As a designer whose started in product design, learned of automotive design, then followed his passion in concept and automotive interior design, Christian has a unique style all his own, honing his skills quickly at Volkswagen Design Center Potsdam. Recently, he finished a one-year sabbatical, in which he was working on a personal project–writing a sci-fi novel together with a friend while creating the many vehicles, creatures, characters and prop visuals to go along with it. Here, he tells us more about his start and shows us how he uses KeyShot to visualize his latest concept work.
What sparked your interest in automotive interior design, and led you into concept design?
Honestly, I never intended to become an Interior Designer. I was so focused on exterior design and concept art during my studies. When I sent my portfolio out to Volkswagen Design Center at Potsdam, I had one ‘Wheel Loader’ interior (and even that was a team effort with my close friends). I had the interview at Potsdam for an Interior internship (Romi must have seen something in me at that time) and very happy I got it.
The internship opened my eyes to the beauty of interior design. Designers at Potsdam learn to do everything on the interior–not just the door, or seat, or steering wheel. Of course, you start with small things but after a short time, you are able to propose an entire interior design concept. Learning about that and the amazing team, I just had to work there.
What was the turning point in your career?
After my apprenticeship as a metal worker building aluminum lifeboats (which included a lot of welding), I studied Product Design. I learned a lot in those four years and, drawing a lot, friends pushed me to do something with my talent.
With that motivation, I decided to apply to art school for one year. I met a lot of like-minded people there and decided to study Product Design. During that time (2003-2008), my passion for Concept Art and Automotive Design grew a lot. I was fortunate to have professors who taught Autodesk Alias properly and work on some automotive projects.
It was there I heard about the Volkswagen Design Center in Potsdam, where people design vehicles for the Volkswagen brands–I really wanted to intern there. I thought it would be difficult to get a spot, so prepared my portfolio with concept art I created in the evenings, my transportation work and a bit of my product design. I sent my portfolio to Potsdam, not knowing anyone there, and two days later received a call for an interview. I learned so much during my six-month internship (thanks a lot Nobbe, Albi and Romi) and met so many great Designers.
After that, while I was finishing my thesis work at MBtech, I received a call from Albi asking if I could help on an urgent project in the south of Europe? I said, “yes, but I do have to finish my thesis first.” He told me Potsdam is doing a collaboration with Lamborghini for a show car at Ital Design Giugiaro–they needed my help on the interior side. I had the honor to be a part of this amazing Interiors team on the Lamborghini Estoque concept. After that, I had a permanent contract at the Volkswagen Design Center. Some projects I can mention that I’ve worked on are the Lamborghini Estoque, Volkswagen Milano Taxi, Volkswagen Taigun and the architectural design proposal for the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 concept.
What is your primary 3D modeling software?
For vehicle design, I use Autodesk Alias Surface. It gives me the freedom to design what I want and not the program. Coming from the Automotive industry, you learn to look at the whole product and you get really picky with things, even the smallest radius. So Alias gives me the freedom to do what I need. For my creature and robotic designs, I use ZBrush. ZBrush is just amazingly intuitive when it comes to modeling, and the hard surface modeling along with organic surfacing makes it even better. There’s a learning curve like any software, but together with the ZBrush to KeyShot Bridge it’s just brilliant.
What makes KeyShot an important tool to have?
I use KeyShot at the very end of a project to visualize my designs, but it also helps throughout the modeling phase. Using gray shaders, you get results super fast to easily judge volumes and proportions quickly. KeyShot is super easy to learn and the NURBS support is great – I don´t have to convert Alias wire files to OBJ, KeyShot imports it directly. And, of course, the ZBrush to KeyShot Bridge saves so much time. I highly recommend the KeyShot Youtube channel. The tutorials are fantastic and the tutors are great at answering questions.
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing what you do?
Focus. If you want to make a difference, don’t “copy” other people. Be inspired and discover your own style. Have a clear goal in mind, be sure of what you want to achieve with your work, and of course don´t be afraid of failure (this happens to everyone). Rethink your perspective don’t think you’e the best–few ever are and this is a good thing, because you’ll always have someone to look up to. Always be open to positive critiques, think about what people tell you. Sometimes it will be very helpful, sometimes not, but you decide. Think of the time you spend sitting alone for hours behind a screen, consider if it is the right thing, especially if you want to make a difference. As I heard on Ash Thorb´s The Collective podcast, ask yourself, would you do that, even if you are the last person on earth?