Selling Space: Architectural Filmmaking

Tronic recently created this new promotional film for 56 Leonard Street, a yet-to-be completed residential building in Manhattan designed by international rock stars of high-profile architecture, Herzog & de Meuron. It got me thinking about one of my favorite topics: the use of motion graphics and animation to convey a sense of space and poetry.

I’m not talking about architectural visualization. I’m talking about something more, a balance between realism and abstraction that creates a desire to be “there,” even when “there” doesn’t exist yet—especially when there doesn’t exist yet.

Tronic calls it architectural filmmaking. I like that. If you watch 56 Leonard Street and another, very different project they created for Daniel Libeskind, you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. The buildings are definitely the primary subjects of the films, but they’re presented in a way that invites the imaginative participation of the viewer.

I asked Vivian and Jesse at Tronic a couple questions about the special challenges of architectural filmmaking:

Architectural filmmaking seems like an intensely technical field. Early on, I entertained the idea of getting into it before realizing that I essentially needed a degree in architecture before I could get started in earnest. If you hadn’t gone to school for architecture, do you think you would have been able to pull off your projects?

Our architectural training was critical in imagining and creating this film. Herzog and de Meuron were interested in collaborating with us specifically because of our shared aesthetic and conceptual language. Not only did we need to technically be able to understand their design of the building, but we needed to be able to imagine, using that knowledge, how the architectonic components of the building could animate and come together to form the building in its entirety in a way that stayed true to the architect’s vision.

For large scale commercial projects like 56 Leonard, architectural filmmaking seems to enter the equation at two key moments: 1) When the architects are selling their ideas to their clients, and 2) When the clients are selling the building to tenants. Is this an accurate appraisal? If so, how are the two challenges different? How are the approaches to rendering and presentation different?

Yes, those two stages are correct. There is one main difference between them and that is representation. The first stage, the architect selling their idea to the client, is entirely based on accurately representing reality, the reality of their design. We’re not interested in participating in this stage because filmmaking, experimentation, abstraction and narrative do not come into play.

The second stage, the client commissioning a film for potential buyers, is not about representing reality, on the contrary, it is about positioning the film in such a way as to create an alternate reality, one based not on representation necessarily but on projected desires and possibilities. This shift away from pure representation is what is compelling to us and why we chose to work on both of these projects.

If you like this sort of work, you might also enjoy The Chicago Spire site (not created by Tronic) and this video created by Brooklyn Foundry for the Office of Metropolitan Architecture.

I’d love to see more architecture motion design/animation projects. Please share them in the comments!


About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Great work as usual from Tronic on the 56 Leonard Street piece. Congrats.


maybe im dumb and its the same people involved but isnt this quite some kdlab ripoff ?
music made me go “meeeeh” first but then seeing those silhouettes.. dunno..


Whoa, KDLAB! That’s a blast from the past. :-)

In defense of the silhouettes, they’re pretty standard in architectural work (both print and video). They’re necessary for showing scale, and silhouettes help avoid the distraction of putting real people in a scene that’s trying to keep viewers focused on the space.


well ye… just most architectural fly throughs i have seen in the past have either actual 3d people or those moving 2d cut outs, not silhouettes…

just the first shot with the silhouette before a window, camera moving left to right, reminded me far too much for comfort of their reel… at around 1:15 for those who dont know what im referring to..
i know it is kind of a long stretch, but together with the music and all i am a bit “meh”.


let me get this straight.

two companies both did a piece that features a shot of a sihouette standing in front of a window. and the camera in both shots is moving left to right. therefore, one is a “ripoff” of the other.

thank you for making it crystal clear just how seriously you should be taken.


since i am anonymus, not like i care if anyone takes me serious around here… isnt the internet a lovely place.

but i do think that ripoff as such might have been too strong a word, but like i pointed out in my other post, at first the music reminded me of the piece, then later on there is the exact same shot… lets call it ‘inspired’ instead ?


You cant name a genre of filmmaking unless many other filmmakers over a period of time have contributed to what is widely known as the visual vocabulary of that genre.

lets check back in 20 years to see if Architectural filmmaking is even a memory for all these retired mographers.


the computer has a way of making people feel so enamored of their ideas, they can start to write history before it even takes shape on its own


This is Vivian, co-founder of Tronic. I couldn’t read these the comments by “anonymouse” and not respond. I find your comment so narrow minded, so uninformed and so sophomoric, it really was discouraging to read. A shared architectural language is purposeful and necessary, just the way action films have a shared language, so that you understand it to be an action film and it belongs to a specific genre. The website for 56 Leonard was actually designed by one of the founders of KDLab, and he too thought your comment was unfounded and unhelpful to designers and other creatives making new work. Of course, there are instances of work being copied and that can be very frustrating, but before you make false accusations, it is better to do some research so that you don’t unnecessarily say things that not only are untrue but hurtful to the people who worked hard to create it.


tronic, as usual, nail the job but what an amazingly ugly building. lordy.


Very well done, engaging and fun. Although with these type of projects you often feel the actual design of the building is what stops the film from being what it could / wants to be. Love the opening sequence.

Another practice who do really novel architectural films are squint opera.


Very good movie.

Another example of architectural vizualisation:

Marc B.

Meh. The reflective ball reminds me of Terminator 2 T-1000.


It’s probably just a coincidence but about nine months ago our little studio did some work for Standard Life Investments. We animated five of the buildings they where involved in funding and one of them reminded me of this. Have a look see what you think.

Video Here


a well done piece, definitely…but isn’t call it “architectural film making” sort of like calling your “secretary” an “administrative assistant”


All talented filmmakers (feature films) borrow and even steal shots from the films they respect.

the entire argument about plagiarism is moot.

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