Winning entry breakdown: ‘One ARCHICAD model, any environment’, Twinmotion Community Challenge #4

Architectural designer Anh Pham explains how he created the stunning winning image for the fourth Twinmotion Community Challenge, with insights into his techniques and process. 

Hi! I’m Anh Pham, an architectural designer from Vietnam currently working at Strada Architecture LLC in the United States.

I’m going to break down how I created my winning image for the recent Twinmotion Community Challenge: ‘One ARCHICAD model, any environment’.

In this challenge, we were asked to create an environment in Twinmotion to showcase a model of the Len Lye Centre, which is a building in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
Courtesy of Len Lye Centre, New Zealand Patterson Associates Architects | Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
I was incredibly inspired by the Len Lye Centre’s unique facade and the artist’s artworks. I wanted to have fun with my imagination rather than create something completely realistic: some of my initial ideas included an eroded building in a post-apocalyptic world, a uniquely shaped birthday cake, and a lost temple on a snowy mountain.

Eventually, I came to the idea of a monument or temple of lights—something transparent, mysterious, and romantic. I had two main inspirations: first, the Len Lye Centre itself, the reflective facade of which I wanted to use as a contextual element to complement the building; second, Len Lye’s artworks, which inspired the scene’s lighting—specifically his works Fountain III and Wind Wand.

I took a risk and placed the building at the center of the image, despite the challenge’s focus on the contextual environment. While this was slightly off brief, I wanted to see where my exploration led me. I adopted a couple of strategies to develop the composition of the image.

I used multiple wavy facades at different scales to create layering structures. The outer layers are translucent to bring a sense of mystery by partially revealing the main structure behind, which is the focal point. These layers also frame and direct visual attention to the focal point.

Len Lye Centre’s facade is made of reflective stainless steel, and because it dynamically reflects its environmental context, I wanted to include reflection as part of the focal point in a different way. 

The result is a structure at a lakefront which is reflected upside down in the lake’s waters. The building and its reflection together became the focal point of the composition. A square layout worked best for this scene because it strengthens the composition by balancing negative spaces in all directions. 
Courtesy of Len Lye Centre, New Zealand Patterson Associates Architects | Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
I made a conscious effort to contrast colors and lighting in the image. I knew I wanted to make a night scene from very early on—it seemed to be the perfect mood/lighting solution for this challenge. I focused on the complementary dual blue-orange: blue for the night and orange for the light. This color and lighting combo made the focal point stand out as I had hoped.

The image would feel too simple and empty if I just stopped here. Bringing in Len Lye’s artwork was the last step to increase the scene's complexity and romanticism. 

I used multiple Len Lye Wind Wand models to create a forest of light as the contextual landscape around the main structure. This lighting landscape also directs the audience’s eyes to the center focal point of the image.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
I went through many steps to create this image. First, I imported the Len Lye Centre FBX model and hid all of the building apart from the signature wavy facade. 

I duplicated this facade FBX twice at a smaller scale each time to create three layers in total. I applied a Reflective Glass texture map at 40% opacity to the first layer, and the same texture map at 70% opacity to the second layer. Finally, I applied a distinctive Maple Wood Floor texture map at a large scale and 50% reflection to the last layer. The idea was to create some subtle textures for the main structure.

Next, I imported the Quarry Cliff and Limestone Rocks 3D Megascan models via Quixel Bridge with 8K texture maps.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
I duplicated and mirrored the cliff model to create a more dynamic, irregular shape for the lakefront. To create the lake environment, I applied the Lake 02 texture to the ground in front of the building.

After that, I imported Len Lye’s Wind Wand model from 3D Warehouse. I modified the model’s textures and materials and saved it in the User Library for easy drag and drop. I created the forest of light by placing multiple Wind Wand models at slightly different scales and directions.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
At this point, I had the image composition set up and I changed the time to nighttime. As the building was not fully reflected on the water’s surface, I placed the horizon line slightly below the centerline of the layout to balance out the negative spaces around the focal point. 
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Next, I put eight spotlights with the settings shown in the image below slightly under and outside the inner FBX layer. These spotlights emitted light upwards to emphasize the inner structure’s facade as the focal point, and were inspired by Len Lye’s artwork Fountain III.

Since the cliff edge looked too dark, I added some other spotlights with wider angles to light up parts of the lakefront. Last but not least, I put an area light in front of the outer FBX layer with the light direction facing down to the cliff surface. This area light mimicked lighting from inside the building bouncing onto the surrounding ground surface.

I didn’t want to have a building in an empty landscape, so I filled the background with trees using the Vegetation Scatter tool. I also added a small couple entourage to give a sense of scale to the structure and to add another layer to the image’s story. 
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Next, I put a small area light in front of the entourage to mimic the light from the main building bouncing on them. This was a very small detail, but it enhanced the realism of the lighting in the scene.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
After that, I added three reflection probes, one on each side and a big one at the center. These probes created reflections from the light forest on the translucent layers of the building.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
A final small detail that I wanted to include was a meteor in the sky. There was no particular reason except to add more interest to the scene’s story. The meteor was made with a spotlight far away from the FBX main model with the settings shown below.
Image courtesy of Anh Pham
Among the ambience and light settings, the most important were the high contrast and blue tint color gradient which brought a very deep and artistic blue tint to the night scene. A suitable field of view (FOV) number was also important to avoid distorting the image.

Body 26 Anh Pham Twinmotion Breakdown 4

Body 27 Anh Pham Twinmotion Breakdown 4

Body 28 Anh Pham Twinmotion

Body 29 Anh Pham Twinmotion

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My biggest challenge on the project was how to impress the audience emotionally with a very simple scene. “Less is more” is not always easy. However, a thoughtful composition and choice of lighting/color can make a great impression, even with just a few elements.

The improved water material in Twinmotion 2020 played the greatest part in achieving the mood of the scene. With the ability to control water depth and wave, I was able to play around with the water settings and create the most realistic-looking lake texture, thus increasing the rendering quality. 

Besides that, Area Light and Glow Material enhancements also played an important role in the workflow. I didn’t have to spend too much time placing omnidirectional lights or spotlights to show how the light bounced between surfaces. This saved a good amount of time and significantly increased my workflow efficiency.

A quick and easy learning process 

My experience with Twinmotion dates back to late 2018, when I started using the software as an archviz hobby. I was looking at real-time visualization programs that are easy to learn, fast, and versatile, and Twinmotion met all of these requirements. 

After just a few days of exploring, I found the program very intuitive and fast to produce decent images and videos. It’s also one of very few programs that works on MacOS and because the firm I’m working at is Mac-based, it was the perfect software to implement in our workflow. 

I took the lead to bring Twinmotion into some of our projects at Strada and we found not only did it boost our quality of work, but it also significantly improved our visual communication with clients. Since then, I’ve never stopped improving my visualization skills. Engaging in the community group and doing personal and work-related project renderings have been great learning steps in my archviz journey.

The speed at which I was able to create my winning entry is another reason I use Twinmotion. This is a crucial factor in architectural practices where architects really need a simple tool that’s easy to use and can deliver respectable results in a short amount of time.