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Model making workshop: “Creating models helps you fine-tune your perception of a volume in a space”

Model making workshop: “Creating models helps you fine-tune your perception of a volume in a space”

The model-making workshop, refitted in 2005 and 2010, is a focal point in the school and was put to excellent use in preparing for the Casual Fitness exhibition in Milan.  Here is a joint interview with the workshop team, Hervé Bedouin and Élise Le Calloch, on the role of model making in product design practice and teaching.

The model making workshop

1 – Tell us about your role in the school and your background.

Hervé Bedouin: I’m head model maker and I am also in charge of the workshops and model storage. For nearly nine years I was a digital modeller at ADN (Automotive Design Network), in the design office of the PSA Peugeot-Citroën group. In collaboration with the designers, and working from their sketches, I made 3D models of future vehicles and concept-cars. From this 3D model, several scale models were produced. Subsequently, discussions took place between the design and technical teams.

Élise Le Calloch: I came from a scientific background (Mechanical Engineering IUT, University Institute of Technology), but I then completed a 2-year diploma in Product Design and specialized in creating models and prototypes. I have worked as a model maker in various different fields including museography, set design, the cosmetics industry, tank tests for the aeronautics industry, and wind tunnel studies for civil engineering. I joined L’École de design Nantes Atlantique as a model maker in October 2011.

2 – How is the school’s workshop organised and what can it be used for?

H.B.: The school possesses 6 workshops of varying sizes and functions.

The workshops are organized around a central room, which is used for assembling pieces manufactured in the machine, resin and painting workshops. Several projects using different materials can be conducted: in wood, cardboard, plastic, resin, metal, etc. In this workshop you can cut, bend, machine, thermoform, glue, sand down and paint so that the finished product is as close as possible to an industrially-produced object.

E.L.C.: […] We work mostly with soft materials which are easy to work: wood, plastic, polyurethane foam, etc. Depending on the project, we can also mould, laminate, thermoform, etc.

3 – In your opinion, what is the model’s role in design practice and teaching?

H.B.: Using a model in the research phase is absolutely essential. It enables us to validate the volumes and proportions and to balance the masses, but also to experiment with materials and solve technical problems. In my past experience in design offices and workshops, I’ve learnt that a digital model (in 3D) never gives the same perception of volume as a physical model.

Creating models helps you fine-tune your perception of a volume in a space and use a multitude of different materials. It can also provide opportunities to find new ideas and approaches.

E.L.C.: For me, models are essential to design. They help us get a better idea of volumes and ergonomics, and validate the connections between pieces. The students learn about machining techniques and have an understanding of what is feasible or not at an industrial level.

4 - What is the most interesting experience that you have had since you have been at the school?

H.B.: Plunging as quickly as possible into the students’ projects. Being able to observe them and witness their perseverance.

E.L.C.: I haven’t been at the school for long. I would say that designing and creating projects for Milan was really rewarding - for two months we were constantly exchanging views with the students.

5 – The workshop was heavily involved in the production of pieces for the Casual Fitness exhibition. Which project(s) represented the biggest challenge?

H.B.: All the projects had to be executed in complex and diverse ways. One of the greatest difficulties was time management. It wasn’t possible to do production tests: for nearly all the projects, it had to be right first time.

E.L.C.: The biggest challenge for us was undoubtedly to design and create 11 fairly impressive projects simultaneously in the workshop, and to bring them all to completion.

6 – What is the future of model making?

H.B.: It should remain an integral part of the research phase, and complement digital technology.

E.L.C.: For many people the future of model making is fast-track prototyping (sintering, stereolithography, etc.) These techniques can work for models that need to have a high quality finish (product validation, white models for competitions, etc.) but wouldn’t be suitable for technical models or prototypes.

Models often have to meet strict technical design specifications: rigidity, impermeability, lightness, accuracy, etc. The model maker is more than just a technician – for each project he has to examine the specifications sheet and choose suitable materials and techniques for implementation, as well as drawing up the plans again. It’s a job that few people have heard of, even though we see many examples of model makers’ work in everyday life. It might be facsimile reproductions of animals in museums, an educational model for children explaining how a watershed works, or the scenery in big amusement parks, which is sculpted from polystyrene and resonated. Models are also a critical stage in the realization of a project. For example, models are made for all public buildings for wind tunnel studies, in order to validate the construction phases, shapes, materials, etc.

So I think there’s a great future for the new fast-track prototyping techniques in product validation, but model makers will continue to work in their workshops with materials such as wood, fibers and resins.