It should come as no surprise that a special kind of care and attention went into the creation of the first car to win both World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year—the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. The design process at Mazda is rigorous and detailed, and one vital aspect of this process is modeling clay into cars.
The advent of the Digital Age rendered clay modeling obsolete for many car manufacturers—but not Mazda. Sculpting a model from clay brings a physicality and presence to a car’s form and design that’s impossible to replicate digitally, and Mazda recognizes and celebrates this quality. While the initial digital model visualizes the fine details and specific materials of a vehicle, the subsequent clay model brings the design and spirit to life; run your hand over the car’s smooth surface and you’ll feel what the clay modeler perfected: beauty of form, harmonious curves and lines, the expression of freedom and movement made real.
This extra step of the design process is practical as well as aesthetic. Building the clay model allows for design fine-tuning and improvement; the artist can spot flaws in the original digital rendering and make his or her own suggestions for improvement.
“What is good about clay modeling is that it enables us to intuitively create a form that appeals to people’s hearts,” said Norio Terauchi, a Mazda design team clay modeler. “Clay modelers have to try to increase their power of persuasion through the beauty of the sculpted form. I think this is a sensuous beauty that is difficult to reproduce through digital technology.”
This sensuous beauty, along with the KODO—Soul of Motion design spirit, is what served as the inspiration for the new MX-5 design. Instead of starting with a design of the car itself, the development team created artwork that symbolized the KODO ethos the MX-5 would personify.
“Our mission in designing the new MX-5 was to create a car so captivating it could steal you away from your first love,” said MX-5 chief designer Masashi Nakayama.
The clay model played no small part in this process, and Mazda would have none less than a master of clay modeling to help develop the award-winning car. Yukiharu Asano joined the MX-5 development team, where he used his clay modeling skills to convey a central theme of “dominance of light” for the MX-5.
“Put simply, I wanted to thoroughly reproduce the movement of light,” he said. From the shadows of trees shifting on the hood to sun rays glinting off a tire rim, Asano wanted people to be transfixed by the way light and shadow dance over the car’s surface. This interplay is difficult to imitate digitally, so the clay model became ever-more-necessary to convey the MX-5’s unique soul and beauty.
The true magic of sculpting a design from clay is watching the car emerge from the shapeless block, as if it was always there, simply waiting to be discovered.