I’ve written many times here about “vaportecture,” my term for the often-fanciful, sometimes-bizarre stadium and arena renderings that are rolled out when a sports team is looking to catch the eye of elected officials, voters, or journalists with pretty pictures featuring lots of fireworks and lens flare. On Friday, though, I got to put it all together in one place for the first time, with an essay in Deadspin where I presented some of vaportecture’s greatest hits (yes, the Washington NFL stadium moat features prominently), and even tried to draw some conclusions on why team owners seem so obsessed with pretty pictures even when they’re so often laughable (one, humans love visual information even if it makes no sense; two, it’s misdirection from the arguably more important questions of how it’ll be paid for and why it’s even worth doing in the first place).
Digging through the archives of surreal stadium renderings was lots of fun — I’m especially fond of the ones where the lens flare shows the sun in one part of the sky, while the shadows show it somewhere else — but the real fun began when the comments started to roll in. That’s because apparently a whole bunch of professional architectural renderers read Deadspin, and they were quick to chime in with some behind-the-scenes explanations of all those geometric impossibilities and oddly generic fans sprinkled about:
I’m an Architectural Draftsman. I work, primarily, in AutoCAD (2D drafting) and Revit (3D modeling and rendering specifically for the architectural field). I also spend an inordinate amount of time churning out renderings for various projects, which means I have a very contentious relationship with Photoshop.
All of the critiques about the images shown above are all valid and, for the most part, the things being critiqued were done intentionally. It all boils down to two very simple ideas: 1) The people these are geared towards don’t know enough to spot the mistakes, problems, or the big old middle fingers to physics AND 2) Shock & Awe..
1) I would say that a solid 95% of the time we deal with people who cannot or, at the very least, are not comfortable thinking in three dimensions. These people are generally barely capable of reading a 2D drawing so when you start pulling out sheets showing the various seating levels in a ballpark/stadium you see eyes glaze over or, in worst case scenarios, insecurities come to the fore. Generally people don’t like it when you demonstrate what they consider failings in front of other people. This is where the Shock & Awe comes into play.
2) We want the client to engage with the images we’re showing them, so they need to look slick and they need to look fancy. For the most part, empty buildings are neither of those two things which is why we draw from what you so kindly described as a, “Wacky People Clip Art package.” I, personally, have about 1,200-1,500 people (referred to as “entourage,” I didn’t make up the name) I can pull from to populate my renderings and even with all that I find myself needing to create my own on a regular basis. We also have to take into account what is essentially set dressing. This means we often times have to fill shelves, kitchens, bakeries, shops, etc… with all the stuff you’d normally expect to see in these kinds of places. When we do that we’re pulling from archives of 2D and 3D greeblies (non essential items).
Once we’ve generated the rendering, whether it’s from Revit or 3Ds Max, we inevitably end up have to do a lot of post processing. This usually means color correction, inserting 2D entourage or greeblies, shadow correction/creation, etc… Eventually resulting in the kinds of images you see above.
That all makes a tremendous amount of sense, especially to anyone who’s done graphics work on a deadline for a less-than-discerning client. (Another commenter whose father was an architect noted that one design a week used to be standard; now it’s more like four per day, leading to impacts on quality that journalists as well will be familiar with.) More important, though, it’s introduced the word “greeblies” to my vocabulary, where it will now be making regular appearances, I’m sure.
Over on Twitter, meanwhile, a Texas Rangers fan made an even more incredible observation:
If new posts are less frequent at this site in the future, it’s because I’ll now be dedicating all my free time to playing Where’s Waldo? with Mitch Moreland and Rangers stadium renderings. Also: Mitch Moreland and his wife got engaged on the field of an empty stadium while both wearing Mitch Moreland jerseys? Wouldn’t they have rather gone somewhere with air-conditioning?