Interview with Massimiliano Napoli, COO of Diorama: Diorama’s Aesthetic and Their Secrets behind the Post-pandemic Success
In the beginning of 2020, Fox Renderfarm was so pleased to have the chance to talk to Uros Vukovic, Director at Diorama, about their award winning ArchViz shorts J1 L’Odyssée. Since then, Fox Renderfarm has established a solid cooperation with Diorama. 2 years have past, Diorama is becoming more than a company which is specialized in ArchViz, embracing a variety of disciplines with a focus on the metaverse.
J1 L’Odyssée © Diorama
However, what hasn’t changed over these years is the uniquely photo-realistic visual style and their competence in delivering visual feast that underpin their constant success and won them international awards. Therefore, Fox Renderfarm sat down (virtually) with Mr. Massimiliano Napoli, COO and Head of Still Image Department of Diorama to have an in-depth conversation about the production of their award-winning projects, and how Diorama has grown firmly in the post-pandemic era.
COO & Head of Still Images Department
Posters of Diorama’s Award-winning Shorts
Another good news I can’t wait to share with our audience is that Diorama is looking for teammates who can join them in a universe where everything is possible. If you are also touched by their amazing projects and share the same pursuit of excellence, don’t hesitate to check the open positions: https://diorama.eu/jobs.php
Interview with Massimiliano Napoli
Fox Renderfarm: Hi Mr Massimiliano! Thank you and Diorama so much for accepting our interview again! Could you briefly introduce yourself and Diorama?
Massi: I’m Massi and at the moment I’m the COO and the Head of Still Images Department at Diorama. We are a 3D Production Company based between Milan and Paris, but nowadays we are becoming more and more of a cloud company with collaborators all over the world.
Fox Renderfarm: Diorama has progressed a lot, now you’ve set foot in the fashion and design industry. Could you share with us how Diorama has grown since 2019?
Massi: That’s true! Last time we had an interview together we were still rooted in the Architectural Visualization world, and we were in a peculiar moment of our story when we were starting to dip our toes in other industries. Today we have a lot of ongoing projects related to different businesses, from art to design, from fashion to cinema. We grew a lot during the pandemic as we could guarantee to our clients a structured remote team, able to work and perform from anywhere in the globe.
Diorama x Bureau Betak for Fendi
Diorama x Bureau Betak for Chanel
Diorama x Bureau Betak for Dior
Diorama x Bureau Betak for Saint Laurent
Diorama x Studio Milo for Tubes Radiatori
Fox Renderfarm: How is the pipeline of your production of still images and films respectively?
Massi: You didn’t mention that it would be a 5 hours’ talk! Jokes apart, the idea that revolutionized our workflow and our pipeline was to take inspiration from the big cinema productions. We tend as much as possible to divide a project in small segments which correspond to specific functions. Modeling, texturing, lighting and shading, post production, client management, IT support: those are separated tasks, done by specific teams made of people who love what they do.
Fox Renderfarm: Congrats on the award-winning short films, these 3 shorts are breathtakingly beautiful and photorealistic. Do these 3 shorts have some connection on the theme? Could you share the idea behind them a bit?
Massi: The Moon Codex is an ident video produced to express a critical thinking between an architect and a designer who were starting the collaboration. It all transforms to architecture and design in a certain way. The video is a short story on how the moon appeared in the universe, floating around Earth and having on it an enormous influence, which means life, culture and architecture.
The Moon Codex
Tempo d'acqua has been created for a discussion around the theme of sustainability for the Pisa Architecture Biennale. We had a fictional concept of traveling through different time frames where the Pisa tower was deep in the water two thousand years ago. There are many historical documents stating that the seashore moved 2km on the west, which means that fictive Pisa will once again be in the water as according to the scientific researches. It's a circle that never ends, and makes us think about the relationship of land-water-architecture.
Equilibrium, presented at La Biennale di Venezia, is the conclusive piece of the trilogy and aims to stimulate critical thinking about space and architecture. On the other hand, it has the intention to tell more about equality between objects in space, taking yet again a fictitious example of spatial equation between the earth, the moon and the water as a meaning of life.
Fox Renderfarm: In Equilibrium, there are tons of landscape elements, like rocks and mountains, lakes and rivers, forest, snow, and so forth. What’s the secret behind their realness?
Massi: Equilibrium is full CGI video, entirely created in 3D. The way of achieving realism are emotions. It is a very specific approach that all CG artists understand, once they achieve the look they were looking for. The realism doesn't come with realistic textures, but the feeling of mood and story behind the scene. Since Equilibrium had a deep thinking behind the curtains, we went further with simplicity. All those scenes are extremely simple in the sense of CG work; just a couple of animated planes, some of them were created in 2D compositing with a couple of animated layers, but they were all effective.
Water plays a very important role in Diorama’s artworks, did you meet any difficulty in simulating and rendering water? How did you solve these problems? Massi: Water is a very important feature in our studio. We are constantly working on looks and better integration of water in our scenes. In Tempo d'acqua there are some scenes which took over a year to simulate, but they never emerged in the video. I guess one day we will publish them. Regarding simulations, I think that the liquid simulations are those which require the most time and resources. When it comes to water simulations, we tend to use Houdini. Most of our tools are custom made especially because the look doesn't come just out from the shell, in the drag-and-drop manner. It takes time to do multiple iterations, so the approach is usually to avoid tweaking parts of the simulation which could influence extreme simulation time dependence.
Fox Renderfarm: LIGHTFORLIFE shows Diorama’s profound insight and high level competence in handling textures. Could you respectively break down how you achieved the organic texture on the ice surface, the bokeh around the leaves, and smooth demonstration of the snakeskin-like texture?
Massi: The secret behind the look of the leaves is in making a very high focal length like macro photos, which creates this dynamic bokeh of reflections in the background. In this shot, we also had the intention to reach the look of an anamorphic lens by changing bokeh ration to something close to 0.7.
Regarding the snake it is just a sweep object which rotates in multiple directions to achieve the organic look. Moreover the displacement texture that goes over is also animated to move in order to achieve the look of a living being.
Metal reflections provide this important fill light from the side that brings attention to the shape and smoothness.
Fox Renderfarm: Diorama is so good at using wide angles to show grand views, while using close up to demonstrate details. Do you have any specific advice on the lighting design of these two aspects?
Massi: Understanding light is the key of a successful shot, both in still and in motion. Camera position, or it’s movement and lighting are elements that cannot be treated separately. Those are subsequent. Lighting shapes the geometry and the elements and can be mysterious or revealing just by changing a small parameter, and of course is a strong tool to drive the eye of the viewer. If you always tackle them as a duo, you can easily create amazing shots and have basically the power of showcasing the subject in it’s best version.
The Moon Codex © Diorama
LIGHTFORLIFE © Diorama
Fox Renderfarm: How did Diorama set the tone of its visual language and keep it coherent and consistent along the way?
Massi: You know, to be honest we tend to think that we are a heterogeneous company, when it comes to visual tone. We have such great artists, directing and producing, that it is really easy for us to get lost in their mood, their ideas and exploration, and this is in my opinion one of the keys to our success.The freedom to explore. We do not want to be such a company that produces always the same visuals, with the same style, both clients (the good ones) and the team influence our production a lot. When looking at new artists, almost unconsciously, we are approached and we look to a kindred spirit that in some ways have something in common with our general vision about art, and this job. Guess that’s our secret.
Fox Renderfarm: Technically and management-wise, did Diorama do anything to optimize the efficiency in production?
Massi: We started to implement the management team in an early stage, around 2017. We needed to have a lean and flexible art team, leaving to the artists the freedom to spend time doing what they like. We don’t want our collaborators to waste time answering emails or struggling with skill sets which they do not have and are not interested in.
Diorama x Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia
Fox Renderfarm: How did you encounter CG? Could you share your educational and career experience with us?
Massi: As for some of my fields, my roots are in Architecture. I’ve studied Architecture in Florence, and in 2013 I moved to France for my Erasmus. That’s where I discovered this work called visualizer, or perspectiviste, as they call it in France. I got hooked and I started looking into that. After coming back to Italy and taking my degree, I spent one year in Poland. I worked for a small company where I spent great days improving as a post producer and moving my first steps in 3D. In 2016 I met Gilberto, CEO of Diorama, together with Gianni, our actual CFO; they were starting their own company between Paris and Milan. At that time Diorama didn’t even exist, it was just a few chairs and four artists; Uros was one of them, and I became the fifth. From that day we had a lot of fun together and we grew bigger until now, with about 30 people gravitating around the Diorama ecosystem.
Fox Renderfarm: In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a good 3D artist better?
Massi: Exploration and research. We are kind of artists/professionals who are tasked with depicting a different reality every single day. The challenge can one day be a room, the day after a space colony and the next one an underwater shot. Exploring techniques, new forms of art, new softwares, and new media must be a constant in our work. Picasso used to say that good artists copy, great artists steal. That’s my constant mantra. Looking into other people’s work, select some interesting elements, digest them and incorporate them into my own.
Diorama x Pascual Architecte
Fox Renderfarm: Any artist or artwork that inspires you the most?
Massi: The list risks to be really long, as per I personally find such new great artists every day and I love to explore how their mind works. As you may see, Diorama aesthetic tend to detach from the 3D feel, looking more into an artistic and minimal way of picturing things.I know for sure that me and Uros, and our team in general, are big fans of Ash Thorp; his cinematic look is what drives most of our research. What I personally tend to do is to look a lot into other media. I should mention Raphael Lacoste, great concept artist, art director and friend, who drove my entire career as an artist as a constant source of inspiration.
CG & Design by Ash Thorp
© Raphael Lacoste
Fox Renderfarm: Do you have any career advice to the newbies in the CG industry? And what did you do to improve your technique skills and aesthetic sense?
Massi: This actually connects to your previous question. Even after years of experience you must in some ways consider yourself as a newbie if you do not want to stop growing and learning. This spirit is a constant approach for Diorama. For people who approach image production in CG, my best advice is to look into photography and filmmaking. Do not get inspired by CG when doing CG: you can easily get stuck in someone else's style, and the goal for someone starting should be to find their own. Photographers are an important part of the moodboard we build in the Image Department for each project. I tend to oblige the team to propose photos more than other renders as a source of inspiration (I would also love clients to do that!).
Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about the cloud rendering services of Fox Renderfarm?
Massi: Amazing, what else can we say about it! You guys rock, what's the secret of the kindness of your support at 3 AM? Jokes apart, we couldn’t be able to be so on time and productive without Fox, you are almost part of the team at the moment, and we are so glad to have this great relationship!
Fox Renderfarm: Any other things you want to share with the CG enthusiasts?
Massi: Do not spend too much time on social media; Canaletto didn’t have one and was doing great things. Use them for sharing kitties or barbecue, or the ugly sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas. But do not get in the loop of producing art just to follow an algorithm. Be driven by passion, do what you like, when you like. If it is personal work, spend all the time you want on it, show it to your friends and to people who can really give an honest opinion about it. If it is commercial, push your client and yourself beyond the limits and try to do the best before the deadline hits…I guess Fox Renderfarm can help you a lot with that!
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