Author’s Note

The following story is 100% real. Pat’s real name is used preserve his/her privacy and anonymity.

Months of COVID lockdowns drove everyone insane but at last, home confinement was over.  I never thought I would miss shopping so much.  One of the workers in the store (Pat) recognized me and said hello.  We had met about two years before when Pat worked in the automotive industry. Not able to find more permanent work, Pat had to work retail. I flipped burgers before catching my own break, so I respected that. I was in a hurry but incredibly grateful for the great customer service, so I handed out a business card: “let’s catch up some time”.  Nothing happened until about a year later.  Pat was struggling about what to do and was asking for some advice because the situation had not changed.  I called Pat and we properly met up online.  I had an idea:

Me: “Still want to work in the industry?”

Pat: “Yes.”

Me: “How bad do you want it?”

Pat: “Really bad.”

Me: “Alright.  Let’s get started.”

Pat: “Really?  Great!  Thank you!  Get started on what?  Now???”

Me: “Yeah now.  Do you really want it or not?”

Pat: “I do.”

From that point on, I was Pat’s informal mentor for digital modelling.  The portfolio showed promise.  My pupil was enthusiastic, a good person who could use a break and I felt the urge to help.  It reminded me of my own situation more than 20 years ago.  In a way, I was paying it forward.  I brought it back to the basics of modelling like framing and filleting.  I found problems in the models and gave suggestions on how to solve them.

We hit the first bumps.  Even with a day job in the middle, the pace of work was too slow.  Something Pat said struck me: “I am a perfectionist”.  That can be symptomatic of a bigger more serious problem.  I kept repeating myself: “volume, volume, volume”.  The aim is to get the volume of a car done.  Anybody looking at it should recognize it even without all the minute details.  It is amazingly easy to get lost in a corner.  Keep moving and refine the big stuff before caring about the tiny radii.  Pat finished a car by Christmas, on to the next.

The main thing was to try and keep Pat motivated: “many things frustrate me”.  It had been such a long and upward struggle that frustration would be inevitable.  I could feel it in some of our exchanges. I also noticed a pattern, something that cannot be taught.  Every time Pat was down, I would get another email not long after: “I am happy with whatever you ask me to do”. Pat got down but got back up every single time. By April, there was another car in the portfolio.

The next one was going to be a surprise: Pat had to model a never seen before car (courtesy of a friend of mine).  “Ugly as hell” was Pat’s answer.  “That is your designer’s opinion.  You are my modeller and I need a model so let’s go” I replied.  A month later, there was a breakthrough: “congratulations, you have your first volume”.  Things were picking up.

Now Pat was about ready to send applications and about to experience what I call “the business from the business”.  I introduced Pat to various people in my network.  Pat even came to some of the public events I attended.  The rejections came fast and furious or worse, complete and total radio silence (yes, that business).  It had been a year since we started our collaboration, and the clouds were not breaking.  Asking for my advice, I wrote the following message:


“There are only two options. You can quit. If you had enough, honestly, I completely understand. Or you can grind it out.  Either way, know that I respect and support your decision. You’re the person in the arena.”

The predictable response came: “my decision was taken years ago…  I can’t give up.”

Things got better.  Pat made the final cut for some positions but was never chosen.  In June Pat decided to change things up and seek help with another professional, and I was fine with that.  I did not need convincing anymore. There was not much else I could do.

After a long year, Christmas break finally came and I was incredibly happy to wander the house in my PJs.  The phone rang and I had some thoughts: “first of all, someone is actually calling and not texting and second, who could it be two days before Christmas?”  It was Pat: “I accepted a fantastic job offer as a modeller. You are the first person I am telling”.  The frustration, the years of waiting, the sacrifices, the long hours of waiting or battling 3D models, it all finally paid off. We met up a few days later to toast. That made my Christmas. I am guessing it was a sweet one for Pat too.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Image Courtesy Autodesk

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.


F1 Interface Fundamentals

F2 Geometry Fundamentals

F3 NURBS Fundamentals

F4 Projecting, Intersecting, and Trimming

F5 Building with Curves & Surface Tools

F6 Aligning & Matching Surfaces & Curves

All this material can be traced back to the OG: Alias Workbench.

Image Courtesy Autodesk
Image Courtesy Autodesk

Don’t miss:

The Golden Rules.

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.  

Theory Builders

Once you have a good grasp of CV placement on curves, it is time to move on to surfaces. What the hell is curvature anyway? Read on and find out.

SubD modelling

Linkage Design has a great 8-part course on how to get started with SubDs.

Class A Modelling

The best tutorial I have seen out there is by Adrian Biggins. No wonder he was on my team back in the day.

Image Courtesy Autodesk

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.