Niche market: images of people for architectural drawings

I often enjoy looking at architectural drawings and imagining the possibilities. But perhaps I should have been asking, “where do they get the people in their sketches?” The New York Times takes a quick look at this particular industry:

There is a small people-texture industry. Realworld Imagery sells CDs containing, for instance, 104 “Business People,” for insertion into renderings, for about $150 a disc. A site in Britain, Falling Pixel, offers, among others, “120 Casual People” (which sounds like a passable indie movie) for about $70. Marlin Studios, in Arlington, Tex., also sells textures, and its founder, Tom Marlin, explained the business to me…

…soon Marlin plans to release three-dimensional figures who walk or gesticulate in repetitive loops. Many of the people textures he sells were created in long, single sessions in which scores of individuals in neutral day-to-day costumes (a blazer and tie; jeans and T-shirt) are photographed against a green screen and sign an all-purpose image waiver. While a certain amount of variety matters — scalies can be young or old and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds — the most important factor is making sure any individual isn’t so remarkable as to distract from the scene as a whole (or dressed in outfits that will quickly look dated). The idea is to sell the same scalies over and over.

Marlin’s biggest rival is most likely the architect who simply creates his own populating images, maybe grabbing pictures off the Web and altering them.

This is not something I had considered but it makes sense: adding humans to the drawings humanizes the designs and helps people imagine what the completed scene might look like. This could be similar to staging furniture and furnishing in a home that one is trying to sell: one could just let the potential buyer look at the home and its design but adding a few normal elements aids the imagination.

But at the same time, people in these drawings are doing relatively boring things. After all, the added people are not there “to depict a reality; it’s to persuade viewers…” So even though a human element is needed to help sell sketches, it’s only a small part of human activity and definitely not the kind that could distract from the beauty or functionality or design of the building. Would it be more helpful in the long run to have humans in the pictures who would be doing what people do around buildings rather than serving as anonymous figures? Perhaps – but we might guess that the architects ultimately want the attention to remain on their design work and not necessarily on its use.

It would also be interesting to have a historical perspective. When did these “scalies” start being added to sketches? And why were they needed: were sketches or designs getting to the point where people looking at them couldn’t easily determine their scale or did buildings at some point need more humanizing?

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