production designer on it and we were going to do a very large embedded turntable in the stage. It was difficult to explain to the client what this would look like and what the sequence would be. So I endeavored to actually animate the entire thing in Unity. When I presented the final Unity desktop experience via Webex, the client said, “Oh my god I completely get it.”

But more importantly, we had executive level sign-off within two hours of even presenting. The client was extremely appreciative of the effort and therefore had always demanded that we do previs on her projects.

What are the pain points?

Unfortunately, previz still tends to be a bit of an afterthought in the design process. Someone might request a previz too far into the process. Ideally, a previz is started much earlier, while conceiving of the concept.

Even still, often what you’re working with to create a previz is very preliminary art direction and therefore, no animation has been done to bring the environment to life. The visualization is kind of nothing until you actually have some still or motion graphics to apply, and hopefully they are approved or at least close to being approved.

Any solutions to share?

An effective success strategy is getting buy in from the entire workflow, and when I say workflow it’s more the people involved in the workflow and not necessarily the process involved. The goal is to get them involved and educated on what has to happen in the process, what’s required, and what the benefits are.

Educate people by showing them an example of what you’ve done in a previous project, and explain how the process worked and how the pre-visualization was used.

What do you predict moving forward?

I really see the future of it as being where we can deploy collaborative models of the environments so art directors can play with art and creative directors can start playing with props, almost like a video game. They can start staging the environment and see how are we going to block certain segments of a show. From the clients’ perspective, them being able to play with the model to articulate the vision to their stakeholders but also their whole workflow of people.

The more people you can get in the process – really give them a hands on experience with the model or the environment – they start to contribute at a different level. You’ve given them a tool where they can play with the environment, and they can experiment with the environment while they’re thinking around what their role and responsibility is.

XR Voices is an ongoing Interview Series featuring events industry professionals who are using innovative visualization tech.  We aim to share knowledge and entertain any opportunity to evolve the design process.
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