The Secrets of the Sydney Opera House Revealed in 3D

A fascinating structure with an eventful history, explored across 2 distinct projects in which Cinema 4D was used to create an in-depth look into this landmark’s architecture.

The shape of Sydney’s opera house is timeless. The design was created in 1956 and construction was completed in 1973 – and still this decades-old design looks like it could have been completed today.

The story behind this landmark structure is just as fascinating as its design. And as modern as the design still is, so had to be the documentary about the opera house, which was commissioned by Sydney Opera House and produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2012.. The project documents many of the steps of the opera house’s creation, from the very beginning through to opening day. The com-plexity that the project encountered had to be explained and depicted in an under-standable way.

3D graphics were used to illustrate these complex architectural and engineering principles. Despite the large number of historic pictures that were available, 3D graphics had to be used to clearly illustrate numerous phases of construction. An animation team of three at ABC, including Reuben Hill were  tasked with the creation of these images and animations.

Reuben started his career as a Scenic Artist for films such as Star Wars Episodes II and III, Moulin Rouge and The Matrix Sequels, for which he used traditional methods to texture and paint sets, models and props. He became fascinated with the possibilities 3D graphics offered and got started in the world of 3D with Cinema 4D R11. He worked with Sam Doust, then creative director of the Innovation Division of the ABC on two digital projects including the Opera House Project. Both have since begun working together under the studio name Latchkey, based in Sydney.

Alongside the previously published Opera House Project (2012), Latchkey has recently completed a film for the general tour of the building.

For both projects, the construction process of the opera house had to be illustrated and animated using schematic views. Individual phases of construction had to be shown as isolated elements in order to better explain special features. Reuben ren-dered the structure’s geometry in simple black-and-white with global illumination and ambient occlusion to add volume and depth to the white objects. A Physical Sky was used for illumination and Reuben used both the Standard and Physical Renderers, depending on his needs.

In the course of the 20 years it took to complete, the opera house’s appearance went from looking like a clamshell to resembling a cathedral, which is the shape we know today. This transformation was illustrated using an animation rendered in black-and-white. To make it clear which versions were not the final versions, Cinema 4D’s Sketch and Toon features were used to create an illustrated look for the animation.

A key moment in the transformation was the realization of architect Jorn Utzon that all roof elements could be derived from circular or spherical shapes. This might be difficult to recognize at first but the sequence Latchkey devised makes it easy to understand (Link).

Another animation explains how Jorn Utzon was inspired by classical architecture in the creation of his design. The animation uses an empty foundation and illustrates how Utzon was inspired by the megalithic structures of Central American peoples like the Aztecs. This animation was also rendered in distinctive black-and-white using global illumination and ambient occlusion.

The style of the animations harmonizes perfectly with the documentation, conveys the message clearly and concisely and is very focused – without losing sight of the structure as a whole.

For Reuben, being given the chance to learn about the amazing history, architecture and engineering of the Sydney Opera House whilst creating the graphics and animations for the projects was a great opportunity. “The fact that the the simplicity of Jorn Utzon’s Spherical Solution filtered through to our efforts to recreate and animate the concept in 3D was a very nice and unexpected surprise. Cinema 4D and the MoGraph toolset freed us from technical issues and allowed us to put all our creative energy into the projects.

Link to the documentary:

Link to Latchkey:


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