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Recreating Don Draper’s Manhattan Apartment in a Games Engine

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Greg Rogers tells Addison Capper about recreating the iconic living space - sunken living room included - in Unreal Engine

Recreating Don Draper’s Manhattan Apartment in a Games Engine
Mad Men fans can now tour Don Draper's Manhattan apartment thanks to this brilliant 3D re-creation of the space. Yes, you really can sit yourself pondering life in THAT majestic sunken living room. At least that's what I've been doing anyway. 

The project is the work of Greg Rogers, who was inspired to create something like this after spending time in Italy learning how to use the games engine, Unreal Engine. By day he works for WeWork, digitally visualising new office spaces before they're fully kitted out. 

Addison Capper chatted with Greg to find out more about the project. 


LBB> What initially inspired this project? When did it first pop into your head?

Greg> I had just returned from State of Art Academy in Italy where I spent two weeks learning Unreal Engine and I needed a project to keep the momentum going. I think I always had the plan to build Don Draper's apartment in 3D but never committed until learning something new.


LBB> What was your starting point when you properly started working on this? 

Greg> Collecting screenshots from the show was the first thing I did.


LBB> There is so much detail! What was the research process like? Are the resources online for floor plans and such or was it a case of painstakingly watching scenes in the apartment?

Greg> To my surprise, there were only a handful of photographs of his apartment and no floor plans. So I had to re-watch a dozen or so episodes just to capture some screenshots. Even then it did not cover the entire space. 



LBB> My favourite bits are all of the small items - the covers on the records and magazines, the appliances in the kitchen. That toaster WOW. How did you go about designing these?

Greg> This was definitely the most fun! A lot of what you saw was exact to the make and model of what was shown in the show but for some of the ‘filler’ pieces I did my own research into that decade to come up with some assets. It was really interesting to look back on old magazines and album covers of the '60s. 


LBB> Why did you decide to make this particular setting? Probably a silly question because it’s one of the most luscious settings on screen ever…

Greg> There are so many iconic spaces in that show - the original office, his private office - but honestly, it was the sunken living room design. A design technique I wish we would bring back into style.

LBB> Tell me about the production process - what was it like and what did it entail? And how long did it take?

Greg> All of the 3D assets were modelled in 3ds Max with some of the more intricate ones purchased online. From there I imported the entire scene to Unreal Engine and proceeded to create the lighting and all of the materials you see. Creating the animation was challenging. I wanted to create the whole day and night scenes in one shot (for which I drew inspiration from the movie '1917'). The best part of using Unreal Engine as an architectural visualisation tool is that the high resolution images are immediately extracted from the scene so there is no traditional rendering pipeline. What would potentially take hours to complete can be done in minutes. 

My favourite part was putting everything together in After Effects, (another software I was unfamiliar with) and syncing up all the music and sound effects with the cinematic cameras. I was really able to see the entirety of the work in one place.


LBB> Were there any elements / things that were particularly tricky? How did you overcome them?

Greg> The most difficult part was building out the base model, getting the scale correct, heights of ceilings, and all general dimensions of the architectural elements. Luckily I come from a design background so I knew standard heights of doors, countertops, sofas, etc., so it came together relatively smoothly but just took some time. Unfortunately I lost my entire project about one third of the way through. My hard drive just crashed and of course I did not have a backup… After about three months of feeling down and out, I decided to just start over. Everything is better the second time around! All in it took about eight months to complete since I was learning a brand new software and could only commit time after days of work or on the weekends.


LBB> On a personal level, what is it about Mad Men that you love and made you want to create something like this?

Greg> Mad Men was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. It was unlike anything during that time and was maybe the last true series people actually had to wait a week to watch a new episode. The sets were so well designed, and I am a sucker for mid-century furniture. Besides, Don Draper was such an incredible character.


LBB> And then the general design of that era of Mad Men - what are your thoughts on that? 

Greg> Exceptional furniture design but some of the fabrics designs were... questionable!


LBB> You work for WeWork - what do you do? And how does creating in a games engine feed into that? 

Greg> Our global team creates visual assets for upcoming location openings. We visualise an un-built space to provide the marketing and sales teams the tools they need to sell to potential members. I saw massive potential with real-time rendering to elevate the experience of these spaces but I prefer not to go into too much detail as none of our competitors are providing this kind of experience. But stay tuned, we are going to have a big summer!

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LBB Editorial, Fri, 06 Mar 2020 13:51:04 GMT