Restoring Charleston: An abandoned historic home comes back to life

Aug 20, 2017 at 08:02 am by -gToon

The DIY Network was already in production on its show, Restoring Charleston, when Scott Sternberg Productions brought media production agency Undefined Creative onto the project.

Their job--create architectural animations showing contractor Trent Fasnacht's painstaking restoration of an 1895 Craftsman-style home in Charleston, South Carolina, that had been abandoned for decades.

DIY Restoring Charleston from Undefined Creative on Vimeo.

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Undefined Creative used C4D to animate the restoration of a dilapidated historic home for DIY Network's Restoring Charleston.

With about a week to work on each episode, creative director Maria Rapetskaya and her team used Cinema 4D to devise interesting ways to illustrate the renovation process.

To freely access interiors while establishing the floor plan, they peeled away the roof and clarified the focus of each episode by animating the main structural changes. (See the kitchen and dining room clip here

"We needed to find something that looked cool, didn't take a tremendous amount of time and could be revised quickly as the client requested changes," she said.

Floors are magically refinished, walls are painted and furniture is placed as the camera moves from room to room on the show. See the living room clip here

Knowing there was a danger of inducing motion sickness with dizzying camera moves through the historic house, they started by tweaking the scripts a bit to ensure smooth movement from space to space. Preproduction work had been done in Illustrator, since Rapetskaya's team was given architectural floor plans, which had to be rebuilt for a clean extrusion in C4D.

"From the perspective of our process, the floor plans weren't consistent and we needed them to be accurate because there was no room for error," she explained. "If we set up the geometry of the house the wrong way, we could run into problems while removing a particular wall or other things the producers may want to see."

An overhead perspective offered viewers a birds-eye view of the home's interior as the camera moved from the back bedroom and bath.

With accuracy as their number one priority, Undefined Creative's biggest challenge was communicating with the client about what was realistic and what wasn't.

There wasn't time to build a lot of custom furniture and other elements, for example, so they bought several stock model collections from Evermotion and adapted them as needed. This was especially important for the kitchen and bathrooms, which included many different details that needed to resemble those in the actual home as closely as possible.

"This is a perfect example of adapting stock to your needs to save production time for those essential details that have to be custom made," Rapetskaya said.

Starting wide and peeling away the roof gave the client some pad at the top of the animations, and made clear the location of rooms with respect to the interior and exterior.

Those custom details were made by Undefined Creative's 3D animator Jesse Roff who, in addition to modeling the home's frame and walls, created many custom elements, including handrails and spindles on the front porch, the living room's fireplace and chimney and a vintage tin ceiling in one of the bathrooms.

3D animator Jesse Roff modeled the kitchen's sink from scratch, using the window as a gauge for size since it was built to scale from blueprints.

Some of the modeling was fairly straightforward but the handrails and spindles were trickier. Roff modeled those from scratch using blueprints to get the scale.

"The blueprints didn't have the right design, so I had to use photos of the finished porch for the geometry and then go back to the blueprint for placement," Ross said. "Using lathe objects with a profile created in Illustrator, I was able to match their finished spindle and use a cloner in Cinema 4D to distribute them."

Roff also handled all of the lighting, as well as texturing. And because some of the textures, such as fabrics and floors, were animated, he worked closely with Stephen McNally, Undefined Creative's lead animator. McNally used Cinema 4D to set the house's story in motion.

"We used a ton of booleans for animating walls, staircases, furniture and the roof," he explained. "It was the simplest and cleanest way to wipe off older parts of the houses and wipe on the refurbished/updated parts." Keeping the camera moving smoothly and quickly "without inducing whiplash or motion sickness" was by far the biggest challenge he faced.

A subtle vignette, a bit of color correction and a very slight camera blur were added in post to give the show a look that was less digital and "warmer and softer for a better Charleston feel," Rapetskaya says. Everything was rendered using C4D's physical renderer and global illumination. To output scenes quickly they used the remote render farm (

The living room's fireplace was one of several custom details Undefined Creative made from scratch using Cinema 4D.

In all, Undefined Creative has worked on 8 episodes of Restoring Charleston, including three episodes for a second restoration project, and they may do more in the future.

"This was really fun," Rapetskaya. "We love problem-solving when it comes to production, and we'd love to do this again."

Scott Sternberg Productions:
Lona Smith, Co-Executive Producer
Patrick Murphy, Executive in Charge of Production
Patty Heyboer, Post-Production Supervisor
Taylor Marshall-Green, Supervising Story Producer

Undefined Creative:
Maria Rapetskaya, Creative Director
Cathy Humphrey, Producer
Jesse Roff, 3D Animator
Stephen McNally, 2D Animator

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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