Liam Young

Director and Worldbuilder

Referred to by the BBC as “The Man Designing Our Futures,” Liam Young is an Australian-born film director who pushes the boundaries between film, fiction, design, and storytelling. He is known for his futuristic mindset, developing projects that defy traditional [...]

The future isn't something that just rushes over us like water. It's not something that's sold to us. It's not something that just happens to us, but rather, we can all be active agents in shaping the futures that we want to live in.

Referred to by the BBC as “The Man Designing Our Futures,” Liam Young is an Australian-born film director who pushes the boundaries between film, fiction, design, and storytelling. He is known for his futuristic mindset, developing projects that defy traditional architectural definitions.

With his body of work, Liam attempts to show the world the various possible futures that new technologies are setting in motion. He uses a combination of short films, visualizations, and visual effects to bring his vision to life.

“The future isn’t something that just rushes over us like water.”

Although he’s an accomplished BAFTA-nominated film director today, his journey began as an architect.

Liam Young

From Architect to… Speculative Architect and Director

Liam studied architecture in Australia before moving to London to work for what he describes as the “avant-garde of the profession.” However, he was frustrated with the slow pace of development in the field of architecture.

“I was increasingly frustrated with the incredibly slow pace of architecture.”

“A building is a very expensive project,” he exclaims, discussing how architecture is a discipline almost entirely tied to economic capital. Liam’s feelings of unfulfillment in his work designing expensive trophies for the rich and famous led him to search for other avenues.

He started researching the emerging technologies shaping today’s cities, exploring how they are redefining how we live, operate, and form communities. These systems however, are not the domain of the traditional architect so he began to expand his practice into science fiction and film.

“The design of public spaces, streets, squares, large, permanent infrastructure once defined our experience of cities, now our lives are shaped by technology.”

[Music video for Forest Sword’s Crow, 2019, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin]

“Cities today are now better described as media platforms,” he says, as many of our public experiences have migrated from physical spaces to online feeds. These are profound changes and in his films and imaginary worlds he prototypes some of these cultural consequences of technology.

Balancing Work and Passion

[Seoul City Machine, 2020, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, Co Director Alexey Marfin]

Balancing Work and Passion

“I wanted to work in a way that kept pace with how technology was changing our lives,” explains Liam. It is through this process of speculation and world-building that he blended the worlds of fiction, architecture, design, and storytelling.

“Inevitably, what that meant is a shift from being an architect who designs buildings as fixed physical objects in the world. To being a storyteller that uses film and the development of imaginary worlds to explore implications of modern technology at global scales.”

For budding artists who want to earn their living while also following their passion, Liam’s advice is simple, “Co-opt the business models of other aligned industries.” He explains his point further by telling artists to ask themselves: “What is the type of work I want to make? What industry is most closely aligned to that type of work?”

Once you have those answers, Liam thinks it’s much easier to find a balance between a decent paycheck and the messages you want to convey as an artist or creative. He explains this idea with his own example: “We wanted to tell stories about future cities so we started to infiltrate the Hollywood machine, to engage broader audiences with our work and embed critical ideas within the mediums of popular culture.”

Liam Young

[Emissary, 2023, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, Matte Painter James Roha]

The Flexibility Afforded by the Power of Modern Hardware

Back in the day, Liam remembers, artists had to pick an industry and stick with it. The workflows of the movie (visual effects and CG) and gaming industries were so different in the past that artists had no choice but to stick to a lane.

“But it’s different today,” Liam muses, “with the increase in the computational power of GPUs, and realtime rendering the video game industry and the film industry (visual effects) are starting to collapse together to the point where they’re actually using identical software workflows.” Not only does this allow artists to move back and forth between these industries, but it also infuses both industries with fresh perspectives from the other side.

“Now artists are moving back and forth between gaming and film because in both industries they’re building realtime virtual environments.”

Liam tells us that the once-traditional process of recording actors in front of a green screen and creating CG worlds behind them has changed quite a bit. Now, they’re performing in front of a virtual production LED wall a live environment that actors can truly inhabit and experience.

When asked about his workflow, Liam says, “We start with footage and film of the real world and real actors. He continues, “we then we transform and extend them with CG elements made in Unreal Engine.”

Liam Young

Liam Young

Modeling is done in Autodesk Maya; artists develop matte paintings and 2D digital backdrops using Adobe Photoshop. “Ultimately, these assets come together with 3D environments in Unreal,” Liam explains. In the final phase, they push the visuals further stylistically with compositing in Nuke.

Liam Young

Rapid Prototyping: Transforming Traditional Film Workflows

Using the power of modern hardware to bring Liam’s futuristic vision to life seems almost poetic in a sense. Although most movie studios will outsource the final rendering work to professional render farms, “which costs a fortune,” Liam reminds us, more powerful hardware also allows for a faster workflow so we can keep testing and experimenting in the studio.

[Choreographic Camouflage, 2021, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, Choreographer Jacob Jonas]

“But now, with the latest generation game engines, but also the latest generation GPUs, they can process realtime lighting, shadow, and reflection in a way that is almost photoreal, which is a massive game changer.”

Rapid prototyping is crucial to workflows like Liam’s, where the team wants to constantly tweak and improve the scene to make it as photorealistic as possible. A faster, modern GPU helps get prototype imagery on your screen almost instantly. “Not pressing render and waiting 9 hours to see what your shot looks like is nice,” quips Liam, smiling.

Designed and Directed by Liam Young, Choreographer Jacob Jonas

“With GPU rendering, you can be constantly tweaking your scene. We are trying to make our imaginary worlds as believable as possible.”

Being able to compare to real-world references quickly accelerates such prototyping-driven workflows by a significant margin. Liam hopes to do more GPU rendering locally so the creative team can check frame-by-frame for any discrepancies. “Remember,” Liam says, “in the past, we’d just render a couple of test frames and send it off hoping for the best.”

Liam Young

Liam Young

Liam Young

Liam Young

Liam Young

[The Planet City, 2021, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin]

Liam’s workflow makes heavy use of GPU rendering, where a graphics card does all the compute-related heavy lifting for a CG scene. “We’re [also] using procedural materials and all that kind of stuff, which is all super GPU intensive, [making it] critical to what we do,” he says.

Shining a Speculative Light on the Future

Liam talks about one of his projects – Planet City – when describing the scale of creation required. For context, Planet City is set in an imaginary city of 10 billion people who have surrendered the rest of the world to return it to wilderness. “It’s a working digital model of an entire city for 10 billion people,” exclaims Liam, “that’s a lot of polygons and digital objects to be processing!”

“The MSI hardware enables us to literally be in these worlds in a way we could never do so before.”

Having the kind of graphics compute power at his fingers is game-changing for someone like Liam. With the immense scale of the detailed worlds he creates, it’s important to get faster and nearly-final looks at his creations. The new hardware allows for photorealistic rapid prototyping that lets Liam spend more time creating and less time waiting for a render to complete or a screen to refresh.

Liam Young

Liam could also use more of that graphics processing power for one of his more recent projects – The Great Endeavour. The film visualises what will soon become the world’s largest construction project- the creation of a planetary scaled network of carbon removal machines which scrub CO2 from the air and store it safely in rock beneath the oceans. To solve the climate crisis we can no longer just rely on limiting future emissions.

Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin

Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin

Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin

[The Great Endeavour, 2023, Designed and Directed by Liam Young, VFX supervisor Alexey Marfin]

Liam’s short film, The Great Endeavour, is created in collaboration with scientists and technologists to showcase the potential design, development, and drama surrounding the building of such an infrastructural behemoth.

Liam Young

“The future landscape in front of us is a dark, shadowed and unknown territory, and each little fiction, each feature scenario, is like a torch beam that shines a little slice of light into that landscape ahead of us,” says Liam. He truly believes that the more such stories we can tell, the more of our future landscape we can predict and foresee.

Liam hopes this light will be bright enough to help us navigate the unknown and get to a future we can both live in and live with.

Full PC Specification:

Processor: Intel® Core™ i9-13900K Processor
Motherboard: MSI MEG Z790 ACE
Graphics Card: GeForce RTX™ 4090 SUPRIM X 24G
Memory: Kingston FURY Renegade DDR5 RGB 6800MT/s 16GB
Monitor: Optix MPG321UR-QD


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