The Front Seat: Jason Wagner
Hello, Jason. Pleased to be doing this interview. In your own ingenuity, kindly tell us more about yourself.
I’m a 19 year old architecture student from Detroit, Michigan.
How will you introduce your work to anybody who’s new to it?
Most of my BATs are older buildings. I also have some modern buildings in the pipeline. Some of my BATs are recreations of real buildings in Detroit.
What are the steps in your creative process?
Of course, I’d like to BAT everything. I have a lot of projects I’d like to do, but I don’t have time for all of them.
The first thing I do is I consider how difficult and time consuming the modeling and texturing will be. I also try to keep the strain on my computer in mind, since the more complicated things get, the more my programs will lag when I work on it. I also consider how hard it would be to lot and mod, although T Wrecks does almost all of my modding. And I consider how useful the creation will be in the game.
Real buildings are more difficult to recreate. Most of the time the building’s dimensions don’t fit nicely on a SC4 lot. For example, the David Broderick Tower in Detroit is about 22 meters on two sides, but 28 and 24 on the other sides, since the building isn't square. tiles in Sim City are 16x16 meters square, and this building is a wall to wall building in real life. The building could be modeled the same size as the real thing, but then it wouldn't work be as useful in the game. It could be changed to fit into the game really well, but then it wouldn't be as accurate. For this building, I'd have the choice between making the building square, and making it fit snuggly on a 2x2 lot (best for SC4 purposes), or keeping it a trapezoid, and fitting loosely on a 2x2 lot (keeping the building itself accurate).
Perhaps to start with some questions on your work, tell us one of your
favorite pieces from your STEX portfolio and explain what it is about and how you came to create it?
Every BAT I make has a story to it. Some of their stories are more interesting than others. I'll tell a little bit about my more popular projects.
Right now, Wagner Hotel is my most downloaded BAT. I started working on it in March of 2005. It was vaguely based on the Wrigley Building in Chicago. I started it because I felt that there weren’t enough diagonal buildings, CS§§§ buildings, and buildings for the New York or Chicago tile sets in the game and the STEX.
Before I started texturing it, the building was going to be a crisp white. The first texture I put on it turned out a lot darker and browner than I wanted, but it looked so good that I left it like that, and that texture is what you see on the building today.
At the very beginning, it was planned to be shaped like a triangle. After that, I decided that it should be longer, and it became a long (5x2) U shaped building. 5x2 is an unusual lot size, but I figured that it was ok, since the building would need to be manually plopped anyway, because of the diagonal part. However, the diagonal part ended up being more work than I thought it was worth, so I reworked the building into a 2x2 H shaped building.
Eventually I finished the building and uploaded it to the STEX in November of 2005. It took me about nine months to complete it.
I started Regal Theater in April of 2006. Originally it was supposed to look like the smaller buildings in the Rockefeller Center landmark from the game. It was also an experiment to test out my ideas with LODs, and random props. I also wanted more theaters in the game, as well as more CS§§§ buildings. However, as I started working on the building, it shifted away from the original Rockefeller design, but other than that I stayed true to my original ideas.
The marquees on the building are props, which aren't randomized through prop families, but through a more advanced method that I don't know enough about to describe. The model for the entire theater was made and exported with its own LODs. Then I deleted those LODs and made new ones that only surrounded the marquee titles. I changed the titles on the marquees and exported them for each theater attraction. Because of this, part of the theater building appeared in the marquee props, which made the transition between the marquee props and the building smoother.
For some reason, the Bladerunner and Weezer marquee props didn't work right, so they weren't included.
I think the building tuned out really well. My only regret is size of the building. The proportions of the theater part are completely unrealistic. The theater would have fitted better if I had made it a 3x4 instead of a 2x4.
I uploaded this building to the STEX in July after four months of work.
The Detroit Free Press Building
I started this in March of 2005, and it was uploaded in February of 2006, taking almost a year to finish. This was my first recreation and my first project for the Barry Sanders Project. It took a long time to create a good compromise between what the building looks like in real life, and what kinds of textures would look good in Sim City 4. The building’s complexity made my computer lag, which made working harder.
Jason's BATs from left to right: Detroit Free Press Building, Fisk Insurance, Regal Theater, Audubon Building(created in collaboration with Don Miguel), Wagner Hotel, Mary Hotel.
And what would be your most substantial project that has left a meaningful
impression? Why is that?
Wagner Hotel was my first big release, and is the most downloaded one today. I also learned a lot while making it.
What makes a BAT creator a good one?
There needs to be a good mix between caring and not caring. You need to be caring enough to make sure that it’s done well, but at the same time you can’t care so much that you’re too eager to finish something, or so that you don't give up from being too sensitive when something isn't working right. All in all though, patience is the most important trait.
Your work is a source of inspiration for many. Where does your inspiration come from?
My original inspiration was some of the BATers (good and bad) from when I started. The lack of old American buildings, midrises, small buildings, and detailed buildings made me want to make some. Don Miguel in particular did a good job, and his BAT quality was my initial goal.
You specialize in creating exact replicas of the prominent Detroit buildings, is there something that you will not do?
No, but there are some buildings that I would do before others, and some buildings are so far down the list that I would work on anything else before working on them.
Shown on the photo: A replica of The Olde Building in Detroit created by Jason as part of the Barry Sanders project
Detroit has always been a perfect playground for some of the most affluent architects in the US such as Albert Kahn, Charles N. Agree, and Philip Johnson that laid down a foundation for Art Deco, Georgian Revival, and postmodern architectural tradition of the city. Did the city's great architectural legacy played a major role in your decision to apply to an architectural school?
It probably started with LEGO, which is an outstanding toy. There, I made things that looked good, had an imaginary purpose that had to be accommodated (for example, a car needs to resemble a car), a real purpose that had to be accommodated (the wheels need to be able to turn, the doors need to be able to open, etc.), and it had to be structurally strong (so it doesn't fall apart). So LEGO is similar to architecture. I mostly made sci-fi type stuff, and normal buildings, that generally looked like what Spa makes today.
Then there was Sim City, which has an obvious influence. And recently there has been BATing, which isn’t very realistic, but has the same kind of creative thinking as architecture.
When I was younger I liked to draw buildings and cities and maps (and I still do today, but now they’re for an actual reason), and the built environment and how people interact with it has always interested me.
By the time I was in middle school, it should have been clear to me that I should pursue architecture, but it took until freshman year in college to decide to actually do it (before then I was an animation major).
I only lived in Detroit for the first few years of my life, and after we moved, my family stayed involved with the organizations they were involved with (Girl Scouts for my sister, for example). But interestingly enough, in my mind, Detroit was still big scary Detroit, where you go to get your car stolen, even though I was regularly there for things. Only until a few years ago have I been going downtown.
So I think that I could be from any large city, and I would have still ended up in architecture. I do think that Detroit has great architecture though, and I’m very happy with where I live and how I grew up.
What do you think are the main attractions of Detroit and which is your favorite?
There’s sports, music, theater, museums, and art all the time. Aside from that, there are several big festivals every year, and I think a visitor should plan their visit to coincide with one of those events. There are also restaurants and casinos to supplement those events.
Something that I think should draw people to Detroit is the atmosphere. Other cities are a lot more touristy, and you feel like everyone is pushing you to spend money at their attraction. Detroit is a lot more laid back.
Once described as the largest factory town ever built, Detroit's population has halved since its 1960s peak. As a Detroit native, do you believe that decades of intensive capital investments into the city development helped to improve the situation? What would you do differently? Elaborate.
Unfortunately, many of those huge urban renewal projects ended up doing just as much harm as good. Or maybe even more harm.
I would have focused the money more on services, like the police, and on infrastructure, like mass transportation. On parks and community centers as well. Those are the types of things that enable the citizens and businesses of a city to be productive.
But funding is a complicated thing. There are grants from the government, private investments, tax breaks, and so much more. I don’t really think that when people say “why are you building that, while this is in disrepair” is fair, or realistic, but those are the things that I would have done differently.
If you are allowed to turn back the hands of time, at which age/areas of Motown's past would you like to repeat/change?
Well, the depression first of all. If the prosperity of the 20’s would have lasted a few more years, the city would have been stronger, and would have fared better against some of the hard times that would follow.
After that, I’d change the 50s, 60s and 70s, since the city was definitely hurt in those times, by the freeways, and other modernization projects.
Skeptics argue that many revival projects have failed and Detroit will never be the same again. For instance, they use an ambitious effort to turn Detroit into a gambling city that led to a dramatic increase in personal bankruptcy in Michigan as an example for the their reasoning. What is your response to them?
Most of those revival projects failed because they were bad projects. They were planned around ideologies that didn’t apply to real life. Aside from that, some of them failed because there wasn’t enough money or political support, and some of them succeeded.
I don’t think casinos are good for economies, but I also don’t think that the ones in downtown Detroit were the cause for that increase. I think local, state, national, and global social and economic trends are more responsible.
I think that it’s possible for Detroit to be as successful as it once was. Cities last for thousands of years, and in the long run, the last 40 years have not damaged Detroit enough to eliminate that possibility. I think in the next 40 years Detroit will improve, and people will compare it positively with other large American cities.
Is the word “impossible” in your vocabulary?
Some things really are impossible, and a lot of things are really unlikely. It applies to both good and bad things too. For instance, it’s possible for Detroit to become the world’s greatest city, but it’s not likely. It’s also possible for Detroit to become a ghost city within the next century, but that’s not very likely either.
How important is music to you? And what CD that never seems to be found
outside your stereo system?
Music is important to me. I listen to it a lot, and I play the guitar. I don’t want to pick a CD though, since I’d feel bad about the ones I didn’t pick.
Describe THE perfect weekend. A milkshake, a cup of tea or plain ol' coffee?
The perfect weekend would involve a lot of dessert, skyscrapers and money. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee though.
It has been great talking to you, Jason. Before you go, if there's a TAXI in front of you right now, where will you be heading to?
The taxi will take me from my computer to the TV. I’ll eat some ice cream and watch something before I head off to bed.
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