This is Part 2 of the 2021 ISD Rubika Degree show review.  Don’t miss Part 1!

Today, I talk with Swarnim Verma on the Heart of England Speakers podcast. She discusses her upbringing in India and Dubai. She then details her journey to becoming a digital artist that took her all the way to France at ISD Rubika in Valenciennes (France). To earn her diploma, Swarnim and her peers had to give a 35-minute speech in English in front of a jury of five industry professional. That is one third of their final grade.

The cartoonist Scott Adams has coined the term “the talent stack”. He is average at writing, drawing and business. However, when you combined those skills, you get the multi-million comic strip franchise Dilbert. Swarnim combined her skills, her talents, her eye for colour and her software knowledge in clothing and texturing into a game changing weapon.

 

Conceptual CMF by Swarnim Verma

 

Her way is unique in approaching CMF (colour, material, and finish).  Her experiments are named “conceptual CMF”. Traditionally, CMF designers collect physical fabric and material samples to create their mood boards. Swarnim’s moods board are full CGI. CG fabrics tend to be stiff. Hers were flowing and photorealistic, not to mention with some dazzling colour combinations. A detailed look at her workflow can be found in an article she wrote for Adobe Substance.

The digital design graduating class had three women for a total of 14 students. The gender split was comparable to the previous classes I saw graduate. It was inevitable that at some point, a woman was going to take first place overall in the year end jury. That was not the surprising part. The real surprise was how it happened. Over the years, the winners were in some predictable categories. They were hard core car guys. Then they were wizards at visualization for cars or for watches (or clothing soon, probably). Swarnim Verma is none of those. Here is the best advice for students who want to single themselves out and who aspire for greatness: be yourself. It worked for her.

 

 

 

 

Audi R8 - full CGI by Fabien Vandemortelle

 

This is Part 1 of the 2021 ISD Rubika Degree show review.  Don’t miss Part 2!

Do you remember the last time you took a plane? It had been over two years for me, so I was giddy at the idea of taking to the skies again. It was time for my yearly trip to the north of France to judge the digital design graduating class at the Rubika Institut Supérieur de Design in Valenciennes (ISD). This was another marker in time for me. 20 years ago, I came to Valenciennes to become one of ISD’s first 3D teachers. The day before, the entire family gathered to take a now ritual lateral flow test. I don’t remember how many we have gone through all this time. All tests turn up negative until I see one test with the dreaded two lines. And it did not take long either. Goodbye flight. Goodbye weekend in Paris with one of my best friends. Ugh. Thankfully ISD was prepared so I was able to participate in the jury remotely.

 The Usual Suspects. Expanded.

Every year, it was customary to run into one type of student: the car guy / girl. There was no doubt what that student wanted to do out of school. It was cars and that was it. Saurav Ponkshe created one of the most detailed Porsche 911 models you will ever see. It not only had the exterior but also an interior and a fully articulated roof (too bad it is not in full details on his online portfolio).

Saurav Ponkshe's 911

Over the years the students’ tastes have evolved and there are now two other types: watches and clothing. For watches, there are so many to choose from. For clothing, those of us who are a little older need to take notice on how to promote yourself online. Thomas Radenne created an online fashion show on social media in the middle of the pandemic. Of course, he tagged the people he wanted to reach in his post, and they did reply. It is a brave new world.

Saurav Ponkshe's 911

The Visualization Wizards

Fabien Vandemoortele had some great images. His Audi won the best student image in the Domeble Symetri contest (Corona Render) but I really liked the Fairlady Z (3DS Max / Corona).

Fairlady Z by Fabien Vandemoortele

Nirmal Tudu used Blender to showcase his 911 Singer. Last year, Valentin Becart showcased what the future of visualization was going to be with Unreal Engine. If this year needed any confirmation, he is going to have some company. The population of students using Unreal is rising and it is bound to become more popular in design studios around the world. Saurav Ponshke had a nice visualization of his Porsche in a pre-made Unreal environment. It is a great step to understand how to import data within a readymade scene. Praveen Balaji went way further as he created an entire tropical forest environment from scratch. In it, he dropped a Mercedes 4×4 and the entire visual was a showstopper. 

Praveen Balaji's Mercedes 4x4 in Unreal

The Future

At every jury, a student comes along and lights up the presentation room. This year it was Swarnim Verma. Her bubbly personality was on full display. She was prepared, smiling, engaged and confident. Her presentation and public speaking skills were impeccable. I am a trained public speaker and I am telling you this: she made a 40-minute speech look easy (and even highlighted her newfound fluency in French). She took the jury from her humble beginnings as a digital artist to where she is today. Teachers found out early that she had an eye for color. Swarnim coupled that talent with software use to dazzling effect. What did we witness? It is the future of CMF (color, material, and finish). In Part 2, we will have a much longer and in-depth conversation with Swarnim.

Praveen Balaji's Mercedes 4x4 in Unreal

 Conclusion

Like clockwork, I look forward to seeing what the ISD students have done. It never disappoints. Think about the technologies used by the students during the time I have fortunate enough to be on the jury: Blender, Marvelous, Unreal, and now Substance. All those programs were known in the industry, but some students have created fantastic case studies for their use in automotive design. This year, on top of it all, the winner’s presentation was unexpected, brilliant, and ground-breaking. It felt like a breath of fresh air. As long as this fresh breeze blows from the north of France into the automotive design world, I suspect people in the industry, and I, will keep coming back to inhale it.

Brian Baker

Sedans (or saloons) have always played a part in automotive design.  They are a practical and dependable vehicle format.  But where did the sedan come from?  What is its history?  And is there any life left in the future?  To answer these questions (and more) I invited my longtime friend Brian Baker, VP of Education and Principal historian at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, on the FORMCAST podcast.  Hope you enjoy the episode here!

ISD Rubika 2020

Google, Toyota, Louis Vuitton and Tata Motors walk into a digital room.  Welcome to the ISD degree juries.  Every year the French school Institut Supérieur de Design holds its year end degree show.  It  is arguably the best place for OEMs to recruit digital artists and 3D modellers.  The main school is in the north of France with a sister school in India.  Each student must present their work to industry professionals and in English.  This presentation counts for 30% of their final grade.  The added difficulty this year is a completely remote jury.  The real world awaits.  Well students?  It has been five years and it all comes down to this.  Did you earn your digital design manager degree or not?  It was time to find out. 

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NAIC at Night

To say that 2020 has been a bad year would be an understatement of epic proportions.  But hang in there everyone, we are more than two thirds of the way through this year and there are promising utterances of a vaccine on the way.  Still, this year will arguably go down as the single most memorable year in human history.  A world war was certainly terrible but thankfully it really was only fought in a few countries.  Covid-19 affected every single sector of human activity in every country, and that also includes cars.  It will shape the car industry for years to come.  It affected the product line, the design of cars, shared mobility and society overall.

The Product Line 

As human activity started to shut down in March, everyone felt the cash crunch.  Car sales around the world grinded to a halt.  Want an eye-popping statistic?  The 1.4 billion people in India bought a staggering zero vehicles in April 2020.  If your business case for a vehicle line was not strong before, COVID19 was probably the final blow.  Nobody is immune to this new reality.  Volkswagen has been on a tear to turn around its green credentials.  Prepare yourself for an onslaught of green ID vehicles of all sizes.  With Dieselgate and the COVID related cash crunch, VW is taking a long look at its luxurious (and polluting) portfolio.  The wildest rumour is that Rimac will take over its crown jewel Bugatti.  And nobody else in the VW empire is safe. 

Design Goes On 

Just recently General Motors issued an official statement: its staff will stay home until June 2021.  That certainly does not mean that design work stops.  And that has been true for all of the design studios around the world.  Sure, there has been contraction and furloughs worldwide, but the work has continued.  Automotive design has always been at the cutting edge of technology.  Why?  It costs billions to put a car on the road.  By investing heavily in technology, you maximize the chances of getting your product right.  Those technological investments certainly paid off.  With design studios all around the world, OEMs have long mastered conference calls, secure review rooms for 3D CAD reviews and virtual reality tools.  

The rest of this article continues on Formtrends.

The clock said 23h00 but at least I finished my bike. I got the materials, the lighting and the set ready. I clicked “render” and went home. I suspected it would take Alias a few hours to calculate the 1280 x 1024 image I asked for. I came back to the Tinkertoy building the next morning. In the computer lab I was greeted with evil stares and for good reason. When I turned on the monitor the computer was still rendering 12 hours later, completely hogging the machine.

A generation later, the same image is rendered in seconds. Welcome to the crux of the battle. Along with Hollywood and gaming, the automotive industry is one of the biggest spenders in computer graphics, a never-ending arms race in hardware and software. It costs billions to put a car on the road. Modelling a vehicle is only a small part of the battle. It is essential to visualise the design as fast and as accurately as possible, all along the design process. This process can be divided in three categories: real time, calculated images and animation.

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Corvette in Blender

If you have some time to kill on Google Street View, check out the original campus of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  If you go to this location, you’ll find the nicknamed Tinkertoy building.  The computer lab was on the third floor.  It was a mysterious room, hot, dark and full of very colourful computers.  I had never seen such computers before and for good reason.  Those were Indigo boxes made by Silicon Graphics.  They could cost you more than $50,000 apiece.  Only big companies and schools were able to afford them.  I attended my first 3D class with Alias more than 20 years ago at that location.  I logged in and for all intents and purposes I never logged out.  From my first class I was completely hooked on digital modelling.  I stumbled into a world that literally had no limits.  More than 20 years later, let’s have a look at the state of digital modelling.

 For the rest of the article, please go to Formtrends

The car gods have smiled upon us lately. In July General Motors unveiled the 8th generation Corvette in California. In September, Jaguar Land Rover took the wraps of the long-awaited Defender. Both cars are quite at opposite ends of the vehicular spectrum. Yet they are identical in one unique way: icons. It is an extraordinary dichotomous situation for the people in charge of those vehicles. It’s a great honour but it is quite a pressure cooker. Public expectations are sky high and some people will inevitably be pissed off. For every successful 911 there is an equal miserable failure (insert your own here). We’ll take a look at both and for good measure we’ll see how things turned out for a certain motorcycle.

 Example 1: The Defender of The Empire

The first Land Rover Series I rolled out of the assembly line way back in 1949. It was to the United Kingdom what the Jeep was to the United States: simple, rugged, unbreakable, an iconic versatile all terrain machine. A Series I was a gift to Churchill’s 80th birthday. The Queen was carried around in a “Landy”. She was even seen at the wheel of the Defender, the heir born in 1983. After a record 66 years the Solihull assembly line went quiet. Generic SUVs carried the Land Rover name yet everybody was waiting for a “true” Land Rover. Their wait was rewarded by design director Gerry McGovern. The new Defender strikes all the right tones. Like its forefathers it is a true off-roader, boxy with short overhangs on the outside. There is an honesty of purpose on the inside, with screws and IP beam tastefully exposed. And those white steel wheels are awesome. As a design it is a great continuation of the brand, with all the HMI you could ever need as a bonus

Example 2: A Promise Finally Kept

Coincidentally there have been 66 years of Corvette because of its formula: an aspirational 2-seater sports car with a big V8 upfront. However, its father Zora Arkus Duntov always wanted to make a true mid-engine sports car. There have been no less than 8 mid-engine Corvette studies. Physics finally caught up with the Corvette. 755h with the C7 ZR1, it was the end of the performance envelope for that formula. There also was another pressing matter: Le Mans. Corvette Racing won its class 8 times since 2001 but not since 2015. Outgoing design director Tom Peters said “design it for a ten-year-old” and the C8 delivered. There are some points of contention. The surfacing is quite busy at both ends. However, the inspiration from fighter jets is just striking in its side view. It can pack the requisite two golf bags and most importantly it remains aspirational: $60,000 for a mid-engine sports car that can keep up with a C7 ZR1. Watch out for a bonkers Z06 or ZR1 in the future. Oh, and that C8R definitely means business …

Example 3: The Sequel to Mona Lisa

Let’s throw back and finish with one of my favourite brands, Ducati. The 916 was one of the most iconic and most decorated motorcycles in the world. It won 6 world championships in its 8-year run (996 and 998 included). How do you replace the Mona Lisa of motorcycles? Chief designer Pierre Terblanche penned the 999 in 2003. The public reaction was definitely mixed. It was purposeful and clever. The 916 was sex on wheels, with its cat eyes, twin gun exhausts and exposed rear wheel. The 999 had stacked headlights, a conventional swing arm and a box for an exhaust. It did what it was supposed to do, 3 world titles in 4 years. Yet it failed to capture the public’s imagination. Look back at the first generation Multistrada. Along the 999 they both look like products. With a BMW badge it actually would not shock anyone. In 2007 Terblanche was gone and Ducati brought sexy back with the 1098. All the cues from the 916 were back. It was not as revolutionary as the 999 but it followed the design expectations set by the 916. It won two world titles in 4 years. All was right with the world again. Most importantly it also started a design streak at Ducati that is lasting to this day.

Conclusion

There will always be furious debates about cars and bikes. It is even worse when they are about iconic vehicles. In the age of social media, it can be downright nasty (ask Star Wars). The Defender and the Corvette face some unknowns ahead of them. Will the Corvette alienate its fan base? Lowering the demographic is a good idea for GM. Yet the boomers are the biggest buyers and some of them already said no. Also, mid-engine cars are exotic, coming from the likes of McLaren and Ferrari. Will potential buyers really cross shop a Corvette? For the Defender it has kept its off-road prowess. Yet it is a big truck and it will cost a pretty penny. Do people even go off road anymore? On the flip-side, is it going too soft by adding a plugin version soon? There will only be one way to know: sales. Look at what happened to the 999, a sales flop for sure right? The Ducati 999 actually outsold its predecessor 2 to 1 its first year (feat accomplished by the following 1098 as well). The 999 even increased Ducati’s market share in superbikes. The designs of the Corvette and the Defender have rightfully earned high marks. Yet the market will be the ultimate judge. The 999 design was vastly more polarising yet it sure got the job done. Maybe Terblanche knew what he was doing all along.

Porsche Taycan

2012 marked the introduction of the Model S. Tesla brought the long maligned electric car into the 21st century. It would no longer have an impractical range. It would no longer be a glorified golf cart. It would no longer look like a science experiment. And most importantly it became the “it” car. Wall Street and Hollywood embraced it in droves. There have been a lot of electric cars since but none of them really ever went toe to toe with the Tesla Model S. Until now. There have been multiple electric cars since. An E-Tron SUV? That looks ordinary next to a Model X. A Renault Zoe or a Chevy Bolt? Nobody cross shops a Tesla with either car (I know, I drive a Zoe). Enter the newly revealed Porsche Taycan. It took 7 years, an eternity in product development: that’s almost two product cycles. But it’s here and make no mistake: it’s a frontal assault Tesla. The Model S just met its most dangerous rival to date for three reasons:

It’s a Porsche – by design

The Mission E teased us and the Taycan delivered. It has stayed remarkably close to the concept car as a gorgeously designed sedan, unmistakably a Porsche. Its low profile has stayed away from the humpback look of its first generation Panamera sibling. The interior is easily identifiable as a Porsche as well yet resolutely futuristic at the same time. Count them: 4 screens! There are some really neat design features like the touch enabled charger doors on both fenders. Porsche has also taken batteries out behind the drivers so you get more foot room as rear passengers. Finally, it kept the very cool black and white wheels from the Mission E. 

It’s a Porsche – by engineering

There is one thing that Tesla does have over Porsche or anybody else: the supercharger network. Looking for places to charge can be challenging. Some chargers are iced, you have to join yet another charging club or it is simply too far to get to. And every time I have looked for a place to charge my car, I have stumbled upon a Tesla station. However, Teslas have been notoriously problematic. In the USA, Consumer Reports has taken both Model S and Model 3 off the recommended list. It is pointless to have a charging network if your car is always in the shop. By the same token Porsche knows how to build cars. It consistently tops customer satisfaction and initial quality studies in J.D. Power. Nobody will match Tesla in range. That’s because Porsche and Audi build their cars and their battery packs like a tank. You can make one prediction for sure: the Taycan will be well put together.

It’s a Porsche – get it?

Finally, you come to the real reason the Volkswagen Group chose Porsche over any other brand in its portfolio to really go after Tesla. Sure, there are other luxurious brands like Bentley, Lamborghini or Bugatti. Yet to quote one of the most famous marketing campaigns of all time about Porsche:

There is no substitute.

Yes, Tesla has its die-hard fanboys but Porsche fans have been at it a long time. Make this a very long time. Porsche won its first of 17 overall victories at Le Mans in 1970, a year before Elon Musk was born. It has won everything from the tracks of Formula One all the way to the sands of Dakar. They have their own celebrity collectors like Jerry Seinfeld or Magnus Walker. They have their celebrity tuners like RWB or Singer. Once upon a time (oh wait they still do it) people lined up around the block for days to be the first ones with the latest iPhone. The 1% has flocked to the Model S because it was an early adopter’s wet dream. It was the best technology could offer. It was green and it would make your neighbour in Chelsea very jealous. Soon those very same well-heeled customers will be offered a hugely enticing alternative to their Model S. Specs will not matter. Money will not matter. Having the “it” car will be the only thing that matters. Musk could not help himself and took his jab at the Taycan (and rightfully so: “Taycan Turbo”, seriously?). He also hastily arranged a Model S to claim back the Nürburgring lap time from Porsche, complete with a celebrity driver. When you are in a proxy fight one of the unspoken rules is to never acknowledge your opponent. Musk might have taken notice that in a very Tesla-like move, the first model year of the Taycan is basically sold out, and to a huge chunk of Tesla owners nonetheless. Maybe there is no substitute after all.

Back in 2014, we started sketch modelling something crazy. That was in the User Experience Studio at GM.  It was a bank of buttons that was floating in mid-air.  It bridged the console to the instrument panel. I never got to see the finished product. That’s because on Tuesday, August 5th 2014, I was on a one-way plane from Detroit to London.  Goodbye 12 years at General Motors, goodbye United States, and hello to a brand-new challenge with Tata Motors, cheers to the United Kingdom.  Monday August 11th was my first official day.  Five year later, it is now a perfect time look back at the five biggest takeaways from the last five years.

 The Upside Down – Part I

The first thing to absorb was the culture shock.  I grew up in France so I should not have been amazed by a more socialist society.  I was a teen without a worry in the world then. Now I was a family man. I knew all too well about the costs of medical coverage and education. In the UK our family uses the National Health Service. It’s cheap and efficient. I send my kids to public schools and the quality of their education has been great.  As my daughter enters secondary school there will be plenty of things to worry about.  A bulletproof backpack?  That will not be one of them.  There are a lot of great things about living in the United States.  If you are an entrepreneur the US sky has no limit.  We can debate for an eternity about socialised medicine and the Second Amendment.  At the minimum, five years away will make you think about the choices you make as a society.  I’ll leave it at that.

The Upside Down – Part II

In the United States you get your health benefits from your company.  Bigger companies typically get better coverage for medical / dental / vision for yourself and for your family.  You can start working at a car company as a contractor.  If you are good at what you do you will eventually be offered a permanent job.  And that’s a big deal.  In the United Kingdom it is the complete opposite and it took some adjustment as a manager.  Good contractors are hard to find. They are in demand and their pay rate can be higher than permanent employees.  And of course, health coverage is universal.  “Permies” receive paid holidays and other goodies on both sides of the pond. It is up to the individual to determine what best fits them. 

The Work

It has been, it is and it always will be about the cars.  In those five years Tata went through two iterations of Impact Design.  And our digital team was more than happy to contribute.  The EVision showed a compelling execution of a luxury car with Indian Design.  That was the beginning of our use of Blender in automotive design.  The 45X highlighted the first ever use of the parametric software Dynamo in automotive design.  It also previewed the production model Altroz.  And the H2X showed how a micro SUV could look tough.  Each car had its mission.  Each car had its different set of challenges.  And guess what: I enjoy challenges. The reward is to see our cars in the metal or featured in the likes of Car Design News.

 The Travel

It is one thing to help design cars for the Indian market when you are 4000 miles away.  It is another to be driven around a tuk-tuk at night in the middle of Pune. It’s not quite a scene from Octopussy but you get the idea. It was great to see how the cars we design were used in their natural environment.  It was also the unique treat to taste for yourself the richness and diversity of the Indian culture, from the temple of Dagdusheth Ganpati in Pune to the Gate of India in Mumbai.  I was also fortunate to travel across Europe: Amsterdam, Valenciennes, Munich and of course London.  If you fly one hour out of Detroit you are either still in the US or in Canada.  In that time in Europe it will take you to medieval times or to completely different countries. It sounds cheesy but it’s pretty cool.

 The Achievement & What’s Next

In the last five years I reached one of my professional goals.  It was great to check that off.  And in that quest, I started my journey to master of a new skill.  Even Ian Callum thinks it might be a good thing to have. I gave a speech in Amsterdam which was okay but it needed work.  So, I decided to do something about it.  I really got into public speaking with Toastmasters and that’s something I will keep doing in the future.  When I signed up more than two years ago, I did not know that it was going to be so handy so quickly. I had to present for work in France, in Germany and in the UK. In the last five years it is definitely the best skill I picked up for myself.

 Conclusion

In the end one thing remains: I am glad I made the change. Oh, the famous buttons made it to production in the 2020 Corvette C8. It would have been nice to be a part of it but there are no guarantees in life. Even in a booming economy GM had a massive round of layoffs just recently. Would I have been spared? I don’t know. Here’s what I know. I started writing this post from Battersea Park, a spectacular area of London.  I also know that my first day at Tata was the exact same day Detroit was drowned in a biblical flood. The entire neighbourhood I lived in for 9 years was under water.  I sold the house less than 2 weeks before…