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For the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at the University of British Columbia, designed by HCMA, three stages of rendering include grey scale, colour and final design. The fourth image is a photograph of the finished building.LNG Studio

Innovations in virtual real estate marketing are propelling a record-breaking year for commercial property sales across Canada, industry experts say.

Investment in all types of commercial property is expected to reach nearly $50-billion, “surpassing the previous annual record set in 2018,” according to a CBRE report, released in September.

A pandemic-driven boom in remote technologies and virtual-viewing platforms has kick-started more tech-enhanced transactions in a marketplace that has typically been slower to adapt to innovation, says Tiffany Hoos, marketing manager for Cushman & Wakefield, in Vancouver.

The pandemic pushed the increase of the use of virtual technology to conduct commercial property sales, Ms. Hoos says.

“When you can navigate through a 3-D space instead of [physically] visiting a particular location, those tools are absolutely essential to show clients what the space looks like.”

For example, to stay ahead of Metro Vancouver’s competitive industrial property market – where lease and strata rates are among the highest in North America – Cushman & Wakefield has increased the use of virtual images, videos and 360-degree immersive tours to cinch sales, Ms. Hoos says.

With every single project, we say, ‘is this the one where we can just go with virtual assets, and we don’t need to build the presentation centre?’”

Jon Stovell, president, Reliance Properties

And it’s not just exteriors, but inside the buildings that are being visualized, so people can get an idea of the space just by looking at their mobile device or computer.

“We’re now deploying fly-through drones throughout warehouse space,” Ms. Hoos says. “We weren’t doing that before.”

Virtual campaigns are “invaluable,” agrees Tanya Cheung, senior marketing manager at Avison Young’s Vancouver office. “When you present digital visualization tools with research data, that’s the winning combo.”

A trend in architectural renderings is to include atmosphere as in this LNG Studios-created depiction of the interior of Nelson, B.C.’s new pubic library, designed by Fast + Epp.LNG Studio

LNG Studios, an architectural rendering and 3-D visualization studio based in Vancouver, Toronto and San Francisco, “saw huge growth during the pandemic,” chief executive officer Leon Ng says.

With investors spending less time inside potential new properties, marketing budgets have been rebalanced to allocate a larger portion to digital visualization assets, says Mr. Ng, whose clients include developers Concord Pacific, Bosa, Shape and Omni Group; architecture companies Perkins + Will, Dialog, HCMA and the late Arthur Erickson’s studio; and real estate firms such as luxury brand S&P.

“There was a forced adoption of virtual experiences for both built and unbuilt spaces, ultimately creating a new normal for the industry,” Mr. Ng says.

Immersive 3-D

Virtual, 3-D environments have been around for years (think Google Street View), but recent advances are taking the technology mainstream. A leader here is Matterport, a software program that creates an immersive, digital twin of any property via images taken by just a phone or iPad. Matterport claims three times more engagement with 3-D tours than 2-D images.

For unbuilt projects, the technology involved in creating realistic 3-D tours for presale and prelease markets has also evolved significantly.

LNG Studios created a depiction of North Vancouver’s Shipyards complex, developed by Quay Property Management Corp.LNG Studio

In the right hands – a committed artist who understands the project – new CGI software tools, many of which are shared by the gaming industry, can impart exceptional vivacity to still and animated imagery: shimmering water in the amenity space pool; golden-hour sunrays highlighting a sleekly furnished meeting room.

Most visualization studios can also incorporate design interactivity into the tour. An open-concept space can transform into a row of glass-enclosed offices; another click changes the colour-schemes and furniture selection. LNG’s 3-D rendering of a retail space “helped our client Lululemon visualize their design. They could move things around and confirm concepts in virtual reality instead of real life,” Mr. Ng says.

Experiencing fine detail and finishing touches on a virtual walkthrough can evoke that elusive, key-to-a-lease quality: Emotion. Value can be displayed digitally, Mr. Ng insists, and help justify a price tag of a project that looks like a construction site.

Advance renderings

LNG created advance renderings for Vancouver’s curvy and futuristic, 13-storey Offices at Burrard Place, designed by the late architect Bing Thom and developed by Reliance Properties.

“Visualization assets have become a significant part of the development process,” Reliance president Jon Stovell says. “Office buildings need to be preleased or they won’t get financed. You want people to feel like they’re there, to understand the context and the lifestyle.”

While most architectural firms produce good-quality renderings, Mr. Stovell usually contracts visualization firms, such as LNG, to produce photorealistic renderings to market Reliance’s portfolio of dozens of office and apartment buildings and condominium developments.

The quality of digital assets is so superior that, lately, “with every single project, we say, ‘is this the one where we can just go with virtual assets, and we don’t need to build the presentation centre?’ ”

(Mr. Ng predicts that, “with the next generation of developers, we’ll see a new trend here. People are buying properties sight unseen based on virtual assets. Developers are saying to us, ‘why don’t we have that entire presale experience on an iPad?’ ”

As the quality of virtual marketing assets advances, the style of imagery is also evolving.

“Five years ago, most renderings featured blue sky and bright light,” with the building and space the sole focus of the image, Mr. Ng says. “But the trend has been heading the other way. Clients prefer a look and feel that’s moody and atmospheric.”

A rain-soaked rendering, by LNG Studio, of the Fast + Epp-designed Nelson Public Library, in Nelson, B.C.LNG Studio

LNG rendered Nelson, B.C.’s public library in the rain for developer Fast + Epp, and North Vancouver’s mixed-use Shipyards complex at dusk for Quay Property Management Corp.

“You need to stand out,” Mr. Stovell says. “You’re constantly looking for a new angle or a new twist, so rendering approaches change all the time.” He mentions a recent “cool rendering” by another Vancouver developer that depicts the Granville Street office tower Bosa Waterfront in an evening snowstorm.

The best renderings are only as good as digital materials supplied to the visualization firm, Mr. Stovell says. “You have to tell them everything. You want Eames in the executive office, you provide its digital counterpart. You’re giving them floor samples files, paint colour, everything. Because when you’re selling and leasing, you’re trying to show people exactly what they’re going to get.”