How automakers use clay to make beautiful sheet metal

Genesis's top-secret design studio tour, where old-school clay model makers and new-school digital wizards combine to create the car of the future.
As evidenced by the prisoners at the bottom of Zoom’s pajamas, the digital takeover of the physical world is almost complete. From CGI Marvels and NFT artists to automatic transmissions and self-driving cars, old, hands-on methods — and those veterans who swear by them — are being slaughtered there, often a chorus of "well, baby boomers."
The same is true in the field of automobile manufacturing, as any auto worker laid off by a robot will prove it. At Genesis Design North America, Road & Track was the first publication to gain access to this inner secret room of Irvine, California. Hans Lapine, the managing director of the center, said a member of the media had walked to the studio’s open-air courtyard before being intercepted. Lapine is a native of Detroit, a former Porsche prototype manufacturer (his children include the 956 and 959), and has been the chief modeler for Audi and Volkswagen in the United States for 20 years. He will do it himself in 2021, which is why we are here: watch full-scale clay modeling by professional practitioners. Through General Motors' visionary artist-engineer Harley J. Earl, concept cars, annual changes, rear wing, Corvette, and the profession of "car design", this is a kind of help that helped us to give birth to cars. Art. Clay models have always been the basis for most cars in the world. Like many industrial miracles, this century-old practice is being threatened by the rise of digital tools: software and large displays, computerized milling, and 3D printing. However, the clay model still exists.
We entered a series of towering, white-walled, well-lit studios and studios. It is the source of rare winning streak designs, including Genesis G70 and G80 sedans, and GV70 and GV80 SUVs. Their award-winning and important hospitality reminds people of Audi’s own failed era, when the German brand used similar formulas—contemporary, design-driven, and beyond luxury—to nearly triple U.S. sales and revalue itself. Become a true competitor of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
The designers of Genesis include Tony Chen and Chris Ha, and their comprehensive resumes include work experience at Audi, Volkswagen and Lucid. Under the global sponsorship of former Bentley designer SangYup Lee, they are respectively the creative managers of GV80 exterior and interior. The alumni of these art center colleges affirmed that freehand sketches still fill up every designer's desk and wastebasket, which is the starting point of every aha moment. But between paper and full-scale clay, these creatives are now almost completely evolving these forms in the digital realm. Chen and Ha launched their Autodesk software. A full-size GV80 gleams from the display on the wall and fits into the lair of a super villain that is 24 feet long and 7 feet tall. The rendering will satisfy any magazine or TV commercial. With a few swipes of the mouse, Chen adjusted the background light and drew and adjusted the iconic parabolic character line. These actions may take several months to complete.
Lapine said that in the past, designers used clay to render every millimeter of evolution. A full-size model may require $20,000 in materials, which doesn't sound like much until there are 20 competing future car proposals. Digital technology enables designers to collaborate and compete on a global scale without having to ship large amounts of clay to all parts of the world, and without having executives and designers make a special trip to observe them.
"We can really send it to South Korea," Chen said of these Autodesk works. During COVID, screen-based tools are a godsend. The Lean Design team at Genesis no longer even struggles with scale models. Lapine said they were wasting time and resources. "You blow them up, the ratios are all wrong."
Next, Justin Horton, the head of visualization at Genesis, put a virtual reality headset on my head. Another animation, GV80, filled my vision, now with moody sky and watery background. This is not without Xbox: Genesis looks real enough to be touchable, and engineers are already responding tactilely with fingertip sensors. Perhaps soon, we will touch and sniff the "real" leather while shopping in the virtual world.
Now that we have seen the giants facing the simulation, it's time to meet a few Davids: Mike Farnham, chief modeler of Genesis, and Preston Moore, senior modeler and lecturer at the Art Center Academy. Before us is the split model of GV80, half of which presents a dramatic form against a rough background. In the unfinished part, the ochre clay is hardened like butter frosting, crumpled by human hands and strange fingerprints. As far as people are concerned, the real and the unreal are amazing: like a "car" that can approach the elemental beauty of the Brâncuși sculpture. My hands were attracted by the clay, and its subtle dusty curves were endlessly within reach, just like furniture in a master shop.
The floor supports a sculpted buck, a steel and wood frame in Styrofoam form, milled into workable shapes and coated with a thick layer of clay. It doesn't make sense to sculpt models entirely in clay, especially since they weigh several tons. The basic idea has not changed much since 1909. At the time, 16-year-old Harley Earl (the son of an automobile manufacturer) began to build futuristic car models on wooden sawhorses, using models from the mountains of northern Los Angeles. Clay on the river bed.
Modeling tools are usually homemade and very personalized (flatten and pass his suit to his sons) placed on a rolling toolbox nearby, looking like medieval surgical instruments: rakes, wire tools, planing "pigs" ", rectangular spline.
"These tools become an extension of yourself," Farnham said. He chose carbon fiber splines, curved fiber strips to "toughen" the GV80 hood, brushed it with both hands, and swayed freely, which reminded him of his years of experience in shaping surfboards.
"Your hand is actually creating the shape you want to project in three dimensions," he said, skillfully improving the surface. "You can't do this in VR. Sometimes you can't capture love digitally."
He said that carbon fiber is a great modeling tool. It is light, hard, keeps the curve, and leaves the subtle ripple texture that designers like.
Clay has unlimited ductility, which can be corrected by adding or reducing materials. A pile of pallets contains its boxes, packaged in a cylinder the size of a tennis can. Genesis favors Marsclay Medium from the German brand Staedtler, which provides a Who's Who for automakers and now electric start-ups. A model requires approximately four pallets worth. (Ford uses 200,000 pounds of these things every year.) Ovens designed to hatch chicks can now help hatch cars, heating the clay to 140 degrees to soften it. No one seems to know exactly what's in it. Farnham once tried to make his own work to unlock its secrets. The clay company carefully protects the proprietary formula.
It is an industrial version of plastic clay, but it does not actually contain mineral clay. William Harbart, the dean of the Bath Art Institute in the United Kingdom, invented plasticity in 1897, looking for a flexible medium that would not dry out in the air for students. A representative of Staedtler said that it is mainly made of petroleum-based waxes, pigments and fillers. Sulfur imparts unique modeling properties to the clay, including edge stability and layer adhesion, as well as a unique odor. Staedtler continues to repair Marsclay Light, which uses hollow glass microspheres instead of sulfur, but admits that its performance cannot yet match the performance of its industry standard formulation.
There is something you can't do in VR: imitate the California sun perfectly. Every car manufacturer checks the model outdoors in the relentless sunlight.
As the GV80 drove into the courtyard of the Genesis ivy wall, Farnham took out another special tool: a cheap steak knife with a wooden handle. In Farnham's steady hands, it becomes the perfect tool for marking a cutting line on the Genesis dashboard.
Genesis clay is now strictly used to verify digital data. Lapine said that the "all-night carnival" of integrating rolling design changes is over. Meet the new night shift: a five-axis CNC machine called Poseidon, inspired by the aerospace and marine departments, is bigger than many apartments in Manhattan. In the glass booth, two spindle tools work steadily under the guidance of an elevated gantry, a clay confetti ribbon splashing like a robot Rodin. When a hatchback SUV emerged from its form, we watched the hypnotic display. Like a late model terminator, Poseidon replaced a more primitive machine. The new one can grind out a model in about 80 hours and run it while the worker is sleeping. Human modelers can focus on surfaces and details, from the subtle sweep of the fender to the edge of the hood. Farnham said it would take a long time to model the complex grille of the GV80 from scratch, scraping off some of the remaining tips from a cross-hatched opening. The 3D printer spit out the steering wheel, gear lever, rearview mirror, and other components for quick visualization.
Farnham acknowledges the power of these programmable tools. But he said that some things have been lost. He missed the closer collaboration between designers and modelers—the traditional romantic view of car artists adjusting the waistline here and the waistline there. "You try to explain their two-dimensional ideas in 3D, and this is where trust and rapport really come in," Farnham said. This includes the modeler’s well-thought-out opinions on what is an effective way. Does Farnham feel a potential smash hit? really.
"I worked on GV80 super for a long time, and the designers on both sides were arguing about it and thinking,'This looks very hot. I will spend my money on this design.'"
Lapine has been a modeler for decades, and is now responsible for overseeing the overall situation and has a clear understanding of the auxiliary role of modeling. He said dryly that clay was once a religion. No longer, but its role is still exciting and important.
"To this day, this is the last step in the design process, where you can evaluate and get approval: this puppy will go into production; everyone agrees," he said.
Lapine himself is a third-generation designer. His mother Janet Lapin (surnamed Krebs) was one of Piaget's "design girls", and this proud name angered female designers even then. Enthusiasts will think of Lapine’s father: Anatole “Tony” Lapine, who designed the Porsche 924 and 928, and under the leadership of Bill Mitchell, he collaborated with Larry Shinoda to create 1963 Corvette Stingray of the year.
Where Earl has his novelty art and color department, Farnham's task is to create a hybrid design team that moves smoothly between the digital and analog domains. This shows that Genesis still sees the value of this mature Play-Doh, which is by no means a game.
"It's cool for me to see young people appreciate this," Farnham said. "They don't want to sit in front of the computer all the time; they want to work with their own hands... My vision is to recruit a team that can do all the work-sculpting, digital modeling, scanning, milling machine programming-so they can I have all the tools in the toolkit."
Nevertheless, there is still one question that cannot be avoided: Will digital tools become so good that they completely replace clay?
"This may happen," Lapin said. "No one knows where this journey will go. But I think we are lucky to be educated in the analog world, so we appreciate numbers."
"In the final analysis, we are not designing cars for the virtual world. We are designing real cars where people can still touch, drive and sit in 3D objects. This is an entire physical world that will not disappear."

Post time: Sep-13-2021
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