Is this a photo – or a rendering?

WeWork’s in-house 3D-rendering studio innovates in order to create beautiful renderings that tell the stories of our spaces

Space is a powerful tool to foster engagement, inspire innovation and drive productivity. But what exactly does an optimal space look like? In the Science of Space, we explore how the science of intentional design can turn any work environment into a holistic experience.

WeWork spaces are known for their sleek aesthetic and intentional design to promote community and productivity. Each location around the world features awe-inspiring art and architecture and a variety of workspaces so employees can do their best work in whichever setting they’re most comfortable. 

While photographs capture the energy of a space, they are available only after a building opens. What about before that? Because agile companies move quickly, they often want to make decisions about what office space to take even before they open, when they’re being designed and constructed. WeWork needs to help them visualise the space so that they can picture their teams working there. This is where my team comes in. 

Visual stories of spaces that don’t yet exist

The visualisation team at WeWork is an in-house studio dedicated to creating digital images using a suite of software tools. We use modelling and rendering technologies such as 3ds Max and Unreal Engine to create striking, high-quality images of spaces that have been designed and are being constructed.

Watch to see a rendering compared side-by-side to a photo of the same space, in WeWork DRN in Prague, Czech Republic.

Renderings, when done well, can convey the same emotion as a photograph and tell a story about a space. At WeWork, our team begins work after a new location has been designed but not yet built. The renderings show how natural light will shine on surfaces, what furniture and flooring will actually be going in, and how real individuals will interact with one another. 

We complete our renderings three to six months before a WeWork location opens. That allows businesses to make decisions such as which space to take if they’re looking to expand into a new city, move headquarters or house remote employees

WeWork 9 Battery Road in Singapore.

We think of ourselves as a new breed of studio. Whereas other studios spend months producing a series of renderings for one client, our in-house team spends 10 days on four to seven renderings. We can do this because our team continues to optimise our process through automation, and we optimise for speed based on our team’s structure; not only do we get more efficient, but we also get better at what we do. We have the chance to innovate on every aspect, from how we work to the structure of our team.

A flat structure allows us to innovate

Because the scope of our work is massive (WeWork has more than 580 locations), we must move fast. The old way of running a studio just doesn’t cut it.

A traditional studio typically has a few junior, mid-level and senior artists responsible for individual parts of production. They all report to one creative director who leads the project. 

WeWork 155 West in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In place of this hierarchy, my team has a flat structure. We empower every artist on our team to become experts on all parts of a project, from lighting to 3D modelling to post-production. Instead of a creative director, there is a creative manager who provides tutorials on different parts of production. Each artist can pick what element of a project they would like to work on. They switch responsibilities from project to project to gain a wide range of expertise.

Rather than waiting on approvals from one person at the top of the hierarchy, team members are free to make decisions on their own. That allows them to work quickly. By innovating through optimising our process, and by trusting our artists, we stay agile and productive. 

Automating what we can

Automation is central to moving fast in all parts of a business. That’s true even if you’re creating bespoke digital images. 

Watch how parts of the 3D rendering are created automatically.

Our team works out what takes too long in the process of creating renderings and then solves it. Since we produce renderings of interior WeWork spaces, we’ve been able to build up a library of elements that we use in every project. Using Railclone software, we’ve 3D-modelled and created a central library of building elements such as exteriors, flooring, security cameras, smoke detectors, exit signs, shopfronts, conference rooms and even neon art. With this clean library, we can drag and drop these items into separate projects.

With the basics of a building automated, we can focus on the details that can bring a space to life: the furniture, architectural finishings and lighting. Our team can dedicate time to perfecting these artistic elements. We’ll spend a full day modelling, for example, a chair, ottoman or side table that we’ll use repeatedly. We have the chance to make sure this chair is the most perfect chair possible. That makes our renderings more lifelike and more able to tell the story of the space. 

Taking care to create global, human renderings

The thing I’m most proud of is the diversity we feature in our images. 

We believe that people are the most important part of a space; the way people use the space is critical to the story we’re telling. That’s why we put a lot of time and care into this part of a rendering. It’s also why we’re always mindful to have a wide array of people in our renderings. 

Watch how a rendering compares to a photograph of WeWork Digital Park in Bangkok, Thailand.

We are incredibly lucky to be able to photograph our own diverse WeWork employee base around the globe to use as models for our renderings. Our team scouts colleagues and photographs them in natural light, interacting with their surroundings. There’s no green screen.  

By populating our renderings with people who reflect the makeup of our global population, we hope that anyone, anywhere in the world, will see themselves reflected – and welcome – in our settings. 

The results

When we look at our renderings next to a photograph of the space six months later, we often find that the two look strikingly similar. This is a testament to the care and skill of the artists on my team.

Watch the layers that go into completing a 3D rendering.

Visualisations are so much more than just a digitally created image. When done well, they can display the energy of something that does not yet exist. They can transport a viewer into a space where they may very well spend the majority of their waking hours in the future. Businesses can make decisions about where to have an office even before a space is fully constructed. That allows them to stay agile and move as quickly as their business calls for. 

Note: All still images are 3D renderings and are not 100 per cent representative of final, approved design.

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Greg Rogers is the head of visualisation at WeWork. Rogers has more than a decade of experience in 3D visualisation, focusing on design narratives across multiple digital platforms. Prior to WeWork, Rogers worked with Kilograph, Peter Marino Architect and IBI/Gruzen Samton. He has presented his team’s innovative approach to visualisation optimisation at various conferences across the globe. 

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