Matt Grant, Creative Director at LNG Studios, on virtual reality, drones, 3D scans, and how immersive experiences can bridge the gap between pre-built perceptions and post-construction reality.
Phil Roberts: Virtual Reality has been a part of popular culture for over two decades. Why do you believe that it has taken so long to be used for real estate purposes?
Matt Grant: What it boils down to is advancements in technology. What we have for our virtual reality applications is kind of two-fold. On the one hand we have what’s called real time rendering so it’s kind of like a video game — we can produce these environments in real time and this is a huge step forward. In addition, we have the actual ability to render stuff in real time that looks really good (and less like a video game).
The second part is the hardware required to run all this infrastructure. The headsets the motion controllers, infrared cameras that track this information and virtual space has been scaled down so it’s affordable and it’s getting smaller and smaller.
As you can also see, there’s so much adaptation of mobile devices. I don’t know if it’s really revolutionizing the industry but it’s forced everyone to realize that we have a lot of power in our pockets. I don’t know if cell phones will get that much more powerful, but their ability to do a whole bunch more will increase.
All-in-all with virtual reality, I think it’s just that the timing is right and the whole kind of curiosity with virtual reality that comes with it. We see rudimentary things like Google street view, which are quite simple in their renderality — they’re just 360 degree photos and then ten feet down the street there’s another 360 photo — but it’s an experience that people are accustom to having on their cell phones and so they buy into it.
To recap, why has it taken so long? Technology is here, it’s arrived finally and it’s developing in a way where we’re starting to take advantage of it in the virtual reality space.
PR: I know some people here locally in Montreal who a couple of years ago were wondering the same thing — how can we get this type of technology to be used by real estate agents and developers and it seemed like something that wasn’t far off and very quickly it has all come together in the last 24-months or so.
MG: Yeah, I think a big part of it is adaptation. It’s really cool because a lot of it is grassroots in the way that people are approaching the technology. We’re working with partners here in Vancouver and they’re not sophisticated set-ups and they’re in an industry where their competitors are Google and Samsung. And yet they’re able to compete as a couple of guys with a handful of infrared cameras in their basement with an XBox Kinect. There’s so much cool technology and open source information. The way that people approach it is very great.
PR: So there’s almost an approach to it where people come at it from different angles/perspectives. Some people come at it from a gaming perspective, some people come at it from more of a tech perspective.
MG: Exactly, so everyone’s new to it which makes the knowledge base interesting. There’s no guide book and no instructions on how to do this — you kind of just figure it out along the way.
PR: How do your clients use your drones during the design phase of the project?
MG: With the design phase or pre-sale phase drones are becoming a key part of it – especially with our clients. A lot of times when you’re doing the design phase you’re helping architects realize their vision for a project to satisfy a design panel, city discussion or a design permit or something like that. It’s not necessarily that the design panels require drone shots but it really helps when you go there with these types of materials because at the end of the day you’re trying to express a vision and an idea. After all, the standards have been raised so high these days so being able to offer these kinds of perspectives is crucial.
The drone is a solution to a challenge and that challenge is how do you articulate your idea to satisfy a design panel or isn’t going to crowd the building next door? A good example that people always cite, and it’s not necessarily specific to drones but with Vancouver House, I don’t know if you know this project here in Vancouver, is an interesting building that’s design sort of starts as a triangle and grows into a square. Part of their requirement was that there was a park next door and so they basically sculpted out one piece of the building so it wasn’t going to impede on the park next door. And so I don’t know how you would show that without using drones and without articulating this in people’s minds. The same thing, we worked on this project called The Arc with Walter Francl and the shape of the building is a response to the site. It’s integrated into the site in a way that reacts with the environment and landscape. And so again, I don’t know how you could show these kind of ideas without aerial shots.
These types of shots are becoming more and more integrated into what we do. And for us as drone operators everything is new as well. It’s kind of similar to virtual reality in that not a lot of people are doing it. And so when you mention it to someone, it’s difficult to get permission and to differentiate yourself from some guy with a little camera versus us who are professionals. I think it’s becoming more adopted and so hopefully it’s an easier realm for us to be drone operators in and get the permits and things we need.
PR: How much time can be saved by using a 3D scan versus say a conventional space measuring technique.
MG: That’s an interesting question. How much time you can spend, in terms of capturing the data? It’s about the same, it’s not really going to save you any time. But where it would save you time is if you hire someone to come to your house and take the square footage measurements, they’re going to come back and be like “it’s 10×9” and that’s great but like what do you do with that number? What do you do with the measurements? With 3D scanning sure it takes about the same amount of time to calculate but you end up with a 3D model. Instantly you can perceive the space better, express scale and interpret and modify it if necessary. It gives you a lot more value than just a simple number. A number is good on a 2D floor plan but it doesn’t really help you if you’re trying to figure out if a sofa fits in your room or not.
See how comprehensive 3D scans can be, by looking at this matterport image of the penthouse projects LNG Studios has done.