Surreal CG film about architecture

BB mod Arkizzle points us to Alex Roman's magnificent animated short "The Third & The Seventh." Arkizzle says, "Its focus is architecture and space, and is entirely CG. His use of light, angle, colour, space and depth-of-field are just stunning..."


  1. Whaaaa…?? That can’t possibly be entirely CG. Well, I guess it can be, but that’s incredible.

    We’re already at the stage where, unless a human is in the picture, it pretty much completely impossible to tell the difference between CG and reality in movies. That didn’t strike me as such a big deal when looking at fluorescent plants in Avatar, but looking at a perfect old metal film camera and old strips of negatives is something else entirely.

  2. Having watched the whole thing now, I have to say that, while it’s all very cool, the first couple minutes are the most jaw-dropping. For some reason wide shots of buildings and landscapes may be technically perfect, but they always look kind of fake in the first place. It’s the close-ups of old hardware, however, that is really amazing.

  3. Ok, if this is really completely computer-generated, count me as wildly, wildly impressed. I wish he had posted more “in-progress” stuff on his website — frames, etc.

  4. Call me skeptical, but this looks like it was shot (at least in part) with a DSLR (a Canon D5 or the like) with prime lenses.

    Could it be a blend of video and CG?

  5. Some of the shots in there are not CGI rendered, but perhaps CGI enhanced. Most notably the interior and exterior shots of the Quadracci Pavillion of the Milwaukee Art Museum:

    It’s the building with the roof wings that open, and the foyer can be seen where the thundercloud forms.

    1. @Buckethead: The fact that he didn’t actually do that, but instead generated all the images on the computer?

    2. What exactly is CG about this? It looks to me like this guy just took a video camera…

      Yes it does, which is what makes this one of the most impressive CG films I’ve ever seen.

  6. @5: DHL, thanks! My boyfriend is in animation professionally; I wanted to have something to show him.

    @6: What do you mean “what exactly is CG about this”? Computer effects isn’t limited to faking aliens and robots.

  7. @#5 Except that the making of film specifically shows the modeling, textures, and lighting breakdown for that shot.

  8. It is quite an achievement, no question, but I confess I don’t really understand this sort of stuff. It’s the same when I see photorealistic digital paintings. If the final product is indistinguishable from actual photography, if no one can tell the difference, then what was the point? Why didn’t you just photograph it? The end result is the same.

    I get this as a proof-of-concept and a nice video to look at but that’s really about it.

    1. Because if he can do this, imagine what else he can do.

      Because, in terms of showing-off technical prowness, you’re far more likely to be blown away by incredibly-detailed shots of everyday objects than you are of mystical moons orbiting the planet of Pandora. Moons of Pandora can look like whatever the hell you want, but this has to look exactly right.

      Also because this is a beautiful movie. If he chose to do it digitally instead of with film, why not? What’s the “point” of doing it in film instead of digitally?

      One may as well ask why a Renaissance painter would bother painting a perfect trompe l’oeil? Why make a painting that tricks you into believing there’s an archway here when you could have just built an archway?

    2. It’s the same when I see photorealistic digital paintings. If the final product is indistinguishable from actual photography, if no one can tell the difference, then what was the point? Why didn’t you just photograph it?


      I’d love to see you or anyone else do all that with “actual photography” as you say. And, if you don’t understand “the point” by now, then you never will.

      Can I ask you something? What is “the point” of a beautiful sunset? What is “the point” of admiring the aesthetics and form of anything?

      Now get back to work in your beige cubical and keep your eyes forward. You’ve been slacking off too long already.

      1. Can I ask you something? What is “the point” of a beautiful sunset? What is “the point” of admiring the aesthetics and form of anything?

        The aesthetics and form you’re admiring in this video were not created by Alex Roman, they were created by the architect who designed the building and the people who built it. The fact that it’s all CG is impressive, but if it’s boring to look at, who cares?

        1. “The aesthetics and form you’re admiring in this video were not created by Alex Roman […]”

          Actually, they were. He chose the subjects, what sequence you see them in, what parts you look at, how long you look at them, how to light them, etc. These are all deliberate aesthetic decisions.

          There are at least a few levels of “aesthetics and form” in this film — the architecture, yes, but also the form it was captured in.

          “[I]f it’s boring to look at, who cares?”

          Good point. The only problem is that you don’t seem to account for the fact that boredom boils down to personal feeling. Lots of us look at the same thing and don’t find it boring at all, so we’re allowed to … “care.”

        2. The aesthetics and form you’re admiring in this video were not created by Alex Roman, they were created by the architect who designed the building and the people who built it.

          I already knew that and your just jumping into trite semantics. Ok, then I liked Alex Roman’s “expression” of the form and I appreciate the aesthetic light and texture who applied to those forms. Is that better?

          The fact that it’s all CG is impressive, but if it’s boring to look at, who cares?

          The CG didn’t impress me at all. It was the attention to detail that you would find from any master craftsman of any medium that I found impressive. It was the brilliant application of light, mood, texture and much more that draws me to his piece. I don’t care if it was plastic models, Adobe After Affects or pressed cow manure… it’s the eye Alex Roman has for “light, angle, colour, space and depth-of-field”, etc. that put me in awe.

          I’m sorry you found it boring.

    3. I’d also add to SamSam’s comment: The simple issue of practicality. I only have so much wealth and time to purchase particular props, rent spaces, or travel to landmarks for the purpose of photographing or filming them.

      Digital animation allows anyone in the world to recreate whatever they want from their own computer at home. It may also allow people to create or capture certain angles (say, from a secured roof) or moments that may not always be easily accessible.

      Your comment doesn’t mention handpainting — why do we handpaint anything if we can do better with photography? It’s about human skill. Art is not only about celebrating the subject (the “end result”), but the creator.

  9. That’s pretty amazing, I didn’t believe it was CG until 2.48 and the shot of the perfect railing.

  10. Wow one person doing what usually takes a studio of people to then go and compose a great musical score. Very impressive

  11. We’ve apparently reached a new era, where we can expect more of the the kind of comments we’re seeing here:

    “It’s not ‘shopped. I can tell by the pixels.”

    1. “It’s not ‘shopped. I can tell by the pixels.”

      technically, all of it is ‘shopped :P in the sense that after effects is photoshop in motion.

  12. I, for one, welcome our new CGI overlord. All hail Alex Roman!

    Also, Louis Kahn’s architecture has always struck an emotional chord with me, especially when considering the man and his art at the same time. Y’all should check out My Architect: A Son’s Journey to learn more.

  13. Absolutely beautiful. I remember the rendering of the guy playing a piano.(80s?) I liked that, and I was impressed then.

    Beauty is its own reward, and this film must make this guy feel pretty rewarded. Hats off to Alex Roman.

  14. I always loved Michael Nyman’s Gattaca score, seems the guy who made this did too.

    He also borrowed the plane flyover shot from the movie too, except there it was a rocket.

    If you complain about this being boring or whatnot, you’re missing the point.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was completely reminded of Gattaca. I think that movie is seriously underrated.

  15. I always try and judge this type of thing taking into account; in ten years time I won’t beleive I fell for any of it.

    Have you watched the 1st Final Fantasy movie lately?

  16. Very beautiful. If this was made as a portfolio piece of a sort (in order to get paying work) it will be very successful.

    If seen out of the CG context though, it’s like a music video, but twice as long as it needed to be (I was ready for something else half-way through anyway).

  17. For the first couple minutes I sat there thinking, “What technically impressive wankery.”
    Then it started to strike a kind of chord with me. I don’t know why, but I was rapt through the entire second half.

  18. Bravo. Absolutely beautiful.

    I love reading the comments. It is like a time machine back to the SIGGRAPH Evening Shows I attended. The exact same discussion was happening then (early ’80s).
    And I imagine the same discussions will occur in another 25 years. :)

  19. Sam Sam, yes it is a beautiful movie, but the point of doing it digitally is lost because it is so photorealistic. There is no point in choosing to doing it one way or the other, if the final result is the same, if the work itself is the driving force, what difference does it make how it’s done?

    1. One of the most impressive contemporary art exhibitions I’ve seen recently looked like a bunch of found art/assemblages made from ordinary stuff out of a junkyard. Then I realized that these seemingly ordinary objects were incredibly detailed ceramic sculptures.

      Sometimes the “point” of using a chosen medium is precisely BECAUSE it’s so hard to get the effect you’re trying to create.

  20. I’m not convinced it’s all CG. In the making of video, which you can find through his vimeo page, there are shots where it looks like he’s composited in shots of real clouds.

    It’s still undeniably an incredible accomplishment, and a beautiful piece. I really didn’t think any of it was CG for the first minute or so.

  21. It is very easy for the human mind to detect oddities in the familiar (e.g. Buildings, trees, people etc.)

    However, one can have seen something a million time yet if asked to note the visual details/aspects of that scene, 99% of us will come up shockingly short.

  22. @whisper dog:

    First of all, you couldn’t have filmed/photographed all of that. There were many scenes that were surreal with floating orbs of liquid or lamps raising from the ground around the forest retreat.

    Second of all, this lays the groundwork to do a lot of other fancy things. Why did they render photorealistic scenes for the Matrix movie? Why didn’t they just train Keanu Reaves to actually dodge bullets? The effect looked just like real life so why not?

    If you can create real life, then it can be manipulated in ways that real life cannot.

    Additionally, it’s an incredible technical achievement to create something indistinguishable from real life on a computer. It’s practically the holy grail of CG for the reasons I stated above.

    Lastly, I found it very interesting to watch and not boring at all. I’d give it internet video of the month at least. :)

    p.s. I kinda wish they did use real bullets on Keanu. ZING!!!1!

    1. Sam #39, I understand the reasons for computer generated graphics and imagery in general. No need to explain visual effects, etc. I get all that. And Brainspore #35, you were able to tell the difference on some level, when you realized you were looking at ceramic.

      My question has to do with creating a work in one medium which is literally indistinguishable from a work created in a different medium. It seems to me to put the importance of the medium ahead of the value of the work.

      As others have pointed out here, yes it’s a lovely film but if no one told you it was entirely CG you would never have known, and I’m just questioning the notoriety it gains once the viewer is aware how it was created.

  23. It’s awfully lame if it comes without instructions. I got the link on a forum and watched a minute and a half without ever figuring out what it was supposed to be about. The changing focus and scene switches are annoying as hell.

  24. Haven’t read all the comments but I saw this same video a few weeks ago here:

    and loved it although it was slow – but not like Avatar slow – more interesting and relaxing visually, especially when you view the compositing breakdown and see how it is all CGI – I assume that by this time next year there will be much, much more of this type of “filmey atmospheric CGI” brought into movies, TV, etc. I hope so.

    I feel that Avatar and some others are sort of heavy-handed. I wish I had the rendering speed and tools available to me to do work like Roman’s more quickly and intuitively. That is some clever and dedicated modeling.

    I also like the style of the new Honda Crosstour ads. It sounds like a plug but is not- I wish I had projects like that to work on!


  25. I loved the recreation of Kahn’s Library at Phillips Exeter Academy, which ends up close to my mental image of Borges’s Library of Babel! Not only is the film insanely beautiful, but it shows the way for CG as an emerging fine art form.

    Photography (for example) has used documentary images of existing buildings for artistic purposes from the very outset, from Fox Talbot to Julius Shulman. The qualities that the artist and the medium supply are what transform the image from mundane representation. That’s exactly what Mr. Roman has successfully attempted here, a real feat and a step towards transporting CG into a full-fledged art form. Very cool.

  26. I guess the baffling thing about the CG is the earlier shots. As in: you could spend two weeks working on perfecting the 3D model for the camera on the tripod, or you could just shoot the real thing in a couple of hours.

    Even with the more fantastical shots at the end… I could recreate an entire Louis Kahn model from scratch… or I could just shoot the real thing and composite in the fantastical elements. The first might take a month or so, the second probably costs more.

    I guess it’s all just a matter of how much time/money you have. And how long you can spend in front of your computer. I know I spend way too much time there already.

    1. Even with the more fantastical shots at the end… I could recreate an entire Louis Kahn model from scratch… or I could just shoot the real thing and composite in the fantastical elements.

      Coulda’… Shoulda’… Woulda’…

      I’d like to see you put your money where your mouth is. Actually, I’d like to see the fantastically amazing portfolio of everyone on this thread that keeps acting like they could match this or do better.

      Anyway.. all this banter just reinforces to me what a badass Alex Roman is. He’s obviously hit some of you right in your egos. Where some find inspiration, udders seem to find disillusionment within themselves.

      (language NSFW) I’ll let Katt take it from here…

  27. Other than being blown away like most of us here, the first thing that crossed my mind was William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition novel. None of you thought the same ? This video completely fits the profile, especially the different segments.

    And yes, you can sense the Gattaca touch there too :-)
    The score is amazing.

  28. Final comment on this point: It would have been an interesting experiment if Pesco had posted this without reference to the CG aspect. I wonder what the comments would have been. It’s impossible to look back really ascertain what each one of us would have thought of this had we believed it was filmed. I’m sure most of us would still appreciate the beauty of the work, of course, but would it still hold the same awe, I wonder?

  29. Dear lordy, that’s so beautiful I almost threw up.

    Wonderfully realized, & stunning architecture, virtual or not.

  30. The comments seem strange to me, as if quite a few are using their brains instead of their eyes to watch the movie. It was amazingly well done for what the subject matter is.

  31. I am very impressed, but I had 2 things really strike out at me that I didn’t love:
    First, I love selective focus and short dof, but renderings (or is it the renderers?) always take it a step beyond what you’re likely to see in a photo. Maybe a lot of lenses could handle it, but there are usually other distortions like pincushion that start to appear, and you really just don’t see those in rendered work. With that said, I think it is almost always the dof issue that seems to be the giveaway when I look at CG graphics.
    Second, while I think special scenes can be pretty cool, a fair amount of the film is in split screen and almost all of it is done with pans, with some zoom replacing pans. For those of us who don’t have the attention span of a goldfish, a variety of pan speeds (such as a flyover) and near still shots would be great to break up the monotony of constant panning.
    Despite my few “complaints” on this, I really do think it is pretty cool and am very impressed with the technical skill in these renderings. Bonus points earned for doing Kahn’s national assembly and other relatively unknown projects (Was the wood clad building a case study house?).

  32. Well someone beat me here the other day at being overly pedantic… (about this Paul Rand NeXT logo mal orienté) so je vais me lâcher lousse about this one!

    I knew this video was fake when I saw circa (2m20) the seats in the concert hall…

    They’re non functional: not enough vertical leg room (they are lying too low on the ground).

    And I won’t even talk about the unnatural bokeh…

    Ce court-métrage est fantastique!

  33. Gimp – ScriptFu – MakeWireframeFromOriginal

    I jest. As someone who plays with CG in Blender as a hobby, I’m slobberknockered after watching the Composting Breakdown vid.

  34. This film is not computer generated anymore than a painting is brush generated.

    Computers generate heat, noise, and frustration and nothing else.

    A computer is a paintbrush.

    The generator is an artist.

    1. Well said Mahoot…

      Here’s László Moholy-Nagy:

      The designer must see the periphery as well as the core, the immediate and the ultimate, at least in the biological sense. He must anchor his special job in the complex whole. The designer must be trained not only in the use of materials and various skills, but also in appreciation of organic functions and planning. He must know that design is indivisible, that the internal and external characteristics of a dish, a chair, a table, a machine, painting, sculpture are not to be separated…

      There is design in organization of emotional experiences, in family life, in labor relations, in city planning, in working together as civilized human beings. Ultimately all problems of design merge into one great problem: ‘design for life’.ászló_Moholy-Nagy

  35. i-d love to see a few o fhis nuke/ae or whatever compositing program he used, some of these techniques look great.

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