Mazda sculptors, digital artists collaborate on design like never before
Mazda’s Vision Coupe concept from the 2017 Tokyo show previews the brand’s new Kodo design language that debuts in production cars next year.
HIROSHIMA, Japan — Stylists at Mazda Motor Corp. are renowned for their faith in old-school clay modeling when it comes to creating the brand’s curvaceous Kodo car designs.
But to perfect the voluptuous bends and molten-like reflections of the next-generation design language due out next year, they had to break with tradition.
For the first time, digital artists versed in computerized bend radius and axis rotation were thrust onto level ground with the vaunted sculptors and their clay rakes and metallic film.
The two design teams, digital and clay, worked hand in hand like never before, and the outcome was the sexy Vision Coupe concept shown at last October’s Tokyo Motor Show.
The concept car is important because it previews Mazda’s new design language debuting in production cars next year. It also marks a new way of working at Mazda’s design studio.
Traditionally, clay modelers take the lead and let their subordinate digital colleagues merely tidy up the bumps. But the Vision Coupe’s curves were so complex, they required both sides to cooperate and compete in proposing the best way forward, said Takahiro Matsui, a former clay modeler who now handles digital styling as Mazda’s “creative design expert.”
“This was the start of co-creation and competition,” Matsui said last week in an interview at Mazda’s design studio inside the carmaker’s global headquarters here in western Japan.
“We had to work together but also battle against each other.”
Over two years, both teams worked on the Vision Coupe, meeting every two weeks to exchange ideas, decide which were best and head back to the drawing board.
Getting the light just right was a big part of the fight. The new design language hinges on sweeping reflections that glide over meaty shoulders, hunched fenders and scooped side panels, just as light might glisten off a rivulet of mercury or a sweat-drenched athlete.
Designers can view a full-size clay model from only so many angles. A digital version, however, can be manipulated in all manner of ways and nitpicked from any perspective.
Sometimes, the tweaks made to a curve radius were no greater than 0.01 millimeter.
“We have to control the surface down to that minute level to get the look that we want,” Matsui said. “This process requires a lot of time and energy.”
Kazuhisa Noda, Mazda’s top clay modeler, conceded it would have taken even longer to get the same look if designers had stuck to the old way.
Mazda will use the new digital collaboration on future models when it makes sense, Matsui said. But even the 21st-century digital acolyte predicts clay will never completely go away.
“I still think clay is better,” he said. “If we could only touch the digital model, then maybe we could win.”