Shaping the designer's ideas
in clay

Akira Matsuda
Clay Modeler

At Work

When touching helps you see

I've been working with clay for over 30 years. What I call clay is a kind of industrial material. My job is to give concrete form to the designer's concept sketch by making a clay model of it. As an experienced modeler, these days I get involved in two different ways. But whether I'm involved from the initial design exploration stage, or whether I join the project in an advisory role, the first thing I do is pick up the clay. Then I try shaping it my own way first. Just looking at the sketch and talking doesn't give me enough idea of how I can express the designer's aim. From touching the clay, I pick up clues on how to handle the places that are difficult to shape and the features that are important to the designer. That way I can feel confident about discussing opinions with the designer. It may look like a long way round, but for me it's the quickest way of doing it. Even after over 30 years, the key for me is to start with touch.

Building the car around axis lines

When it comes to automotive styling, no matter how great the idea is, if the model doesn't have proper three-dimensional axis lines, it won't impress. It's the same as with people. Even if they have a good figure, if their posture is bad they don't look good. Setting these ‘axis lines' in clay properly is part of our work. But when you take the two-dimensional model that the designer draws and add the third dimension, then you don't just get a side view but you have to think of the diagonal and aerial perspectives as well. There are as many axis lines as there are perspectives. On top of that, depending on the concept and the character of the car, the way you set the axis lines is different. Nowadays, I can see a picture of it in my mind, but it took me a lot of practice before I could visualize how to set these axis lines. The designer is 100% committed because he or she wants to improve their idea. So I have to be 100% committed too when I approach how to set the axis lines and mold the surfaces to give concrete shape to the designer's creation. I have to take a deserving idea and make sure it doesn't get buried at the clay model stage. That's why I always give it my best shot.

The designer can't do it alone. Nor can the modeler.

To make good cars, I think the designer and the clay modeler have to be equals. We can tell each other what we think and share ideas. That's how ideas develop, and that helps the clay model reach a higher standard of completion. That process leads to good cars. In that sense, I think Toyota is a unique company. It's a close relationship and it can be intense at times, but mentally we're equals. Because Toyota designers listen to what the clay modeler says. So when we say, "If you do it more like this, your idea will come out better," the project manager listens. Or the other way round, they come and ask the clay modeler, "What do you think?" We acknowledge each other's roles. This relationship of trust is the strength of Toyota design. It's an asset of ours that we want to keep passing on into the future.

Personal Time

The joy of achieving something as a team

Car development is like a team sport. But it's no good having a group of skilled people who are all good at exactly the same thing. More than individual ability, teamwork is the important thing. In volleyball, which I was very keen on as a student, everyone wants to play in the attacking position. But if everyone was an attacker the team wouldn't get anywhere. No matter how many great attackers you have, if you haven't got players who can pass and serve, you'll never win. It's like that when you're making cars, too. Everyone just needs to concentrate their individual skills on the job they're assigned to. The designer conceives the idea and the clay modeler makes it into a concrete shape. Even though there may be times when the model doesn't seem to be progressing, as long as you're all working toward the same goal, then the moment will come when you think "this is definitely going to work!" The team spirit you feel from then on is fantastic. It's the great feeling of winning through by all working together as a team. Of course, that makes sure we turn out the very best clay model, too.

My goal: To stay active all my life

At Toyota, there is a designer who is working at the age of 64. It's not just because of his knowledge and his skill. He is able to give advice to younger designers. But he couldn't do that unless he was always continuing to learn new things. He also has tremendous mental application and enthusiasm. The passion he brings to vehicle design is different. That's my goal too. I want to be that kind of clay modeler all my life. To do that, I am taking care of myself physically. Because my body is my main asset. Clay modelers have to work on their feet for long periods, so they need a surprising amount of stamina. So I go jogging, and sometimes I walk the 20 or 30 minutes from home to work. As well, I have to pass on the expertise that I learned from those before me. More than anything, I want to pass on the special relationship we clay modelers have with the designers. I think this special relationship has become a tradition and is a strength of Toyota design. I want to help that tradition carry on. That's another reason why I want to stay in this job. I want to do as much as I can.


  • Simon Humphries
    General Manager

  • Yuji Fujiwara
    Exterior Designer

  • Akira Matsuda
    Clay Modeler

  • Masaki Motozaki

  • Kazuo Horibe
    Wood Modeler

  • Keiko Shishido
    Color Designer