February 18, 2009

Step By Step

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One of the most frequently asked questions in the die cast hobby is how a diecast model is actually made. It's a question posed at trade shows, on the phone and in emails. The process is long with much attention to detail being paid at every corner of each project. The entire process can take over 18 months to execute from concept to product.

The Concept
So how is a vehicle selected? It can be a whole host of factors that make a car the "right" one to do. The process starts with a brainstorming session. All the team members gather, they review collector requests, surveys they might have conducted, historical significance, images currently out on the market, trends, past successful models and a whole host of other factors that may decide what the next model might be. Discussions may also include studying variants of the same car so as to maximize the use of a single tool. Tooling is the expensive part of any die cast project. To make the best possible use of a tool needs sound judgment from the start. Initial discussions on licensing begin at this stage, as this is a crucial facet of development. No license = no model!

The "Hunt"
Once an image is selected, the team has to locate a pristine sample of a car. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially if the car is a very limited production version. One problem with restored cars is that you need to look closely to see that it has not been over-restored or updated. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as some racecars have had mandatory safety updates that have changed the original configuration and specifications. Other times pristine samples are not available, so you have to go with a car under restoration. In some cases this option is better as the car is "original" and has not been over-restored.

Once a car is located, the fun begins. It may take several days to fully document a car. Documentation involves measurement, photography and authentication. It usually takes 300-400 detailed pictures to fully document a car. Details specific to a make or model need extra attention. Detail picture of textures and patterns are also essential. This involves close-ups of seat patterns, grain textures, headliner detail, carpet textures, dash textures, engine metal textures such as those found on cast parts versus a polished part.

Details such as dash knob wording, radio and gauge faces also have to be photographed and scaled so they can be reproduced later as art film. If color selection has been determined, colors can be matched to color samples. Industry standards use, Munsell, Pantone or TOYO color match systems. Measurement is also very critical. Overall pictures will usually be shot with some sort of size gauge. This allows the model builder to scale his model appropriately.

GMP's China factory will send a staff member to accomplish this and sometimes the process itself becomes quite innovative. In order to properly document a chassis, the photographer will lie on a creeper and will systematically roll around under the car, which is on a lift, and shoot many pictures of the underside. Once the shots are developed they can then "assemble" the various prints and make a complete chassis. If certain parts prove difficult to photograph or interpret, a quick sketch with hard measurement is indicated. For instance, a complicated exhaust system may require more than just a photo.

Once all the information is gathered, it is reviewed and organized. Color selection may be finalized at this point, if it has not been made so far. A "product description" is drafted which tells the factory what features the model should have and what materials should be used, where. This will also determine a rough cost associated with the project. Once all of this is in place and approval are rendered, the project takes on legs.