Working In Clay

How a car is created. One would think that designing a car would be a process of creating drawings and then transferring the drawings to sheet metal.  Which is. But there are some intermediate steps to the process and the best way that car designers have found over the century or so of designing cars is to first create the car in clay.

The reason that the design is rendered in clay first it that clay is fungible.  It’s far easier to make a slight change in the curve or door panels, to make those tiny changes that always come up in clay than it would be to beat the metal into shape or remold fiberglass.  Curve doesn’t look quite right, just scrape some clay off to reshape it.  Need a vent?  build it in.  Door handle changes? Just make new ones.  All those subtle changes that the drawing or 3d model won’t show, come right out in the clay model.

Cars are probably one of the hardest things to design.  First of all they are large, and they have moving parts.  Second they move through the air which acts in ways that can’t always be predicted.  Then there’s the almost total lack of truly flat surfaces.

Here’s how the process works. This GM, but the process is essentially the same for all the car makers.

The official document released by Buick underlines the importance of traditional clay modeling in today’s automotive design process, which so heavily relies on digital tools, and gives some insights on the development of the door panel for the Avista Concept, revealed at this year’s NAIAS in Detroit.

Buick Avista Concept - Interior Design Sketch Render

While sketching and refining the door in digital mockups they reached the point where they wanted to see it in physical form.

Buick Avista Concept - Interior Design Sketch Render

They gave the detailed sketch to the clay sculptors and left the next step in their hands. For a designer, the transition from 2D to 3D is the moment of truth.

Buick Avista Concept - Interior Clay Model

“We are really fortunate to work with such a talented team of sculptors,” said Aaron Stich, creative designer for Buick.

Buick Avista Concept interior in Signet color

“They brought the design to life in a way we never could have imagined; it was absolutely inspiring to see how they interpreted what we had done with pen and paper. This is what it’s like in the Buick studio right now, there’s so much energy, and everyone is itching to contribute. It’s fueling the creative renaissance of the brand.”

Mark Dybis, creative sculptor, remembers his initial reaction when seeing the drawing of the door and quips that it reminded him of an M.C. Escher artwork.

Dybis, who has spent the majority of his decade long career as an automotive sculptor in the Buick studios explained the lofty nature of making this proposed door design work.

Buick Avista Concept - Interior Clay Model

“It was an amazing door design, but it was longer than we’re used to, so we knew we’d have to pay special attention to the curved lines to make the physical model look just as graceful as it did on the paper,” Dybis explains.

Buick Avista Concept - Interior Clay Model construction

“Our job is to bring the designers’ vision to life, and we know there are things that have to be considered when transitioning a drawing into the tangible world. In the end, I appreciate that a modern-looking car like the Avista, and all Buicks, are styled with time-honored methods like hand drawing and sculpting.”
Here’s some videos starting with a film from Duesenberg.

Here’s a 1959 film from GM

Here’s some more videos.


And some links to pages and pics.

This is how a car comes off the paper and acquires it’s shape.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Tech Stuff 56 | The Arts Mechanical

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s