John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A lot like this ghostly CGI visualization, created by a Parisian architectural-imaging studio.
Ah, Paris at dawn! Straggling notes of late-night jazz echoing off of alley walls, the smell of fresh-baked bread wafting from boulangeries, the gentle lapping of waves as the tide rolls in....
Wait – does that last thing really happen? To believe this dreamy film from the Parisian architectural-imaging studio ArtefactoryLab, it certainly does, at precisely “5:46 a.m.” (the film's title). The seas-soused brain behind the visualization, Olivier Campagne, created the project back in 2010 after wondering what his city would look like submerged under 1 meter of water. Although his camera caught a couple of joggers and runners while he was shooting, Campagne chose to erase them digitally, saying he was inspired by the empty, computer-generated cityscapes of artist Nicolas Moulin.
Paris hasn't been subject to a major deluge since 1910, when the rain-swollen Seine gushed out of sewers, drains and railway tunnels, turning the metropolis into an impromptu Venice. But you wouldn't know that looking at “5:46 a.m.” The fakery is near-perfect, with fluttering birds casting reflections onto the sudden lakes inhabiting the streets. To achieve the effect, Campagne and associate Vivien Balzi modeled most of the buildings in 3D, allowing them to create mirror images on the water's surface. Geeks might be interested to know that the liquid then “received a VRaySSS material” and that the gusts of wind were “controlled by displacement maps and masks.” (The eerie audio track arrives courtesy of electroacoustic musician Brice Tillet.)