ATSUGI, Japan – The clay modeling studio at the Nissan Technical Center in Japan is where imagination starts to become reality.
Until it lands a car is nothing more than lines on a designer's sketch. The job of the modeler is to interpret the ideas and to create the curves and angles of the new vehicle.
The first step is to make a number of quarter-sized models in clay, illustrating different design options and directions. Each is considered, and eliminated or approved, through a process of meetings, until the best are left to be produced full-size in clay.
Hiroshi Kato and Naoki Maekawa worked on the all-new Nissan Note. The bodywork that took shape under their fingers are familiar now around the world.
"I'm really proud to see the model on the road," said Maekawa. "If the person who rides in the model looks comfortable, it's really good."
Automobile manufacturers have been working with clay for decades, but now there are new tools in the design studio. Digital and clay modelers work side by side.
As the shapes are rendered on a computer screen, they are simultaneously produced in clay, turning a graphic into an object that can be touched and examined.
For the Nissan Note one goal was to use the design of the rear of the car and the detailing on the doors to make the car feel sporty.
It is many hours and days of work before the final touches can be put on the completed model. It is wrapped in a special plastic sheeting, covering the clay and making it look like painted metal.
The result is so convincing that if the model was placed in a car park no one would look twice.
For the clay modelers it's the end of another job in a career that mixes art and industry.
"There are two types of clay modelers here," said Maekawa. "One type is an engineer and one type is a sculptor. A sculptor can make it cool. I want to become a sculptor, I'm trying."
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