Hugo Silva has told us what it means to be an Automotive Artist, shared the workflow, and explained what tools are used for digital tuning.
My name is Hugo Silva, I am a 36-years-old Automotive Artist from Portugal. In my early professional years, I worked as a Graphic Designer at a design studio in Portugal doing store decoration and product stand design, for various clients such as Siemens, Bosch, Balay, Mattel, Mini, BMW, Nestle, and many others.
Later I decided that I want to try my luck in automotive illustrations since it has been my passion and hobby for many years, so I have taken the step and started freelancing, but also have managed to land some full-time jobs in automotive customization companies, designing wheels, body kits, bumper, wings, interior parts, etc.
Getting Into Automotive Design
I've always loved to draw, but I started taking it more seriously when I was in my very early teenage years around 12, 13 years old when I was doing hand drawings for the magazine Maxi Tuning Spain, in order to be featured. I remember being very anxious every month saving my school lunch money to purchase the new release of the magazine so I could see if my drawing was featured, the drawing section got so famous that Maxi Tuning started making a monthly drawing competition in which I participated every single month since the prize for winning was a year subscription, I got some wins and therefore got the magazine for free many times.
It was at this stage that in one of the magazines I have seen an amazing article about virtual tuning, I had never seen such a thing and didn’t have a clue how they did it, so I read the article (even though I did not understand much Spanish) and realized they were doing it using computers with image editing software, so I quickly jumped into my parents' computer, dialed in our dial-up internet, and started browsing how to do it. So, after a while, I sourced a copy of good old Photoshop 6.0 and started what is now my career, and what I do for a living full-time. It has been 23/24 years since I started making digital car illustrations.
How to Start a Design?
Well, the first thing is obviously to think about something I want to do, usually, I get many ideas in my head, but I also keep a lot of inspirational references. I get inspiration from many sources, everyday tasks, movies, music, still imagery, race cars, etc., it all depends on how creative I am that day. I don't usually sketch much these days, I usually block stuff in 3D very fast to see how my cars would look.
My workflow is probably the most simple and straightforward workflow ever, I literally pick a car, load it into Blender, and start blocking a body kit or any other modification I wish to do for my own portfolio since most never get to be built in real life. I tend to look more for the final look, although I like to keep things credible and realistic, this helps me to focus on what I want to do and not to go total fantasy on my work. This is what defines my portfolio, extreme vehicles that might just be possible in real life.
For my materials, I tend to look through a lot of references and try to imitate them using the tools I have at my disposal. At the moment I use Keyshot, as the node mechanism built into it helps a lot in getting the realism I require for my materials. I do not obsess over realism in my materials nor do I have the skills to make them 100% realistic, but I try to do the best I can to make them at least resemble real-life materials.
Lately, I have been enjoying the process of doing simple studio ambients. I feel these make the car details pop up and make for an overall interesting visual presentation. For Nissan in particular, I used a plain backdrop and set up a disc plane for ground with added slight roughness (I really wanted that clean look so it would better catch light). As for lighting, I have 3 simple spotlights with a color stencil, two of them set to red and one set to light blue, this sets the mood I wanted both in overall lighting and the car reflections. I did these ambient lights inspired by the latest project ONE by Carlos Colorsponge, it was a massive inspiration to the mood I wanted to set for these R34 renders.
My advice for beginners would be to play around with their settings on their own. At the start do not try to start achieving other artists' looks since this might stop you from finding your true style and might also make it so you don't have as much fun creating something. At the end of the day if you have fun and enjoy what you are doing it will make your learning curve go a lot faster. Test stuff on the software, check YouTube for tutorials if you wish, and always think that every day you get a little bit better.