How Neoscape Artists Helped Shape the Next Evolution of Realtime Rendering

With the release of Unreal Engine 5.2, the architectural visualization industry is about to change on a level never seen before. And we should know – Neoscape partnered directly with Epic Games and Safdie Architects to help develop, test, and build an entirely virtual experience using Unreal Engine and RealityCapture before the tools were released.

The project we brought to life, Habitat 67, is legendary in the architectural world. The brainchild of Moshe Safdie, Habitat 67 was presented at the Montreal World’s Fair in 1967. Designed initially as a daring reinvention of city life, where the traditional apartment becomes a haven with a garden for each resident, the full scale of the project was never fully realized. 

Now, using the superior tools available with UE5 and RealityCapture, Neoscape was able to recreate the full vision of Habitat 67 as a virtual environment. Check out the animated tour above, or head to the official Epic Games launch page to experience it yourself.

How Did Neoscape Bring Hillside to Life with Unreal Engine and Safdie Architects?

When Epic Games approached us with the idea of creating Habitat 67 as a proof-of-concept project for the Unreal 5.2 release, Neoscape jumped at the challenge. Architecture is in our bones as a creative agency founded by architects, so our artists already knew and loved the Habitat 67 concept. Plus, Neoscape has partnered with Safdie Architects on many projects over the past 28 years. For example, we produced multiple rounds of renderings and films for the Jewel at Changi Airport project – including the early concept renderings that won Safdie the project. 

We have also been working with virtual reality and previous incarnations of Unreal Engine for years. For example, we recently partnered with Studio Gang and the American Museum of Natural History to render the vision for the Gilder Center in NYC, which officially opened earlier this month

Building a fully realized virtual version of Habitat 67 was a titanic effort, especially as nothing has been created on this scale and in such detail for the architecture world. 

First, a 3D scan of the existing structure was taken with a LiDAR radar. This was achieved by a drone, which flew along a programmed path. At the same time, a second drone captured hi-res images of the buildings so that no structural detail would be overlooked. 

Next, these datasets were combined by the RealityCapture system to produce a full 3D model of the built environment. The Neoscape artists used this as a starting point for the rest of the project. Users can virtually tour the existing development and smoothly transition into the unbuilt portion of the project, combining reality and virtual reality into a seamless experience. 

To truly capture the grandeur of the original idea, our 3D artists worked with experts at McGill University’s archive to digitize the actual sketches and plans Moshe Safdie drew up for the World’s Fair. The archivists’ attention to detail allowed us to capture features like the gardens and traffic conditions in a true-to-life fashion, showing how it all would actually work.

After building the model and importing it into Unreal Engine 5 via Datasmith, our artists got to work, adding all the photoreal elements necessary to make Hillside feel like a real place. And 4.5 billion triangles and months of work later, the environment exists for anyone to explore.

What Does Unreal Engine 5 Mean for the Future of Archviz?

Our architectural visualization experts were able to bring Hillside to life in stunning detail using the new capabilities of UE5. This technology eliminated the need to account for rendering time – any angle and view was instantly available in the highest possible quality. 

This is what may change the future of archviz. With Unreal Engine, we can design the space in photoreal detail as an environment. After that, generating individual views and traditional static renderings is incredibly fast. The Lumen system in UE5 creates realistic lighting in realtime – meaning switching from a day to night view is as simple as clicking a button. Notably, the quality of each version is just as high as a traditional rendering. 

The Nanite system in the engine also means that there is no drop in quality or huge render load for even massive environments like Hillside. 

The combined power of these tools means that architects could sit alongside our digital artists and pull exactly which views and stills they want for their project. Additionally, we can test out different finishes, details, and even infrastructure systems before ground is ever broken, saving time and money throughout the entire project. 

Neoscape is incredibly honored to be the rendering firm that not only used these tools to show their archviz capabilities but also helped develop the systems themselves with Epic Games product teams.

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