Revisiting a classic: a cinematic exploration of Farnsworth in Lumion
Discover how to tell a powerful story through animations in Lumion. Step inside the world of Farnsworth with 3D artist Adam Ingram.
Architectural Visualization is a powerful medium. It’s capable of illustrating form and function, allowing designers to convey their complex design ideas in a universal visual language.
But what if we were to go beyond that? What if, instead of attempting to convey an idea, we were able to capture a feeling? An emotional response to a place that we may have never visited yet feel attached to.
This was the goal for Farnsworth – a collaborative project between Lumion and Adam Ingram (The Lumion Collective), that explores the iconic Edith Farnsworth house in a beautifully crafted animated featurette.
In this article, we’re going to peel back the layers of Farnsworth to better understand the process of creating story-driven architectural animations.
You can find the full animated video above, but for now, let’s dig a little deeper into the world of Farnsworth.
Using stories to inspire stories
The Farnsworth building is no stranger when it comes to the world of Architectural Visualization. As an example scene, it’s been used by Lumion artists to learn the fundamentals of 3D rendering for many years, and has been re-imagined countless times since.
There is no shortage of reference images when it comes to Farnsworth. 3D reproductions, photographs, and videos are in abundance making the task of collecting references a simple enough process.
Unfortunately, this is also the first challenge that was presented. After sifting through all these images, I was left wondering whether there were any unique parts of Farnsworth left to explore.
I decided to look beyond visual references and came across a collection of detailed written accounts of the building as experienced by Edith Farnsworth herself. One line, in particular, stood out during this process. “It’s as if the glass house itself were an unshaded bulb of uncalculated watts lighting the winter planes”.
Farnsworth then goes on to explain in detail how she perceives the ‘cold and uncomfortable’ living spaces in the home.
I realized that the building itself isn’t where the story would lie. It’s how this handful of precisely crafted design elements interact with each other, with nature, and with the occupant; that represents the character of the building.
When it comes to creating architectural animations, I find it helpful to start with a simple overarching story idea. The different emotions that the Farnsworth building has evoked over the years provided a perfect base for this.
The animation was split into two distinct phases. The first phase would draw on the words of Edith Farnsworth and show the building in an unusually ‘cold’ atmosphere. The second phase would contrast this, taking on a more familiar look and showing the architecture as a shining example of modernist beauty.
By starting with one or two basic themes we can then use intentional compositions and imagery to connect these story themes to the building being visualized.
With the basic storytelling principles set, I was then able to move into Lumion and begin exploring the scene.
Scene building in Lumion
The Farnsworth house has long been praised as a hero of minimalist design. Although this is an impressive achievement, it also brings with it its own set of challenges when reimagining the scene in 3D.
The basic shapes and minimalist decor reduce the volume of what can be shown. As such special care was taken to ensure that each shot is composed in a way that highlighted these minimalist features whilst also driving the story forward.
I find that one of the most useful parts of Lumion isn’t its features, but its ability to be used as an explorative tool in the visualization and design process.
From the moment I enter a scene in build mode, it’s as if I’m walking through the space myself. Sure, there might not be detailed environments or amazing textures early in the process, but by taking control of the camera in this initial stage I’m able to explore the scene from a variety of vantage points, many of which would have been impossible in the real world.
In a few clicks, I can go from being at eye level to an aerial birds-eye view. This flexibility allowed me to see the building from a new perspective and understand how the various architectural elements could best be shown in the final compositions.
With some rough camera views in mind, I was able to start building out the scene, refine the building model, and explore how these different aspects could be connected.
TEXTURES AND DECALS
The material palette in Farnsworth is stunningly simple. The building itself uses only a handful of materials, and most of their visual impact stems from how they interact and respond to the elements.
Weathering is a great way to do this, as it allows me to incrementally build up the layers of detail in a way that anchors the building to the world around it.
Imperfections such as rust, flaking paint, and dirt that had built up in the cracks and joints of the building were added using various decals from Lumion’s Decal library.
The workflow of adding decals was straightforward, thanks to the editing options available in Lumion. I could easily adjust settings and build up various layers of weathering with only a few objects.
This small, yet important detail helped add more character and depth to each composition. It conveyed a sense of time and place, a sense of belonging, revealing how the building interacts with its surroundings.
Details such as moss, grass, and leaves helped to add a new layer of depth to the surfaces of Farnsworth and worked towards creating a space that felt alive. I used a mixture of Decals and Lumion’s library of nature models to add these features, experimenting with variation where possible to mimic the unpredictability of nature.