Digital Artist Jay Dubin Shares Secrets from His Work with Honda

Jay Dubin’s work and career in 3D digital imagery and animation are a lesson in the value of unconventional approaches, and his work with Honda is a prime example. Honda has repeatedly turned to Jay’s hyper-realistic creations to promote the next season’s hottest vehicles and watercraft at tradeshows, on television, and in print. In discussing the work he did to promote Honda’s Big Ruckus scooter and the HW5 watercraft, Jay shared some of his unconventional and innovative CINEMA 4D tricks and techniques and also shed a little light on his far-from-ordinary background.

Live action techniques used in animation

The scooter project began with a high-security delivery of the not-yet-released vehicle to Jay’s garage. While Jay occasionally receives CATIA files or sketches, this was one of the many projects where he was asked to create digital images from scratch. Jay went at the scooter with a pair of calipers, measuring every last bolt and washer. Hand measurement was the fastest and most reliable method given the nature of the product. Unlike most scooters, the Big Ruckus does not have a sleek body, but instead sports a hip, stripped-down look that leaves various functional parts exposed. “You can’t really 3D-scan something like this because it has so many parts,” Jay points out. “You’d just get a jumble. If there’s a big smooth object like a car body, it works, but not with something like this.”

This sort of detailed measurement, however, is nothing new for Jay. For years, he has restored motorcycles and has often had to carefully measure, sculpt, and cast fiberglass parts when new parts weren’t available. In fact, his love of motorcycles is what led to his first Honda project. A colleague saw images of the motorcycles Jay had created for fun and eventually showed the work to Honda’s advertising agency, sparking a now-longstanding relationship.


Honda’s Big Ruckus on the virtual drawing board of MAXON’s CINEMA 4D. The variety of exposed parts on this
scooter made the animation a particular challenge.
(Click image for a larger view)

In re-creating the Big Ruckus, Jay worked for nearly three weeks, producing a level of detail that he admits was “overdone for a moving image.” The images were created entirely in CINEMA 4D using a Mac. In addition to photorealistic details, Jay also created scripts using CINEMA 4D’s XPRESSO module to animate the springs on the suspension arms. The result: with every twist and turn in the road, the scooter’s suspension bounces realistically.

Although the project was completed before Jay upgraded his computer, even the old one was capable of very reasonable rendering times. He estimates that the 15MB file “probably took 10 to 15 minutes to render.” He quickly adds, however, that “on the new computer in high def—15 seconds a frame in full high def—rendering time is now really fast.”

As the scooter project developed, it became clear that Jay would have to do more than create a simple clip. Honda’s agency proposed showing the scooter on a cross-country trip on which it would pass American landmarks. To carry out the task, a few homegrown techniques reduced working time.


A still from the final animation which shows Honda’s Big Ruckus passing landmarks and monuments on a cross-country tour.

While animating, he created an 80K proxy made of cubes and circles and added it to the high-resolution file. “I could play with it, I could program it, and then when I got all the moves right, I’d switch the full-resolution version on,” explains Jay.

Another technique drew on his unconventional background. An experienced live action director, Jay created a virtual studio in CINEMA 4D, adding the scooter, the 2D backgrounds, and several animation cameras. He then added one last camera, which allowed him to view everything else in the virtual studio. “It was like sitting up on a scaffold in a corner of the studio, looking down on everything else,” Jay recalls. “I kept one window open in the view plane with a view of the whole studio, so I could see the scooter, the flats, the cameras, and where the lights were. Then I could switch to any of the camera views.”

Building a watercraft from only photos

In many instances, Jay does not have the luxury of taking detailed hand measurements. Jay began the watercraft project by taking a dozen photos, with the expectation of later measuring the watercraft carefully. Logistical complications, however, made it impossible to see the watercraft again, so he only had the photos to work from.


Honda’s HW5 watercraft shown in CINEMA 4D.
(Click image for a larger view)

Fortunately, the photos were all that Jay needed to create a 2MB photorealistic image in CINEMA 4D. Knowing a second look at a product may not always be possible, Jay takes a small scale with him. His scale is a small stick with alternating black and white strips marked off in fractions of inches. He attaches the scale to the product with double-sided tape and begins photographing. He also has the same scale in CINEMA 4D. Once the virtual scale aligns to the scale in the photo, he has accurate measurements to work with. When a client springs a surprise viewing of a product on him, he simply uses a dollar bill—because of its unvarying size—to replace his usual scale.


Honda’s HW5 watercraft, re-created digitally by Jay Dubin using CINEMA 4D.

Conventional or not, Jay’s background and methods have served him well. In fact, his unique perspective from his work in live action has often been an advantage, as has his willingness to experiment with unconventional approaches. Jay continues to work for Honda and other clients creating hyper-realistic images and animations. Next time you see a Honda ad, look closely. It may not be as real as it appears, thanks to the work of Jay Dubin and CINEMA 4D.


Editor's note: Be sure to check out the following links.


All supporting images are copyright and cannot be copied,
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Douglas Clark is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in technology.

May 18, 2009

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Member Opinions:
By: JenX on 5/20/09
That is absolutely amazing! It looks like I lost the bet with my husband, lol...I thought that watercraft was real!

Excellent article!

By: KeremGogus on 5/22/09
Stunning works! I love people using Cinema 4D on their professional works.

By: kromekat on 6/4/09
Great work indeed!


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