Chris and Gregg chat about that 'Winning Image'
Chris Lown, recently appointed Creative Director, brings a more creative approach whilst Gregg Stone, Founding Partner of DJS has his commercial hat on. Both have a chat about the more in-depth nature of visualisation and what makes that all important winning image.
Gregg Stone: Founded DJS back in 2010 and grew the business to where it is today, product and graphic designer by training. Gregg has a passion for delivering an excellent customer experience and a great end result.
Chris Lown: Chris joined the company in 2015 and has risen through the ranks, having recently been appointed as Creative Director. Chris will be heavily shaping the output of the company. Chris is a huge photography and film buff and combines this with very strong CGI knowledge and interest in interior design.
CGI is a very technical process, how to does this limit or enable creativity?
GS: It certainly is! I think sometimes the amazing feats that CGI artists are capable of get ignored. Regularly my team blow my mind with the level of detail and innovation they show. Many other industries would never keep up. Within the industry there are people that are more technically leaning and some that are more creative. Some are lucky enough to be both! The key is to balance both within your team. As the software develops though we are seeing more importance placed on the creative. I would say the best artists get the technology they use to enable the most creative solutions.
CL: I believe the technical process can get in the way as much as it helps. Software like Corona has been the answer to that and you can see VRay following suit. Allowing artists to be artists without having to worry about twiddling numbers and sliders to get an image or material to look right.
There are processes which rely heavily on technological input, like simulations of cloth, water or fire, but to create these things manually is never quite as effective. Limitations of hardware or software can help creativity as it makes you think about a problem in a different way than you might have before, but at the end of the day a good artist should still be able to create great visuals no matter what tools they have.
How much do you get involved with how the images/animations and VR that are used and how does that influence the process?
GS: How our images/films are used is the source of much debate within our office and something we stress to clients that they need to consider at the start of a project. We want our work to have the most impact and to do that we need to understand exactly what the target market is and what channels we will be working within. By truly understanding the client and the marketing strategy we can ensure we only produce exactly what they need.
We have had many clients come to us explaining that they have previously spent a lot of money on visualisation but without getting the results. I have seen a few dusty VR headsets in marketing suites in my time that don’t deliver value. We also take time to work with the marketing agencies who we have a great working relationship with.
CL: This all depends on the knowledge of the client about the medium in which they require the work for. Some clients have a very good understanding of what is needed and will communicate that well with us, but most clients just know what they want to physically see in the image. I think if we have a better understanding of the requirements then the tone of the image, the size and crop will work more in partnership with the end goal.
You’ve recently been involved in reviewing how DJS work with our clients and how we can deliver the best visualisations. Tell us more about this?
GS: Basically, we want to be the best. We have loads of great creative sessions (we didn’t used to do enough) but we identified that we needed outside influence and client input. I always try to represent our clients in our internal discussions and give their perspective. I also encourage our team to think about the end buyer and what experience they are looking for. Reviewing property adverts in newspapers is a great way to deconstruct this. The client feedback we got was interesting and threw up some ideas we are already putting into practice.
CL: Sometimes you have to take a step back and re-assess where you are as a studio and how you can push forward in terms of quality and deliverability. Essentially that’s what we have been doing and will continue to do. As technology gets better and faster we are always seeing what we can do to increase quality whilst keeping to the deadlines which is more of an internal process. With the clients we are always using our pool of knowledge to introduce new ways of delivering content with either VR/AR or our Living Visuals. In a marketplace where everybody is scrambling to get attention, sometimes having something new is a way to stand out from the crowd.
We all know every project comes with a different brief, but do you see regular pitfalls in the process and how do you feel they can be avoided?
GS: Yes! There are lots of regular pitfalls and we can spot them a mile off and in turn advise against them, it doesn’t always mean they are avoided. The biggest one we see is people not “staying in their lane.” By that I mean if there is an interior designer involved, let them design the interior, input from the developer is not always a good thing. Similarly, with visualisation we are the experts, we have been commissioned because of that, input from others needs to be taken with caution. We do pride ourselves on being open and delivering a great service so we embrace that it is a team sport.
CL: I’m always quoting Terry Gilliam for one common pitfall. “A camel is a horse designed by a committee”. When you get a lot of people involved in the decision making of the final image/animation it can lack direction and focus and so the message can become muddled. I personally find having one overseer of the project helps keep everything on target.
I think the other problem we can come up against is when someone wants to start before they have all their ducks in a row, this can become more costly as we find ourselves having to redo work as things change. We will always try to accommodate changes when possible but there is a point when it’s not commercially viable for us to do so.
Do you find having a very defined brief at the beginning of a project aids in producing a better outcome?
GS: Yes and no. More information at the start can generally be better and allows for more accurate pricing. However, we often say we like to think and work like photographers so sometimes the best results come from enabling my team to have fun with the project, seek out different view angles and think outside the box. I try to enable both to happen, we need creative room to breathe and flourish.
CL: I’d agree with Gregg on this one. Usually the brief/direction we get from the client is focused on what they want to see and the accuracies of the products in the image either architecturally or materially. I think where it can be restrictive is when the client is trying to be the photographer/cinematographer. For us as artists if we know what the image/animation is trying to achieve then we feel we can come up with something stronger in the studio as we are able to experiment and find what really works. I think because we have the digital set in front of us we have a myriad of ways to help find the winning image.
How do you feel clients can get the most out of us and in turn their visualisations?
GS: I think it is up to me and my team to ensure they do. If they don’t they won’t come back and I am pleased to say we currently work to 95% of repeat business. We want to do more for less and add a bit of magic to every project. If we engage with the client well and there is great understanding it really just happens like a dream. We often find that for only a 20% increase in budget a client can get so much more. When we are just the company “doing the CGI” then the value is harder to deliver. When we are integral to the brochure, website etc, then it works. CGI is a big investment, it makes sense to ensure the whole professional team works together.
CL: Partnership…that’s it, pure and simple. We all want the same thing, which is to create a product that wows and sells the idea. The closer we can work with a client and establish a trust that what we are doing is the same thing as they want us to be doing then great.
In your opinion what makes a winning image?
CL: In the short term it’s the gut response, as Gregg says “Wow!” That’s always great to hear. Then it’s the length of time someone spends looking at the image. If there’s an explorative element to an image I think it can really allow a viewer to engage with it and pull them in to whatever dream you are selling. Then the ultimate goal, at least for me, is time. If you can go back to a piece of work that you have created 6 months or a year down the line and still feel really good about it then, THAT to me is a winning image!
GS: Don’t shoot the messenger but if I was to have my commercial hat on I would say a successful image sells properties. Simple! I am not that brutal about it but with all the great creative influences and ideas we need to remember that this is central to what we do. Aside from that, images need to work in several ways and these are related to time.
First second: “Wow, tell me more.”
Next 30 seconds: “Ok interesting, that is how it works and how it relates to me.”
Forever: “Tickling my interest to find out more.”