WHY CLAY MODELLING IS STILL IMPORTANT FOR CAR COMPANIES?
WHY CLAY MODELLING – Every type of software and virtual reality tool is available to car designers. When it comes to making sure a car’s curves are just right, however, they use one of the world’s oldest materials: clay. Every major automaker, from Mercedes to Tesla to Toyota, creates a vehicle in clay long before it ever hits the road. Automobile manufacturers hire sculptors to create scale models and full-size clay vehicles. They sculpt every detail, from the windows to the door handles to the hood creases. They also sculpt interiors in such fine detail that focus groups are often unaware they are looking at a clay dashboard.
INTRODUCTION: WHY CLAY MODELLING
At the time, a man named Harley Earl worked as a vehicle stylist. He shifted the perception of a car from that of a utilitarian object to that of a work of art. Rather than something to drive into town with, this is a practical and beautiful accessory. Earl noticed that blueprints and drawings of cars did not accurately represent what a car would be like. At the same time, you had to demonstrate concepts without spending thousands of dollars on actual models of potential cars. Modelling clay served as his solution.
Seeing a new design’s clay model is similar to seeing an artist’s studio. You walk in and see works of art that haven’t yet been hung in a gallery, and they might not be completely finished. Making things out of clay is also a viable option. Working with clay allows craftsmen to fine-tune their products with a human touch rather than fussing with computer design and machinery to design vehicles out of metal. Human intervention should be incorporated into the design element.
Humans are often at the helm of great technological machinery, but they rarely get their hands dirty. It removes the barriers that exist between a person’s concept of a car and the final design. Don’t get us wrong: there are many tools used to create these designs, but the principle remains the same.
Clay modelling isn’t as simple as walking into a studio and whipping up a fancy looking car. Before the final product is created, months of preparation, sketches, planning, and decision making are involved. It’s a difficult task, which is why talented individuals design our automobiles. However, the human element is present at every stage. Instead of designing parts and frames online, people must make deliberate decisions and employ artistry when building machines.
Nonetheless, computer technologies have reduced the industry’s use of clay models. According to Autodesk, one European manufacturer used digital workflows to reduce clay builds by 70%. So, while the few remaining clay modellers earn $100,000 or more per year and are unlikely to become extinct anytime soon, they are an endangered species. Computer-Aided Design is a tremendously powerful tool, but it can be difficult to grasp the feel, scale, and ergonomics of a design when viewing it through a 2-dimensional screen that can be zoomed and rotated at will.
Despite how much faster computers have made carving entire cars, there is one area where human modellers still have an advantage: finesse. A millimetre can sometimes be needed to change a detail on the body of a car. This type of edit can be time-consuming, but using malleable clay allows designers to visualise and make multiple changes with real-world proportions, which a computer rendering cannot match.
It’s preferable to have a full-scale model of something like a car that people will be standing next to and touching all over, where the contours of the body can be seen and touched from all angles, and subtly shaved and tweaked to the feel of an experienced designer. Furthermore, wind tunnel testing works best when done at full scale.
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