Image courtesy of Co-op Live

Digital replica of Co-op Live music venue strikes the right chord 

If you go to a live music event today, there’s a strong chance the stunning visuals you’ll experience are powered by a game engine. Many live event producers incorporate real-time CG into their shows, whether it’s DeadMau5’s live-rendered visuals or ABBA’s digital avatars belting out the hits.

But beyond the performance itself, what may come as a surprise is that a game engine could have also played a part in the design of the venue you’re standing in.

Co-op Live is one such arena. With a vision to rival New York’s Madison Square Garden as one of the world’s premier music and entertainment venues, the project is nothing if not ambitious.

Unlike almost all other large arenas, the venue was designed with music at the forefront. It will include smart ‘bowl’ design and cutting-edge technology that elevates the artist and fan experience. The marketing brochure says it will be the most advanced, sustainable, and socially responsible live entertainment arena in the UK.

Clearly, this is a project with innovation at its core. For Soluis, the visualization studio tasked with bringing the unfinished project to life for stakeholders, it presented a challenge. How do you convey the size, magnitude, and uniqueness of a project like this, before the building is anywhere near final completion?

Digital replica of a live music venue

The answer lay in leveraging the same cutting-edge technology used on stage to wow audiences with stunning visuals. Soluis built a fully interactive virtual representation of Co-op Live’s main arena and surrounding hospitality areas inside Unreal Engine. This virtual venue was then used to generate and evaluate numerous potential shots for animation sequences that were used for promotional videos.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live

The brief supplied by key investor Oak View Group (OVG) stipulated the need for a range of high-quality media outputs and experiential presentation options to support promotion of the new venue and its various hospitality offerings. With the ability to replicate the as-yet unbuilt building at high fidelity in CG and produce stills, animations, and interactive presentations, real-time technology was the perfect fit.

Construction of Co-op Live began in November 2020 and the arena is expected to open in 2023. Located on the Etihad Campus—home to Manchester City football club—the venue will house an impressive 28 suites,12 lounges and club spaces, 32 bars and restaurants, and over 2,000 premium seats and VIP experiences.

To help give a sense of what the final building will look like, Soluis produced a series of exciting videos that would introduce the venue and convey the energy and contemporary designs of each of the main hospitality areas. The media had to capture the cultural influences around the development and be more dynamic than a set of standard walkthrough presentations.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live

The initial phase of delivery required several workstreams, focusing on the video presentations and the creation of detailed virtual environments of each of the main hospitality areas.

Unreal Engine for previsualization

Soluis are no strangers to delivering visual experiences for the development of world-class arenas. They previously visualized the exterior and interior of Everton football club’s new stadium, using Unreal Engine as the backbone of their visualization pipeline. “As a visual development platform, Unreal is unequaled in its ability to provide rich visual content at this level,” says Scott Grant, CEO of Soluis. “The various aspects of this project allowed the team at Soluis to harness some of the latest engine capabilities and add-ons to enhance the virtual representation of the venue.”

Core Unreal Engine features leveraged included Datasmith for the preparation and import of optimized venue models; real-time ray tracing for improved reflections, occlusion, and shadows for dynamic light sources; new GPU lightmass for authentic baked lighting for the interiors; and Movie Render Queue to facilitate export of the various camera sequences.

The team also made use of a number of plugins available from the Unreal Marketplace and elsewhere. They populated the virtual venue with CG characters from Anima, including the latest 4D library; used Vertex animated crowds for the arena in multiple event modes; and leveraged the DMX plugin to control lighting rigs used for the different performances shown on the stage.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live

The initial stages of the project involved the creative team working closely with the client and the design team at renowned arena designers Populous. Over the course of eight weeks, the virtual arena was crafted with the input of the client and design teams to include fully detailed interiors with accurate materials and lighting.

Early previsualization of each interior area made for a more constructive dialogue on how the design and hospitality facilities were best represented. “Using Unreal Engine gave us an unparalleled ability to work collaboratively during this process across all design reviews, and flexibility to make changes and decisions quickly,” says Grant.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live
During this process, the creative team was able to garner insights into the story behind the destination and the key focal areas, weaving this narrative into the storyboards for the introductory videos that would showcase each space for the first time. There were also a number of simulated stage activations built into the environments, where scenes depicting live music performances were developed.

Once complete, the environments provided the setting for photorealistic animation sequences that were used as high-resolution footage in each of the promotional videos. These videos were later supplemented with a series of immersive 360° panoramic images that provided the basis of a lightweight online virtual tour for sales prospects.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live

Real-time technology meets real-estate development 

Effective visual experiences are key to stakeholder engagement on projects like Co-op Live. By leveraging real-time technology, the scope of visual experiences it’s possible to deliver increases exponentially. “Using Unreal Engine allows for all options to be open to our clients, from media production to interactive and immersive experiential,” says Grant.

Grant goes on to call out further benefits of leveraging interactive 3D technologies for this type of project, including the ability to make instantaneous design decisions, perform collaborative design reviews, and achieve fast, high-quality rendering.
Image courtesy of Co-op Live
The advantages of a real-time approach extend to the client, too. Real-estate developers get to see their changes and updates made in real time. Everyone on the client side gains a clearer understanding of spaces and projects, removing the need for technical understanding. And their high-fidelity experiences can be produced much faster than using traditional processes.

The virtual media produced by Soluis has enabled the project team at OVG to more easily communicate with the wide and growing group of stakeholders. “This has been successful in conveying the design and atmosphere of each entertainment space, as well as their proximity to the main performances,” says Grant.

Each of the virtual cinematic tours is being used online and in the marketing suite, where the media is displayed on large screens that maximize the impact of discussions with visitors.

There is even an immersive, lightweight online tour being used by the sales team to transport visitors into each space. “Now that the virtual destination has been built, the possibilities are open to all engagement scenarios that may arise in the future,” says Grant.

With a digital replica of the venue, the sky’s the limit for creating new and exciting media to promote Co-op Live.

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