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Nvidia Quadro K5200 unleashes creativity at leading automotive design studio

Motorcity Europe

Motorcity Europe may be based in Cologne, Germany, but its portfolio is truly international. The company is headed by renowned automotive designer David Hilton, formerly Chief Designer for the Ford Motor Company and Head of Exterior Design for Bentley Motors, England. Under Hilton’s leadership, the company has contributed to the look and feel of a diverse array of vehicles, from the Ford Focus RS and Ford SMAX, to the Infiniti Emerg-e and Mazda Superlite and Spectre supercars.

State-of-the-art 3D modeling and physical prototyping are both part of Motorcity Europe’s workflow as the company mixes pixels and clay to realize its clients’ vision. Hilton describes automotive design as ‘moving sculpture’ and his uncompromising approach to design means constantly pushing the graphics technology on which his business relies to its limits.

Motorcity Europe works with a mix of major OEMs and smaller automotive brands to provide a complete suite of creative services, from brand identity and initial sketch concepts to clay studio models, engineered CAD surfaces and production implementations. The company is structured for maximum flexibility, enabling Hilton to scale resources in line with the needs of each client.
“Every project is different,” explained Hilton. “Generally we start with 2D sketches and then move into 3D. Some clients choose to go digital for the entire design process, while others prefer to use physical models alongside 3D renders. Whatever the medium, automotive styling is an incredibly tactile discipline with a strong emotional dimension. As a designer, it’s very important that the model is as present, as real as it can possibly be at every stage of the process.”

With such an emphasis on maintaining realism, it’s unsurprising that the digital models with which Hilton typically works are complex and detail-heavy. Vehicle exteriors are a mass of shadows, subtle contours and reflective surfaces, while interiors are exact down to the last stitch and texture. “The level of realism with which automotive designers like to work during the design process is really a personal preference,” Hilton said. “For me, it’s absolutely crucial at every stage. If the technology I’m using stops me seeing the car I’m working on as a real object, that’s a problem.”

“For 3D, my team and I work primarily in Autodesk Alias,” he continued. “Particularly towards the end of the design process, these models get very heavy and with our previous hardware configuration we were finding they’d begin to stutter as we worked on them. Ideally I like to work with the models rendered in real time, but often this wasn’t possible. Shadows and shading would just become flat black planes and it was necessary to turn off model layers in order to work with them at all. From time to time, everything just crashed completely. The limitations of the computer hardware were forcing me to compromise my design approach, not to mention causing delays and frustration.”

Eager to find a technology that would prove a match for his mind’s eye, Hilton installed the latest NVIDIA Quadro K5200 card in his Dell Precision 390 workstation. He immediately noticed that working with large 3D models in Alias became faster and smoother. The team observed that ray-traced shadows remained soft and accurate, making it possible to model in real time without loss of detail.

“Exterior design is my first love and when I’m working with a model in Alias I need to be able to see as much detail as I can as often as I can,” said Hilton. “I want to be able to turn on all the layers at once, switch easily between different renders and check which looks best, flip through different colors and shaders to see how that affects the surface of the car. With the K5200, I’m able to do that in real time. Every time I make a change it responds immediately, giving me a broad-spectrum understanding of how that change will impact the final product.”

Motorcity Europe

Thanks to the latest Quadro’s large 8GB GPU memory, graphics horsepower, and ability to handle larger datasets, Hilton has found his workflow streamlined. Previously, it was impossible to load the large Dassault Systèmes CATIA assets, such as vehicle floor plans, provided by clients as part of the design process. In order to work with the assets in Alias, Hilton would routinely hire a CATIA specialist to break them down into smaller component files before work could begin. With the Quadro K5200, Hilton discovered he was able to work directly with the raw client data in Alias without spending time and resources to break it down.

Other applications have also benefited from the Quadro K5200. Using Bunkspeed, a software application that incorporates NVIDIA technology to accelerate raytracing using the GPU, Hilton’s team tested Motorcity Europe’s concept models for the Spectre supercar and reported render times were cut by half. “Before, I’d set it off then go to lunch. If I was lucky, it’d be done when I got back,” joked Hilton. “The speed-up we’ve achieved here with the K5200 is significant.”

The improvements delivered by the NVIDIA Quadro K5200 have enabled David Hilton and the Motorcity Europe team to work more effectively in key design applications like Autodesk Alias and Bunkspeed, increasing the efficiency of their workflow and maintaining the integrity of their design approach.

In addition, Hilton sees potential for the cards to facilitate a more interactive client consultation and feedback process. “Communicating very visual concepts verbally is a real challenge so anything that makes this easier is a big competitive advantage,” Hilton said. “Being able to show clients the impact of changes and have the model respond realistically in real time right there in the meeting would be very powerful. With the K5200, that kind of methodology becomes feasible.”

“I consider what we do to be the most sensitive and sculptural product design in the world,” Hilton concluded. “I come from a traditional design background so my ideal is to digitize the connection with vehicle models I get from working in clay! I have no doubt technology will reach that level some day, but in the meantime the greater smoothness and responsiveness I’ve experienced with this new NVIDIA card mean I can iterate more intuitively and quickly. The K5200 has brought me closer than ever before to my dream: feeling like the 3D models I’m working with are right there in front of me.”

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