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Daniel Simon's Cosmic Motors
 
 
Posted: Dec 01, 2007
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya
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The Area:
Hello Daniel Simon. When I had a chance to flip through your book COSMIC MOTORS the first time, I was simply blown by the images and their simplicity. And yet everything had a sort of preciseness and accuracy to them. Straight away you know they are more than just a concept, they look like actual functioning machinery. I wanted to see more and know more, and now I have the chance to actually talk to their creator.

For everyone else who may be seeing your work for the first time, could you please give us a little background about yourself.
Daniel Simon:
Hi AREA, thanks for having me here!
I am a senior car designer from Germany, 31 years old. I have always had the desire to explore design beyond production packages. So, I started blending my car design work with influences from the entertainment design field. This process is highly creative and addictive. The results are retro-futuristic, yet believable vehicles. I ended up doing that almost on a daily basis now and think about creating a business around it. The first result is the book COSMIC MOTORS.
Book cover, Cosmic Motors, Design Studio Press, Release Dec. 2007, 176 pages, English German; Born Digital, Release Dec.2007, 176 pages, Japanese, German. 800x1045

Image Description: Book cover, Cosmic Motors, Design Studio Press, Release Dec. 2007, 176 pages, English German; Born Digital, Release Dec.2007, 176 pages, Japanese, German.

The Area:
How is it that you come to designing cars -- of this world and of another?
Daniel Simon:
I am a petrolhead! Cars and vehicles are highly technical objects, but still able to create emotions in peoples' mind! That's unique. I have always been fascinated by that -- mostly cars and all other vehicles that have noisy engines, smell like fuel and travel at risky speeds. Designing them is the ultimate freedom -- whatever you have in your mind, you can bring it down on paper and share it with people. That's a fantastic feeling!
The Cosmic Motors GRAVION. An extreme turbine racecar with asymmetric, rotating cabin. 900x361

Image Description: The Cosmic Motors GRAVION. An extreme turbine racecar with asymmetric, rotating cabin.

The Area:
What did you want to be growing up?
Daniel Simon:
Mhm, I guess at first a truck driver and later on, a sailor. When I was seventeen, I decided on becoming a car designer and invested every minute in that dream.
The Area:
Where did the passion for drawing begin?
Daniel Simon:
In my childhood, I was constantly surrounded with drawings and began drawing at the age of two years old. My dad is an engineer, so at home we always had tons of paper and technical drawings flying around – it was a perfect environment for sketching! And my mum bought me any pen I wanted. As a teenager, I took special drawing classes after school, very artistic and traditional though.
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Original book spread. Design sketches for the Cosmic Motors CAMARUDO Sport Podster. Originally a fighter, it was turned into a sports vehicle. 900x640

Image Description: Original book spread. Design sketches for the Cosmic Motors CAMARUDO Sport Podster. Originally a fighter, it was turned into a sports vehicle.

The Area:
How long have you been working with the 2D medium before starting to integrate 3D elements into your work?
Daniel Simon:
At design studies I never paid attention to 3D classes, I almost hated it! The designs I saw looked stiff and lacked emotions big time. And some students tried to compensate their poor sketching skills with cheesy-3D renderings and lens flares. I didn't see any appeal in 3D software and went back to my sketch pad. That was around 1999. Only in my later job at Volkswagen in Spain did I meet talented 3D artists … and the technology had evolved too. I finally saw the potential and grabbed my Alias modeler's computer during his lunch break and studied the user manual. My first 3D model was built at the end of 2003 in Alias 9.0 – it was the tea pot from the user guide, and I ended up toggling it around for hours – I was addicted!
Design process of the Cosmic Motors DETONATOR bike. From design doodles, to simple 3D volumes, to fully detailed 3D in AliasStudio. 900x640

Image Description: Design process of the Cosmic Motors DETONATOR bike. From design doodles, to simple 3D volumes, to fully detailed 3D in AliasStudio.

Rear view of the Cosmic Motors DETONATOR, a magnum-sized street-cruiser bike with a V8 engine.  Autodesk (formerly Alias Systems) used this image as a splash screen and it became quite known. 900x640

Image Description: Rear view of the Cosmic Motors DETONATOR, a magnum-sized street-cruiser bike with a V8 engine. Autodesk (formerly Alias Systems) used this image as a splash screen and it became quite known.

The Area:
How did you start with computers? What type of apps did you first start playing with?
Daniel Simon:
My first computer was the lovely C64, I spent weeks hacking in basic programs line-by-line. Around 1992, I upgraded to the Amiga 500, mainly to edit music. In 1999 it became serious – I spent all my money on a Pentium tower with a heavy 19" screen. At that time it was hip to scan your hand drawings and perform a fancy layout with text and graphics in Photoshop 5.0 for presentations.
The Area:
What was the first auto company you worked for and what did you do?
Daniel Simon:
In car design industry, your studies and the real world employment blend together. The first studio where I passed the magic security doors was in 1999 in the main VW studio, where the Bentley Hunaudières show car was assembled at the time. What a first contact!! My first real paycheck I got from the Europe Design Centre in Sitges, working on concept cars for Volkswagen and Bugatti. We went through the regular process again and again – sketch ideation on paper, package development, sketch design phase with colored renderings, quarter-scale model building with clay, digitalization and milling in full size for further development or car shows. A rollercoaster ride between ambitious project kick-offs and exhausting all-nighters before presentations -- daily business in concept studios and big fun. And GT battles on the cafeteria's Playstation, of course.
 900x361
The Area:
Coming from the automotive design background, what software is primarily used for average day-to-day tasks?
Daniel Simon:
From my experience in various studios -- for the design process, it's mostly AliasStudio, for 3D sketching and sophisticated surfacing. That became a standard in car design. Later down the line, ICEM Surf kicked in. Data transfers to engineering are easily done by IGES formats, mostly to Catia or ProEngineer. Lately, real-time visualization has become a big thing. And more and more young designers sketch digitally, with Wacoms on Photoshop or SketchBook, and achieve amazing sketch quality.
Original book spread. A top view with a pilot of the CAMARUDO and a cockpit detail shot. Notice the rather old-fashioned switches and gauges to relate to it in size and function. 900x640

Image Description: Original book spread. A top view with a pilot of the CAMARUDO and a cockpit detail shot. Notice the rather old-fashioned switches and gauges to relate to it in size and function.

The Area:
What is the workflow process for your images, to make their transformation from 2D into 3D, and how does that compare to working in car design studios?
Daniel Simon:
Everything starts on paper. Sketching is my big passion. But once I see something with potential, I sketch it as soon as I can in AliasStudio with simple volumes. I basically proof my own pencil sketch. At that stage, I already have figures in the scene for scale reference. Rather than using draft views to start 3D, I prefer to simulate on screen (in perspective mode with toggle shade) the key sketches and renderings I have on paper. If the volume sketch translates the feeling of what I have on paper, I start precise surfacing. Sometimes, for my entertainment, I detail one piece of the vehicle while the rest of the model is still in design process...so there I lose a little efficiency for the sake of fun!

In car design studios, it's very different. Your digital design time is only one part of a very complex workflow of engineering, design, tooling and model crafting – all of it could happen in parallel. So your work becomes less artistic in comparison. Data is shared and exchanged all the time, and over on the designers' screen, many things happen in draft or section views, putting lines over package drawings and fighting for line tension over hard points.
Work in progress for a CAMARUDO rendering. All renders are done in mental ray through Maya. 900x640

Image Description: Work in progress for a CAMARUDO rendering. All renders are done in mental ray through Maya.

Volume model of the CAMARUDO in AliasStudio. Most details are truly modeled, so as to not rely on texture mapping. 900x539

Image Description: Volume model of the CAMARUDO in AliasStudio. Most details are truly modeled, so as to not rely on texture mapping.

Original book spread.  The CAMARUDO is a sport vehicle for young pilot training. Race graphics enhance that purpose. Notice real world details like the power cords or ‘remove-before-flight'-stickers. 900x640

Image Description: Original book spread. The CAMARUDO is a sport vehicle for young pilot training. Race graphics enhance that purpose. Notice real world details like the power cords or ‘remove-before-flight'-stickers.

Detail of the previous image. Most rivets are bump mapped, but sometimes even real volumes. Subtle usage of rust, oil and decals add realism, but is hard to balance. 900x640

Image Description: Detail of the previous image. Most rivets are bump mapped, but sometimes even real volumes. Subtle usage of rust, oil and decals add realism, but is hard to balance.

The Area:
Do you feel that having grown up in the environment of ships and their construction that it influenced you to pay attention to technical 'real' details in your sketches and subsequent 3D models?
Daniel Simon:
Definitely. Ships have simple sleek skins, but the inside is crammed with rough machinery and a wild matrix of tubing and pluming. It's almost like a living organism. Also, most of my detailing helps to relate to the futuristic vehicles I design. You see that in Cosmic Motors. There is the Camarudo space ship for example, with its regular power cord charger. Or the Gravion racecar, with a rusty watering can on the side. And most cockpit switches are assimulated parts from 60's radios! Many of Cosmic Motors vessel have rivets - no cyber glue or nano technology! In the future! Mhmmm…it's like that: If everything is so futuristic, well, why would the pilot need a display or joystick? Wouldn't he just control the vehicle with his brain using mind control? Yes! But that results in an empty cockpit and viewers don't recognize it as a such anymore. So, I do include old-fashioned, real details to make my futuristic vehicles recognizable.
The Cosmic Motors GRAVION. An extreme turbine racecar with asymmetric, rotating cabin. 900x832

Image Description: The Cosmic Motors GRAVION. An extreme turbine racecar with asymmetric, rotating cabin.

The Area:
Overall, what are the influences for your futuristic vehicles and the accompanying ladies ;-)?
Daniel Simon:
Motor sports! What a vast field of inspiration! The heroic pilots, the technology, the drama, the ladies, the competition, the victories and tragedies, the fashion, the graphics, the intrigues, the glamour. That all happens in both historic and today's motor racing – and I blend it with my design ideas. And women have always been fascinated by this glamorous world full of brave men, so they are a natural part of it -- as proud grid girls, as drivers wives clocking their husbands lap time, as models posing with the race machinery or piloting it themselves.

My design influence is hard to specify. Ideas happen with a pen on paper. And if I draw, I don't think too much, its just happens. Only later I could analyze what inspired me.
Original book spread. The Cosmic Motors CAMARUDO is raced by semi android pilots. Design sketches and final image. 900x640

Image Description: Original book spread. The Cosmic Motors CAMARUDO is raced by semi android pilots. Design sketches and final image.

 900x640
The Area:
Working in AliasStudio, how do you find the transition to Maya (are scene files not properly imported, NURBS surface quality, texturing, etc.). What are the advantages to this workflow?
Daniel Simon:
I use Maya to set up animations and to render with its mental ray plug in. I love final gather and HDRI. And dropping my AliasStudio-NURBS models into Maya works just fine -- layers, grouping and shader- assignments are kept. I replace all shaders in Maya and define the complex mappings. I am never happy with the tessellation, but by playing around with all these options I figure it out. And I always try to get the final look in the renderer rather then relying on Photoshop retouches. It's for sure -- when you are done -- you or your client want the same image again, but with a slightly different camera angle. Then your render setup effort really pays off.
 900x640
The Area:
The complete modeling is done in AliasStudio. Would you ever consider using only Maya?
Daniel Simon:
There is no tool for everything. Maya is incredible. But for my NURBS modeling, I prefer the crispness of AliasStudio and the precise workflow I learned in car design. It's a lot about making highlights run nicely over surfaces.
The Area:
You've just published the book "Cosmic Motors" which contains a collection of your fantastic vehicles for the future. Tell us about the journey coming up to this point.
Daniel Simon:
November 2005 -- I just had quit my car design contract at VW to develop my kill in entertainment design. I got an email from Design Studio Press publisher Scott Robertson: "...I would love to talk with you about publishing your original vehicle designs in a book..." A student turned him on my website and it seemed like Scott liked it. The problem was that all the work he had seen online was low res, and that was all I had! And the book spread is full 7200 px! So I started from scratch with all my work, redrawing images and developing 3D models on a crazy detail level – because a book does not offer any motion blur to hide things. I created stories around the vehicles and decided on a book concept – showing each project from sketch to their photoreal finish. During the book making, I flew three times to L.A. to catch up with artists like Dylan Cole, Ryan Church or Syd Mead to tune my imagery. Filling 176 pages is a very long journey... and in parallel, I had to take care of my young business... two crazy years!
 900x640
The Area:
After seeing such strikingly beautiful work, what are we to expect from you next? What are you currently working on?
Daniel Simon:
The Cosmic Motors journey continues! That's just the beginning. I have many more vehicles in my mind, and I want to realize them all. And with the evolving technologies at our hands, an individual designer can achieve more then ever, so we will see! So far, I continue working on the Cosmic Motors idea, which could also end up in another book one day. In parallel, I work intensely as a freelancer in the car design industry to pay my bills. But one day, I'd like to see my vehicles in a good director's movie thundering and screaming over the screen, oh yeah, that would rock...
 900x640
The Area:
What are your plans for your company Daniel Simon Studio?
Daniel Simon:
I have big plans! But I am still thinking about it. Currently, I am just busy finding my niche in the crowded market of entertainment design. I want to position myself as an expert in sophisticated, conceptual vehicle design, for movies, games and real life. But I am patient and curious about what comes next. Sometimes, one single email can change your plans.
The Cosmic Motors ICETRAIN is a gigantic ground patrol vehicle, over 180 feet long. Seen here in the production facility. 900x308

Image Description: The Cosmic Motors ICETRAIN is a gigantic ground patrol vehicle, over 180 feet long. Seen here in the production facility.

Thanks so much for taking the break time between your travels to sit with us here at AREA. We look forward to your upcoming images :)













(**If you are interested in ordering the COSMIC MOTORS book, click on the link below.)

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Posted by kalibs on Sep 07, 2012 at 12:38 AM
guy over there hi? thanks for being creative personaly am new in this system and i wish to perfect in 3d, i will be greatful to be discussing with u, so far am done with some tools so i want to start the lathe tool
Posted by davester9292 on Jul 26, 2012 at 01:47 PM
i like to learn how to make cars/trucks/trains/plains/etc.
Posted by Huscurian on May 20, 2012 at 10:37 PM
What an excellent post!

I particularly like the car on its side where the cockpit is on the side, not atop. :) Weird, bizarre, but absolutely just downright cool!

I give +1 kudos to this awesome designer!
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