Constructing a Kingdom

The material delivered to The King of Bhutan for his presentation to the Bhutanese people about the Gelephu Mindfulness City, included one of our best received animations to date. The collaboration with Squint/Opera involved a set of photorealistic stills and the animation highlighting the masterplan of the city. Intriguing challenge accepted!

Given the specific flair of the project, with all it’s cultural and geographical elements attached, extra attention was given to the storytelling elements of the animation, incorporated with the specifics of the architecture.





Let us pick it apart a bit, and show some of the more interesting aspects of the creation, regarding the photorealistic section of the animation.

Diving straight into the deep end, we were required to produce a grand masterplan shot, as we approach the location from a bird’s view, transitioning from the animated 2D intro through white, fluffy simulated clouds. Following this was the challenge of transforming this wide landscape with emerging rivers and forests, technically achieved by the manipulation of several displacement maps, controlling the timing, indentation and shading of the rivers, as they appear.





The approach descends to ground level, as floating over a riverbed we are introduced to the direct connection between nature and architecture. The rigged and animated elephants featured in the scene add the presence of local wildlife, and further enhancing the realism, along with the implementation of Tyflow for terrain manipulation and generating birds in the sky.





In several of the following shots, AXYZ Anima characters were implemented, simulating the people in the variation of scenes. Clothing was prepared separately in order to match the respective subject of the storyline, being it the uniform of the bio-engineering sector, or wherever an indigenous outfit needed to appear.
Some of these characters needed to be created from scratch, animated by hand to reach the desired pose or movements. For this to be achievable within the short timeframe of the project, the software choice fell on iClone to shape and rig these bespoke characters.





Further shots involving clothes and other textiles such as flags were simulated separately to fit the required outcome. The regular clothing of the Bhutanese people were pretty straightforward to produce, the true challenge came with the following example.

Right from the beginning, we knew we wanted to recreate a colorful local festival, where performers dress up in amazing outfits, wearing wooden masks and entertaining the crowd on the main square.





The collection and study of references were a crucial part of the prework for this scene. Looks and behavior of the clothing for the performers and how the dance is actually performed. Additional references for animation, colors, crowd and atmosphere, in order to recreate the authenticity of the event to it’s fullest.. We ended up with a cloth simulation quite representative of the festival, along with the wooden masks linked to the character’s faces, and some extra ribbons flowing in their hands for good measure! The simulation of the crowd was achieved with the help of AXYZ Anima.





The use of Unreal Engine to generate buildings was a new, experimental feature we implemented in the workflow. This task is in general achieved through iToo’s Railclone, but addicted as we are to exploring new and different options, in order to access some additional features we needed, we used blueprint scripting for the building generation. This way we could control the pattern of windows and roof generation in a procedural and precise manner, and thereby be able to generate a collection of random Bhutanese style buildings quite fast.





Although scripting can quickly become intricate and confusing, by keeping a tight and well organized node structure, issues tend to simplify and become much more understandable, speeding up the process considerably.

In general, collecting a useful library of fairly minor, but still extremely useful and time saving scripts, reusable for further, future projects, is an investment well made.





The Gelephu Mindfulness City in Bhutan became a project where we truly had the opportunity to exercise what we do best, by presenting a concept that communicates way beyond just architecture. This required several developments from a technical perspective, along with refinements and improvements to the workflow of the production. But without doubt, all well invested hours spent for approaching future projects to come as well.
This unrelenting push resulted, we believe, in a presentation that beyond a grand masterplan, also manages to introduce the kingdom of Bhutan in a stunning environment, and with its vibrant culture to the viewer.



 “Our goal was to present the vision of the project as clearly as possible
to the ones that are affected the most: the local people of Bhutan.”

– András Vida, creative director


The finalized animation, along with the introduction by Squint/Opera and Bjarke Ingels’s narration speaks for itself, and hopefully the challenge of adequately presenting the vision of the project, along with a faithful representation of the surrounding people and their culture, has resulted in a successful venture.


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