Step-by-step guide on entering a car design school

Hi- blog founder Lee here! If you are reading this in application season- good news! We have some advice for you. I will be offering some additional comments on this article (written by contributor Marco Braun. I spent many years on the other side of this process- as head of a Vehicle Design bachelor course, interviewing and selecting candidates. Some of the students I selected and taught now work for major OEM studios, such as Rolls Royce, Polestar, Volvo, Maserati and Koenigsegg. They also went on to complete Masters level courses to achieve this. I like to think I have a good instinct for candidates- and yes, there will always be human beings on the other side of every process such as this. It is never just by the numbers!

info about where I taught: Lahti Institute of Design

Lee

In this article, I will tell you all about the experience of studying transportation design. I myself was lucky enough to study at one of the world’s best universities for car design. However, many may not be lucky due to financial constraints. This is why I wrote this chapter. I will give you a complete overview of how to enter a car design school. After the chapter, you will know exactly how to enter the education program of an automotive designer and what really matters. You can set your priorities in your own design studies and adjust your skills. In this way, you will push your career towards becoming a professional car designer.

Where to study?

Where is the best place to study car design? Nowadays it is possible to study car design anywhere in the world. Whether it is in Brazil or India, talented car designers come from all over the world. The internet also makes it possible to learn online. On Instagram and Simkom you can see the status quo that should be achieved. However, there are still a few car design schools with an excellent reputation. The most successful car designers are graduates of those universities.

  1. Art Center College of Design The Art Center College of Design has been a leader in art and design education for nearly 75years.
  2. HFG PforzheimThe Pforzheim School of Design (Germany) is part of thePforzheim University of Applied Sciences. It is very competitive in terms of artistic aptitude
  3. CCS – College for Creative StudiesThe College for creative Studies is one of the leading arts education institutions. It offers courses in, Product Design and Transportation Design.
  4. Royal College of Art The Royal College of Art is the world’s most influential postgraduate institution of art and design. Find out about courses, research and innovation here.
  5. Strate, School of Design Top tier ranking of the best car designschools in the world.

Note, it is not important where you study, but what you make of it. It is beneficial to study at one of these schools because they are well known and attract many talented students. Also, they maintain close contact with major car companies. However, strict eligibility for admission, financial constraints or other personal reasons sometimes make it impossible to study at one of these schools.

If you don’t have the opportunity to go to such a school, I can tell you this: To become a successful car designer, the choice of university is only of little importance. Self-motivation and the unconditional will to work on one’s skill is more crucial.

For example, a former fellow colleague of mine failed 3 times in the artistic preselection exam in Pforzheim. After that, he tried the exam again even though it was forbidden to take more than 3 attempts. He failed. Then he studied interior design in an average design school and completing his studies, got a job as an exterior designer at a famous car manufacturer in Germany. He only managed to do this because he was determined to become a car designer.

On the other hand, for example, many of my fellow students were busy doing other things alongside their studies. Some spent a lot of time on hobbies, others worked part-time. They didn’t focus 100% on their design studies. They fell by the wayside later and couldn’t find an internship or job. Therefore, it is not important where you study, but what you do with your studies. Many roads lead to Rome.

Excellent advice and a good chapter here Marco. I will add:
Yes, it is true it does not matter where you study design, or even if you study car design as a specialist subject at all. All good design degrees can and should produce potentially good car designers. I also know car designers who did not study at all, that do not even have a bachelors degree! Most of the skill has to be self-taught, and certainly it requires a lot of self-motivation. There is however, one hugely important contribution that “famous” schools will add to your potential for success- and that is connections. It really is a matter of who you know in life, and the best schools collaborate closely with, are visited by, and are known intimately by other car designers and the studios they work in. There are truly excellent design schools (for example Steiglitz Academy in Russia) which are not listed here- but which strived to maintain close links with industry through alumni. The alumni network of a school is the most important factor for you in choosing where to study. One of the best Masters courses in the world right now is at Umeå University in Sweden- and I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking to study car design. Local connection with Volvo/Polestar but globally many other OEM studios make them a great choice.

Lee

How to apply?

The application to a design college consists of 3 steps. First, the submission of the art portfolio. After the portfolio has been pre-selected, the artistic exam takes place. At the end a personal interview.

Art portfolio

If you are applying to a design school, you will need an artistic portfolio. Please gather information about the requirements of the respective university about like size, number and content that they require. Basically, it’s about showing your drawing skills and an interest in technical and artistic subjects. When creating your art portfolio, you need technical drawings such as objects and products AND also artistic drawings like drawings of people, hands etc. The goal is not only to show your passion for cars or industrial designs but also, to present your various artistic interests. Paintings, graphics or cartoon drawings do not belong in an art folder. You may decide to put in something like that, but only a few, to show the breadth of your abilities. From numerous portfolio discussions and preparation courses in which I have participated, I want to show you what really matters. The skills that should be shown in your artistic portfolio are also the basic skills for any car designer. Before you start studying car design, you should master those skills.

Here are some examples that you can use as a guide.

When you draw, you have to think about form as you want your drawings to show some volume. When you practice this, don’t stress the quality. Draw a lot, and quickly. Quantity over quality in this case. Take large-format drawing sheets and fill the whole sheet with sketches. Draw the same object several times in different views and perspectives.

Remember that it’s not about painting beautiful pictures. To paint beautiful pictures, you need two resources: patience and time. Maybe your grandma likes those paintings, however, if you want to develop a good understanding of form, it is useless. What you should also be doing is deconstructing objects. Think of each object as if it were made up of simple forms.

Seeing and grasping the forms correctly must be learned. The best way to learn this is to draw real objects. Do not use photos but use products in your environment. Why? The challenge is to transfer a three-dimensional object onto a two-dimensional canvas. Photographs have already anticipated this step.

You can also look at a real object from all sides and touch and feel it. You can turn and twist to be able to completely understand it three-dimensionally. Also, draw the object as if it were made of glass. Draw it in a transparent state and draw the hidden lines.

Pay attention to perspective and proportion. If the basic structure of your drawing is not stable, everything will fall apart visually and appear awkward. Therefore, pay attention to the correct perspective and proportion. Learn to study the relationships and distances between the individual shapes and transfer them to your drawing.

Qualifying Examination

After the portfolio has been pre-selected, the artistic exam takes place. The test differs from school to school. At the university in Pforzheim, it lasted one day. I was sitting in the same room with other competitors while we were working on several tasks. The first assignment was a still life that had to be drawn in 1 hour and 30 minutes. The next task required drawing a scenario out of the imagination, like an airport operation or a rush hour in the morning. A third task related to the specific subject is “automotive design”. In my exam car seats were brought in, which required to be drawn descriptively. Descriptively means to draw in perspective and from different views and angles.

If you pass the exam the first time, do not hang your head. It is not uncommon for the university to test whether you have stamina and can meet the high demands of the course.

Expert Discussion

After the exam, you will have an individual or group interview with the tutors. They will check your subject-specific general knowledge related to automobiles/automobile design. They will ask basic questions such as, “name three famous automobile designers” or “what is ABS”. Here you should show that you are enthusiastic about an automobile and motivation making it clear that you are the right one for the program.

braunmarco.com

The actual application process varies a lot- as Marco rightly pointed out. The advice here regarding drawing of 3D form is excellent- as that is what all designers are judged on. Often, young people mistake a portfolio to mean a list of achievements, or artworks that took the most time. Effort is not the key metric or measurement used by design schools to judge you. Quality and understanding of the world is. A portfolio of photography for example- is not going to get you into a car design school. Lastly- what is termed “expert discussion” here usually takes the form of an interview. This is sometimes a group, but often a one to one chat- and for example in my own process of selecting Vehicle Design candidates this was one of the most crucial steps. Attitude, knowledge, previous skills, or just simple enthusiasm for design- are all assessed in minutes during any interview. Interviewers are trying to asses your potential and motivations- not just your knowledge. Personally I value wide knowledge, travel, reading, and broad observations of the world as these are what make a good designer in any genre. I also asked questions that are not as related to cars as Marco has explained. A good school will seek this type of student. Be wary of narrow- technical questions- this is perhaps indicative of German engineering based thinking, but other schools may have a much more open approach. Most importantly, always be yourself in interviews- do not try to speak or act in a way that you think the interviewer wants you to. If a car design school does not select you- maybe it was difficult for the interview to see your potential or maybe you are just not ready yet.. It really is a case of 110% commitment and determination- and if you are not in that frame of mind yet, don’t give up. Lastly, don’t worry too much about schools, because when you are ready for this career- the industry will know it better than any school.

Lee

Proportion of a CITY CAR

The purpose of this tutorial is to give you an idea of how to best start a new project in the world of automotive design. Both beginners, students and even professionals feel the same difficulties whendrawing a car type that they have never drawn before.

The purpose of this tutorial is to give you an idea of how to best start a new project in the world of automotive design. Beginners, students, and even professionals alike experience the same difficulties when drawing a car type that they have never drawn before. 

Before starting a project, it is very helpful to know the basic proportions and hardpoints of the object. Familiarize yourself with the package and proportions first.

This example should encourage you to analyze the basic proportions of different vehicle types.

Mazda2


Always focus on the side view first. The side view contains all the necessary information you need to draw a car. After internalizing the basic proportions, it will be easier for you to get results since the basic architecture is correct. 

For the purpose of this tutorial, let’s assume you need to design a city car. In the first picture below, you see the same car but with different proportions. Their overhang, wheel size, and cabin-to-body ratios are different.

The car can be built or designed like these. Nevertheless, between the two designs, the upper one is more convincing. This is mainly due to the cabin-to-body ratio. To avoid the mistake made in the second design and prevent other errors, take a close look at the proportions.

First, try to find out the length and height of the car. To find the correct wheelbase, it helps to take one wheel as a base unit. Now you can guess how many wheels fit between the front and rear axle.

Also, you can see that the overhang of the front and rear is about half a wheel. The rear is a bit shorter. The height is slightly more than one wheel.

In the next step, try to get a sense of the cabin-to-body ratio. This knowledge is extremely important as most cars are roughly made out of two boxes, which are the cabin and body. You should know in what ratio the upper box (cabin) is set on the lower box (body). You will never go wrong assuming a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio. Whether you are drawing a side view or a perspective view, you should pay attention to it.

The roofline of a car is usually not straight but follows a dynamic curve. The head of the occupants usually determines the peak of the curve. To find the location of the roofline, it helps to draw a straight line down and see in what proportion the line intersects the ground line.

Next, look at the shoulder. You will notice that almost every automobile has a certain angle. This gives the whole car a forward motion and makes it look dynamic even when it is not moving. You can emphasize this angle sometimes more and sometimes less. 

Now, you can also check where the front light and the rear light are positioned. If you draw a vertical line from the beginning of the light downwards, you’ll see that it overlaps the front and rear wheel.

Another important point is the position of the A-pillar. It gives you information about the angle of the windshield. If you extend the A-pillar, you see that it is tangent to the front wheel. The door joint is usually located where the A-pillar begins. In this case, slightly offset behind the front wheel.

After completing the steps above, you’ll have an approximate skeleton of the car. When drawing your design on this skeleton, you will always hit the right proportions. 

Now, you have all the information needed to start drawing your own car. If you follow this tutorial, you can be sure to meet the basic package and technical requirements of designing a vehicle with the right proportions. This will make your sketch look convincing and realistic.

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Pick up Truck in 5 days

In this tutorial, you will learn how to create a complete pickup truck design in 5 days!

As a student, it has always been a great challenge for me to create a design proposal from three different views. Not only must the same idea be presented from three different perspectives, but all three views should also have the same proportions, colors, etc. For me, that has always been very challenging, and it still is today.

In this example project, I want to show you the process of making a complete vehicle proposal in less than one week. You will learn how to make a complete car design proposal that contains three views at a reasonable time. This ability is essential for working in the auto industry, where it is important to deliver qualitative results in a short time. 

In this tutorial, I will use a very easy way of CAD: just using lines without creating 3D surfaces. This saves time and can be performed even without much CAD knowledge. This is a special technique, and it is not a rule to be followed, but it should give you an idea of how to speed up our design process. It’s very helpful for beginners as well as professionals. 

Now, if you follow the steps below, you can design a full pickup truck proposal in less than one week.

Day 1

Having a good side view is essential since all further steps will be built on this side view. Before this step, draw some side views and select an idea. This side view is the base and is more important than anything else. When you start a new project, focus only on making the side view. Don’t care about the front and rear ideas yet. Not a single perspective drawing is necessary. 

In this step, pay special attention to the right proportion and balance. This can take some time, so don’t rush. Choose a reference to get the overall dimensions right. Just use a real car image from the internet as a base. After correcting the proportion and balance in Photoshop, refine the shapes and paint in some color. 

Day 2

Now that you have a good side view, it is time to go into 3D. Do not generate real 3D surfaces, but instead, focus on a line model. Use a free version of Autodesk Alias, as it is a common program in the automotive industry. Upload your sketch in the software and trace the lines. When retracing the lines in 3D, try to stay as close as possible to the original sketch. Be very accurate and do not change anything. 

After you have drawn the lines on a 2D plane, pull them into a 3D space. To get the right dimension for width and certain curvature, it is helpful to use an already existing 3D model as a base. Or if you can’t find a suitable one, just use a blueprint. A good source of free 3D models is Grab.com. It is always good to have templates to guide you.

Day 3

After you are satisfied with the line model, you can choose three views. You should choose views that describe your design in the best possible way.

Do not over-dramatize your view. Rather, try to take a view that conveys the most information to the viewer.

Take a screenshot and increase the contrast to make the lines more visible. Print them out on real paper and choose a size that makes it comfortable for you to sketch.

Now, you can start drawing an idea for the front and rear of the vehicle. When sketching, do not waste so much time. It is ok when some areas in the sketch remain empty.

Day 4&5

Next, it’s time to scan your sketches and load them onto Photoshop. Now the advantage of this technique becomes apparent. You no longer have to worry about proportion, balance, or perspective because all the information is already included in the line model based on the side view from step one. That saves you a lot of time. 

You can now invest this time in making a cool rendering. If you are not completely satisfied with your design yet, do not try to change. Try to finish your design and bring it to an end. If you’ve executed the steps correctly, congratulations! You have finished a complete pickup truck design in less than one week!

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Step-by-Step Rendering of a Sports Car

This is a step-by-step tutorial that will teach you how to create a digital car rendering yourself.

We start by clarifying what a good basis for each rendering is and how best to start. Next, we will use a digital brush to define the shapes. In the end, we will apply reflections and details to get an outstanding result.

1. Creating the sketch base

One of the most important tips for a successful rendering is to have a good and solid base. By “base,” I mean a hand sketch, digital sketch, or line model. If you don’t have a base, things can get complicated and frustrating. So do not explore shapes without a solid sketch base, simply because it’s easy to lose yourself and waste time. 

After you’ve created a base, at this point, the actual design process and shape development has already taken place. The rendering is a more detailed illustration that helps make a visually appealing presentation, which, in turn, helps sell the proposal to the customer.

2. Defining the surroundings

Before the coloring process, you should be roughly aware of what your surroundings look like. It helps to prepare a scene to roughly visualize your thoughts. It’s not necessary to do this every time, but it helps you understand what’s going on. 

In the example below, there is a primary light source coming near the front of the car, there is a wall behind the car in an outside environment, and the sun is shining. So, we should somehow transfer this scene to our reflections.

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3. Blocking out

In this step, we divide the car into three different blocks. This helps you visualize the different materials later.

Divide the vehicle into the main body, greenhouse, and grill and wheels. 

Then, create paths with which you get a sharp edge and an overall clean look. Select the path and fill it out with a base color.

Cut out the wheels from the original sketch and transform them a little bit. Make them elliptical and correct their position. 

Once this step is done, half the rendering is done. You can’t go wrong anymore.

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4 & 5. Shading

In this step, try to describe the shape using different gray values. The rule is: Whenever the value changes, the shape also changes. 

Try to use the correct values. The rendering will look unrealistic if you use the wrong values. If you want to know more about the topic, I definitely recommend Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling’s book “How to Draw,” in which they explain the fundamentals of light and shadow.

By the way, never choose white as your brightest value. It will not work. We will only paint certain spots white at the end when we use the color dodge tool in Photoshop to really highlight certain areas.

6. Adding reflections

Don’t draw a photorealistic render here. The reflections should be designed as simply and effectively as possible. It will be helpful to check the surfaces. 

In the example mentioned earlier, the car is in front of a wall. That information should show in your reflection. Moreover, all surfaces that point upwards should reflect the sky. And don’t forget the greenhouse. If you want to create lighting effects, simply use the color dodge tool.

7. Adding details

Details take a lot of effort and time. If you don’t make an effort in this step and don’t invest time, the details will often just disturb and not help your rendering. I definitely recommend adding details because they help the rendering a lot and make it much more attractive to the viewer. 

In order to create details quickly and effectively, I suggest using real photos. Use a photo of an existing car’s grill, and you’ll save time. Also, add some mirrors.

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Happy Yuletide Holiday!

Cheers!

Happy holidays to you all! I have an interesting treat for you on this Xmas holiday. I often mention that my very full time career means a lot less posts appearing here. During 2021 an interesting solution to this appeared – in the form of another contributor. I was very pleased to be contacted by a talented vehicle designer called Marco Braun. Marco offered to write a few guides to car design that complimented my own. Today I publish these guides in a festive gift bundle! I ask that you also check Marco’s own web portfolio and contact him if you are interested in working with Marco! Marco was one of the designers responsible for the recent Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept car and I am very pleased to have his expert contribution to this blog.

braunmarco.com

Marco Braun is an expert in the field of Automotive Design. In February 2017, he graduated with a B.A. in Transportation Design from the University of Pforzheim. In the past, Mr. Braun has worked on experimental concepts, advanced, competition, and production design for the Lexus and Toyota brands, in Tecno Art Research, a design studio in Nagoya-shi, Japan. Since the start of my professional education, it has been my vision to play a part in the development of transportation and mobility designs of the future.
E-Mail
info@braunmarco.com
Video

Despite the Mirai… Toyota do have talented designers.

Watch professional car designer Ian Cartabiano create and destroy his ultimate sports car in five minutes from his studio located at Toyota’s Calty Design Research Incorporated in Southern California.

Thanks to Car & Driver for the video.

always be sketching

These wonderful archive drawings, from the design process of the 1973 Pontiac Grand-Am, show just how little the car design process has changed and also reveals the art that was traditionally kept secret. The information age that we now live in means it’s much more common to see design drawings in press released information. The art of automotive design drawing really has a unique aesthetic of it’s own, with perhaps a slight US vs Europe variation. US designs still follow the gloss airbrush style, while Europe was the land of product designers and their Cool Grey blocking markers. There was and always will be crossover though- as one of these Pontiac marker sketches shows.

Hit the link under the image, for the full gallery thanks to Dean’s Garage.

thanks to deansgarage.com

Early ’70s rendering of the ’73 GTO/Grand Am by Geza Loczi

deansgarage.com  73-gto/grand-am-renderings