Making it real: how immersive technology is creating a bright new future for hotels

The ability to visualise creative concepts in real-time before moving to development is quickly establishing itself as a key element of the production pipeline across multiple industries.
— Keef Sloan, Epic Games
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Design consultancy Graven Images and creative visualisation agency Soluis Group have partnered to create a cutting-edge look for the new Radisson RED hotel in Brussels. With the brief to design a younger, funkier, cooler hotel brand for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the team used gaming technology and the Soluis immersive reality portal to step up the pace and move the boundaries of what’s possible, creating a high-end, fully interactive virtual environment.

Working in partnership, the team at Soluis turns sketches from Graven into 3D designs but historically, the process has been hampered by rendering time. Making changes to the finished design - moving a chair across a room or re-positioning a light fitting for example – could take up to six hours to complete. But by using gaming technology, specifically in this case Unreal Engine 4 (UE4), Soluis was instantly able to create photo-realistic images and films, visual interior design scenes, move objects around, play with layouts and, most importantly, make all changes in real-time.

Martin McDonnell, chairman and founder of Soluis Group, illustrates the concept:

Using this technology, we have the ability to build a virtual environment from which we can deliver every piece of media we will ever be asked for. The client also has the ability to live interact with the materials – to try five floor finishes for example, three different wallpapers, four light fittings – and to do it live on an iPad or through a headset.

All rendering takes place on local machines, executed by NVIDIA gaming cards that can do the work much faster than the Soluis render farm. And the resulting renderings are very similar, as McDonnell testifies, "there is almost no quality difference. For the most part, you struggle to tell the difference."

The 3D model was produced in Autodesk 3ds Max, then taken into the gaming engine to complete materials and finishes within the real-time rendering machine. Scott Grant, CEO of Soluis Group, explains the detail involved:

We took the engineering drawings and models provided to us and created a 3D model using a design workflow similar to that of the video game industry, but with an increased emphasis on photorealism. We were able to make live edits to the project with the client seeing updates in real time, without the need for rendering time. This made the process much faster and a more efficient use of time.

And, as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of one design aspect – the hotel café - show, the visualisation is almost totally identical to the completed project.

Picture 1: Before - cafe visualisation

Picture 1: Before - cafe visualisation

Picture 2: After - cafe completion 

Picture 2: After - cafe completion 

In the video, the immersive reality portal runs a number of projectors to create a visual experience that is wider than the human field of view, to provide total immersion and create the experience of walking through the environment.

In this case, CAVE-type VR viewing environments that project content onto three or four walls of a cube shaped room were not suitable for the team’s requirements. So Soluis developed an immersive ‘dome’, with a hemispherical, concave, full-height viewer to provide a 180-degree view, accommodate multiple people at once and allow participants to see the designs at full scale.

The new technology allows the client to experience the product like never before and to ‘walk through’ the space before it exists in real time. Eric De Neef, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Branding & Commercial Officer for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group is wowed by the process:

What drives VR is the experience it gives to the customer, to understand and to live and to experience the product differently. You can see projections and you can see pictures, but you can only see them in square meters, you never realise the actual space. This way you can showcase what it actually will be. When people see it, they are blown away.