jon favreau interview on digital transformation

Check out this very interesting interview with writer/producer/director Jon Favreau discussing multiple topics in the ongoing digital revolution in media (both creative production and distribution). There are several analogies to how architects, lighting designers, developers, etc. might embrace the digital revolution in place-making and the built environment.

How Favreau is personally handling the transformation in his creative production work is fascinating – he relishes all the old school techniques but clearly is an eager adopter of all the new tools and techniques. Yet he makes it very clear that every technology – new or old – must be subservient to STORY.

The equivalent in architecture should be an intense focus on EXPERIENCE DESIGN, with all other “technologies” — from steel & concrete to whiz-bang digital tech — supporting great occupant/guest experiences across a range of scales and places.

Unfortunately, from my experience, architectural education remains fixated on obscure, abstract theory first and foremost, while the rest of the industry is too caught up in the specification/construction process to support experimental innovation. Which is why architects and many other design professionals in the building industry are unprepared for the digital revolution in place-making.

Designers are generally at a loss for how to incorporate live data streams and media content to drive real time occupant experience in physical places. But it is a deficit slowly being rectified, such as with big firms like Gensler starting entire divisions focused on digital experience design.

Beyond that big idea – let’s also look at two specific tech points from Favreau’s interview:

First, Favreau is using LED screens as backdrops/set extensions in the Mandolorian (much like those used in filming First Man). Who would have guessed, even a couple years ago, that green screen in filming would be replaced with digital screens? A sort of “virtual reality” but in 3D space.

What is the equivalent in the built environment? Well, as architectural environments are increasingly being treated as portals to the virtual world, every designer better get comfortable working with large-format direct-view LED screens in a wide range of size, format and applications. Their quality is stunning and pricing continues to plummet. For better or for worse, commercial interests are going to demand/force other design professions to incorporate evermore digital signage into places, and the other design professions better know how to competently respond.

Favreau makes some savvy comments how different media is optimal for different storytelling. Design professionals will have to learn through their own trial and error which digital media is appropriate for which built environments – retail, hospitality, institutional, urban, etc. Designing fluid digital experiences across a wide range of scales – but still intimately relating to guest experience – is the next frontier of design.

Second, Favreau comments on the incredible power of incorporating game-engine and real-time live-rendering into his projects to gain more creative flexibility and reduce costs.

The equivalent in the built environment is that designers must embrace not only digital design (e.g. BIM), but also digital simulation of live systems to reduce the overall project costs of ambitious digital system concepts for building projects. The goal of the modern design process should be creating a fully functional “digital twin” of a built environment before it is constructed. A “live” digital model promises a host of benefits, such as allowing designers and clients to visualize and experiment in real-time with digital effects in real places. And radically reducing onsite commissioning. If you building already lives virtual in the cloud, when you plug in all your cloud-connected hardware on site, well….presto….your digital building systems should be about 95% of the way to completion.