“We’re able to sculpt forms digitally in almost the same way as we did with clay.”
Studio 2000x is a fully-fledged moviemaking animation department that’s buried deep in the bowels of Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
Jeffery (Jeff) Nowak heads a groundbreaking small group of dedicated Animators/Auto Designers who are playing an increasingly important role in product development at Ford and changing the way cars are created.
Jeffery Nowak talked recently about his unique line of work, while he was here attending the SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The conference attracts professionals worldwide from the computer graphics, visual effects, gaming, science, robotics and movie industries.
“Our animations are cinematic in that we try to convey the message within a product and express ‘the feel’ of that vehicle, as best we can,” said Nowak. “We’re trying to create a reality, before a reality actually exists, yet achieve a level of realism. We live for that challenge and it’s very exciting and rewarding, especially in the artistic pursuit.”
Designing a new automobile is a long and complex process that typically takes about two years, yet it still starts with a simple two-dimensional sketch. In the digital age, however, that sketch is done on a specialized computer tablet, as it’s easier and faster to then develop it into a 3D model. From there, an actual scaled-down clay or foam model can be produced. As they move ahead in this design decision phase, more complex 3D design themes are explored and eventually a full-size clay model is produced.
“What we’re seeing now is a whole new generation of tools that allow us to work more intuitively,” said Nowak. “The transition from hands-on sketching and hard clay sculpting tools to computer inputs was a challenge for some designers. Now we’re seeing a maturity of the technology to a point that these (digital) tools are becoming more like those organic tools again.
Before Ford commits to producing expensive full-scale models, a lot of animation work is now performed. “This is my world,” affirmed Nowak. “We build a lot of complex visual experiences to allow all stakeholders within our company (Ford) understand what the embodiment of that proposal is and hopefully galvanize a common view or understanding of what that theme represents.”
Animations created by the ten-person 2000x Studio team begin with a storyboard of proposed shots, just like a Hollywood or Disney movie. The images produced are in ultra-high definition, known as 4K, which is four times clearer than commercial high-definition imaging, as there’s intense attention to detail of all facets of the vehicle – exterior, interior, proportions, stance, etc.
“In addition to being a powerful internal communication tool, digital animation is also a great tool that we hand-off to our marketing organization,” said Nowak. “It also allows us to do more in the same amount of time. In the past, we might have only been able to do one design theme in a development time block. Now we can do ten, fifteen or even twenty design themes in that same time block.”
Jeffrey Nowak has been with the Ford Motor Company for eighteen years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in industrial design (transportation) from the College for Creative Studies. He holds more than 30 design patents with Ford Motor Company and is considered an industry leader in the field of computer-aided industrial design process and technology. And he’s a big admirer of movie director/producer Michael Bay, who is best known for the Transformers movie series.