Modeling the Samson Switchblade Flying Car

Editor’s Note: This Q&A with Industrial Designer James Carruthers was submitted by Stephen Hoshaw, an account coordinator at Liaison Public Relations, which represents the companies mentioned in the Q&A. Because our recent post, A Salute to Flying Cars, mentioned the Samson Switchblade, we thought our readers would be interested in the designer’s background.


Industrial designer James Carruthers lends his creative vision and expertise to intricate projects ranging from transportation and automotive design to jewelry and product packaging. Carruthers opened his Ottawa-based studio in 1999 and provides his international client roster with a full menu of design, design-visualization and consulting services. A long-time avid user of Robert McNeel & Associates Rhinoceros 3D modeling toolset, Carruthers has recently extended his focus and toolset to stay at the forefront of changing trends in industrial design.

Sampson Switchblade render

Artist: James Carruthers Title: Royal Front Quarter; Project: Samson Switchblade; Rendered with Neon for Rhino and a Caustic R2100 card.

Q: Could you briefly describe your background in industrial design?

A: After receiving my Industrial Design degree in 1998, I soon became a self-employed designer, as well as a Rhino consultant and trainer. Most of my clients work in some aspect of product design, whether they’re inventors or mold-makers, but I’ve helped clients in just about every field that uses 3D.

Q: How would you describe your work?

A: Providing my clients with quality designs that are ready for manufacturing is my primary goal. The scope of this varies from project to project, but I typically come in and receive an initial concept (outlines, napkin sketches, etc.).  Then, it’s up to me to interpret the design intent and create a product design that looks great, works the way it’s supposed to, and can be readily manufactured. I make it work, make it real.

Most of my work in the past has been oriented toward design for production; not spending a lot of time on visualization. I’ve been working on more of this recently, specifically working on more elaborate videos and image renderings that can be used not only for communication and documentation of the project, but also for my clients’ marketing and packaging purposes as well.

Q: Can you share with us the tools you use in your work?

A: Rhino is something of a de-facto standard in this business and I’ve been an avid user since 1997.  For final rendering, I have often used Brazil for Rhino, but have recently been using the Neon plugin for Rhino 5 along with one of Imagination TechnologiesR2100 ray-tracing acceleration boards for much of my rendering work.

Q: What were some challenges you faced in modeling the Samson Switchblade?

A: The Switchblade has a very unique form with its ducted fan, retractable tail, and wings that fold underneath. Packaging all that along with two occupants in something the size of a regular sedan has been a big job. The Switchblade doesn’t really look like a plane with its wings clipped, it’s something different, requiring a whole new design language. That, and how to capture the client’s vision of something I’d never seen over email and the phone in addition to maintaining that vision through changes demanded by engineering – those were the biggest challenges.

Sampson Switchblade flying car rendering

Artist: James Carruthers Title: Royal Front Quarter; Project: Samson Switchblade; Rendered with Neon for Rhino and a Caustic R2100 card.

Q: Why were you chosen for this project?

A: I’ve had an interest in aircraft for some time. My final year major project was about them and I had done numerous 3D modeling and visualization jobs where I was reproducing existing airliners, or helping out with certain parts, but it was my first actual aircraft development project. The opportunity was presented to me thanks to my reputation in the online Rhino 3D community as someone capable of the level of quality surfacing required for this work and with an affinity for novel and demanding projects.

Q: What advice would you offer for your colleagues for a project like this?

A: The goal with NURBS surfacing is to express ‘design intent.’ This makes your model efficient and rationalizes the editing process. You want to end up with a polished, high-quality design for a plane (or car, whatever product you’re working on) not a vaguely plane-shaped blob.

You have to break down the form into its base components. From there you build the pieces back up, which usually means building what you can’t see, and then bring them together. Thankfully, this process is much faster since an addition of the Series2 accelerator board into my workflow. Now I can use Neon in a practical way all of the time –  the key being I can now actually see the way the design is shaping up in its final form throughout the process. I don’t have to spend nearly as much time setting up the scene for a final render as I did before.

Q: How have your designs changed since working on the Switchblade?

A: I’m working on a couple of different vehicle concepts right now and have been taking advantage of a realistic preview with the Neon/Series2 card combination. It’s been making my modeling and rendering more of an integrated process so I can more quickly zero in on the modeling I really need to do to get the job done quickly and accurately. This is a very nice contrast to how final renders used to wind up rushed at the end as a deadline looms.

Q: What trends do you envision the future of industrial design?

A: I see billions of people catching up to the first world not only as potential users of the products we work on, but inventors and dreamers with exciting new ideas we’ll get to help them realize.

For a look at what Samson Motorworks envisions as the future of Flying Cars, check out the short video below.

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