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Inside Mazda

Adding a Human Touch to Car Design

Clay modelers bring a two-dimensional car design to life using their hands.

Decades of experience as a clay modeler have instilled in Yuta Takanashi, a lead clay modeler for Mazda, the importance of the sense of touch. Touch is so important, in fact, that he often closes his eyes to better feel the surface of a clay model he’s working on.

“With your eyes closed, you don’t miss any bumps on cotton or on a line,” Takanashi said. “You can see and feel these things with your eyes open, but if you close your eyes and feel very slowly, then you won’t miss anything. If there was something a little different in the shape of the line, then you can let the palm of your hand feel that. This is how you’d redo something properly many times, over and over again. You close your eyes and feel with the palm of your hands over and over again, just feeling it again and again.”

2017 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV clay modeler

Takanashi has worked at Mazda for 13 years; before that, he worked at modeling supplier companies on concept vehicles. At many manufacturing companies, modelers have to make a design exactly as the designer has drawn. There’s very little flexibility for the modeler in their work.

“Mazda’s process is more equal from the perspective of the designer and modeler,” Takanashi said. “Of course, you have the designer’s drawing, and the modeler makes it, but for the parts that the drawing doesn’t show, the modeler can make proposals and take the lead and so on.”

And when, say, a designer doesn’t have a drawing finished or is stumped on a certain part, the modeler can make a suggestion, creating a collaborative effort that brings about a more holistic final product.

Some aspects of a car’s design can’t be realized until they’re conveyed in a physical model. As an example, it can be hard to conceptualize the sheer size of a vehicle.Clay Modelers on the 2017 CX-5 crossover SUV

“But when you have clay in the palm of your hand and you imagine what you could make with a shape like this, that’s how you really gain a sense of the car’s actual size,” said Takanashi. “That’s the human touch. Our tools aren’t just iron plates and scrapers, but our bodies are tools, too. It’s said that what sets us apart from other manufacturers is, within our bodies, and in the movements of our bodies, is almost like Mazda DNA. Our tools and our bodies become one, and with the movement and direction of our bodies, we can direct the entire shape of the car and become aware of how it moves.”

Takanashi’s goal is to transfer this feeling of unity the modeler feels with his clay onto drivers as they drive their cars.

2019 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV signature turbo

“We are always thinking of how the emotions of what we’ve made will be felt by the customer,” he said. “These are shapes that I’ve worked to the utmost with my entire body, and though these shapes are not living things, we have given life to these shapes. If drivers can feel that driving impression from seeing these shapes, then I’ve accomplished my goal.”