Last year, Witt Visitor and clay modeler Tim Raynard (BFA ’06) spent time with students in Jan-Henrik Anderson’s class, Sustainable Form Language, teaching techniques in clay modeling. Student Ben Paskus got a chance to interview him about his career as a clay modeler at Calty Design Research, Inc., a company which develops interior and exterior vehicle designs for Toyota.
Ben Paskus: Do you consider yourself a master clay modeler?
Tim Raynard: No, I've only been modeling for about six years now. Most of the guys I work with who are master level have 15 years or more experience. It takes a long time to develop the techniques and the ability to read surfaces, both by looking at them and by using your hands. It’s a form language, I'm just getting going on it really.
How did you begin this job? Was there a training period?
You get trained by a master Japanese modeler. You usually do that for six months, maybe a year, and then after that, you work‑shadow with somebody. You start off working on something small, maybe a center console of a vehicle or a door, something small. They make one side. You make one side, and then you can stand and watch what tools they use, what techniques they use, how they put tape lines on, etc. Much of the training is watching what other people are doing, and then trying to imitate the best techniques you see them using.
Taka San, who trained me, told me "You want to watch what your mentor is doing, and then do it better than him." The idea is that you will eventually replace your mentor in the company structure.
It's intimidating to work with these masters, because you might work on a surface for a week and not get it to move or twist in the way you want it to. They'll come by and they'll run their hand across it, bring out a specific tool and in five minutes fix all your problems and make it perfect. You have to just stand back and marvel at it.
It seems like getting into this profession really requires a lot of foresight and planning. It’s not something that you just try out for a few years....
Yes, it’s a profession that you really need to be in for the long haul because learning the skill takes such a long period of time. I don't really know how much longer I'll do this. Maybe 10 years, maybe five years, maybe longer than that. But I approach it like it's another skill set. It’s like learning a computer program or something like that. I'm learning clay modeling so that I can use it in my own private practice when I make things. It provides another visual language to get ideas across.
It is a skill set that goes beyond the car industry, in other words?
When you're in the process of making objects you almost always need the object. Computers have become a huge part of all this. But until you have the object in your hands, until you can walk around it, until you can feel the heft of it, you really don't understand the object. And so the ability to quickly make real three‑dimensional models is, I think, a very marketable skill. We have tools like rapid prototyping and mills and stuff like that, but even rapid prototyping takes a lot of time, especially if it's a complex shape. You could accomplish the same thing in clay, with the right skills, in six or seven hours. And then, be able to adjust it easily if you want to change it.
This medium is very good for adjustments, which is why it's used in car design. You can quickly make a surface and then change the surface and then change it back and make something completely new. You could really enhance the productivity of a lot of designers and studios with this technique, because you can really get forms down quickly, even in a small scale, and then advance the design from there.
Your first clay model ever was the one you did senior year, right? The jet ski.
Yes, that’s right.
Was there something that helped you get into that initially, like having good hand‑eye coordination?
I think there is a little of that. Just as some people understand painting or sketching better than others, it's a skill set that might be innate in some people. I think I have a fair ability to understand three-dimensional form. When I got to Toyota though, and saw other people work, I was like, "Wow, they're so much better." But it's just like all skills – the more you do it, the more you learn, the more you understand.
When I was working on the jet ski project, I didn't really have a lot of the form in my head yet. I had an idea, an overall shape, but I wanted the ability to make a lot of models quickly to test ideas, to test proportions. I kind of fell into clay as the best medium to do that with. If I was to try the same thing by layering up wood and carving on it, or even working with more of a ceramic‑based clay, I wouldn't be able to change it as fast and as efficiently as with the automotive‑style clay.
I’m wondering – you are in a profession that's based on precision– you have to be precise to the 100th millimeter – do you think it's affected your behavior outside of work?
I think so. I analyze things a lot more than I used to. But even when I was in school here, I was a lot more precise than some of my classmates. But now, since I'm in this field I look back, and say, "I wasn't precise at all when it came to making things." But it's true, you'll find yourself painting a room in your house, or building a deck and you're down there with a tape measure thinking, "Is it a 16th of an inch or is it a 32nd of...” because you develop a framework of looking and working.
Is there a specific feature of cars that you fell in love, if you were to pick one?
The body sides of vehicles are probably the most intriguing to me because that shape from wheel well to wheel well creates the movement of a car. So if the body side is tilted a certain way or if it has a certain twist to it, that feeling translates to the rest of the vehicle. Your front‑end graphics give your vehicle a face. There's a personality when you look at a car. I really appreciate the body side. Really nice body sides that have a lot of interesting movements. Cars like Aston Martins and BMWs have very technical body sides in the workouts. There's a lot of very sweeping, flowing line gestures, and in between the lines they create very interesting volumes that taper and twist in relation to the line. That's probably the most interesting part of a vehicle to me.
Do you rely more on your hands or your eyes when you’re working?
Developing a sense of touch in order to feel what a surface is doing is probably the key thing in learning how to model. You spend so much time using your hands to make the surface initially, and then you're basically using your hands when you’re finished, to check what the surface is doing. Often it might look okay to your eye, but if you run your hand on the surface or across the surface you might feel a twist or a dent or an indentation somewhere.
Your eyes are important when it comes to putting on character lines and tape lines and things like that, because you have to be able to sight down lines and see that you maintain a certain curvature or straightness. But when it comes to actually surfacing the vehicle, your hands are the most important.
Do you think that this is an activity that can be done on one's own or are there particular tools and equipment needed?
There are some basic tools: rakes, knives, and certain steels, but it's certainly something that you could do as a hobby on your own. The clay is easily accessible and you could get or make the tools. As a skill set, it's of great value to an independent designer because you can quickly create whatever you're working on, and that will inform the rest of your process. It's basically sketching in three dimensions. As a skill and a tool set I would definitely encourage more designers to use it.
Thank you so much and thanks for helping us learn the technique in class.