Interview - MIR
Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about your company…
Mir is a small studio located almost off the map on the west coast of Norway. We produce what we call portraits of unbuilt architecture. We have been working on perfecting communication through images since 2000.
You collaborate with a lot of architects on a large number of built or “in progress” projects. Do you find it difficult to work on “somebody else’s vision”?
Do photographers find it difficult to photograph a BMW because someone else has designed it?
How do you transition from CAD files to perfect 3D architectural models?
The architects export a format that we can read.
What programs/ plugins /scripts do you use?
We use Lightwave and 3d Studio Max for the 3d stuff. For painting and post processing we use Photoshop and Aftereffects
How do you keep up with all the changes in technology?
Haha, we don't. We always end up stuck with old versions of our software. In the end, companies like Autodesk force us to keep updated as their software is not back- compatible and clients often use newer versions than us… As for Lightwave3D (which is a more sensible tool), we can choose to upgrade when we want to. Of course, we do like to get hold of the latest releases, but this is'nt such an obstacle with Lightwave due to more reasonable prices.
How involved is the interview process at MIR? What do you look for in a new employee?
We use portfolios for screening. After that we try to meet with the most qualified people and have them talk about general things to get a sense of their personality and character. We are always looking for talented artists, but we also need “good people” in our office to create a fun and pulsating environment to be in. We would love to hire more girls, but unfortunately there is only one girl who applies for every 100 guys... Right now there are people from Norway, Poland, Egypt, New Zealand, Hungary and the Netherlands in our team.
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
He or she has to have a voice. There is too much generic, perfect, 3d “shit” out there. We have been through maybe 100 portfolios in the last few weeks, and half of them have some version of " the perfect concrete texture with a purple sunset”. It too often feels like the inspiration has come from another 3d work and not from a creative mind. We wish people would start with a pen and a piece of paper and decide on what they want to create, not with a standard scene from Evermotion or the mindset to copy something they have seen on Cgtalk.
The Future Library and Media Center in Ghent design has a great feedback. What were the challenges on this project? Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?
We did these images for UNStudio which we have worked quite a lot with. The goal was the usual. Trying to build an atmosphere and identity in the images that would make the project be more visually intriguing and memorable than the other proposals in the competition. UNStudio produce really-really great 3d models -way better than anyone in our studio could do.
The difficult part is to get these soft shapes out of Rhino and into a polygon format that is smooth enough. In the end we had to fix quite a lot of bugs in Photoshop. As with any other competition project, the design changed quite a lot all the way towards the end. Incredibly annoying for us, but hey, that's life! :)
What were some of the challenges on the Greenland’s national museum of art?
This one went down quite easy. The main challenge was the technical part, drawing the nature because we didn't have good photos.
BIG shares some of our passion for “scandinavian melancholy”, so we knew from start that we didn't have to populate the images with happy kids playing with ballons and perfectly casted families out to “experience culture”.
How about the Ocean Space Centre?
We did these images for UNStudio which we have worked quite a lot with. The goal was the usual. Trying to build an atmosphere and identity in the images that would make the project be more visually intriguing and memorable than the other proposals in the compeition. UNStudio produce really-really great 3d models -way better than anyone in our studio could do.
What is the typical starting point in an architectural 3D project? How long does it usually take?
The project starts with us getting as much info as possible from the architect. Why does the building look the way it does? What is the function of the building? Are there any political things to take into account? If the images are produced for a competition, who is in the competition jury? What is the architects strategy? After the initial brief we sit down with the 3d model, try to understand the building and the clients ideas. Maybe do a couple of simple renders.
Then we sit down with our team and try to talk about our understanding of the project, strengths and weaknesses, can we do the things that the architect issued in the first place? We do some simple sketches on paper and discuss what sort of aesthetics would suit the project the best. We then go back to the architect asking them questions: Is it meant to be a bit like Disneyland or are you looking for a more poetic experience? Stuff like that.
What other supporting departments do you typically involve on an average project? How large does this list grow when you’re working on a 3D presentation/movie?
We sometimes hire photographers for site photography, and for larger modeling tasks we will use specialist external 3d modelers.
How do you start working on a 3D project like The Center for Dialogue in Mecca? What are the usual steps?
We first receive the info and the 3d model. Then we think. Then we talk. Then we sketch. Then we talk some more, sketch some more and try to get the sketch approved through strong argumentation for the concepts we propose. After that we refine the 3d model and the textures etc. Finally, we show a high resolution sketch to our clients for approval of the textures, colors, etc. Then we finish the image. In the end we sit down as a team to see how we can improve the image further. And send it before Friday evening just in time for a beer.
Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What is your company’s strongest point (design, modeling, sketching, rendering, environment, maps, animating)?
Our main strength is that we try to work with our clients and not for them. This means that we can add energy and ideas to our clients projects instead of just doing a technical job. After more than 10 years working on architectural projects, the architects don't have to tell us how things work. But other than that, we have a huge variety of technical skills in the office, and we can use whoever fits the project at hand. Like myself for instance, I can hardly model anything more complicated than a box, but I am fluent in Wacom, so to speak :) We always try to tone down the 3d technical aspects when we develop concepts, or communicate with clients. It’s a tool that should be mastered like any other tools. Owning a hammer and knowing how to knock a nail perfectly into a nice piece of wood doesn't mean you can build a nice house. Our work is mainly about the storytelling and ideas, the technical execution goes without saying.
Which design do you believe was the most difficult to achieve?
Some of our clients have a really top down heavy beurocracy. There is almost no point in trying to add ideas to the process, because the guy that you are stuck with will never be able to sell your ideas to the to boss. (Who you never get to talk to anyway). These clients know exactly what they want before we go into the project. They send us a pre-selected camera angle and an image from a competing company that they want you to copy. (I notice that I get agitated writing this). Then they want you to make an amazing image out of this...... With both hands tied behind your back! Even if sometimes the images that start out like this turn out good, projects like this are really hard. But you must handle it professionally, just pull out your makeup and do your best to make the slut look pretty. It goes without saying that other clients get priority over these clients.
Which render engine would you recommend?
Lightwave native render or Fprime. Not V-ray, I think it sucks. But still, we have 5 guys in the office using it, and it's not like everything they do turns out bad :) (Photoshop is a marvelous tool)
Our long term aim is to bring Lightwave into everybodies toolset as it would simplify in-house efficiency a lot.
How important is it to have a proper education in this field?
It doesn't matter. The only thing education proves is that you can set goals and achieve them. The profession requires a hell of a lot of discipline and hard work though.
For the majority, the best school can do is to get you into a working environment, such as Mir, at a young age. Being in a studio where everyone around you works to become the best they can be is super-inspirational and it is impressive how fast people develop skills after they join us.
What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
An open mind and curious spirit.
If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
We would rather hang out with friends and talk about something completely different than talk about 3d over a beer.