As a metal worker who found his passion in automotive design and pursued his dream of creating concept art, Christian has a unique style all his own. After honing his skills in automotive design at Volkswagen Future Center in Potsdam, he set out on a sabbatical to publish his first art book, EXPLORER. Released by Design Studio Press, Christian’s art captures his vision of an AI-controlled Arc on its way through space to find a habitable planet for our species. Here, he tells us about how he started and how he uses KeyShot for his visualization.

Christian Grajewski

Modeling software used: Alias, Fusion 360, ZBrush
Website | Behance | Instagram | Artstation | Design Studio Press

EXPLORER: Futuristic Vehicles for Uncharted Lands

German industrial designer and concept artist Christian Grajewski used his expert knowledge of automotive design and his fascination with animal anatomy to create fifteen stunning, interplanetary vehicles. Each varies in size and technological capabilities, yet they are unified by one overarching goal: to preserve the human race. From the stealth rotorcraft Hornet to the massive space transporter Orca, the designs of EXPLORER were fueled by Grajewski’s deep desire to launch vehicles beyond Earth’s solar system. 

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What sparked your interest in product design and led to your pursuits in automotive design?

I never planned to do either or let’s say, I didn’t even know they existed. I left school at 16 and did a 3.5 years apprenticeship as a metal worker building aluminum lifeboats. Welding, drilling, sanding was my daily job; building real things and getting dirty. During that time I had no idea what design was but I always loved to draw, from my favorite comic book characters and dinosaurs to portraits of family and friends. That was just copying not creating though. After my apprenticeship, I had to choose between military service or community service. I chose the second and did my service in an elderly home. During that time I asked myself if I want to be a metal worker for the rest of my life or is there something else I can do with my passion for drawing? My friends and family encouraged me to try something new and I found an art school where I could get a higher education degree. So I applied with some of my drawings to that school, and was accepted. I was 22 when I started, meeting people for the first time who had the same passion and sense that all of them were much better.

It was great to learn so many new things, including the basics of drawing, perspective, proportions and composition. During that time, some friends planned to pursue product design. It sounded like a great idea and I followed them without actually knowing what it was. I was accepted with my portfolio and an additional art test. I set out to work as hard as I could and learn as much as possible over the next five years to make doing what I love my lifelong career.

I set out to work as hard as I could and learn as much as possible over the next five years to make doing what I love my lifelong career. “

During my study, my friend Jan introduced me to The Art of Star Wars – Episode I. This was the first time I realized the amount of creativity and work behind the movies I loved to watch since childhood. Growing up in a village of 100 people limits your exposure to the world. I fell in love with concept art through that book and spent my spare time practicing. Design Studio Press and Gnomon Workshop allowing my friends and me to learn from the masters. My friend Christoph, whose interest was automotive sparked my interest in car design. From then on, Christoph, some close friends and I focused on transportation design. With the German car industry nearby, this seemed the best career opportunity. Working on Hollywood movies seemed as far away as the moon but I never stopped creating concept art in my spare time. Working intently on my skills, I managed to get an internship and permanent contract as a interior designer at the famous Volkswagen Future Center in Potsdam, directly after graduation. The same place where the famous Daniel Simon worked as well.

You’ve recently had a book published by Design Studio Press called EXPLORER. How did the idea for this project come about?
I was and still am a huge fan of Design Studio Press (DSP). Scott Robertson, the amazing Syd Mead, and many others all inspired me. But Daniel Simon, creator of Cosmic Motors, was from Germany as well and a huge inspiration I could relate to. I realized if I keep working hard I could do a book with DSP one day as well.

So I kept dreaming and drawing over the years until my sketches were piling so high I thought I should do something with them. So, in 2016, I decided to do a one year sabbatical with the crazy goal of creating a book to be published by Design Studio Press. A goal that big pushed me every day!

Did you approach the design in the book differently from other projects?

Working nearly eight years for Audi, Lamborghini, Volkswagen, Bentley, Bugatti, Porsche, Seat and Skoda gave me a lot of routine, skills, knowledge, and self-confidence but the professional daily routine is very different from my personal projects. The key factors are time, your vision, and your own critique. I had way more time with this personal project, so I tend to finish my designs to a certain degree, put them aside and start a new one. I do that with a lot of designs, because going back to a design that holds up after many months allowed me to continue or improve it. This is a cycle I use for all my personal projects, including my book design. More important than anything else was getting up every single day and pushing myself.

How did you use it to improve your skills?

The book was my way to learn a lot of new things. I had a vision on what the end product would look like but I didn’t have the software skills back then. When I started my sabbatical, I knew Alias and Photoshop very well and just a bit of KeyShot. When I finished my book in 2020, I had learned KeyShot, ZBrush, Fusion 360, Cinema 4D, World Creator, Octane, Daz3D, Marvelous Designer, MoI, Illustrator and InDesign on top of all the challenges that come up with creating a book. Because I spent 41 months without any income, split into three sabbaticals, in order to create EXPLORER, it also helped me with my time management and being efficient with money.

Those 41 months were my third most valuable education after my Metal Worker apprenticeship, and my Product Design study. It helped me create a unique portfolio that is truly me and opened some amazing opportunities, like working for ZOOX under a brilliant CEO or on Hollywood blockbuster, The Batman, a childhood dream I thought was as far away as the moon! 

How did KeyShot help bring your vision into being?

Honestly, KeyShot was the most valuable program for my book. I am working with CAD data and KeyShot is extremely fast and amazing at handling and converting my CAD data perfectly into polygons. On top of that, it keeps my Alias grouping and Material groups, and I don’t have to worry about surface normals. This is a massive timesaver and time is the most valuable gift we have.

Once you’re in KeyShot, the simple UI and the great shader presets help create great renders extremely fast and very efficiently. Once you’re happy with a shot, you can jump deeper into the shaders and come up with custom shaders super easy. One of the best things for me is the simple application of logos and decals and the ability to set up Studios in scenes with multiple cameras, environments, and model variations.

Once you’re in KeyShot, the simple UI and the great shader presets help create great renders extremely fast and very efficiently.”

From a single scene, each can be rendered with a click or sent of to the render queue. KeyShot also allows you to split objects/faces to apply different materials making it super easy to make geometry updates without going back to the CAD software. 

What inspired the shapes, scenes, and stories of Explorer?

I loved everything about dinosaurs growing up and dreaming about how it must have been walking amongst those stunning creatures. EXPLORER is the first book of a story about an AI-controlled Arc filled with autonomous vehicles, which hold the DNA and memories of every human on its way through space to find a habitable planet for our species to have a second chance. So this book is focused on the design of those vehicles and what they may need to explore an alien planet and the scenes show my vehicles on their first flight over an unknown planet. The second book will combine my creature design and vehicle design to show the world what I dreamed of as a child. 

The shapes are very much based on my experience as a metal worker (how to build real things), mixed with the simple design language I used and fell in love with while working for the Volkswagen Future Center. I basically applied all my knowledge and dreams to every design and combined it with my passion for wildlife with some, more or less, including animal-like features.

With such an array of imagery, from small vehicles to massive space scenes, how did KeyShot handle the challenges?

KeyShot handled it all amazingly well. I wished other programs would be able to handle hundreds of millions of polygons with such ease. I haven’t reached a limit in polycount so far! 

Are there some surprises you had with the designs along the way?

Each design had its surprises but one was pretty funny, The Albatross. I had that design on a good design stage including some KeyShot test renders, and I didn’t liked the design – I thought it was too simple! When I visited my friends and former colleagues in Potsdam, I prepared a review portfolio of what I had so far and included it at the last minute. It caught me by surprise when everyone really liked that design. Explaining, my friends changed my opinion about it and I was able to see what they saw. I am very happy that I shared it with them, as now, I really like the Albatross.

What advice would you give to others interested in doing what you do?

First of all, be open to critique from others. Being your own critic is hard since you need to be very honest about your designs and skills. Surround yourself with people who are better than you and honest with you. You need to know your weaknesses in order to get better. You won’t grow your skills if everyone sugar coats their opinion of your work. At the same time, you need to be yourself and not cater to someone else’s taste.

Don’t worry about the down times. Every creative goes through those days or weeks. It’s normal. Do something else, clear your head and your creativity will spark again and set you back on your path.

Stick to a daily schedule and routine to make things easier and put away your smartphone. If you are not able to manage yourself, you’ll have a very hard time creating your own things or business. 

Above all, have fun doing what you do. Otherwise do something else. Life is short but a constant path of learning. Take all of that together and create something that is uniquely you. 

“Surround yourself with people who are better than you and honest with you. You need to know your weaknesses in order to get better. “

See more at christiangrajewski.com/