I was asked this question so many times recently that it warranted a post. There are tons of great software out there you can use to get your creative ideas across. However, there is one big hurdle: production. Whatever software you use for form exploration, you might come to a point where you want to have your design built in real life, for either 3D printing, concept car or production. For speed, accuracy and the creation of production ready data, Alias is hard to beat. The question is: how do I learn? If you are a student, you could get yourself an industrial design degree. You could also get some specialized courses from some trusted partners like Symetri. If you want to do it yourself, you could go ahead and download the learning edition of Alias. Then, keep on reading!
Note: to download the course material below, I used Firefox because Chrome and Edge gave me some issues.
Learn the golden rules about control vertices (i.e. CVs). Everything derives from the proper use of CVs. It is a cascading effect. If your curves are not well drawn, the surfaces derived from them will not look good. It is vital to understand proper CV placement with the golden rules.
The best tutorial I have seen out there is by Adrian Biggins. No wonder he was on my team back in the day.
In conclusion, as you gathered by the amount of material included, Alias takes time to master. When people start learning Alias, they want to build a car right away. I was no different. The first car I ever built in Alias under the tutelage of Brian Baker was a car built with the chicklet method. Imagine flattened bread dough that I tried to shape into a vehicle. No, it was not pretty. Take my word for it, take the proper steps. If you do not learn Alias methodically you will not be successful. Crawl, stand then walk first. And when you can finally run in Alias, you will never look back.
Note: the information in this article is either publicly available or my own opinion.
Look at your phone. Now imagine a computer that is eighty times slower and about the same multiple bigger. I know what you are thinking: that is one obsolete piece of computing. On May 11th, 1997, that antiquity captured the world’s imagination. IBM’s Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov at chess. For the first time, computer programming beat human intelligence. And it only went downhill from there. The machines became exponential better. They beat us at increasingly difficult games like Jeopardy (IBM again with Watson) and Go (Google Deep Mind). They even pass bar exams. As I went through my presentation at the first ever online Creacion Forum, the anxiety about A.I. bubbled up to the surface with questions from the audience. Some of them barely got started in their careers and they were nervous: A.I. was coming for them.
A few years ago, computer made patterns were the rage all over my LinkedIn feed. Today it is Dall-E, Mid-Journey, or Chat GPT. Trends come and go but A.I. is something different. Siri landed on your phone a dozen years ago. It is sweeping all fields of human endeavours, everything everywhere all at once, just like the movie. Automotive design is one of its targets. Audi was the first to use A.I. in a design studio context to generate rim ideas with FelGAN. Other A.I. examples include generative design and machine learning. Both disciplines will play a key role in electric vehicles, with definitions given by Wikipedia:
Generative design is an iterative design process that generates outputs that meet specified constraints to varying degrees. In a second phase, designers can then provide feedback to the generator that explores the feasible region by selecting preferred outputs or changing input parameters for future iterations. Either or both phases can be done by humans or software. You can optimize weight and materials costs with this method.
Machine learning algorithms build a model based on sample data, known as training data, to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machines can learn how to make the most aerodynamic shape using this method. After thinking about it, here is my idea (for free, you’re welcome). Feed A.I. a clay scan and a matching 3D Alias model. After a while, it might learn how to build a model without human input and turn it around in minutes.
Where is all this leading to? A.I. is a huge weapon but like any weapon, it needs to be calibrated and aimed properly. In meetings with students this year, they already generate sketch alternatives with A.I. It is out of the box; you might as well embrace it. Much like today, the use of technology will be on a sliding scale. A design director like Matt Swann can use accessible A.I. like Midjourney with spectacular results.
As you get more technical, people will use it to write scripts, to produce patterns or to automate tasks. As demonstrated by Nick John, modellers will be able to extract basic 3D math from the A.I. sketches to start their 3D models. As we get more technical other users will optimize weight or aerodynamics. If you want to accelerate design cycles, those activities will need to be concurrent to or integrated with design. I predict a new form of I.T. will be in place within the studio to support all those creative activities. For those young people worried about their jobs, it might generate careers for them that are not even being thought of today. Ten years ago, nobody heard of a “parametric modeller”.
To go back to the chess analogy, there are now championships that allow the use of computers. Computers crunch the possibilities while humans direct strategy: that is the key. You calibrate and aim. The choices and the possibilities are endless. That might lead us to a vastly different conundrum: what if there is too much choice?
“Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city, near Picadilly
Don’t really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone”
One Republic – Good life
The music comes to a stop, and I hear my name, pronounced with great Italian flair. That is my cue to walk on stage. I can hear my heart beating in my chest. I am not even looking in the crowd. If I did, I would realize that at this very moment, the eyes of the entire car design were on me. As seen in countless award shows, I softly announce “and the award goes to”. After seeing enough award shows go wrong, I made sure with our host James McLachlan that I had the correct name on the envelope. Six hours earlier, I was sweating over the major train delay that might keep me stuck in Germany. Yet somehow, there I was on stage in London at the Car Design News People Awards. After a few laughs in the audience, I announce the winner for Best Exterior Lighting Team sponsored by Autodesk, Skoda. Cue the claps, the handshakes, the award handover, the accolades, the pictures. I casually walk off stage, smile and marvel at this one fact: “how did THAT happen?” It boils down to three things: ask, observe and be there.
If you want something, did you ever think that the best way to get it is to simply ask? Let us travel in time to illustrate. The French have an incredibly special sentence when you go down in flames asking a girl out: “tu t’es pris un rateau”. You got yourself a rake. In the head or in the gut? Unlike you are Bruce Willis, no one knows. Either way, it hurts (emotionally speaking). As a young teen, I was a jedi gardener. Like many teenage boys, it was a horror show trying to get acquainted with the opposite sex. This rite of passage was an ugly spectacle, cringe worthy, sad, and everything else in between. Today I look back with zero regrets. At least I asked. Fantastically enough, there have been some wonderful times when I did go out with the girl, and it was magical. I even asked a beautiful woman on a dare once (ask my wife about that). Back to more recent times, I was travelling round trip from Birmingham to Germany to meet some clients. I learned that Autodesk was going to have a table at the event. I simply asked my boss if I could change my travel plans to attend and he said yes. That is all it took. Here is a first tip for you. You will never really know unless you ask.
For the last six years I have trained as a public speaker with Toastmasters, and I could not believe my luck. I was going to get a free professional level lesson from a 2-time BAFTA winning actress and comedian no less! Ronni Ancona was the MC of the evening, and she was on fire, right from her intro monologue. In my mind, I put myself back at one of our Toastmasters meetings, as I was dissecting and analyzing her speech. She was funny, brilliant, coordinated with the current news events, and with the perfect dose of edge (ask Patrick Le Quément). Preparing your speech is half the battle. You could tell she researched her audience. She caught on early that the designer population was a very well dressed and flamboyant bunch. I would like to thank her for pointing out Pontus Fontaeus’ shoes (they were glorious, you just had to be there). Her quip about black turtlenecks was a line that kept on giving. Her auto-scroll notes were not working but as a seasoned pro she carried on with the evening without missing a beat until it got fixed. Sit back and listen. That is all I had to do to enjoy this public speaking masterpiece by a pro. Here is a second tip. Observe. There is awesome stuff that constantly unfolds before your very eyes.
“That’s why we line up on Sunday”. Those are the immortal words of the late MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden. Anything can happen in a race, said the beloved American. All that is required of you is to get out of the house and show up. And that is the third piece of advice: just be there. When I was stressing out about being a decent father, my wife said that the most important thing was to be there every day for the little things. She was right. When I interviewed for my last manager job, I only found out later that my odds of getting the job were long. I was only the third choice for the position. For several reasons, both candidates ahead of me dropped out. I showed up and the job was mine. That night in London, I just wanted to enjoy the evening and to reconnect with some old friends. My co-worker Phil was supposed to hand out the award. He and I were texting each other all day as we raced to get to London. My train in Germany was delayed but I miraculously still made my flight. Racing from Heathrow in the London underground, I got to the event when dinner started. Phil got stuck in Manchester because of the strikes. If we go by what Ronni said in her speech, he got the full British experience. And just like that, I was asked to hand over the award.
How do you make your life better? There is no shortage of advice out there. You can find gurus to help you. They will flip your life upside down. They will transform you (and it will cost you). The self-help market size will go north of ten billion dollars in the next few years. If I learned anything in life, tremendous changes in our lives do not have the biggest or longest lasting impact. How many people assault the gym in January only to end up back on the couch in February? It is the cumulation of tiny steps that add up to transformational changes. Eat one less cookie. Skip a drink one night of the week. Walk one more block with the dog. Be grateful, one more minute. Ask. Observe. Show up. Those are my three free pieces of advice for you. You will be amazed how much richer life can be.