From Imagination to (Virtual) Reality: Ford’s 3D Modeling and Powerwall

from imagination to virtual reality fords 3d modeling and powerwall 2

This article is part of our continuing series, Detroit Goes Digital, that goes behind the scenes in Ford’s advanced virtual reality design labs.

The very first steps of creating an automobile still look a lot like the mechanical pencil strokes you used to lay down and sketch out imaginary cars between the margins of your history notes in middle school. Except now the notebook is a widescreen monitor, and the mechanical pencil is a Wacom tablet.

Illustrators use Autodesk TKTKTKT to lay down the first pensive lines that will eventually shape up to be lines of cold, punched steel. But that point might literally be years ahead. Before they get there, they’ll be tweaked, massaged and prodded again and again on the screen. Sketch lines become hard lines, which get filled in, shaded and worked over to produce a full-color rendering. From this basic side view, engineers can overlay some vital points – like occupant seating – to make sure the basic shape is actually feasible.

from imagination to virtual reality fords 3d modeling and powerwall 1Through the magic of CAD software, these sketches get extrapolated into full three-dimensional renderings. Crucial as they are for engineers, who need to figure out how to shoehorn all the associate drivetrain parts into a shell of a body, these 3D models also still have plenty of use for designers as they fine tune the finish details of the car.

For instance, interior designers can take a virtual look at the inside and swap materials – like different kinds of leather or aluminum – in real time, then fiddle with color to produce trim packages. On the outside, they can mix up virtual paints and “flop” them on the car instantly, with accuracy that extends right down into visible metal flecks that shift in different lighting.

After producing what might pass for a final production model, designers get a chance to yank their creations out from the monotone grey backgrounds of CAD software and onto the street. Using a specialized Spheron camera, designers can capture a full 360-degree image of a real place, like a showroom or neon-bathed piece of the Strip in Vegas, complete with complex lighting data, then add the car in on a PC at the lab. Designers can then pan around it in near photorealistic detail and watch how the sun, street lights, and even hazy weather play on the car’s reflective surfaces.

By the final stages, the 3D renderings for new cars have been peppered with so much detail, manufacturers can actually produce graphics almost undistinguishable from the real thing. Those incredibly smooth pictures of a new car you might see in the fold-out brochure from a dealership? Actually computer renderings, which can take up to 12 hours to generate, even on Ford’s 670-core rendering farm.

Follow the links below to check out our other articles on Ford’s new technology and find out how the age of digital design is changing the hunk of steel and rubber in your driveway for the better.


Consumer Reports bumps the Tesla Model 3 off of its list of recommended models

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the six new cars that have lost their coveted Recommended rating from Consumer Reports over reliability concerns. In 2018, Model 3 owners reported body trim falling off and problems with the car's glass.

Mamma mia! Alfa Romeo will unveil a new model at the Geneva Auto Show

Alfa Romeo told Digital Trends it will unveil a new model at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show. It stopped short of revealing what it has in store, but rumors claim it will be a crossover positioned below the Stelvio.

Instant Pot prices have dropped on these 5 models by up to $30

Whether you're an Instant Pot beginner or Instant Pot veteran these popular multi-cookers are worth the hype. There are so many Instant Pot models on sale right now, it might be hard to choose. We've rounded up all the deals here so you can…

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for February 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.

Nissan is using old Leaf batteries to power and connect off-the-grid campers

Nissan has teamed up with trailer manufacturer Opus to design a mobile, weatherproof power pack built with battery cells sourced from the first-generation Leaf. Called Roam, the pack stores enough electricity to power a camper for up to a…

Alfa Romeo’s latest Ferrari-powered F1 race car is ready to hit the track

Alfa Romeo is doubling down on Formula One racing after a decades-long hiatus. Now essentially a support team for Ferrari, its 2019 driver lineup includes a former world champion and a potential future star.

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.

Subaru’s latest VIZIV concept car is pumped full of adrenaline

The Subaru VIZIV Adrenaline is the seventh member of the Japanese automaker's family of VIZIV concept cars. It debuts at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, but for now, all we're getting is a shadowy teaser image.

Audi is advancing the tech that teaches cars to talk to traffic lights

Audi is teaching its cars the language of traffic lights. The company developed technology that tells motorists what speed they should drive at in order to catch as many green lights as possible.

Waymo rules and Apple trails in California self-driving car benchmarks

California's DMV releases annual reports of self-driving car disengagements on public roads. In the most recent reports. Waymo had the best performance, GM Cruise came in second, and Apple's self-driving program was in last place.

Watch a modified Audi e-tron electric SUV drive straight up a ski slope

A modified Audi e-tron climbed up an 85-percent gradient on an Austrian ski slope in a tribute to a classic Audi commercial. The vehicle used for the stunt sported an extra electric motor and spiked tires.

Citroën says you could drive its tiny Ami One electric car without a license

Citroën's Ami One concept car is an electric vehicle that's as cute as it is compact. The miniature motor only has a top speed of 28 mph, so the French automaker imagines it as a shareable runaround for short drives.

Arizona city slammed with $10M lawsuit over fatal Uber autonomous car accident

The family of Elaine Herzberg, the woman struck and killed by one of Uber's self-driving prototypes, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Tempe, Arizona. They claim Herzberg jaywalked because she was confused by a brick…

Mercedes lets the sun shine in one last time with SLC Final Edition convertible

The Mercedes-Benz SLC convertible sports car is going out of production. Launched in 1996 as the SLK, the model has been a fixture in the Mercedes-Benz lineup across three generations.