bbc autos
Why car designers stick with clay
In an age when vehicle styling teams have supercomputers and virtual reality at their disposal, a venerable — and defiantly low-tech — design tool persists.
By David K Gibson

That leap to full-size is vital. “There’s something about having that scale on a physical model,” says VandenBrink. “We do scale models, and make them as realistic as possible, but when we scan and blow it up full size, it looks cartoony.” There’s a flip side as well, he says. “When you work on a computer, you have a tendency to zoom in, and you get too concerned with the details. You end up spending hours working on the radius of curve, when it’s just going to get lost in the stamping.”

One thing that’s often overlooked about clay models is that they aren’t simply output; clay can be an input medium, as well. The perfect fender curve or B-pillar transition may take shape with a few flicks of the wrist in clay, while trying to get that same level of artistry through computer and stylus might take hours. And once it’s in clay, a whole car can be scanned into a CAD program in an hour and a half. You won’t do that with a stylus, or a mouse, or a fancy 3D headset.


The Gamechangers stars Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton. It airs on BBC Two on 15 September 2015 at 9pm!