Have you ever wondered what it’s like to design a car from the ground up? Well, today’s your lucky day, because paultan.org was recently granted exclusive access to the innards of Proton’s design studio to provide you with a glimpse of a car’s development from the initial sketch all the way to the final model.

Nestled within the confines of the company’s Shah Alam complex, the Proton Design Studio is sprawling, modern facility, much more relaxed and informal than your usual office atmosphere. It utilises a great deal of advanced technologies to help bring the designers’ ideas to life, such as a virtual reality auditorium, milling machines and several high-performance workstations connected to huge Wacom Cintiq drawing displays.

Of course, every project starts with a brief, which determines the basic parameters for the product, such as body style and number of seats. From there, all the designers are asked to put whatever ideas they have onto paper (or their computer displays) and are given pretty much carte blanche to really get those creative juices flowing, unrestrained by practical restrictions like interior space or powertrain packaging.

Such restrictions are saved for later, where the stylists are required to translate their initial ideas into realistic renderings that follow the interior, powertrain and drivetrain packaging that has been set. The goal is to create images that are representative of what the actual car will look like in real life.

The designs are then pitted against each other through presentations with a cross-functional team, a group of people from different departments such as engineering, testing and marketing, who will then shortlist these designs based on what meets all their needs. Eventually, the team will end up with up with a handful of designs on which further development and refinement will commence.

The surviving designs get modelled in 3D in stages, each with an increasing amount of detail. The first 3D model, called a C-class model, is a fairly rough model with no engineering or manufacturing considerations and is done purely to visualise the design in a three-dimensional space. The next step up is a B-class model, which is more detailed and includes some input from the engineers.

Both these models are built using a 3D modelling software called Alias, whereas the final model, an A-class model, is done using CATIA, a computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software. This model is fully detailed, complete with considerations for manufacturing processes such as tooling and draft angles, and is virtually production-ready.

The resulting A-class model is then imported into a rendering software in order to visualise the car in realistic lighting and settings. The team uses Bunkspeed, a software that is capable of rendering photorealistic visuals in real time. The output is so realistic, in fact, that the company used Bunkspeed renderings as press photos of the Suprima S!

Indeed, watching a lifelike virtual model of the Suprima being rendered in real time and being able to change colour and materials of each part on the fly was an eye-opener for someone like me, who is used to having to wait for several hours for a 3D model to be rendered, and having to restart the process for every angle or after making modifications the model.

Next week, we will look at the rest of the process, including the selection of colours and materials, as well as the final hard model that is signed off for production. And of course, don’t forget to join the Proton Design Competition 2014 – the deadline has now been extended by a week to August 18 – with your vision of a Proton city car in the year 2020!