The Blade Runner sounds and 3D animation of a Japanese utopia brought to life

The story behind Toyota's Woven City simulation.

While this year's Tokyo Olympics may be in doubt due to recent events, another ambitious example of Japanese creativity looks set to break ground as planned towards the end of 2021.

Unveiled at CES earlier this year, Woven City is Toyota's 175-acre, hydrogen-powered metropolis due to be built at the base of the stunning Mt. Fuji.

The Smart city's reveal came with a sumptuous 3D animation courtesy of creative studio Squint/Opera, as based on the designs of Dutch architecture firm BIG.

"Squint worked closely with both BIG and Toyota to help translate their vision for the city into a series of immersive films and content for its announcement at CES," says Ollie Alsop, co-founder and creative director at Squint/Opera.

"Bjarke Ingles of BIG wanted to be able to unveil the city in a way that hadn’t been seen before - to walk the audience through his designs, and so this is where Squint started. We blended digital animation with traditional presentation techniques to create a more immersive way for viewers to experience an architectural vision.

"The result was a choreographed presentation that unfolded and moved in front of the audience as if they were being shown through the city with Bjarke as the tour guide. 

"We also created a version of the film for Toyota’s CES booth. This was played on a 360 screen and allowed people to experience the city all around them - it was a fully immersive experience complete with soundscapes and 9000px wide screens."

The unique curves of Woven City's grid all come from BIG's vision for the project once completed, a 'bendiness' based on efficient turning radius for automated vehicles. Cyclists will also be catered with dedicated bike lanes curving through the grass and trees of Mount Fuji. Drones meanwhile fly above homes with roofs as slanted as the side of Fuji, each abode alive in the animation with smart bots and stunning views of the mountain.

A techy, bucolic utopia, then, but one soundtracked by halcyon music reminscent of the dystopic masterpieces Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.

"Coda to Coda created a sound world for both the film and the accompanying 360° cinema-graphs," explains Ollie. "Their focus was to use both music and sound design to describe the sense of possibility the Woven City’s technologies might engender by exploring the synergy between recognisably synthesised sounds and human gestures or instrumental inflections, blurring one with the other to create an evocative hybrid.

"When looking at dystopian imagery of high-tech futures it’s often sleek, cold and has an absence of nature," points out Jan Bunge, partner at Squint/Opera. "But, this isn’t the vision for the Woven City, so we made an effort to communicate that.

"It’ll be high tech, of course, but also comfortable, liveable and sustainable - Fuji and the surrounding nature will all play a part. The whole concept of the Woven City is based on sustainability and moving towards a hydrogen-power society that can be self-sufficient with our systems.

"The natural elements we visualised will have many functions within this city, including biodiversity and productive functions, like the ability to produce food and power. But they also show that it’s not either-or, it’s not about technology versus nature, it’s about both working well together."

"While this kind of future-gazing is fun, it doesn’t really communicate what new tech or innovation will actually be like," Ollie agrees. "Those kinds of depictions make the future feel removed and far away from our own reality - and often what we’re communicating will happen in the not-too-distant future.

"So we choose to blend the technology into a world that feels current and plausible for the viewer."

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