Making renders full of life: an interview with director Rémi Anfosso

Sep 16, 2021 | Interview

Living Room, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
Living Room, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

We’re speaking with the award-winning, Paris-based director and producer, Rémi Anfosso. His directorial debut, A Chef’s Voyage (2020), has recently hit the big screen (the documentary was declared “A Delicious Escape to France” by the New York Times), and with 10 years of experience in filmmaking, he has worked as an assistant director and director on international films, TV shows and commercials.

Meet Rémi Anfosso, award-winning director and producer

Rémi Anfosso is the Head Filmmaker at the architectural visualization studio, Ten Over Media, where he has sat behind the Lumion director’s chair and produced several rendering projects, such as the award-winning River Run, Hôtel Le Mas, Carolina Pines RV Resort and several others.

In this interview, Rémi shares how he has combined these two worlds: real-life filmmaking and architectural animations made in Lumion. He discusses how he transforms spaces into containers of memory and emotion, creating a poignant and indelible impression on viewers and clients through the use of props, camera and lighting.

Connecting design to people with the 3 guiding emotions

Before starting any film project, Rémi is keenly aware of one, crucial notion in his industry — making an emotional film means controlling the viewer’s relationship with what is shown on the screen.

And to Rémi, this means empathy and a lot of research. “We can’t really guess how people think, such as if they think a room is beautiful or not,” he says. “We can only guess their behavior. So before we begin a rendering project, we ask ourselves questions like, ‘How will people feel when they enter this space? How will people act? What will they expect?’”

View from a suite, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
View from a suite, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

This approach differs significantly from film, where characters and plot drive the emotional response in audiences. Instead, Rémi aims to ignite emotions by transforming architectural spaces into “containers of memory.”

“Visiting a place is one thing. Coming back and telling your family and friends about it is another. So the memories people bring back with them, that’s what we want to reflect in the rendered animation,” he says. It’s through those memories that he and Ten Over Media can elicit an emotional response. “We are building the mythology of the place.”

Side view of the pool, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

View of the hotel and pool, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

With the help of detailed research from Ten Over Media’s client marketing team, and working closely with Creative Director/twin brother Mathieu Anfosso, the next step is to define, precisely, what emotional heartstrings they’ll want to pluck in their viewers.

It’s important to be precise with the emotions they chose, Rémi noted, and not use broad (and slightly vague) emotions such as ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. For the proposed clientele of their Mediterranean project, Hotel Le Mas, they chose the following 3 specific emotions:

1. Inviting
2. Quiet
3. Protective

Throughout the rest of the rendering workflow, every output is measured against these three guiding emotions. If a render doesn’t feel ‘inviting,’ then it doesn’t fit. If a render features loud sounds and disco lights everywhere, then it likely won’t feel very ‘quiet.’

Bedroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
Bedroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

Keeping these emotions in mind, Rémi and his team then construct profiles of the people who will experience the space once it’s built. They ask:

1. Who are they?
2. Why are they going there?
3. What do they expect once they get there?

At this point, they know which emotions they want to target. They have the profiles of the people who will visit (or live in) the property.

The final preparation phase, according to Rémi, is to “put yourself in the audience’s shoes” and make the educated studies on how people will respond to the design. With this insight, Rémi has the direction he needs for the next step — figuring out which props and objects to include in the render.

Turning 3D spaces into containers of memories

Within Lumion software, users can find over 6,300 models and other objects in the built-in content library, ranging from trees to furniture to lighting and more. In the visualization world, we generally consider these models as ‘objects’ or ‘assets’, but for Rémi, he refers to these items in Lumion as “props”, and he approaches the Lumion 3D editor as if he were building a real-life movie set.

By putting yourself in the audience’s shoes, according to Rémi, by guessing their behavior with the research available, you can then integrate the props into the scene and create a space that feels familiar to the audience, both visually and emotionally. You can create what Rémi calls a ‘container of memories.’

Lobby, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
Lobby, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

For instance, in Ten Over Media’sRiver Run’ project, the research showed an audience of middle-aged men and women with a preference for outdoorsy activities, such as hiking or sitting around the campfire. To grasp this outdoorsy feeling and better connect with the targeted audiences, Rémi placed a thermos of coffee on a small table along with a pair of binoculars, hinting at the combination of pristine wilderness and resort-style relaxation.

For their ‘Hotel Le Mas’ project, Rémi and Ten Over Media sifted through their research and found that, because of the size of the hotel and the many amenities available, the guests preferred to explore the hotel grounds upon arrival as opposed to sitting in their room.

This insight led to a clear-cut decision about the props used in the rendering. Instead of focusing on a champagne bottle in a bucket of ice, which communicated a message of staying in, Rémi chose to feature two already-filled champagne flutes, which guests could take with them as they explored the hotel grounds.

View from the restaurant, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
View from the restaurant, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

When choosing props and prop placements, Remi mentions that “all the other props in the room are secondary to a main object. They don’t distract from it.”

This focus on props and emotions is clearly visible in many of Rémi’s animations with Ten Over Media, from the binoculars in ‘River Run’ to the champagne in the ‘Hotel Le Mas’.

One surprising prop, however, is the window. Rémi considers windows as ‘canvases’ that allow you to use the outside world as a work of art, like a painting hanging on the wall. By using the windows as canvases in his renders, Rémi connects the building design to its surroundings, using the view to strengthen one of the three guiding emotions mentioned earlier.

Bathroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
Bathroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

For the ‘Hotel Le Mas’ project, one of the guiding emotions that Rémi wanted to illustrate was Protective. He wanted to show the feeling of protection that the hotel could offer, especially during the hot summer months. Using the idea of ‘windows as canvases’, Rémi made sure that hotel guests could take a break from the hottest part of the day in the comfort of their rooms, without losing the stunning beauty of the Mediterranean coast from their windows.

The emotion is in the motion

To Rémi, the camera is more than a tool to capture a scene with props. It’s a storytelling device that can drive emotions to the surface in a powerful way. The camera has immense power in reinforcing (or distracting from) the emotions you’re targeting.

“Camera movement plays a big role as it sets the tone and matches the client’s expectations and emotions. So, if the emotion we want is Quiet, then we likely don’t want a bunch of super-fast camera movements.”

Which makes sense. If you want viewers to feel a sense of peace, or perhaps serenity, then lightspeed camera movements will most likely produce the opposite effect. In the ‘Hotel Le Mas’ project, for instance, Rémi reinforced the Protective emotion by moving the camera at waist level. By doing this, he could show the POV of someone sitting on the floor, comfortable and relaxed as if they were doing yoga or simply enjoying a break from a busy day.

Bedroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.
Bedroom, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

Secondly, the camera movements must be realistic and match the viewer’s expectations of what feels natural. Unfortunately, this eliminates a lot of camera experimentation, but it’s important. Strange shots from weird, inaccessible angles will only distract from the film’s emotional influence.

If you’re unsure of the camera movements in your video, Rémi recommends asking yourself two questions:

1. Is this shot something that you could accomplish in real life?
2. Am I showing a perspective of the room that people actually want to see?

In most cases, especially with architectural visualization, Rémi thinks of the Lumion camera movements as a first-person perspective, creating that crucial intimacy between the viewer and the space. In the ‘River Run’ video, for example, the first-person POV of a character on the ground seamlessly transitions to the first-person POV of a bird in the sky, flying over a lake. To do this well, Rémi considers the trust between filmmaker and viewer to be essential. Viewers must trust that you’re the right person to take them on a journey throughout the property.

“Cinema is a form of modern writing whose ink is light”

In Lumion, you have complete control over all of the lighting conditions. With so many possibilities for lighting within Lumion, Rémi knows he can achieve the best lighting possible for his scene by setting up the boundaries that he will work within. In general, he sets out to accomplish two things with his lighting:

1. Create a real-life depiction of the scene
2. Visually seduce the audience

In many property animations and other renders, one popular lighting technique is to show a fiery yellow sunset or a poetic blue hour. While this technique may create the most dramatic lighting options, Rémi states that it could mislead viewers as well.

Hotel pool and coastline, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

Pool, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

For instance, with the ‘Hotel Le Mas’, most guests would arrive in the middle of the day or early afternoon, and not during the stunning sunset or blue hour conditions that the guest saw in the renders.

“These people may feel disappointed when the renders don’t match the real-life experience they have,” Rémi says, “You absolutely don’t want the guest to feel disappointed when they walk in their room for the first time. Instead, you want the lighting to be accurate and match the guest’s emotions and expectations for when they arrive, and trust to find beauty within this reality.”

Poolside, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

Pool pavilion, Hotel Le Mas. Rendered in Lumion by Ten Over Media.

After a short pause, Rémi continues, “A famous French poet said that cinema is a form of modern writing whose ink is light.’ What’s nice about Lumion is that we can really do whatever we want with light, even hide the sources of the light. Something you really can’t do in a movie studio.”
Emotions, experiences and spaces
From Lumion to the movie studio and back again, Rémi Anfosso constantly finds inspiration during the search for emotion. He’s always looking to see where the emotion manifests itself within architectural spaces, and how he can reinforce emotion by telling a story using props, camera and lighting. To create a film that lives in the minds of viewers, long after they’ve watched it.

As Rémi concludes, “When people finally travel to the building that we advertised in our films, we want them to feel as if they’ve already been there.”