Responses by John Pobojewski, partner and design director, Span.
Background: We created a short 3-D motion graphics film about buildings that absorb carbon to premiere at the United Nations’s climate change conference COP27 in Egypt. Our film is an overview of architectural firm SOM’s Urban Sequoia NOW project. SOM envisions “forests” of buildings in cities around the world that remove carbon dioxide from the air just like trees. The film for COP27 highlights the architectural firm’s research advances for the project, including how its concept has evolved from a building into an approach for design and construction.
Urban Sequoia buildings target offsetting 100 percent of carbon emissions from both construction and operations within five years and absorbing more than 300 percent of equivalent carbon emissions over the life of the building.
Design thinking: We led the development of the story, 3-D animation and motion graphics. By breaking down how we build structures today and then building back up with how Urban Sequoia is designed differently, we drew a direct parallel that enabled viewers unfamiliar with construction to understand how this new way of building will have an impact.
Challenges: Due to the complexity of the message and the broad international audience of key stakeholders in climate science and action, we realized that the design of each sequence had to do most of the storytelling. Each aspect of the film—from the building construction to how graphics transition—had to carefully fit together and pass the story along like a baton, explaining how Urban Sequoia evolves how buildings are designed and built.
Favorite details: One of the most compelling innovations behind SOM’s architecture is the integration of direct air capture technology within the core of the building. The natural “stack effect” of warmer air rising creates a current through carbon-capture machines that can absorb and remove carbon dioxide. We visualized this flow of air by using animated particle systems to illustrate the air flow currents, combined with a 3-D visualization of the building created in Cinema 4D.
New lessons: I’ve had the pleasure of working with SOM for many years, including designing and producing the film that introduced Urban Sequoia as a concept at COP27 in 2021. This is the first film where we collaborated on architectural visualizations, which was a thrill considering SOM is one of the most sophisticated and well-respected architecture firms on the planet. So many aspects were an incredibly rich experience for us, from understanding how to animate the building coming together to the nuance of the geometry used within each component.
Visual influences: The early films of Ray and Charles Eames, especially Powers of Ten, Symmetry and their work for IBM, are always a rich inspiration for us in telling stories with complex subjects. The simplicity and elegance of those stories pushed us to break down the technical details and remove the jargon to create a true narrative arc from start to finish.