When I interned at an automotive company this past year, I came in contact with a lot of interesting and talented people. A few of my absolute favorites, were the clay modelers in our design studio. They have the most fascinating way to look at the world. Their ability to transform this mundane substance into beautiful sculpture, is something I’m extremely jealous of.
I’ve always loved automotive clay modeling – it’s this strange medium between fine arts and technical design – and find that it’s highly underrated. Piotr (Peter) was one of the lead sculptors at my job, and ended up becoming a good friend of mine over my 6 months there. Outside of the office one night, I struck up a conversation about how he got into his work. He said he had always admired the beauty and precision of it all, and pursued it right away at school.
He was extremely talented – working for Bugatti, Ferrari, BMW, and countless other top tier auto companies over a +20 year span – and was full of knowledge. Usually a pretty quiet guy, it took me aback when he became very impassioned when discussing clay modeling’s future. He told me that BMW, years ago, fired all of their sculptors (including him), and replaced them all with computers. I asked him what the exact year was (he couldn’t quite place it) but it was somewhere around 5 years ago.
I remember connecting these faint dots in my head later that week. I haven’t liked BMW’s designs within the past few years. I could never place my finger on why though. It seemed to escape me; but something had changed. It lost something special. And now it made sense. I’m not saying I was some genius, making this connection. But it floored me.
Piotr told me they got rid of the human touch – they got rid of the clay sculptors who essentially, put the magic into the design. I was astonished no one was talking about this. I heard another car company overseas – who had switched to full digital methods years ago – had announced their return to clay. I think of all of the cars that have come out recently, and Volvo’s designs have exponentially improved in form within the past year or two. Turns out (I lost the article snippet I had read) that their design team had significantly increased the amount of clay sculptors within their studio. This wasn’t a coincidence just within a few studios.
Ducati designers were just featured in an article highlighting the process of their newest design (pictured above). And this quote stood out to me:
Tech doesn’t enter the equation until the designers are fully satisfied with what they’ve drawn and [are] ready to move on.Andrea Ferraresi
It excites me that companies are starting to see this trend. Technology – though improving major sectors of the world – hasn’t completely changed the automotive design process. And I’m extremely happy about that.