Design Visualization

High-Impact Set Design

19 May, 2011 By: Meleah Maynard

Innovative Show Design gives Versus's Hockey Central a whole new look using CINEMA 4D and Vectorworks.

 Having worked with NBC on Super Bowl XLIII and two long-running poker shows, Innovative Show Design (ISD) already had a solid relationship with NBC Sports when executive producer Sam Flood called with a request. He wanted a new look for the set of Hockey Central, which airs on the Versus channel. "Watch the show tonight and see what you can come up with," Flood told Justin Garrone, ISD's associate artistic director. 

"We presented two desk designs and the next day, received a call from NBC requesting a meeting at the Versus studio," Garrone recalls. The following Monday, Chris Runnells, ISD's owner and creative director, flew to Connecticut to discuss the project further. Suddenly, what began as a request for a desk design became an opportunity to create an entirely new set. With a time frame of just three weeks, Runnells, Garrone, and the other members of the ISD management team, Nate Mitchell and Mark Dowling, used Nemetschek's Vectorworks and MAXON's CINEMA 4D (C4D) to create the new look.

One of the main goals of the set redesign was to create a more intimate space, with a desk that the show's hosts could gather around.

Combining Vectorworks and C4D is not unique to this project. ISD designers started using C4D four years ago, when they needed a better way to render from their CAD-based engineering program. "Nate [Mitchell] introduced CINEMA 4D as a more sophisticated way to render the companies' designs and give them a more realistic look," Runnells explains. And the ISD team plans to keep using C4D as part of their pipeline.

"We work so fast in CINEMA now because we've built a lot of tools, including a library of objects we use, so we don't have to redraw every single item every time," says Mitchell. Some of the most useful tools the group has made include an extensive texture library and an array of photometrically correct lights and cameras. "Justin [Garrone] and I have built lights and cameras [in the software] that perform exactly as they would in the real world, so clients can preview what their set is going to look like," Mitchell continues.

It's All About the Hockey

ISD created the new Hockey Central set from scratch. The existing set had been used for several seasons and multiple programs, so NBC executives decided they wanted to start over with a set specifically designed for the hockey program. The first goal was to design a new, much more intimate desk for the hosts to gather around. The concept that NBC presented to ISD was inspired by a Nok tabletop hockey game.

Designed to look like a hockey rink, the hosts' desktop incorporates a touchscreen that they use when discussing strategies and illustrating plays.

ISD developed two different takes on the desk design. The first, which had a more traditional and architectural feel, was based on the iconic Stanley Cup trophy. The second design was more technologically advanced, with monitors, moving media, and a desktop incorporating a touchscreen that looked like a miniature hockey rink. This technology would make it possible for the hosts to interact with the desk when illustrating plays and discussing strategies. NBC Versus opted for a combination of both styles, and decided to include a backdrop as well. ISD added dasher boards and Plexiglas acrylic sheets behind the hosts, onto which media could be projected to enhance the design. 

ISD designed the set so that media could be projected onto dasher boards and sheets of Plexiglas positioned behind the hosts.

Because each of ISD's custom sets is uniquely designed to fit a particular location, measurements must be precise. Runnells and Garrone draw everything in real-world scale using Vectorworks before bringing designs back into C4D. Next, Mitchell and Dowling, the team's graphic artists, begin lighting and texturing the set to give it a photorealistic look. The team then uses its expertise to place cameras in the same way production staff would use them to shoot the show. As a result, clients are able to see precisely how their set will look and function prior to installation. This in-depth process means ISD sees projects all the way through from concept to design to the final build. "You don't get that with every design firm," says Mitchell.

Digitizing Dreams

Changes are an inherent part of any project. One of the things the ISD team likes most about using Vectorworks with C4D is how easy it is to clearly communicate designs to stakeholders, and to make changes before the team actually starts to cut wood and build. Even the smallest details of a design — such as the metallic texture on this set's columns — can be rendered and discussed with clients. "We did research to find different metallic laminates we could use for the columns and found one that really looks like glazed-over ice that's been scraped up by [skate] blades," Mitchell says.

CINEMA 4D enables ISD designers to render a variety of surface textures and materials in a realistic fashion.

Once Mitchell and Dowling bring the design into C4D, the scene is lit as it would be in real life, ensuring that the set looks as true to the final product as possible. For this project, the team used a new feature in C4D that allowed them to match the lights' color temperature to the actual fixtures that would be used. 

"It's almost as if people have lost their ability to envision what things could be in our digital world," says Runnells. "So a lot of our design process comes from listening to our clients and creating their vision," he explains. "We take what they're saying and translate that into their vision even though a lot of the time they aren't able to say exactly what they want, so we listen and then digitize their dreams."  


About the Author: Meleah Maynard

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