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?
The controls clip in above my knees. The door shuts. All the noise around me vanishes. I am in a cockpit all right. I am guessing you drive the thing but if you look around, the environment screams X-Wing (yes, I am mixing my movie references). Where am I? This is still Earth, a hotel lobby of all places. At the Munich Airport Hilton, the time is still May 2022 in the Gregorian calendar. Welcome to the annual Automotive Innovation Forum (AIF) hosted by Autodesk. In between demos and presentations, I was able to slide inside the cockpit of the Porsche Mission R. My inner geek is in heaven. For all my career I used to build and visualise cars with some fancy software. This time, I embarked into a vastly different journey. I was going to assist customers on how to better build and better visualize their vehicles (with said fancy software). I was going behind the curtains to see what happens when you start working for a software company. It has been more than 90 days, but it is my first impression all the same. Buckle up for my first 90 days on the new job, unlike any other before.
Fast forward to New Orleans. I am now attending Autodesk University in late September. About 9,000 people were on attendance. The main stage looked more like a rock concert than a software convention. This is when you appreciate on a visceral level how much horsepower is behind Autodesk. “So… Let me just download the latest software, I will be on my way”, or so I thought. Well not so fast. To onboard the machine, you must take it slowly. There is a lot of horsepower for sure and all the cogs of the machine are scattered around the world. Your Spanish and Irish teammates are in Germany. The development team is in North America. Don’t forget to reach out to some of the customer success managers in Spain or France. And of course, keep your manager in Belgium informed. For the rest, you can sort yourself out, for your travels or your IT equipment. It is a culture of self-service, but you never feel abandoned. You can use Teams, Slack, the Intranet. There is a wealth of information out there for you to address any issues you might have. For example, I was having issues with my new work phone, so I raised a ticket. Messages started to ping on Slack. A tech guy in San Francisco called me directly. Now that is a well-oiled machine.
When I started, my boss flew in from Belgium to the United Kingdom. My co-worker simply drove up. We all met in the Birmingham offices. The next time I saw them in person, it was in Munich at the AIF. A few weeks later, our team met in London. A few weeks after that, we were with the entire department in Barcelona. From home, from the office, on site, people assemble and meet as needed. Imagine you are the new guy, and you are trying to figure out who you need to talk to about an extremely specific issue. Let’s say I need to demonstrate the latest feature in the latest software. This is a microscopic part of a huge ecosystem. You have technical account managers and customer success managers for the clients. You have technical product managers for the business and the technology. Finally, developers and programmers handle the software itself as well as a lot of the support. Keep in mind that some of those individuals worked from home already before the pandemic. They are scattered in offices and homes all over Western Europe and the Americas over ten time zones. And all of them need to be aligned to deliver the best software experience to the customers. And without missing a beat, the work gets done. The entire orchestration is a remarkable sight.
In the past, I took my career development into my own hands. I would surf the Intranet looking for career resources and I would poke around at random. In one lucky instance, I finally generated a skills profile for myself. Unfortunately, that was years into the job already. Another time, there was leftover budget and it had to be spent. Here, it is a completely different story. I was encouraged to find a mentor right when I started. I was told I could become one as well down the line if I chose to. Within a few weeks I was getting emails about booking a coaching session. Within my first 90 days, I already had a work profile and one coaching session under my belt. The most striking aspect of my new position is the culture around its people. It is something that was given careful thought and consideration. There is genuine care about the people. Every person I met, from colleagues all the way to vice-presidents, have been very approachable, personable, and welcoming.
Ah Autodesk, we have been looking at each other for a long time. My first interview with that company was in Toronto in the previous millennium. And now, here we are. I described myself like a kid in a candy store when I started, and it is pretty accurate. It is easy for a nerd like me to stare at the toys and the galaxy of products in the Autodesk universe. Yet it is the culture of the company around its people that really struck me. Of course, the perks of the position are pretty cool. I gaze around the cockpit in total awe. I have the face of a 5-year-old who sits behind the wheel of a car for the first time. A minute or two later, I somehow get out of the very snug seat. That was cool all right, but it is nothing in comparison that what I could see behind closed doors… Our clients use our software in ways I did not know what possible or imaginable. Put it this way: my inner geek has not stopped being tickled. Cue the 5-year-old smile.