Car Design – from sketch to 3D animation

18 July 2018
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One of my dreams as an Industrial Design student was to become a car designer. As part of my final year project, I was lucky enough to get a placement with Spyker Cars.

This year, I’m going one step further. I shall be designing a car, this time complete with exterior, chassis and suspension. At Spyker Cars there were lots of engineers and technicians who I could ask for advice. For this particular assignment however, I am working from the confines of a studio where there are no automotive engineers at close hand. My responsibilities cover the areas of initial research, design and execution in 3D.


The assignment

Royal TenCate came to C4Real asking us to design a new car. This car would be used in 3D animation film which we would help them produce. The idea of the film was to help Royal TenCate present their new carbon ‘TenCate Cetex’ to the automotive industry. Not wanting to ally themselves to any particular make, my assignment was to come up with a design for an archetypal sports car with a timeless feel about it.

Step-by-step design

There were 8 stages in the complete design process:

1 – Reference material – Since, unlike at Spycker, there are no dismantled cars in my studio, I have to make do with my camera and the internet. Taking pictures and collecting information on countless fascinating designs, both bodywork and those hidden parts under the bonnet, provide me with a good basis on which to build on the design process.

2 – Pencil and paper – Drawing by hand works best for me. In the first instance, it’s all about a basic interplay of lines. I draw shapes that appeal to me and come up with as many different designs as necessary so that I don’t become fixated on any one particular idea. At this stage of the process I exaggerate the design somewhat to give it more character, but too much exaggeration can turn the car into a cartoon apparition. The key is a well-proportioned design.

3 – Credibility – Although the car will never get onto the production line, from a visual point of view it must look plausible. Technically, the design doesn’t have to be perfect, but the characteristic features and how they integrate with each other have to come across as credible. For example, the position of air intakes, wheels and parting lines. Too short a wheel base will cause the car to become unstable and with incorrectly positioned parting lines, the model will have to be made of plastic, otherwise it would be impossible to construct.

4 – Plausible shapes – Before filling in the details, I make sketches of the car from as many possible angles. It’s important, because if I skip this stage of the process it may cause bigger problems further down the line. An oblique view of the car from the front adding adequate perspective may give the car a sleek appearance, but does not tell you anything about the design of the car’s rear. When the car is visualised in 3D, all its shapes have to blend in with each other.

5 – Details – Once the basic design is in place, it’s time to fill in all the details. The addition of all these details will make the design of the car that much more credible. For example, door handles, indicator lights and brake discs. This is likewise the point at which I switch to digital drawing. The rendering of the reflections in the metal and headlight details complete the picture. What’s more, a presentation thus will appeal to the client more.

6 – From 2D to 3D – All the drawings from various different angles provide enough information to commence in 3D. Modelling the design can be an extremely time-consuming process. What’s more, making the step from 2D and 3D is not only fun but tricky too. On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see the 2D design be transformed into 3D, but on the other hand, it can be quite disappointing! This time, the shapes all seem to work well in 3D and there’s over a week to perfect the design.


7 – Physics! – Now the model is ready, the car’s road handling can be simulated. It takes some effort to find the right values. However, once the car is seen negotiating a bend for the first time and its suspension and road-holding skills are put to the test, the design really comes to life.


8 – Sleeping – Leaving aside the rest of the elements in the animation film, it’s another 5 weeks at least before the actual film lands on my desk. It was a fantastic film to work on, despite the extremely keen deadlines. It was definitely worth all the effort, all I need now are a couple of nights’ decent sleep.


Elmar Evers. C4Real – The virtual experience


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