Sculptures revealing the future. This is how they were made

Sculptures revealing the future. This is how they were made

Six car sculptures point to the future of Škoda electric car models. Their creation is a unique project. See how the sculptures came about.

4. 5. 2023 Škoda World

Škoda is in a decade of transition to CO2 neutral mobility. A remarkable set of six life-size car sculptures hints at how this transition will take place. These sculptures show the basic outline of what Škoda’s electric vehicle portfolio will look like.

The six car sculptures project is unique not only in its scope, but above all in its purpose. And not just for Škoda. Nothing like this has been created in the automotive environment before. The sculptures hint at some specific parameters, but at the same time they hide the design details. Showing enough but not too much was probably the most difficult task of the whole project. What’s more, everything had to be done within a very short space of time.

The sculptures show clearly the future models’ basic proportions.

“The design of normal Škoda models takes two years to mature. In the case of our six sculptures, the design took three weeks to create and we had just over two months for the entire project. And I stress, that was for all six sculptures,” says Franck Le Gall, the designer from the exteriors department who was responsible for the sculptures’ appearance.

Show but don’t give too much away

The whole project began to take shape when the Czech carmaker was looking for a way to signal its future direction. “My colleagues and I from the communications department were thinking about what the presentation would look like. We looked at how other car companies had presented their future plans, and we wanted to avoid copying them. During this research I came up with the idea of artistic sculptures,” says Petr Petzet, project manager and graphic designer, who was in charge of managing the sculpture project.

The final sculptures have the same proportions as the actual cars.

The fact that these are artistic sculptures is extremely important. It was this that determined that the sculptures would be created as physical objects and not just in virtual form, which was the initial idea. “We are a family-oriented car company and we also respect our human touch approach, so we decided that the sculptures would be physical and life-size. The goal is to show the proportions, to let the audience understand the purpose of the car without giving too much away,” explains Petzet.

DRC4877-copy_e2271c96 Petr Petzet
project manager and graphic designer

The designers involved in the project started working on the sculptures right away in 3D software. “The sculptures have the same proportions as real cars, but we tried to dispense with a number of details to capture the essence of the Modern Solid design language and the individual models, while leaving room for more surprises in the future,” Franck Le Gall explains. He designed the individual models together with digital modellers Tomáš Válka and Andrej Denyšek. “My inspiration came from the work of sculptor Constantin Brancusi,” says Le Gall.

The flowing surfaces are intended to conceal the details of the future cars.

"We took the proportions of the real cars as a starting point, but the brief also included a high degree of styling and the requirement to create flowing surfaces that hide the details and elements,” explains Tomáš Válka. Before choosing the right method, he says, the team tried several alternative types of stylisation. “I liked the fact that I had a lot of freedom and could bring a lot of my own creativity to the project,” says Válka.

Petr Petzet has this to add about the degree of creativity involved: “In the case of the sculptures, we weren’t limited by the technological details that we have to stick to with production cars. For example, there are bigger wheels and the sculptures have beautiful sharp lines that would normally be impossible due to manufacturability. The sculptures were really created from scratch, not based on any previous model.”

The sculptures have sharp lines that aren’t feasible on real cars.

“I went back to the very strategy and philosophy of Škoda Design, making sure I knew the basic building blocks. For example, the aim was to show the overall impression of space on the sculptures," says Franck Le Gall, describing the creative journey. The Modern Solid design language, he says, is characterised by a certain simplicity, and simplifying that further to conceal details was fun and educational.

Sculptures in a lorry

Using the 3D data, the modellers milled 1:4 scale models of the cars, which served to verify the appearance in practice and also to fine-tune the six models’ colour palette. “By the time we finished the last two small-scale sculptures, we already had the first one ready in actual size,” says Klára Valentová, who is in charge of digital support for building design models in the Czech carmaker’s design department.

One the sculptures being milled from modelling paste.

It was her job to find a way to build the actual-size sculptures. Even finding and getting hold of the necessary materials in time wasn’t easy. At the same time, Valentová and her colleagues had to figure out how the sculptures should be handled. The sculptures are not made of the traditional modelling clay familiar to fans of automotive design. They consist of special frames, a foam layer on top of them and finally a layer of modelling paste. “We usually use this material to make what is known as hard models, i.e. models that already have parts like lights and plastic accessories, but also windows and so on inserted. The sculptures don’t have anything like that, which was a bit of a challenge when we were working,” Valentová says with a smile.

The reason is that over large areas the modelling paste is not stable and can crack. And the sculptures are essentially one big surface, in fact. “So we deliberately decided to let the sculptures crack and then smooth out the cracks. In the case of the smallest one, this meant that we loaded it into a lorry and drove it around Mladá Boleslav for a while. In this way we mechanically tested whether the statue would crack or not,” explains Valentová.

valentova-jpg-copy_4189f4c7 Klára Valentová
the digital support for building design models

The finished sculptures were then each given their own matt varnish that match the rest of the series. The varnish on this kind of model dries quickly, by the way, so there were always a couple of painters working on each sculpture. They had to work quickly and reliably so that the paint literally did not dry under their hands. The varnish itself is then quite susceptible to damage: due to the material properties of the statues, it cannot be heat cured and would crack again quickly in the sun. At the same time, curious onlookers’ fingers can easily leave marks on it. “They literally need to be handled with kid gloves,” Valentová says of the sculptures, adding, “They really are as fragile and vulnerable as a work of art.”

A unique result

This necessitated a special solution for handling the sculptures. For transport, the statues are given narrow spare wheels that are concealed behind sculpted outlines of the “real” ones. The statues are moved about using a special trolley. “It looks a bit like a car on roller skates,” says Valentová. When not in use, these handling wheels are removed.

Škoda chief designer Oliver Stefani with one of the sculptures heralding the brand’s future.

Of course, Škoda will want to boast about these unique sculptures. Apart from the Let’s Explore event they were created for, the sculptures will also be used on other occasions. For example, at least three-quarter scale models will be on display at the design exhibition that starts on 19 May at the Škoda Museum in Mladá Boleslav. The full-size sculptures will then appear at events dedicated to design and art, and an exhibition in a public space is also being considered. “This is a unique opportunity to show people a family of future cars, so everyone can get an idea of these cars and choose their future favourite,” says Petr Petzet.

“We want to find special places for the sculptures, places in cities where you might not be able to display normal cars. We’re looking forward to the public’s reactions,” concludes Franck Le Gall.