What VR is and isn't in the Automotive Sector
When I give my talks on VR and when I meet new clients I get a lot of the same questions and concerns. I wanted to talk about some of those here to help people fully understand what is the current place of this technology and how it can greatly benefit any studio. As the technology progresses it will take on a bigger role but this is about where it can help today.
What VR is
The biggest cost saving benefit in VR is in between the CAD stage and the Clay mill. One of the biggest cost in the Automotive Design studio is milling out CAD data to full scale. Not only in the cost of the actual material and machine time, but more importantly the design is frozen till the model arrives.
VR gives us the ability to see our designs in 3D and make changes before any mill hits the clay. Even though the model isn't a photo-realistic simulation, we can analyze the form and shape of the car. Walking around the car gives a great sense of scale. Custom shaders can help analyze the curves and volumes of a car.
VR is a great for interior design reviews. Connecting with the control helps us reach and really feel the interior space. Giving us full immersion into the design. Especially where a difference of a few mm can make a component look elegant or fragile. It gives us a better idea of how the driver and passengers will experience the design.
VR is great for Investor and shareholder presentations. People outside of the car industry find it hard to figure out what a rendering will look like in person. VR helps people experience the vision before investing million or even billions of dollars into the venture.
Will VR replace clay modeling
This is quite the debate between CAD modelers and Clay Sculptors and it is something I almost always get asked. My answer is that depends, on your design process and on your budget. I always consider my job as a way to help the design process not replace it. I have really good friends who are extremely talented clay sculptors. They have helped me tremendously in my education on 3D forms. As a cad modeler I never saw them as anything but my partners in the design process. I think it is a very beautiful career and I've seen first hand it's benefit in the design process.
VR helps get the model to a much better place before it hits the mill. This way, once it get's handed off to them, they aren't making huge volume changes, just refining the surfaces. You aren't wasting their valuable time on changes that would have been noticed and corrected in CAD.
That being said, I have worked on projects that went directly from CAD to VR to Design release. Their were some foam mock ups but clay never touched the design process and the end result were very beautiful designs. Their are car companies that have eliminated the clay process all together. Many satellite studios don't have the space or resources for anything but CAD.
I truly believe that clay modeling will always have a place in car design. It is a vital part of many studios and I have always enjoyed watching them and learning from them.
What VR isn't
VR isn't a photo realistic simulation. The technology is not their yet and the cost of trying to get 60 fps with actual raytracing is to high for the end result. What many people don't realize is that even if it was photorealistic at 90fps, it still won't feel real because the screen technology is not there. I see a lot of digital studio managers spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on render farms. The cost are too high and the technology hasn't matured for this stage.
I have personally experienced photo real environments in VR. When you see them on a 4k screen it's hard to tell if it's a real life photo or a simulation, but the second you put on the headset, it's a very different experience. The fidelity is not their to convince our brain we are looking at something real.
Their will be a day in the not so distant future when you put on a wireless headset and what you see will be indistinguishable from reality. We are not there yet so don't expect this technology to get you there.